Kettle Corniness – Idiot Wizard of the Internet

Kettle Corniness


An Old Man Reminisces

The first grill I ever bought was a Weber kettle. Christ, I was young then. Young and stupid. The first time my roommate and I tried to light that thing was on the balcony of our third floor apartment. Central Ohio didn’t really get hit hard by hurricane Ike but a storm was definitely rolling in from the east. We set the grill up on the north side of the building and couldn’t get the damn thing lit for all the wind, so we used more and more lighter fluid. The lid came into play in short order, thankfully, and we ended up letting the thing rust out on the balcony. I don’t know if we were more afraid of the grill or my own asinine stupidity, but it was definitely fear that kept me from using that thing much more.

I later inherited another 18 inch kettle from my future in-laws when they moved out of their house. This one sat on the front porch of my rented townhouse with their old reclining leather love seat, the grillin’ couch. I was working at call centers and drinking way more than I needed to1 while charring up bahama mamas and smoking whole packs of black ad milds. This grill was eventually gifted to a friend when we were moving because I had learned previously how hard it is to move a used and ill maintained grill from one location to another.

Anyway, that young idiot from before never learned his lesson. In 2020 I bought my third and current Weber kettle, this time a 22". Unlike you, dear reader, I did not have the benefit of two narrative paragraphs summing up the previous 13 someodd years of failing to cook with charcoal: I was the problem. That was hard won wisdom, but if you want change you must change yourself.

I became determined to make good barbeque at home. That year I had a lot more free time and a much untapped restaurant budget, so I dove in headfirst. Learning the principles of kettle BBQ (itself a compromise) taught me a lot about the cooker itself and encouraged me to make some… improvements. Behold, reader, the result of a decade of failure turned into success.

Hear Me Out…

Why kettles? Honestly? Momentum. This is the only grill I’ve ever had, it’s what I know.

But for me if you’re going to have a grill you may as well have a charcoal grill. You’re supposed to taste the meat and the heat, Hank, that’s why you’re outside and not using the stove. Plus I don’t like keeping volatile fuels around the house don’t look at my jars of miniature painting chemicals we’re not talking about those right now. On top of that, with gas I have to learn to inspect and replace hosing and fitments as they age and weather or else I could be looking at a serious disaster. And most of the time these parts are the ones most hidden by the manufacturer because they’re ugly as hell.

Charcoal grilling allows for a greater flexibility when you’re at home, camping, going to the park or whatever. You can buy cheap bags of fuel at basically any gas station convenience store and if you needed even the grill itself. Using charcoal just feels weightier too. Maybe because the alternative is literally a gas, but charcoal itself has a long a storied history as a fuel. There’s something to be said for learning to cook on all levels of a coal fire, including a nice sliced warm apple dessert. If something breaks, you can fix it yourself pretty easily, probably with scrap.

And if we’re going for flexibility, there’s something to be said for kettle grill. With my current kettle grill I have:

  • grilled burgers and hot dogs on my son’s birthday
  • roasted chickens
  • cooked chicken thighs
  • made queso fundido
  • smoked salmon and mashed potatoes together on a plank
  • had a firepit
  • traveled to a bachelor party in a cabin and made ribs
  • taken the grill to multiple friendsgivings and smoked turkeys

It’s a backyard party grill, a smoker, a coal oven, you could even use it as a pizza oven if you wanted to. Got a yard space or alley? The kettle will fit and you can do anything you want with it. The benefit over the kamado style grill is obvious, it doesn’t weigh as much as it costs. Once you get one of those suckers it’s parked in its spot until it dies or gets stolen.

If I wanted to step up even further I would probably go with an offset smoker, which is just a better smoker that I can also use in grill mode. The benefit here is more real estate, but the downside is that these become less portable until you start scaling up way too much. I’d love one of these someday if I had the money, but a smaller one just for home use. But I’d always want a kettle I can take with me places. It’s just too useful.

This Machine Grills Fascists

Grill PFP

This is my grill. There are none like it, because I’ve made it my own.2 Weber makes a mean kettle, the curves are sturdy and allow for heat and smoke to circulate smoothly. The air intake is intuitive and the 22" has a great ash bucket. Three legs are sturdier than four and because there are fewer legs they can be slightly larger in diameter. There’s a thermometer on it! That’s nice, isn’t it? Kinda. The design hasn’t changed much for the past few decades so it’s easy to get replacement parts or even start a new grill if you need to. Please join me on a tour of the features my grill has that your own grill should perhaps consider for itself followed by an abrupt, unsatisfying ending.

Feature One: Longer Gams

The first problem is that they come designed for hobbits. I’m over 6 foot, and the grate height of like 2 foot just isn’t going to fly for me. Thankfully Tom Horsman has a fix for this: 3/4 inch electrical conduit fits snugly into the legs of a Weber kettle and you can use sheet metal screws to secure them. If you cut two 19 inch segments for the back legs and a 25 inch segment for the front you can raise your kettle up 6 inches to counter height.

Conduit Legs

Feature Two: The Tongsaver 9000

The next big issue was the top exhaust vent. You see, it’s a metal “daisy” disc on the top of a metal body with a fire in it. It gets really fucking hot. At first I handled this by whacking it with my dirty tongs which was annoying and gross. Eventually I drilled out the rivet holding the daisy disc on and replaced it with a machine screw, nut and lock washer. This lets me take it off for cleaning so it can cover the holes better. While it was off I also drilled out a hole to attach a file handle so I could save my tongs and poor little fingies.3 Eventually I found a handle replacement for another grill on clearance and switched to that cause it didn’t have a ferrule.

Exhaust Vent Modifications

Feature Three: Port Authority

Putting temperature probes through the lid means the lid is loose and air is getting in. That’s not good for barbeque at all, plus it means that you’re losing some of the control you have on the airflow in your grill. Let’s change that by simply drilling a big hole in the side of it. Then you plug it back up with this little silicone grommet that has a slit for thermometer probes.

The big concern here is the enameling on the exterior of our grill. That’s what protects it from the elements, if it cracks then the grill is going to rust out way faster. This can be mitigated by taping over the area you want to drill through before you start. Mark it off with sharpie and use a step bit to get it to the size you need.

Probe Port

Guantanamo Bay is still open in 2023.

  1. Hence the kind of thinking that puts upholstered furniture on the porch and then, later, back inside another apartment. Cherish your 20’s, you will never be this free and stupid again. ↩︎

  2. I encourage you to do the same. It’s beautiful to turn your tools into bespoke reflections of your own creativity. Make the handle conform to your hand. ↩︎

  3. I still hit it with the tongs clack clack mfer. ↩︎

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