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Santa Maria Grilling Primer


pmillen
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I have a Santa Maria grill on the way.  I’ve watched a few video recipes but find them lacking the detail I require for my first few cooks.  Where can I find a primer to provide an introduction to Santa Maria grilling?  I’m interested in–

  • Do I grill over flame or glowing coals?
  • What should the grate temperature be for searing?  (A function of fire size and grate elevation.)
  • What should the grate temperature be for grilling?
  • Anything additional that a novice should know.

For me, a non-intuitive cook, ideal instructions would be something like, “To sear your steak, raise or lower the grate until it registers XXX°.  After searing, adjust the grate until it registers YYY° for continued grilling.”

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Welcome to Santa Maria grilling. Learning how to grill on one is kind of a "trial and error" and "seat of the pants"

activity.

 > Grilling with flames licking the meat or just using only coals is your choice. Using only hot coals provides 

a more consistent heat source whereas you will probably have to monitor the flame method more carefully.

With the flame method you may also have to have the meat grate a bit higher to avoid burning and possible

flareups.

> Controlling the temperature is done by both the size of your heat source and the height of the grate above

the coals, as you said. You might try getting a bed of coals going and put a couple of hamburgers on with the grate

about 8 - 10  inches above the coals as a starting point. Raise or lower the grate as needed. Larger cooks such as

a rib roast, ribs or turkey will require a larger heat source and the meat grate will need to be higher for a slower

cook at a lower temp. Longer cooks may require adding more charcoal as the cook progresses. Easily done.

> Searing temps - lower the grate closer to your heat source. One way the determine the grate temp is to hold

your hand over the source and use the counting method of  "1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, etc."   Another way might be

to use an oven thermometer on the grate or if you have a probe for the grate and a remote system - that would work.

Searing temps are about the same as grilling on any other system - 500 - 600 deg. and up? With a a few cooks

under your belt you will get a feel for the size of heat source, height of the grill, etc.

 

For the first few cooks, try some burgers or sausages and a spatchcocked chicken or chicken parts to get an

idea of what works. BTW -  a couple of strips of bacon on the grate next to the 'burgs cook fast and don't curl

up. Makes for a tasty bacon burger with a little cheese added. Yum!

 

Other than that I'd say "Go For It! I think you will really enjoy grilling on it and you will find that you can do a

whole variety of cooking on it.

 

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Thanks for the tips.

 

I've been considering one these things for years and a couple of recent posts here sent me over the edge.  I'm really excited to try a few things that aren't quite the same when cooked on my Kamado.

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I basically agree with @K_sqrd. It really is a learn as you go. There is no magic formula for coals/heat/height. Every burn/fire is different. After a few cooks you'll begin to understand the size of the coal bed compared to the height of the grate.

 

Just go for it. Start with steaks/flank/flat iron etc..... They are easier to judge when done and are a bit more forgiving. Poultry/chicken is a bit trickier as you can easily burn the outside and inside isn't close to being done. 

 

I'm a purist. The fire needs to be hardwood splits allowed to burn down into coals. That's the only way you're going to get that true live fire smoked flavor profile. 

 

Can't wait to see what you cook up. 

 

 

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Paella works really well on one of these grills. With the ability to move coals around and change your grate height controlling the heat to the bottom of a paella pan is pretty easy. 

 

Also forward searing steaks works really well and yeilds better results than reverse searing in my opinion. 

 

At this point paella and steaks are exclusively done on my NuKe Delta grill. 

 

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I'd love to have a santa maria style grill if i had space to put another grill around here.  That style of grilling is just like cooking over a camp fire.  it's no different.  Your santa maria grill is a patio based camp fire pit :)  It's probably one of the most fundamental methods of cooking over fire short of a straight camp fire.  You just have to let go of notions of temperature.  

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16 hours ago, ckreef said:

The fire needs to be hardwood splits allowed to burn down into coals. That's the only way you're going to get that true live fire smoked flavor profile. 

 

I see a lot of videos where they're cooking over rather tall flames.  So that isn't the authentic Santa Maria grilling?

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4 minutes ago, pmillen said:

So that isn't the authentic Santa Maria grilling?

That's more preference than anything else because like you I seen videos of more open flame than tame but also seen where the cook would use embers.

 

Scott

Edited by Scott Roberts
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7 minutes ago, pmillen said:

 

I see a lot of videos where they're cooking over rather tall flames.  So that isn't the authentic Santa Maria grilling?

 

My comment was more wood splits compared to lump or briquettes not height of flames. What you will find is these grills can get screaming hot. Managing that heat is the trick. 

 

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8 minutes ago, pmillen said:

 

Whew!  That'll be hard for me to do.  So you're suggesting that I cook a little, examine the meat and adjust accordingly?

 

I agree with John you have to look at this in a whole new way. Forget about actual grate temperature via thermometer. You'll get it figured out and figuring it out is half the fun. 

 

 

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25 minutes ago, pmillen said:

 

Whew!  That'll be hard for me to do.  So you're suggesting that I cook a little, examine the meat and adjust accordingly?

 

Absolutely.  It will free you from the ties to cooking temperatures.  You will still use your instant read thermometer to know when food is done but you will cook by look and feel instead of times and temperatures. You will get the hang of it.  It's not much different than cooking over any basic charcoal grill either.  Just consider it a large format two zone cooking system (or more than two zone depending on how you set it up.)

 

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