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The Art of Winter Grilling

With 90 percent of people across the nation attending at least one barbecue every year, grilling is an American tradition. For some, it’s a way to a good meal. But for others, it’s much more—it’s a hobby, a passion, a way of life.

Westlake Ace Hardware’s grill master Scott Drawbaugh places himself in the latter group.

“There’s nothing like grilling. I’m always experimenting with new methods and tools,” Drawbaugh said.

For enthusiasts like Drawbaugh, grilling is an art. It takes time and practice. Once you master the basics, there is endless room for experimentation with different techniques and recipes. And like any artist, a grilling enthusiast needs to be equipped with the right tools.

“Westlake is the place to go for grilling, no matter what season it is. Many places bring out the grills for the summer, but Westlake’s got everything you need for grilling all year round. And experts are always there to help you find the perfect grill and show you the latest accessories,” Drawbaugh said.

That’s true even in the middle of winter, because Westlake’s grilling experts know that not even subzero temperatures can thaw a grilling enthusiast’s passion. For these die-hard grill lovers, Drawbaugh and the Westlake grill master crew have picked out their favorite grilling accessories.

Top 10 Accessories for Grillers Selected by Westlake’s Grill Masters

Rolling Meat Tenderizer
Blades quickly break through the raw surface of meat with just the push of the roller, allowing it to absorb spices and help food cook more evenly.

Vacuum Seal Marinade Box
Air sealer pump removes air from the marinade box, locking in taste and speeding up the marinating process.

Grill Topper
Avoid the frustration of food slipping through the grill with small air holes that evenly cook your food. Heavy-duty stainless steel.

Basting Pot and Brush
Specially designed basting pot is ready to use right on the grill. Able to withstand 400F; just fill with your favorite marinade and baste away. Stainless steel.

Cooler and Grill Combo
This set includes a portable mini-charcoal grill, insulated cooler bag and a three-piece BBQ tool set, which stores neatly in the bottom of the cooler bag. Perfect for tailgating!

Smoker Box
Adds outstanding smoky flavor to grilled foods with no mess, just add wood chips and liquid. $14.99

5-in-1 Spatula and Tongs
All of the tools you need in one gadget, including a bottle opener, meat tenderizer, spatula, serrated knife and built-in tongs.

Grill Surface Thermometer
Know when it’s time to throw down the meat. Easy-to-read 3.5-inch face.

Squirt Bottles
Have your “main squeeze” right at hand. 16-ounces.

Grip ’N’ Flip Super Spatula
Large size makes flipping hunks of meat easy. Built-in bottle opener. Stainless steel.

Scott Drawbaugh
Westlake Ace Hardware
Grill Master and Director of Merchandising

A Westlake grill master, Scott Drawbaugh is ruled by his love for grilling. In the winter months, the first thing he does after a snow is shovel a path to his grill—or in his case, grills. He has four of them, plus a number of portable units. His Weber Genesis is his day-to-day grill for everything burgers to steaks. His Weber Kettle because “every griller worth his weight has to have a charcoal kettle grill,” as well as an electric smoker. But when it comes to the perfect smoked brisket, nothing touches Drawbaugh’s Treager Smoker. Drawbaugh smokes and grills year-round, including holiday meals. One of his holiday specialties is the grilled turkey. This December, he is attending Weber Grill School in Chicago.

Drawbaugh grew up in Columbus, NE, helping his father at the family-owned hardware store. He inherited his father’s passion for hardware, and when his father sold the business and went to work for Westlake, Drawbaugh followed suit. He started working for Westlake as a part-time employee while in college in 1985, but stayed on after his graduation in several full time positions including buyer and store manager. These positions took him to various locations including Omaha, Kansas City and Texas. He later made the leap to the corporate office. His passion for the business continued to serve him well as he climbed the ladder to his current position as director of merchandising.

Frequently Asked Questions about Grills and Grilling

How should I protect/store my grill during the winter season?
Whether you plan on continuing to grill throughout the winter season or wait until spring-grilling starts up again, it’s best to store your grill in a dry area. Be sure to clean it properly before doing so. Click here to find out how to best clean your grill. Also, be sure to store your gas tank(s) in a well-ventilated area, protected from the weather.

TIPS: Use a paper towel to wipe metal grates with cooking oil or spray. This will help detract winter moisture and avoid rusting.

