This time the Obamas got it right. They gave the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and his wife, a very cool gift, a $1,900 wood and charcoal-burning grill and smoker combo, made, where else, in Obama's home state, Illinois.
Last time the Obamas didn't do so well. They gave Cameron's predecessor, Gordon Brown, a set of movie DVDs that didn't play on the devices sold in the UK.
This time the gift was the estimable Engelbrecht Braten 1000. Last month I had a chance to cook on one at the California home of Sterling Ball, owner of BigPoppaSmokers.com, one of Engelbrecht's internet dealers. I was very impressed, to say the least.
It is not a surprising gift since the two leaders were last seen bonding at a garden party at 10 Downing Street for British and American service members. The two cooked burgers and hot dogs in their white shirts and ties. The "grills" were some kind of goofy burners topped by frying pans. So, what the press dubbed a "barbecue," was more like what they call a "fry-out" in Wisconsin.
To protect the starchy Brit's shirt and tie, Obama tossed in two White House chef jackets with the American and British flags, and the Great Seal of the United States. Prime Minister and Mrs. Cameron's names were embroidered on each jacket.
Engelbrecht Grills and Cookers is a small manufacturer in Paxton, IL, about 3 hours south of downtown Chicago. They make small portable campfire and fireplace grills, the Braten 1000, and a larger Stahlkammer 2000.
The Braten 1000 has some unusual, nifty features. Chief among them is a coal bed that can be raised or lowered by turning a wheel that is attached to an axle above the grill. It has two heavy duty stainless steel cables, one on each side of the grill, that allow the cook to raise and lower the coals in order to control the heat. The closer the coals are to the food, the faster it cooks. This arrangement is common on large grills in and around Southern California, and they are often called Santa Maria grills, named after the town where they are most popular. The design is also common in Argentina.
But there are some innovations in the Englebrecht over the typical Santa Maria and Argentine grills. The traditional models are open on top so the heat can be applied only to one side of the food at a time. This is fine for steaks, burgers, chicken parts, asparagus, and other thin foods, but it makes them a pain when it comes to large thick meats, like roasts or whole turkeys. The Braten has a heavy heat absorbing lid which allows you get high radiant heat from below, reflected heat from above, and convection heat from all around as the air circulates. The lid makes it an oven.
Another innovation is that the Braten comes with a firebox on the side. This allows you to start a fire off to the side and channel the heat and smoke into the main cooking chamber like the classic "offset" smoker for long, low and slow cooks, like you want when cooking pork ribs, beef brisket, or pulled pork. If you leave the coal pan in, the heat and smoke are distriubted more evenly than on standard offsets. The firebox has a flat top so it can be used as a side burner to cook side dishes or keep your sauce warm.
The unit is overengineered and built to last well past the Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin Administration. It is heavy duty steel with expertly welded seams. The body is powder coated and baked on at 1500F, according to Englebrecht. This is necessary because when cooking over wood the high heat will warp thin metals.
The main cooking grate is 29 x 17," 493 square inches of cooking surface, plenty of room for a party. The standard cooking surface is 3/8" stainless steel rod for beautiful grill marks, but they offer a most unusual option, V-shaped grates, which gather juices and melting fats and drain them away. This type of grate is common in Argentina. Some say it gives meat a cleaner taste by keeping most of the drippings out of the coals, others say the drippings add flavor.
There is an aluminum workshelf in front with stainless tool hooks. The hinges have brass pins that will not rust. The handles are oak to protect you hand from burns. The wheels are cast iron. Although they have mounted one of the better bi-metal dial thermometers on the market, I don't trust them and strongly recommend that the Camerons replace theirs with a modern digital probe.
Apparently the unit given to Cameron had to be tooled a little differently because the President insisted that everything be made in the USA and Englebrecht does use some imported parts. According to a report on ABC news, Englebrecht will do the same for you, but it will cost extra.
Ball and I decided to cook the classic Santa Maria specialty, Tri-Tip. This is a tender and juicy cut of beef found around the crotch of the steer under the bottom sirloin. Most of the meat in that area is tough, but the tensor fasciae latae muscle can be tender and juicy, with big beefy flavor.
It is common to toss wood on a charcoal fire for flavor, but cooking with wood as the primary heat source is tricky, and many rookies end up serving meat that tastes like an ash tray. But this baby does just fine with charcoal, tool.
Ball started by tossing in white oak logs. When cooking with wood, you never use soft woods like pine because the resins are noxious. You can use hardwood, nutwood, or fruitwood like oak, hickory, or apple. Starter fluid is never used, only kindling, newspaper, or parafin cubes. The create an inferno (seen in the picture above) so you wait and burn them down to glowing embers (at right). You don't want to cook over the roaring flames. The heat is too great and the combustion gases too strong. You need to wait until flames are gone and the logs burn down to coals.
While the fire was settling down he rubbed the meat with one of the spice rubs he sells. We decided to do the signature Santa Maria dish Santa Maria style, lid open, with the meat high above the heat, gently warming. When it hit 130 internal temp, we both like our beef medium rare, he took them meat off and let them rest a few minutes while we toasted the rolls.
The meat was amazingly tender and juicy, and the wood flavor penetrated, but never overwhelmed, every bit.
Now I want to know, who is gonna teach the Camerons how to use their new grill? Volunteers?
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