If you're looking for a good all-around outdoor cooker, consider one of the many types of charcoal grills. Sure, you can use 'em for grilling those hot dogs and burgers, but they can also be used to smoke foods.
Because of the high temperatures possible with grills, they're perfect for steaks and other quick-cooking foods directly over the charcoal. The searing and browning improves the food's appearance while adding lots of great flavor.
With the charcoal positioned to one or two sides of the grill and wood chips or chunks added, the indirect heat works well for smoking foods.
High temperature grilling is useful at times, but you can't grill larger cuts of meat over hot, direct heat for very long. The outside will burn before the inside is done, and this is where the versatility of the charcoal grill lies.
To quickly grill burgers, dogs and other foods that don't require a period of lower temperature cooking charcoal can cover the entire charcoal grate of your grill.
By placing hot coals only on one half of the grill you get two cooking zones - a hot zone for searing (direct grilling), and a cooler zone for slow cooking, roasting or baking (indirect grilling). You quickly brown the food over direct heat, then move it to the cooler area to finish with indirect heat. With this method the meat needs to be rotated occasionally for even cooking.
The two zone method has its place, but with the heat coming from one side, the temperature in the grill will be uneven.
If you want to push the limits, try baking bread or brownies in your
charcoal grill. For even heat when baking, separate the charcoal into
two piles, one on each side of the grill, and place your baking pan in
This is also a great method for grilling meats since you don't have to rotate them as they cook. And to keep the grill nice and clean, I usually place a drip pan on the charcoal grate, directly under the meat.
Use can use your grill as a meat smoker too! If you don't have enough space outdoors for a grill AND a smoker, or you just don't want to spend the money, a charcoal grill can be your all-in-one outdoor cooker.
By using either of the indirect grilling methods explained above, your grill becomes a smoker by simply placing wood chunks or chips on the hot coals. With the right amount of charcoal, the lid in place, and vents properly set, you can smoked ribs, briskets, chicken and turkeys with ease.
Add more pre-lit charcoal briquettes and smoker wood every hour or so and you can keep the grill smoking long enough to finish a whole brisket.
If you want a grill that can double as an offset pit smoker, check out the Kingsford barrel grills. Kingsford makes an optional firebox that can be added to your barrel grill, making it ideal for smoking ribs, brisket, pork shoulders and the like. You'll be able to smoke-cook at the low temperatures required for creating perfect smoked foods. And if you just want to grill, it can be used for both direct and indirect grilling. This is a very versatile outdoor cooker.
Of all the brands of kettle-style grills, the Weber Kettle sets the standard for quality and performance. From the small Smokey Joe mini-kettle grill, all the way up to the big Ranch Grills, their versatility and control make them easy to use. The larger sizes are great to use when grill-smoking foods, too.
For the best tasting grilled food, follow these simple guidelines. Use the best quality charcoal you can afford. Don't use petroleum-based charcoal starting fluid and use the proper grilling technique for the food you're cooking.
Using charcoal lighter fluid or quick-lighting charcoal briquettes can add undesirable flavors to your foods. Instead, light your charcoal in a chimney or use an electric charcoal lighter. I sometimes use small torch attached to a propane cylinder to light my charcoal.
Depending on the type of food you're grilling, and the results you're after, learn about the different grilling methods. Direct grilling is cooking hot and fast, right over the hot coals. Indirect grilling is similar to roasting, with the lid on and the food is placed to the side of the hot coals. The lower the temperature, the slower the food will cook. This is how great barbecue is made, by cooking low and slow.