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July 11, 2022

How to Cook Sous Vide and Why You Should Start Now

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With Amazon Prime Day approaching, this may be the perfect time to take the leap and learn how to cook sous vide at home.

If you’re not familiar with the term, “sous vide” (pronounced soo-veed) is a method of vacuum-packing food in a plastic bag and then cooking it submerged in a hot water bath. When sous vide cooking was introduced to the American public in 2006 on the TV show Iron Chef America, people didn’t know what to make of the funny-looking tools. The show’s commentators called them “nice toys.” Little did they know that sous vide would prove to be a game-changing advancement in the culinary world.

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At Culinary Crafts, we’ve been cooking sous vide for a decade, but it’s only recently that the method has started making its way into people’s homes. For a long time, the equipment needed to cook sous vide was bulky, overly complex, and prohibitively expensive. A single sous vide machine cost upwards of a thousand dollars, so sous vide cooking was pretty much restricted to top-end restaurants and caterers. But now that affordable, quality sous vide devices have entered the market, home cooks can start enjoying easy, precision cooking with perfect results every time.

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How Sous Vide Works

It’s simple. Put water in a pot, plastic bin, or any other container that can hold hot water. Insert an immersion circulator, a thin device that heats the water to an exact desired temperature and circulates it throughout the container. Place the food you want to cook in a plastic bag and squeeze out the air before sealing the bag. Then submerge the vacuum-packed food in the water and leave it alone to cook. What could be easier?

Why Cook Sous Vide?

At first glance, sous vide might seem like a fancy variation on boiling or poaching, but sous vide offers major advantages over any other cooking method.

  • Control
    Traditional methods like grilling, boiling, baking, or broiling force you to rely on a certain degree of guesswork when it comes to cooking temperatures, but a good sous vide immersion circulator will hold your food precisely at your target temperature. That kind of control means that there are things you can do with sous vide that are otherwise impossible.
  • Taste
    A big reason why Michelin-starred restaurants rely on sous vide is because of the incredible taste it produces. Trapped in an air-tight container, food stays in its own juices, so there’s no chance for it to dry out or lose its beautiful flavors. Even pork and chicken breasts come out juicy, tender, and delicious every time. In fact, sous vide is so good at concentrating flavors that you need to be careful to reduce the herbs or aromatics you would normally add to recipes because those flavors will be intensified during the sous vide cook.
  • Convenience
    For a home chef, the ease of sous vide cooking may be one of its biggest advantages. Much like a slow cooker/crockpot, you can “set it and forget it.” However, even a crockpot will dry out and burn food if you forget it for too long, but with sous vide, it’s virtually impossible to overcook food. As long as you set it to the right temperature in the first place, your food will not overcook, even if you forget about it and go on vacation!
  • Nutrition
    Because it’s protected from contact with water, air, or high temperatures, food cooked sous vide retains more minerals and nutrients than with any other cooking method.
  • Consistency
    Sous vide cooking guarantees that you can get the same results time after time. Not only that, but the food you make will be cooked consistently throughout. For example, with traditional cooking methods, a “medium rare” steak will be medium rare only at its center. The outer edges of the steak will be well done. With sous vide, you can achieve a steak that is medium rare (or any other level of doneness you want) all the way through, from edge to edge.
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    What Are the Downsides of Sous Vide?

    Honestly, now that immersion circulators are affordable, there aren’t many downsides to cooking sous vide. One, arguably, is Time. Because sous vide cooking uses lower temperatures, it takes more time for your food to cook. You cannot “whip up” a meal using sous vide. Just as with a slow cooker, it’s a tradeoff between time and convenience. But all you have to do is plan ahead, get your sous vide cooker started in time, and then wait. There’s no danger of starting your sous vide cook too soon because the method is very forgiving. Your sous vide cooker will continue holding your food warm, safe, and ready until it's time to eat.

    The other possible disadvantage to sous vide is that it does not brown food. For some meals (particularly meats like steak), most people like to have a bit of char on the surface, but sous vide will not do that. However, there’s a simple solution: a reverse sear. Once you’ve brought your steak to the right doneness all the way through, remove it from the sous vide bath. Heat a pan as hot as you can make it, and pat your steak dry. (Surface moisture is the enemy to a good sear.) One by one, place each edge of the steak to the pan just long enough to get a good char.

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    What Kind of Sous Vide Cooker Should I Get?

    There are two general types of sous vide equipment: water ovens and immersion circulators. Water ovens are all-in-one sous vide systems where you pour the water into the machine, set your temperature, and let it heat before dropping in your vacuum-packed food. Besides being more expensive, bulkier, and harder to manage, water baths also have another disadvantage. They don’t circulate the water as they cook, which makes for less consistent results.

