My first purchased grill was an inexpensive CharBroil propane unit that was about 100 bucks. I put it together on my apartment floor with a young Ethan Jr. helping to hide the few tools required. In summers past I had done most of my cooking on the standard Weber kettle, but with the rapidly growing family & “responsibilities” I was happy to make the trade off between time and more ready access to food inducing flame-a-tude.
The wobbly construction didn’t bother me as much as the anemic grill grate. I knew the propane wasn’t going to get as hot as a big pile of coals, and without the mass of metal to hold some of that hotness, I had concerns about my grilled meat becoming baked, and not in the good way.
It turned out to not be as dire as I thought and through the summer I was able to eek out moderat searing on the little workhorse. That all changed with a gift from my beautiful bride. She somehow found a super heavy gauge stainless steel slab with handles that fit the grill surface perfectly. The heavy metal hugged the heat with the loving care of a mother, and as collage/meat entered the timeline it released the heatey goodness like the parenting books all tell us to.
A secondary benefit was to create a very nice indirect heat for brats placed in the upper rack. The steady heat and air flow allowed the brats to brown evenly as they slowly cooked through, and when they did release some fat, it just fell into the slab and made a nice sizzle to warn you to put the beer down and rotate things a little. I estimate that that 100 slab of steel added double that in cooking aptitude to the lowly CharBroil. It also brought a crowd pleasing feature of being able to saute onions and peppers in the brat dripping as the sausages finished cooking and everything could come off the grill at the same time.
I would link to the steel slab here, but for the life of me I cannot find the exact model anymore, no matter. There are plenty of standard cast iron pans that are waiting to serve as admirable stand-ins. Currently I use a mammoth pan from Lodge Manufacturing. This pan covers most of the surface area of a standard Weber Kette with the handle sticking out over the lip. There is enough space around the edges to keep air flowing, and PLENTY of surface area. The kettle doesn’t have an upper deck for secondary cooking, but if you boil the brats in beer (or sous vide the fancy buggers) you still achieve maximum brown-ness with minimum casing breakage.
The skillet really shines with burgers. Good 80/20 chuck is fatty and delicious, but that fat drips into the fire and inevitably causes flare-up. Some taste this as grill flavor, but really it’s flavors red-headed step brother, soot. Rather than burning off this elixer in the coals, the pan keeps it around the mother ship to keep it to work. The burger releases fat which then camps out under and around the burger slightly frying it, and creating a fantastic crust. Warning: the pan keep the heat in direct contact with the meat, and will cook faster than on the grate, so adjust accordingly. You will be rewarded with a much more moist burger that hopefully will keep comments about a pan on the grill to a minimum. This is usually helped by the fact that people are too busy moaning and cramming more meat into their food holes.