How should I go about choosing between a charcoal, gas or electric grill?
First, think about when and how you will be using your grill. Gas and electric grills are great for convenience. If you want something for making dinner when you get home from work, or that you can use to throw some hot dogs on at half time, you’ll probably be happier with a gas or electric grill. If you’re planning on grilling on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, when you’ll have plenty of time to just sit back and enjoy the grilling process, charcoal may be a better fit for you.

Secondly, consider where you’re going to use your grill. Think about the space available to you. For example, if you’re considering a larger smoker, make sure you have a larger, open area. If you have a small, covered patio, consider smaller charcoal or gas grills, or even an electric grill, as these produce no flare-ups. If you choose a gas or charcoal grill, make sure you can place it a safe distance away from the house, so as to not cause any house fires.

Thirdly, consider what you want to spend. Gas grills tend to be more expensive than charcoal and electric grills (charcoal grills typically being the cheapest of all three), but charcoal itself is more expensive than gas (about $5 per use, as opposed to $.20 per use with propane), so you’ll most likely end up spending more for your charcoal grill in the long run.

Can I use natural gas on my propane gas grill?
The answer to the question is no. Simply hooking up your propane grill to your natural gas line won’t work. If you’re interested in using natural gas for your grill, you should buy a grill specifically designed for natural gas.

NOTE: If you already have a propane grill and still want to use natural gas, contact the manufacturer about possibly getting a conversion kit.

Can you use wood chips in a gas grill?
You can, but you do not want to just throw wood chips in, as they can burn up and produce ashes, which will not be good for your grilling experience. What you can do, however, is purchase a smoker box to keep the wood contained. When using a smoker box, fill it about half full with the wood chips of your choice. Dampen the wood chips before putting them in the smoke box. This will make them last longer and will also help you avoid large bursts of smoke.

NOTE: Gas grills are often used for their efficient cooking capabilities, and it takes time for meats to absorb the smoke flavor. If you plan on using wood chips to derive the smoky flavor, be sure to cook your meat on a lower temperature for at least 30 minutes.

Can I paint my grill?
Yes. Painting a grill is common for color touchups, rusting or chipped paint. BUT be sure to do so with high temperature paint.

What are the differences between various types of charcoal?
There are two basic types of charcoal: lump and briquettes. Both have their own unique benefits.

  • Charcoal Briquettes – This is the most commonly used charcoal (if you’ve used Kingsford charcoal before, you’ve used briquettes). These coals have little grooves on them, creating more surface area for the coals to get hotter. This allows you to use less during each use. Briquettes are easily accessible and the cheaper of the two options. They are easy to burn and will last a long time.
  • Lump Charcoal – This is what you may want to use if you prefer a more purist charcoal. Lump charcoal does not have any additives or chemicals and brings out the most flavor of the two options. But this type of charcoal heats up very quickly and loses its heat quickly, so you may find yourself continuously adding more and more to keep your temperature high enough for cooking. This option is significantly more expensive than the briquettes, as well.

Can I cook burgers in my smoker? Or do I need a separate gas or charcoal grill?
You can cook just about anything in a smoker, including burgers. Keep in mind, though, that it will take longer for them to cook. If you’re looking for convenience, you’ll probably still want to have a gas, electric or charcoal grill on hand.

Which grate material is best for grilling?
The important thing to remember when looking at grates is that the material used should be strong and durable. If you choose grates that are thin and of poor quality, the heat from grilling will wear them down quickly. Grate options typically include steel, stainless steel, porcelain covered steel and cast iron. Each requires a different type of maintenance. To keep grates in good condition for a longer period of time, you want to be sure and clean your grates regularly and avoid chipping as much as possible.

  • Steel—Plain steel can quickly develop chips, making the grate uneven, and can cause food to stick.
  • Stainless Steel—Stainless steel can keep its non-stick longer than steel, but the porcelain covered steel or the cast iron are still going to be longer lasting.
  • Porcelain Covered Steel—When the porcelain cover chips, the exposed metal tends to rust. To avoid chipping do not use metal scrapers when cleaning the grates. Instead, use bristle brushes.
  • Cast Iron—Cast iron grates get very hot and hold in a lot of heat, helping to cook the meat faster. But these grates take a bit more maintenance than the other options, as they should be rubbed down with oil after every use. This helps avoid rusting.

What are the benefits of natural gas compared to propane gas?
Many people prefer natural gas to propane gas for two reasons: 1) natural gas is better for the environment and 2) it is more convenient, as you never have to worry about running out of gas in the middle of cooking, or having to refill your propane tank. Additionally, natural gas can often times be cheaper than propane, depending upon where you live.