    For cooking most kinds of food, we recommend an immersion circulator. There are lots of good circulators available, so even though we really like the Breville Joule and several of Anova’s models, the best bet is to do a little homework and decide which immersion circulator gives you what’s most important to you.

    Here are factors you should consider:
    • Price. Unless there are specific special features that you want to add, you should be able to get a very good immersion circulator in the $100-200 price range.
    • Temperature Consistency. Arguably this is the most important factor to consider since precise temperature control is the main advantage of sous vide cooking.
    • Ease of Use. Some models have controls you can set by pressing a few buttons manually while others are controlled through an app on your smartphone or other device. It’s a matter of personal preference which is better, but read user reviews on how much trouble a particular model is to program before you buy. Also look at the attachment mechanism; some models are difficult to attach to various cooking containers.
    • Heating Time. How long does it take for a model to bring the water up to the target temperature? Remember that the water temperature will drop slightly whenever you add your food, so it makes a difference how long it takes to recover to the target temperature.
    • Pump Capacity. This is a measure of how well the circulator moves heated water through the container. The more water it moves, the more consistent your temperature will be, and the better results you can expect.
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      What Other Tools Do I Need?

      Cooking vessel

      Practically any vessel will do—a deep pan, a ceramic slow cooker pot, even a beer cooler—as long as it can hold enough water. We recommend a clear plastic storage bin because they’re sturdy, they let you see what’s going on inside, and they have plenty of uses when you’re not cooking.

      Plastic bags

      These can be (1) single-use or resealable vacuum bags, (2) reusable silicone bags, or (3) ordinary freezer bags. Vacuum bags give the most reliable seal, but they require you to buy a pump or vacuum sealer. Silicone bags are eco-friendly and can be reused ad infinitum, but their thickness makes it a little harder to get an air-free seal. This problem can be (mostly) solved by using the water displacement method and by adding weights so the food will be completely submerged. Plastic freezer bags are easier to work with, but they tend to break at temperatures around 158°F or higher.

      Ping pong balls?

      You’ll also need a way to prevent your heated water from evaporating away during long sous vide cooks. Some specialized sous vide cooking containers come with lids designed for that purpose. Or you can always just cover your container with plastic wrap. We have found that covering the surface of the water with floating ping pong balls is surprisingly effective at slowing evaporation and cutting down on the energy bill.

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      Binder clips

      If you aren’t sure that the seal on your bag will stay completely water-tight, you can use binder clips to attach your food bag to the side of your cooking vessel. This will leave the food completely submerged while the seal of the bag is safely up above the waterline. If your food floats, you can use the clips to attach a weight to the bag. Submerging the bag completely ensures that the food will cook thoroughly and evenly. (You can accomplish the same thing by adding food-safe metal ball bearings in the bag.)

      Pot lid organizer

      Finally, if you will be sous viding several bags at once, you may want to buy a pot-lid organizer that will fit in your cooking vessel. By holding the bags apart from each other, the organizer will allow each bag to be completely surrounded by the hot water, cooking evenly and completely.

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      What Should I Cook First?

      Once you’ve taken the plunge and bought a sous vide cooker, there’s a whole world of foods to try with your new-found superpower.

      A good way to familiarize yourself with the advantages of sous vide cooking is to try out foods that are often challenging with traditional cooking methods. For example, tough cuts of beef can be difficult to soften up without overcooking and drying out, but with sous vide you’ll find that they pose no challenge at all! Alternatively, certain meats are notoriously easy to overcook, but you can delight your family and amaze your friends with perfect sous vided chicken breasts, pork, or veal.

      Perhaps the best way to flex your sous vide muscles is with a dish that is a touchstone of chefs’ skills: perfectly cooked eggs Benedict with Hollandaise sauce.

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      Keep an eye on our site for ideas of must-try sous vide recipes.

March 27, 2022

Ryan’s Top Tips for Brewing Incredible Coffee at Home

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Ryan pours coffee at Culinary Crafts catering event Ten years ago, I set out to learn everything I could about making a perfect cup of coffee. I experimented with roasts, blends, and brewing styles from all over the world. I bought grinders, tampers, boilers, steamers…all the paraphernalia you can imagine. Most of that equipment is just décor in my home now, but a few of the lessons I learned, I still use. In this article, I want to boil down everything I learned into a few simple, affordable tips for brewing incredible coffee at home. Unground coffee beans spilled on table

Use fresh beans.

How important is it to use fresh coffee beans? Let me put it this way: I’d rather have coffee improvised with a sock, an old pot, and a campfire if I get to grind my favorite beans fresh each morning, versus coffee from the latest expensive brewing machine using pre-ground, stale beans. As with all food, the ingredients matter much more than the tools.

