You’ve heard of charcoal and gas grills – but how about pellet grills? Pellet grills from Traeger have garnered a cult following because they’re so easy to cook on and they use energy-efficient food-grade wood pellets.
How Traeger Grills Work
Traeger grills use small, food-grade pellets made from 100% hardwood sawdust (these are NOT the same kind of pellets used in a stove that heats your home). Pellets come in flavors such as hickory, cherry, and mesquite.
You simply load the pellets into the pellet hopper, select the desired temperature and turn on the grill. The grill ignites with a standard 110 VAC household electric current. The igniter rod (a small heating element) activates and the auger (a corkscrew-like rod) feeds pellets into the firepot.
[When the igniter rod is active, during the first four minutes, the grill operates on 300 watts. After that, it drops down to 50 watts per hour, less than a standard light bulb.]
Traeger grills are unique in that once they’re heated up, you place your food in and let the grill do the work – you don’t have to babysit your grill. No flare-ups, no hot spots, and no unevenly cooked foods.
That’s because these grills are manufactured with sophisticated microprocessor circuitry that regulates the heat and smoke by stopping and starting the auger motor. The auger precisely controls the dispense rate for the pellets, keeping the temperature just right.
A fan evenly distributes the heat and the smoke. As the hot, smoky air circulates around the cooking chamber, it surrounds your food with heat, cooking it evenly on all sides, both top and bottom. In most cases, you don't even need to turn food unless you are cooking at a high temperature or want grill marks on both sides of the meat.
Grill, Smoke, or Bake
This heat distribution system makes for a versatile grill that allows you to do everything from smoking ribs or a brisket to grilling burgers and salmon. It also functions as a wood-fired convection oven – you can bake pizza, breads, biscuits and cookies – right on the grill.
Stop by one of Rich’s five Puget Sound showrooms – in Silverdale, Tacoma, Southcenter, Bellevue, or Lynnwood – to see our line of Traeger Grills. Be sure to ask about the most popular model, the Lil’ Tex BBQ070 (pictured at top).
Have you ever thought of a hot tub cover as custom-made furniture? Well, it is. A hard cover is crafted to fit the exact dimensions of your spa so you can obtain a good heat seal and save on energy costs.
My family has owned a Clearwater spa for years, and we replace our hard cover every year or two. We know it’s time to order a new cover when puddles form in the middle, it’s heavy to lift, and the foam core sags, cracks, or breaks.
Wear and tear on the vinyl is another signal that it’s time to replace the cover. Even though I clean and condition the vinyl regularly, and my hot tub is under a gazebo, the vinyl eventually gets brittle, cracked, or torn.
Here are some other important factors to look for when you’re shopping for a spa cover:
Don’t assume that all covers are created equal. While all spa covers are tapered – much like the roof of a house, so rain and snow will run off – the thickness of the foam can vary substantially.
Ask the spa cover salesperson about the load the cover can withstand. Depending on whether your spa is indoors, outdoors, or outdoors under cover, you could need a cover that bears anywhere from 75 lbs to 250 pounds (the greater the load capacity, the heavier the cover).
Foam density (pounds of foam per square inch) is a big determining factor in how long your cover will last, and how well it will perform. The higher the foam density, the longer it will take for your cover to get waterlogged. A 1.5 lb foam density is considered standard in the industry.
The foam core has a heat-sealed, vacuum-sealed moisture barrier around it. Avoid a taped poly wrap, as it leaks easily. Ask what type of sealing techniques the manufacturer uses, and ask for for a poly wrap thickness of at least 3 mil.
Heat Seal Gaskets
You want to prevent heat from escaping between the space where the halves of your cover fold together. Be sure to order a cover with heat seal gaskets.
One of the most important parts of your cover, because it gets the most use. Look for a hinge that has several layers of vinyl for added strength.
Scrim (bottom vinyl)
This material on the underside of your cover protects the foam core from moisture. To prevent your foam core from getting waterlogged, and to reduce energy costs, ask for a cover that has a water repellant, mildew resistant, reflective scrim that deflects radiant heat back into the spa water.
Make sure the cover uses marine grade vinyl, which doesn’t fade very much, and is treated with Ultraviolet and mildew inhibitors.
Sewing and Finishing
The cover should not have any raw edges or tie offs showing, and should be constructed with cotton-wound polyester thread that has been treated with UV and mildew inhibitors.
Handles and Fasteners
Look for quick-release buckles designed specifically for spas. Get reinforced locking fasteners that color coordinate with your spa cover.
Find out if your cover comes with a warranty, what the warranty covers, and how many years it lasts.
**Rich's also sells CoverMate lifts (pictured above) to make it easy for your to open and close your cover. Made of high-grade,
corrosion-resistant aluminum tubing and coated
with an exclusive two-part powder coating
process, this #1 selling lift will give you years of trouble-free performance. Every
CoverMate comes with an industry-exclusive
TowelMate, designed to keep towels close by.
After you cook a meal on your kitchen stovetop, you (hopefully) wipe up your mess. Your outdoor grill, like your stovetop, needs a little TLC after each use.
Here are some essential grill-care tips that will help your grill last longer… and your food taste better.
Store your grill in a dry place
I can’t tell you how many bedraggled grills I’ve seen that “live” outdoors year-round in the rainy, moldy Pacific Northwest. You’ll extend the life of your grill if you move it into a garage or shed or covered area when it’s not in use. At the very least, purchase a grill cover to protect it.
