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Raising charcoal bed for searing?

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I’m a new Kamado owner who primarily got it for low and slow, but now I’m wondering whether it can do a better job with hot and fast Sous-vide searing than the Weber I usually use.

 

The 17” Webber charcoal grate is 6” below the cooking grate, while my Kamado’s charcoal grate is 9” below the top rim of the firebowl.

 

That’s going to mean having the hot coals positioned further from the cooking grate or using a boatload of charcoal to get the surface of the burning coals as close to the cooking grates as I’m used to on my Webber.

 

So I was looking into the CGS Spider to get the cooking groats down closer to the coal bed.

 

The spider drops down  1-1/2” into the bowl and rests on the 5/8” notches in the fire bowl, so a 16” cooking grate sitting in the spider would be 2” closer to the coal bed or 7” above the coal grate.

 

Still more distance than the Webber and if anything, I’d like to get closer to the coal bed.  Plus there is the cost of a new 16” cooking grate and the inconvenience of having to manipulate the meat down in the fire bowl.

 

Then it occurred to me that instead of using the spider to drop the cooking surface closer to the coal bed, I could use it to hold my existing 17” Webber coal grate and raise the coal bed up closer to the firebowl rim.  I could either position my existing 20” cooking grate on the rim of the firebowl, which would be 2” from the coal bed, or since I’m also getting an Adjustable Rig with an 18” cooking grate, the cooking surface can be positioned at about felt height, 2” above the fire bowl rim and about 4” above coal bed.  And if that’s still too close, that 18” grate can be moved up another 2” to give me the same 6” above coal grate I’m used to from my Webber.

 

So does anyone else do this?  Raise the coal bed height for searing?  If not, is there a reason it’s a stupid idea?

 

How do most Kamado owners configure for ~600F searing?

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Just buy a Smokey Joe..I can get four large burgers on mine and the coals okeare right under the cook grate.

It's my go to cooker for steaks and burgers plus you can do a spatchcock chicken in 45 minutes by shutting the vents down to a sliver after placing the bird.

 

https://www.weber.com/US/en/grills/portable-grills/smokey-joe-series/10020.html

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I don't worry about the searing temp. When I cook steak, I simply set up a 2 zone cooking environment. Using a spider, I place a 1/2 stone as a deflector under one half of the main grate. I build a fire that will give me high moderate heat from the 300 to 400 range.  I start the steak off on the main grate above the deflector and let it come up to an IT of about 110. I then simply drag the steak over to the  side of my main grate which is above the open coals, and flip using a hot potato like approach until the IT reaches about 120 - 125. depending on the thickness of the individual cut.  I pull the steak around 125,  tent it in foil,  and let it rest. Always comes out to what I consider a perfect medium rare. 

 

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You need to take into account that your Kamado was not designed to hold the coal bed higher and that you could expose your outer shell to more heat stress than it is intended to handle.  Maybe a non issue and probably fine with what you are proposing, but worth mentioning as something to consider. 

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If I'm doing steaks I just bank my coals to one side, they end up ~ 4" - 6" below the grate.  I cook on the indirect side over moderate heat then open vents full and move over to finish sear.  It doesn't use anymore charcoal than normal actually probably less.  I don't have a spider, bowl divider or half deflector and it still produces the desired result.

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On 8/13/2019 at 4:52 AM, KismetKamado said:

You need to take into account that your Kamado was not designed to hold the coal bed higher and that you could expose your outer shell to more heat stress than it is intended to handle.  Maybe a non issue and probably fine with what you are proposing, but worth mentioning as something to consider. 

If you raise the coal bed you will also subject your gasket to extreme heat.  It will also be more dangerous when opening the lid.  If you get a standard height coal bed going at a good clip, say 700 deg you will have all the searing heat you need and you won't risk searing your arms, chest and face.

That said, Saturday  I tried John Setzler's clarified butter in a cast iron skillet method and it worked extremely well.

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2 hours ago, Family_cook said:

If you raise the coal bed you will also subject your gasket to extreme heat.  It will also be more dangerous when opening the lid.  If you get a standard height coal bed going at a good clip, say 700 deg you will have all the searing heat you need and you won't risk searing your arms, chest and face.

That said, Saturday  I tried John Seltzer's clarified butter in a cast iron skillet method and it worked extremely well.

 

I appreciate everyone’s comments.

 

The idea of using a Weber Smokey Joe to sear is a good one, but I’m only exploring searing on the Kamado to get rid of the Webber I have, so getting another smaller one to dedicate to searing will be tucked away as a fall-back solution.

 

On the subject of reducing grilling area and coalbed volume, there is also the idea of searing on a chimney which I may need to explore at some point: https://amazingribs.com/more-technique-and-science/more-cooking-science/extreme-steak-wild-and-crazy-ways-get-killer-sear

 

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I may may need to try that at some point but for now will try the idea of raising the coal bed using the 16” Webber firegrate supported by the spider.

 

In terms of heat stress and temps, first, I’m already cooking pizza at 900F, so searing steak at 650-700F will be taking it relatively easy for my Kamado.  Even raised up, the raised coalbed will out less stress in my uograded 1000F gasket than cooking 900F pizza does.

 

Second, I’ve got all the Weber accessories to keep the coal bed centered and I’m already searing meats on the Webber with the coalbed 6” below the cooking grate with no issue as far as safety or extreme stress to equipment.

 

So what the Spider will do is essentially allow me to bring everything I’m used to over and replace the Webber metal ‘shell’ with the Kamado Ceramic shell.