Short science lesson: When beans are roasted, they go through a chemical change called the Malliard reaction. Not only does it turn the beans dark brown, it also creates aromatic compounds in the beans that give coffee its distinct taste and smell. But here’s the catch. The moment beans are roasted, those aromatic compounds start to fade away. After a few weeks the beans simply won’t smell or taste as good. Once beans have lost those compounds, there’s only one way to save the coffee: dump out that hot mess and start over with some fresh beans.

Have you noticed that beans off the grocery store shelf don’t print the date of when they were roasted? That’s because grocery store coffee is almost always past its freshness window. Sure, they can vacuum pack the beans and keep them fresh a little longer, but you can’t count on grocery store beans to be in their prime. Your best bet is to buy fresh-roasted whole beans from a local roaster. Or you can try one of the subscription services that will send you fresh-roasted beans every few weeks. If you’re feeling ambitious you can roast your own, but that’s the subject for another blog.

If beans are past their fresh date, they can still be used to make pretty good coffee if you cold brew them! But don’t waste your really good beans on cold brew. The best a cold brew will ever give you is pretty good coffee.

Pro Tip:
For the absolute freshest beans, buy local. We have some fantastic roasters along the Wasatch Front including Publik, Pink Elephant, Blue Copper, and La Barba (which is sold at Harmons).

If you want an extraordinary experience with a coffee genius, visit John Piquet at Caffe D’Bolla. You’ll quickly see why I treasure all the time I’ve spent there! His regular menu on the wall only offers espresso drinks, but ask for the siphon menu.  John roasts all his coffee in house.  The nuanced flavors you'll experience in both the the espresso and the siphon coffee at Caffe D'bolla are because of the roasting. As John says, "It's the single most important aspect of my craft."   kinu grinder for brewing incredible coffee at home

Grind your beans just before you brew.

Grinding beans greatly increases the amount of surface area that’s exposed. Exposing more surface area means you'll get a lot more flavor out of the ground beans when you brew them. Unfortunately, as soon as beans are ground, they’ll start losing their aromatic compounds at a much faster rate. So if you’re trying to get the best-tasting cup of coffee, it makes sense to grind them only when you’re ready to brew.

One piece of equipment that’s worth investing in is a burr grinder. Unlike regular blade grinders that just bash the beans into random-sized pieces, a burr grinder mills the beans between two grinding plates until the pieces are all a uniform size. With a regular grinder, you’ll have tiny bits of bean that get overexposed during the brew, giving the coffee a bitter, sludgy taste. At the same time you’ll also have larger pieces that won’t be exposed enough, adding a sour, acidic taste. If you use a burr grinder, all the bits will be the same size, so you can get a consistent flavor. You may have to try some practice runs to find the perfect grind for your machine, but whatever size of grounds you’re aiming for, a burr grinder will help you hit it precisely and consistently.

Pro Tip:
You can spend thousands of dollars on a burr grinder, but the Kinu hand grinder, at around $200, is my favorite. 1Zpresso and Helor make comparably great grinders. For lower budgets, the Hario Skerton Pro is a good ceramic grinder. It’s not the greatest, but at around $60, it may be the best value for the price. steaming cup of coffee in white mug on saucer

Use the right water temperature.

To extract the best flavors out of your coffee, you should brew with water between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. Below 195 degrees, you won’t get enough flavor from the coffee. Above 205 you’ll scorch the beans and get bitter chemicals that should have been left in the beans. Perfect brewing involves finding that temperature “sweet” spot.

If you’re boiling your own water, you may need to let it cool a bit before you start your brew. Remember, water naturally boils at 212 degrees at sea level, and the boiling point gradually decreases as you go up in elevation. If you live above 4,000 feet in elevation (as we do here in Utah), you can pour boiling water straight over your beans, since our water boils at 204 degrees. The lower your elevation is below 4,000 feet, the longer you’ll need to let your water cool before you brew.

Pro Tip:
One thing I learned from John Piquet is that the taste of coffee changes at different temperatures. If you drink your coffee too hot, it may smell great but it won’t taste its best. John encourages his customers to begin sipping their coffee when it cools to around 155 degrees, which is the first point the flavors can truly dominate the heat. Then enjoy the changing range of flavors as the coffee gradually cools. Chef Ryan Crafts teaches a class on how to make a perfect cup of coffee

Find the right ratio of coffee to water.

In addition to temperature, the amount of water you use also affects the brewing process. The more water you use, the weaker the coffee will be. Finding the right balance of coffee and water (a.k.a. the “brew ratio”) is key to making a perfect cup of coffee.