Grates can be buggers to clean, so lots of folks avoid cleaning them after every use. But you should clean them after every grilling session.
Allow your grill to cool down till it’s warm to the touch (before the gunk hardens).
Remove the grates, and use a brass wire grill brush to loosen stubborn food particles.
Wash the grates in warm, soapy water.
To remove heavy-duty grime, spray on oven cleaner and let it sit until the grease is softened. Spray the inside of the grill with oven cleaner, too.
Once the grease has loosened, wipe the oven cleaner off with paper towels or a sponge, and then wash with a mild detergent and water (you may need to apply gentle pressure with a wet, soapy fine steel wool pad). Sponge out with clear water and wipe dry.
If you have a cast iron grate, get it nice and clean after every use, and then wipe on some vegetable oil with a paper towel to keep it from rusting.
Cleaning a Charcoal Grill
Once your grill is completely cool, remove the grates and clean them as instructed above.
Scoop out the ashes with a fireplace shovel or garden trowel and place them in a small galvanized trashcan with a lid. Brush out any remaining ash residue. If your grill has an ash catcher, empty that, too. It’s important to remove ashes because they absorb moisture, which could cause your grill to rust. A clean grill also ensures adequate airflow every time you grill.
With a non-abrasive cloth, wipe down the outside of the grill and lid with a warm soap and water solution, and rinse with clear water.
Cleaning a Gas Grill
Some gas grills have a “clean” setting. Like a self-cleaning oven, it will burn up gunk that’s slipped into the grill, but you still need to wipe up the ashes from the burn-off.
If your grill doesn’t have a self-cleaning function, turn it on high for 10-15 minutes with the lid closed to burn off excess food particles.
Then turn off the grill and let it cool till it’s warm to the touch. Clean the grates as explained above, and clean off the barrier above the burners (metal plates, lava rock, or ceramic briquettes).
For heavy-duty yearly cleaning, disconnect the gas and then lift out each grill part one at a time.
Inspect the gas connection and burners to ensure nothing blocks the gas flow. Clean and/or replace parts as needed.
Clean any ceramic briquettes or lava rocks (if your grill uses them) to get rid of acrid smoke smells.
Wipe down every component with warm soapy water. Rinse with clear water and dry completely.
After re-assembling your grill, let it heat up completely before using it to cook on so that any remaining soap residue burns off.
In anticipation of the sizzling steaks, ribs, and chicken I’m going to grill this summer, I’m stocking up on charcoal.
But which charcoal should I buy? Lump or briquettes? Grade A or Grade B? Flavored or unflavored?
Troy Olsen (a sales representative for Associated Energy Systems), educated me in the finer points of charcoal. And let me tell you, Troy knows his charcoal.
How Charcoal is Created
Charcoal is recycled timber. When timber is harvested, some parts of the trees cannot be milled into lumber. Those remnants are bundled and loaded into air-controlled ovens that charcoalize the wood.
Grade A Lump Charcoal
This is the charcoal that’s on top of the pile once the wood has been charcoalized. It’s typically larger in size than other forms of charcoal, which makes it easier to start. When you grill with Grade A lump charcoal, you’ll see very few sparks flying out of the grill.
Grade B Lump Charcoal
This is the charcoal that’s in the middle of the charcoalized pile. It’s typically smaller in size, and because tree bark, sand, and dirt from the ground can get in it, you’ll see more sparks flying out of your grill.
This is charcoal dust – small pieces of charcoal at the bottom of the pile – that get ground up and mixed with sand and a binding agent to become charcoal briquettes. Sometimes, briquettes have a paraffin-type wax mixed in, making them self-lighting.
Which type of charcoal to use?
Most grills use lump charcoal because it’s far more economical than briquettes, which use one-third of their lifespan just to get the fire started. With lump charcoal, you can begin cooking as soon as your grill is at the right temperature, usually within 5-7 minutes.
Lump charcoal and briquettes are comparable in price (by the pound), and unlike briquettes, lump charcoal has a distinct, natural flavor.
Big Green Egg, for example, produces lump charcoal that’s a blend of four species of wood: hickory, maple, oak, and mesquite. Because BGE charcoal is a blend of woods, your smoked foods will have a mesquite and hickory flavor, says Troy.
Wicked Good Charcoal is produced from a hardwood (similar to ironwood), which gives it a long burn time, but less flavor for your food. This type of lump charcoal is ideal for desserts, hearth breads and pizza – foods where you don’t want a mesquite flavor.
And if you use Wicked Good Charcoal to grill salmon, for instance, you can add alder chips to obtain a delicious alder flavor.
Starting your charcoal
There are several methods for starting lump charcoal. At Rich’s, you can buy a chimney for starting charcoal. “You put the charcoal in the chimney, put newspaper underneath it in the changer, and light new newspaper – it takes five minutes,” says Troy.
Troy notes that some grills – including the Big Green Egg – don’t need chimneys. Rich’s sells EGGcessories such as firestarters (made from sawdust and paraffin), an electric starter, and an EGGcelerator (pictured, left) that attaches to the draft door of some EGGS and fans the lump charcoal.
Once the heat is established, the remaining charcoal is used to maintain the heat – low and slow for barbecuing… hot and fast for grilling.