Is there a taste difference between gas and charcoal grilling?
Many think that charcoal grills will give you a more “grilled” flavor, but the flavor produced by both the gas and charcoal grill are quite similar. This is because the “grilled” flavor is not produced by the smoke that comes from charcoal, but rather from vaporized fats and juices that drip down and burn up (either on the coals or by the gas heat source). If you’re looking to produce a “smoky” flavor, you will need to add smoke. You can do this by using damp wood chips or wood chunks in conjunction with a smoker box.

I need to attach my grill to my deck to deter it from being stolen. What do you recommend?
Aircraft cable is a good choice. You can swage both ends and use it with a padlock. It’s more attractive than a heavy chain, and it can be used on many things – such as outdoor furniture.

What’s the difference between wood chips and wood chunks?
Wood chips are used to add a smoky flavor when grilling. Deciding whether to use wood chips or chunks depends on what you’re cooking and how long you’re cooking. Wood chips are small pieces of wood and (even when wet) will burn very quickly, so these are best when cooking for a short amount of time, or if you’re just looking to get a little bit of smoky flavor in your meats. Wood chunks, on the other hand, are great for creating smoke for a long period of time (like ribs or whole chickens). With both wood chips and chunks, you want to be sure not to let them burn too quickly. This will cause large bursts of smoke and make your food taste bitter. To keep this from happening, soak the chips (for 15 minutes) and chunks (for 30 minutes) in water. Make sure to let the wood drip dry for a few minutes, as you want the wood to be moist before adding to the fire, not soaking wet.

NOTE: Check the instructions on gas or electric smokers, as some smokers can only handle wood chips.

What are the differences between various types of smoking woods?
While all types of smoking woods generate a nice smoky flavor, they do have subtle differences and are used with different types of proteins. The most commonly used woods are hickory and oak. Both are great for traditional barbecuing. Oak has a nice clean taste to it, where as hickory is a more assertive wood and will increase the smoky flavor. Mesquite is another popular flavor for barbecuing and is the hottest and strongest of the woods. This is the flavor you will most often find in Texas BBQ. If you want to go a sweeter route, try apple wood. This best complements white proteins, such as pork and poultry.

What types of accessories do I need for grilling?
The basic tools and accessories you’re going to want and need for grilling are tongs, a grilling spatula, BBQ Fork and a basic wire brush for cleaning (because the most important part of maintaining a grill is cleaning it after every use). You’ll also want a grill cover to help protect your grill from weather damage. In addition to these tools, you may also want to acquire a basting brush and metal skewers. For cast iron grills, you’re going to want to keep the grates well oiled, and you can do so with any vegetable oil and a napkin. Other accessories that can be great for grilling are BBQ gloves, a grill topper wok, and a thin, bladed spatula that is helpful when cooking delicate foods like fish. See some great recommendations in our 2011 Griller Gift list above.

What’s the best way to light charcoal?
The most common way to light charcoal is with lighter fluid. While this proves to be effective, it often times leaves behind an unpleasant flavor on your food, so be sure to allow all of the fluid to burn off of the charcoal pieces before you begin cooking. This should take about 20 minutes. There is also self-lighting charcoal, but, again, be sure to let the pieces burn thoroughly before cooking. Nowadays, though, there are many alternatives to lighter fluid, such as the Charcoal Chimney Starter and electric charcoal starter, both available at your local Westlake Ace Hardware store.

Grilling Safety Tips
The U.S. fire department responds to an average of 7,700 home fires involving grills, hibachis or barbecues per year, including an average of 3,200 structure fires and 4,500 outside fires. These 7,700 fires caused an annual average of 13 deaths, 120 injuries and $70 million in direct property damage. To make sure your next barbecue doesn’t go up in flames, follow these safety tips:

  • Designate the grilling area a “No Play Zone”, keeping kids and pets well away until grill equipment is completely cool.
  • Before using, position your grill at least 3 feet away from other objects, including the house and any shrubs or bushes.
  • Only use starter fluid made for barbecue grills when starting a fire in a charcoal grill.
  • Before using a gas grill, check the connection between the propane tank and the fuel line to be sure it is working properly and not leaking.
  • Never use a match to check for leaks. If you detect a leak, immediately turn off the gas and don’t attempt to light the grill again until the leak is fixed.
  • Never bring a barbecue grill indoors or into any unventilated space. This is both a fire and carbon monoxide poisoning hazard.
Media Contact:

Tom Mentzer
Mentzer PR Group (for Westlake Ace Hardware)
(913) 626-9066

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