Personally, I use 240 grams of water for every 15 grams of coffee, a ratio of 16:1. You’ll want to experiment with that ratio depending on how rich you want your coffee to be. As you’re experimenting, try to be as consistent as possible in your measurements. This brings us to the second piece of equipment that’s worth investing in, a digital scale. It’s impossible to control exactly how much ground coffee fits into a scoop, but a digital scale will allow you to measure by weight, giving you a precise and accurate measurement every time.

Pro Tip:
There’s an ongoing debate about what kind of water (tap, bottled, filtered, etc.) makes the best coffee. My two cents: unless you’re doing espresso, the type of water usually doesn’t make much difference. But I don’t recommend using distilled water. Just like food is enhanced by a little salt, a perfect brew needs a small amount of minerals in the water, ideally around 150 parts per million. Distilled water is too pure and will make your coffee taste bland. Coffee makers and equipment at Culinary Crafts coffee class

Bloom your coffee.

If you grind fresh beans just before you brew, you might notice that the coffee grounds appear to bubble when they first touch water. What you’re seeing is CO2 gas escaping from the beans, a phenomenon called “the bloom.” If you don't get rid of that gas before you start your brew, the CO2 can form a kind of blanket around the coffee grounds, preventing them from brewing properly. To bloom your beans, pour a little water over the grounds. Then give them a gentle stir so that all the grounds get wet, and wait for about 30 seconds for the gas to leave. Use about twice as much water as there is coffee grounds. In other words, if you’re starting with 40 grams of grounds, use about 80 grams of water in your bloom.

Over the years, I tried a lot of techniques and technologies in my quest to brew the perfect cup. Most of them turned out to be more time-consuming or expensive than they’re worth. But these five tips I’ve discussed are simple, tried, and true, and I guarantee that if you give them a try, you’ll taste a dramatic difference. I should warn you that once you’ve tasted how good your home-brewed coffee can be, it may spoil you. You’ll have a hard time forking over $6 at Starbucks when, for 50 cents, you can brew something much better at home.

Enjoy!

September 17, 2018

September Recipe of the Month: The Perfect Dipping Caramel

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Candy making can seem daunting especially if you’ve tried and failed in the past. Whether this is your first time making caramel apples or if you’re ready to try again, you’ll love Meagan Crafts-Price’s tips and tricks to making the perfect caramel apple this fall season!
Caramel Apples
INGREDIENTS
2 cups light corn syrup 1/2 cup water 2 cups sugar pinch of baking soda 1/2 cup butter- cut into 1" cubes 1 12oz. can evaporated milk
Directions, Tips & Techniques
Having your thermometer correctly calibrated is more important than the  particular candy thermometer you use because having your caramel at the perfect temperature for dipping is the key to success. 
Calibrating your candy thermometer
Start by boiling a cup of water in a 1 quart sauce pan. Clip your candy thermometer to the side. If your thermometer reads 212ºF when the   water starts to boil, congratulations that was pretty easy! If it doesn’t, don’t despair. The reading could be off because you aren’t at sea level or your thermometer isn’t calibrated - or probably a bit of both. Here are two ways you can compensate for any discrepancy in the  calibration. My favorite way is to slide the glass tube up or down accordingly until it reads 212ºF in boiling water. If you can’t figure out how to move the glass tube, you can make the adjustment mathematically. To account for the discrepancy in your temperature reading when the water started boiling, simply calculate a new goal temperature in your recipe. For example, if you need to cook your candy to 242ºF, and your thermometer read 210ºF when the water boiled, you know your calibration is off by 2 degrees. So lower the goal temperature in the instructions by 2 degrees, from 242º to 240ºF.
 
Now that you have a calibrated thermometer, keep your pot of boiling water on the stove; you will use it later on. 
In a heavy 4 quart sauce pan combine corn syrup, water and sugar over medium heat. Stirring occasionally with a spatula until mixture comes to a boil. Add in the pinch of soda. The mixture will start to bubble rapidly. This will leave bits of  crystalized sugar on the side of the pan. Take a pastry brush and dip it into your pan of boiling water and wash down the sides of the pan so you don’t get gritty caramel. Clip your calibrated thermometer to your pan of caramel, add butter and stir   until incorporated. Then stir constantly while adding the evaporated milk. You will want to keep the mixture moving so the caramel doesn’t scorch. Continue stirring until your mixture reaches 242ºF (or the adjusted temp for your thermometer). 
Remove from heat and cool until the mixture is 220ºF. This is a key step for dipping! If your caramel is too hot it will just slide off your apples. If it is too cold you won’t be able to get your apples completely coated because the caramel is too thick. While the caramel is cooling, wash 8 apples and insert wooden skewer or popsicle stick about 2” into the apple. Tilt the pan to give you a nice pool of caramel to start dipping. Dip apples into your caramel and turn to coat thoroughly. Drag across the lip of your pan to get off excess caramel, then turn upside down and hold it upside down for about 30 seconds. This helps minimize the foot of caramel that appears at the bottom of the apple when cooling. Place on a piece of parchment paper to cool. You can then dip your apples in chocolate and roll in nuts or candy pieces as desired!
Once you have gotten your 8 apples dipped you might notice there is still caramel in your pan sticking to the sides and such. Don't scrap down your pan with a spatula and continue dipping. The caramel that is sticking to the sides of your pan have still been cooking quite a bit as you have dipped and will be a different consistency than the caramel in the mass. This extra caramel is great to scrap right onto your counter and eat as a snack while you are waiting for your delicious apples to be done!!