 

I spoke to Tom at CGS and he is skeptical the idea will work better than lowering the cooking surface with a 16” cooking grate on the spider, but he agreed it’s worth a try (he’s apparently never heard of anyone trying this before) and we agreed falling back on a 16” cooking grate is always available as a backup solution.

 

So I’m going to give this idea a try when my new Spider arrives and will report back.

 

(P.S.  And appreciate all the advice in how best to cook steak, but I’ve cooked more than my share over the past 3+ decades and have my preferred process pretty dialed-in at this point.  We like our steaks rarer  than most and no more outside-in cooking for us.  We cook all meats to the internal temp we prefer sous-vide and then only grill to sear for 1-2 minutes per side at the very end.  The lower the temp of the sear, the longer it takes to get the desired crust/browning, and the higher the likelihood of bringing internal temps higher than desired (especially for thin cuts).  Now that I’ve experienced cooking Neopolitan pizza in 30 seconds (at 900F), I’m suspecting the Kamado can also allow me to sear more quickly at higher temps).

 

P.P.S.  Amazing Ribs has coined the term ‘Afterburner Method’ for searing in a coalstarter chimney and here is a refinement:

 

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By skewering the meat and suspending it over the coals, you avoid burning from the cooking grate.  Will definitely need to give this technique a try - apparently reaching 800F searing temps at the top of the chimney is a breeze, and with plain ‘ol briquettes at that!

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3 hours ago, John Setzler said:

Use a soapstone or a cast iron griddle for your searing.  You will never look back.  With that setup you don't have to worry about being close to the charcoal or scorching your meat or scorching the seasonings you have put on it.

 

We've been searing in a cast iron skillet on the stove at max, but the smoje is a problem and we 'feel' like we like seared over flame better.

 

No idea what the temps that skillet was (though now I could measure with my new IR thermometer) but we'd usually start searing at the oil smoke point.

 

Is soapstone the same as a pizza stone?  If not, does it result in a very different sear than a cast iron skillet?

 

i can heat up a skillet on the stove, over a bed of coals, or on my propane burner used for brewing beer, but if your always starting to sear when the oil starts smoking, hard to see why the result would be any different using different heat sources.

 

Have you ever tried this 'Afterburner Method' searing on a smokestack full of burning briquettes?

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OK, here’s the report.  The Cliff Notes version is that I’m amazed at how much more heat-efficient these Kamados are compared to a Weber and am slapping my palm against my forehead to understand why I didn’t buy one of these a decade ago.

 

The other quick takeaway is that I’m very happy with the ‘raised charcoal bed approach’ to grilling on a Kamado.

 

First, the set-up.  My CGS Spider is not here yet, but we were cooking a rack of lamb Sous Vide and I needed something to sear them on.  I realized that supporting the Weber charcoal grate from below will work as well as supporting above with the Spider, so I threw something together:

 

 

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I lit lit a mostly-full smokestack full of  briquettes in the chimney using my new electric lighter for the first time;

 

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After 15-minutes, I had flames licking up against the gasket of the top dome reaching 300F so I decided it was time to pour out the coals:

 

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The coal bed was delivering over 1000F!:

 

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Time to throw on the rack of lamb which is when the fireworks started:

 

 

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I flipped about every 15 seconds, as as the fat began to render, the flames began to shoot up:

 

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When the dust had cleared after about ~2min per side and 20-30 seconds for each end, here is what we ended up with:

 

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Doesn’t look terribly appetizing from the outside, but when we cut into it, it was about the best rack of lamb we’ve ever had:

 

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After the rack of lamb was pulled, the coals were still going strong (over 1000F) so I threw in the placesetter and  began roasting some asparagus:

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After ~10 minutes with the lid closed at temps of ~250F, we pulled the placesetter and grilled the asparagus to a mild char.  Still plenty of life left in the coals, so we charred the potatoes we had already baked:

 

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We pulled off the grilled potatoes and the coals still had plenty of life left, so my wife grilled some pablano peppers we’re planning to eat tomorrow:

 

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And even after all all of that, the coals were still going strong.  I shut down the vents and we’ll see how much remains tomorrow morning.

 

The meal was fantastic but I am floored by the energy efficiency of these ceramic Kamados.  All of this cooking was on one chimney’s-worth if briquettes that was ~80% full - no way I could have cooked even half this long on a Webber.

 

My initial takeaway is that the Kamado can do everything a Webber can do and much more, and the raised firebed technique seems to work well for grilling with a smaller-volume coalbed at higher heat.

 

Three lessons for next time:

 

-Will not light the chimney in the Kamado but will light in the Weber from now on.  No need to stress the gasket with flames shooting out of the chimney.

 

-Will probably try only filling the chimney ~50% next time.  This was a little bit too much charcoal.

 

-Believe it or not, we loved the char but would have preferred an even rarer center.  I don’t think the sear time can be reduced, so we’re going to try a technique I read about of chilling the Sous-vided rack in an ice bath for 15-30 minutes prior to searing.

 

All in all, this first experience grilling on a Kamado (and with a raised coalbed) was a life-changing event for this lifelong smoker, grilled and seared...

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45 minutes ago, Kamado Tom said:

You should check out the S-n-S Kamado from Adrenaline Barbecue Company, I think you'd like that set up.

 

If money was no object, perhaps.  But so far, for less than 1/2 the cost of the S-n-S for Kamado, Grills & rigs from CGS, and heat deflectors, pizza stones, and ceramic spacers from California Pizza Stones, I don’t see anything the S-n-S can do that I can’t do with this budget rig...

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