June 28, 2018

Grilling 101: Ryan’s favorite tips and tricks

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Ryan Crafts, Grill master, Grilling 101, Ryan's favorite tips and tricks, Culinary Crafts, barbeque in Utah, catering BBQ in Utah, smoke, BBQ, burgers on the grill, Jen Crafts

Welcome to Grilling 101: Ryan’s Favorite Tips and Tricks.

My love for the grill runs deep. In our family catering business, there were an array of tasks I was assigned at early ages. Most were forgettable (or unpleasantly memorable). Grilling was the first job that I actually enjoyed and felt I excelled at. I remember being 15 years old, carting around our rusty old barrel drum grills, breathing in dangerous amounts of mesquite smoke, singeing off all the hair on my hands and arms (and sometimes eyebrows), blistering my fingertips, shoveling out bucket after bucket of ashes every night....and loving every minute of it.

For me, lighting a row of 18 chimneys full of lump charcoal or searing 5000 fillets of trout is a pleasure, even an indulgence. I grill to eat—I love the flavors. I grill to feed others—it’s my favorite role as a host. But I also grill just to get right—you could say it’s how I ponder and pray. Mastering the grill can be a long process, but it’s also fun and exciting. Whether you already have an elaborate outdoor kitchen with many grills under your belt, or whether you have never so much as roasted a hot dog over the campfire, I invite you to up your grill game. And start today.

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What Is and Isn’t Grilling

Many outdoor cooking terms are often confused or misused, so my first piece of advice is to learn basic grilling terms and use them properly.

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Grilling refers to a very specific type of cooking: cooking directly over an open fire, usually with a grill/grate/gridiron at a relatively high heat. Hence, a "grill" is a device that allows you to cook directly over a high heat open fire. These three elements are necessary conditions of grilling: direct heat, open fire, and a potential for high heat.

Smoking ribs in your pellet cooker (like the very popular Traeger models)? Delicious, but NOT grilling. Brisket for 18 hours in your offset barrel cooker? Wonderful, but NOT grilling. Pan searing a skin-on chicken breast in duck fat and herbs? My mouth is watering, but still NOT grilling.

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What about cooking burgers over briquettes in your Weber kettle? That’s grilling! Tossing vegetables in a wire mesh basket over a log fire? Yep! Reverse searing a garlic- and chocolate-rubbed, dry-aged Wagyu ribeye over mesquite charcoal? That’s not only grilling, that's my personal idea of paradise!

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How to Choose Your Grill(s)

There are lots of factors to consider when choosing a grill, from size and portability to brand, cost, and dozens of possible bells and whistles. But the first question you need to answer is "Gas / propane versus charcoal / wood?"

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Pros and Cons of a Gas / Propane Grill

  • Easy startup. Turn on the gas, hit the igniter. Even if your ignition system is broken, a stick lighter gets you going quick and easy. No lighter fluid, no chimneys, no heating coils, very little forethought and waiting required.
  • Easy heat management. Need it hotter? Turn the dial up. Cooler? Turn it back down. Very little practice and finesse is required to adjust and control your heat.
  • Easy cool down / cleanup. Turn the gas off. Done.
  • Clean burning. Less smoke and fumes for you to breath and to float off into your local environment.
  • Limited temperature. Admittedly gas grills can get hot. And certain features (infrared burners) can ramp up the heat. But even the hottest gas grill can’t reach the temps you can achieve with a hardwood charcoal fire.
  • Limited flavor. True, gas grills create a wonderful Maillard reaction with your food, and juices that drip below generally burn off into tasty vapors. It's also true that wood chips can be burned in a smoker box to create flavor in a gas grill. Nonetheless, even the best gas grills employing all these measures can’t match the wood flavor of a charcoal or wood burning grill.
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Pros and Cons of a Charcoal / Wood Grill

  • Demanding startup. I use a chimney starter(s) for nearly all my fires. These are basically a fool proof method that require only a little newspaper and a match. Lighter fluid can also get a fire going quickly and easily. Nonetheless, these are more work and require more forethought than simply starting up a gas burner.
  • Demanding heat management. Need it hotter? You might need to add fuel, increase the airflow, sweep the ashes, or some combination of these. Need it cooler? You might have to reduce the airflow, remove some of the fire, or even spritz your fire with a little water. Eventually, the finesse to manage your fire will become second nature, but it requires significant practice.
  • Demanding cool down / cleanup. In general I prefer to let the fire burn itself out. This takes patience. Sometimes I need to actively extinguish the fire using suffocation or even ice / water. This can make for a big cloud of steam and soot. Either way, after the fire’s died, there will be ashes to deal with.
  • Dirty. More smoke and fumes for you to breath and to float off into your local environment. Although I’m a huge proponent of charcoal and wood fire cooking, I also support measures to protect our environment, especially improving air quality here in Utah. I think grilling on bad air days should be legally prohibited. Until we get there, I strongly encourage local readers to only grill with charcoal on clear days with no inversion.
  • Very high temperature. This is where charcoal grills really shine. Searing is a joy and at its best on a grill that is crazy hot. Gas grills just can’t compare.
  • Very rich flavor. Once you’ve had a burger cooked over mesquite coals, you can’t go back to one cooked over a gas grill or in a cast iron skillet. It just tastes better. A lot better.
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As you read these lists, you might get the impression that gas grills win out. After all, they best their charcoal counterparts in 4 of the 6 key factors considered here. But it's up to each individual to decide how much weight each of those factors should be given. For me, when I fire up the grill (as opposed to sauteing on the kitchen stove), it’s because I’m after the highest heat and deepest wood flavor I can get. So for me, the two areas where charcoal grills win are the ultimate trump cards. At my house, I have 3 grills (also 2 smokers and 1 wood oven) and they all use charcoal or wood.

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What to Look for In a Charcoal Grill

If you do decide that a charcoal grill is for you, here are the key features you look for when choosing one.

  • Airflow. The ability to control the flow of air to speed up or slow down your fire is crucial. You want vents below the fire and a lid above the fire that allows you to control airfow.
  • Charcoal grate. Elevating the fire off the floor of the grill container allows the fire to burn efficiently as the ashes to fall away. Some grills have adjustable charcoal grates which allow you to move the fire closer to or further away from the food.
  • Food grate. Cast iron grates are wonderful to cook on. Just like your grandmother’s cast iron skillet, these season in, become naturally nonstick, retain heat wonderfully, and with care can last a lifetime. That said, other grate materials can also cook wonderfully. Most important is a gridiron pattern that prevents small and delicate foods from slipping through, and thick gauge materials that can take the high heat without warping and wearing out.
  • Ash removal. This is important, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, simpler is better. A tray or bucket that ashes fall into that is easily removed and dumped is great. You just don’t want to have to shovel or vacuum out ashes after every cook.
  • Quality of materials. You want all the grill components to be thick gauge and heavy duty enough to last for years with reasonable wear and tear. Powder coat is better than paint, and enamel coating is even better than powder. It’s awfully frustrating to buy a grill with fancy bells and whistles that looks great in the store but is dented, rusted, and falling apart a year or two later.
Weber grill, Rocky Mountain trout, open flame, grill marks, crosshatches, blackened trout,

A wonderful charcoal grill does not need to be fancy or elaborate. The kettle grill (a bowl with domed lid sitting on a trio of metal pipe legs) has become an iconic grill image precisely because it has remained basically unchanged for so long, and because the design works so well. Indeed, if I could only have one grill and it needed to be at a moderate cost, my choice would be easy: a Weber Original charcoal grill.

Tools of the Trade

Walk into the outdoor cooking section of your local hardware store and you’ll likely be inundated with an array of grilling tools, gadgets, and assorted accessories. It can be overwhelming to decide which ones are necessary, which ones are a luxury, and which ones are a waste. Listed below are how I like to break out and consider these items.

I set out these must have tools every time I grill:

  • Chimney starter - the best way to start charcoal. Avoid all the fumes, mess, and volatility of lighter fluid.charcoal grill, smoke chimney, grill chimney, flame, fire, coals, grill, Utah BBQ caterer, outdoor cooking in Utah
  • Gloves and apron - You want a 100% cotton, heavy canvas, or leather apron (any poly or poly blend will melt onto your clothes when you get your grill really rolling). You'll also need thick lined leather or cotton gloves. Pro Tip: Buying welding gear in the tool section is often cheaper than the nearly functionally identical gear in the cooking section.Utah catering outdoors, Grilling, oysters, lemon wedges, leather gloves, leather apron, grilling equipment, gas grill, Utah catering event
  • Oil & onion - Don’t use cooking spray on your grill. Don’t use a paper or cloth towel. Dip the onion in the oil, and use this to lubricate and season your grates.
  • Tongs - I like tongs that are springy enough to release quickly, but not so springy that my hand gets tired using them. I like enough teeth on the ends to firmly grasp the food, but not so sharp that they bite into and shred the food. Most important, I like thick metal tongs that won’t go soft and flexy when they get hot.Kaleb Crafts, barbeque, BBQ, tongs, chef Crafts, apron, red shirt, outdoor event in Utah, cooking outdoors in Utah, catering event in Utah
  • Spatula - Just like the tongs, you want a thick metal spatula. Thin metal will flex, bend, and break if it gets too hot while cooking.outdoor grilling, cooking in utah, grilling burgers, charcoal grill, spatula, gloves, flames, fire, Utah premier events, catering events in Utah, outdoor caterers
  • Fork - Again, thick and sturdy. Built to take the heat. I use this primarily for the oil and onion listed above.Kaleb Crafts, chef master, grill master, oiling grill, onion, olive oil, grilling in Utah, grill fork, blue apron, chefs grilling, black hat, white shirt, Culinary Crafts, BBQ in Utah County, caterers who BBQ
  • Rake - A tool dedicated to breaking up, moving around, and sweeping the fire. I used to use my spatula, but a rake is so much better. I use it all the time.coal rake, raking coals, grill, white coals, ash, sparks, briquets, ash, grate, BBQ, Weber grill, Utah catering, BBQ catering
  • Basting brush - I prefer a silicone brush and / or a cotton mop. Natural hair brushes don’t last, especially when used over heat, and start to fall apart shedding hair into the food.BBQ chicken, basting brush, basting chicken, BBQ sauce, grill, gas grill, cooking outdoors in Utah, Utah caterers, barbequed chicken
  • Thermometer - You want something digital with a fast / instant read. You’ll see units ranging from $10 - $100, but you should target the $20 - $50 range for solid quality and good value. My Lavatools thermometer is my favorite I’ve tried.
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Although not necessary, these convenient accessories see a lot of use on my patio:

  • Grill basket - simply an alternative to your grate. This allows you cook smaller items that don’t work on a flat open grate, while still exposing them to the open fire and smoke.grill basket, BBQ, grilling equipment, spatula, red peppers, yellow peppers, green bell peppers, grilling in Utah, outdoor catered event, summer catering event
  • Wood chip soaker - this keeps your chips under the water while soaking, so you don’t have dry chips floating on top.wood chip soaker, grilling equipment, grill master, wood chips, soaking wood chips, BBQ setup, catering equipment, catering in utah
  • Meat hook - I use this as an alternative to tongs when I’m grilling large cuts or large amounts of meat. This allows me to quickly move food on, off, and around the grill without the constant squeezing of the tongs. Very handy in certain situations.grilling chicken, meat hook, Weber grill, charcoal grill, grilling techniques, outdoor catered event in Utah, summer grilling in Utah,
  • Meat claws - great for shredding pork butt or beef brisket. Also really great for moving very large cuts. Since these don’t have a long handle, you just have to be aware that your hands and arms will be close to the fire if you use these over the grill.meat claws, BBQ cooking in Utah, knuckles, food preparation, Utah caterers who BBQ, Utah caterers who grill
  • Dedicated grilling knives and scissors - you can certainly use the knives from your kitchen. But I love having a simple set (only includes a carver / slicer knife, a flexible boning knife, a small utility knife, and a pair of meat shears) that I keep in my grilling table always at the ready.
  • Spray bottle - using water on your coals is a last resort and short term fix for flare ups and other mishaps. But sometimes a quick fix is all you need and super handy to have ready.
  • Wood grill scraper - after grilling, I use this to scrape large bits of food off the grates, and let the fire burn everything else off. I try to avoid using wire brushes and cleaning chemicals on my grills.charcoal companion, safe scrape. wooden scraper, grill scraper, clean grill, gas grill, catering in Utah, grilling tips and hints
  • Wood planks - a great way to infuse extra flavor and/or keep delicate food (like a whole salmon) intact while moving on and off the grill.
  • Kerchief - soaking this down and tying around your neck or over your face can be a lifesaver when the heat and smoke get too intense.grilling in Utah, outdoors event in Utah, Utah catering, grill, charcoal grill, grilled fish, bandanas, cowboy hat, chefs, spatulas, summer BBQ catering, aprons, grilling without gloves

Additional tools that I only use occasionally / rarely:

  • Grilling stones - fun to use, but easy to crack if you’re not careful. Also, since these create a barrier between the open fire and the food, they limit the flavor impact you get from a great wood fire.
  • Silicon mat - similar to the grilling stones. Handy for certain situations, but I rarely use these.
  • Extra lighting - great if you travel with a grill and/or don’t have enough light in your yard.
  • Grill Brush - like I said earlier, I try to avoid using these (I prefer a wood scraper and the fire itself to clean the grill). That said, there are a few occasions where a little extra grit is required.
  • Skewers - I prefer flat and wide skewers to the round style. This way, the food doesn’t roll around on the wire.
  • Cast iron pan and wok - Can open options for you over your grill, but like the stones, they create a barrier between the open fire and the food, which kind of misses the point.
  • Smoker box - especially handy for gas grills that don’t have the flavors of wood and charcoal. Also useful in a lot of indirect cooking recipes.
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Finally some of my favorite grilling (and BBQ) cookbook references include:

  • Weber’s Charcoal Grilling, The Art of Cooking with Live Fire by Jamie Purviance (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. If you only buy one grilling book, feel confident about making it this one).
  • The Cook’s Illustrated Guide to Grilling and Barbecue by Cook’s Illustrated Magazine Editors (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. In depth and exceptionally reliable information that helps you understand why certain techniques succeed, which helps you expand your own skill set and personal innovation.)
  • Charred and Scruffed by Adam Perry Lang
  • Essentials of Grilling by Williams-Sonoma
  • Feeding the Fire by Joe Carroll
  • Franklin Barbecue by Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay
  • Smoke & Spice by Cheryl and Bill Jamison
 

Hopefully there’s enough here to get a new griller started and to make a seasoned griller excited to jump back in and learn something new. In both cases, stay tuned, I’ll be back with more favorite tips and tricks for becoming a Grillmaster!

Ryan

November 15, 2017

Culinary Crafts Thanksgiving Game Plan!

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As promised, here is the tried-and-true Culinary Crafts's Thankgiving Game Plan!  Our very own Mary Crafts-Homer wrote this awesome timeline for those who are looking for a well planned, less stressful, and fabulous Thanksgiving - and don't we ALLLL want that?!  Yes, yes we do! We LOVE this plan because it really does make planning SOOO easy - but let's be honest too...  It's no fun for just one person to do this all by themselves!  You need your family (or friends) to join together to help make this a perfect holiday.  So, being the super smart woman Mary is, she wrote this plan with different tasks in mind to delegate out.  And believe me, when everyone lends a hand, that's when the best memories are made.  Happy planning everyone! Check out more Salt Lake City, Park City, and Utah County catering at www.culinarycrafts.com!

August 22, 2017

COMING SOON! Artisan Breads Cooking Class Pt. 2

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Jocelyn Gilles (one of our talented planners and an expert baker) and Michael Barrett (our head pastry chef) are teaming up to teach you more about breads you can make right from your own kitchen that will knock the socks off your family and friends! No need to be an expert join us to learn the best new breads to start you holiday’s off with a bang. This may be a Part 2 class, but whether you attended the first half or not, all are welcome and encouraged to come. We will be expanding more on the difficult breads, like cooking ciabatta in a dutch oven, how to make our musli rolls, and brioche. These breads sound intimidating but are actually simple. Students will get recipes and have all of the bread to sample with compound butters. They will also get a loaf of bread to take home! If you like bread, this is sure to be a good time!

March 29, 2016

A Delicious and Oh So Simple Spring Salad!

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March 18, 2016

Friday Instagram of the Week!

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CC_IGofTW64 Today's Instagram of the Week comes from our very own Mary Crafts-Homer who posted this AWESOME pic of her and Culinary Crafts's pastry chef, Jocelyn Gillies, after their AMAZING demo at the 2016 Catersource Event Solutions Conference this week!  We have so much fun every year and can't wait for the next one!  Thanks for the post, Mary!  Also, remember to tag @CulinaryCrafts in your posts or add the hashtag #culinarycrafts for your chance to be next week's Instagram of the Week!  Happy weekend, everyone! Check out more Salt Lake City, Park City, and Utah County catering at www.culinarycrafts.com!

January 7, 2016

Recipe of the Month: Apple Fennel Salad (Plus Info on the Next Pop Up Restaurant!)

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December 17, 2015

How To: Make a Culinary Crafts Apple Fennel Salad

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We have quite the treat for you all today! Another Culinary Crafts 'how-to' video from the talented Ashley Wortley - check it out! We LOVE these videos and Ashley really makes Culinary Crafts look good! We are ever so grateful to Ashley - and we have one more video on the way too, so stay tuned! Happy viewing, everyone! Check out more Salt Lake City, Park City, and Utah County catering at www.culinarycrafts.com!

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