What keeps the world turning back to the products of the Weber Stephen company of Palantine, Illinois? The answer comes with two words: value and performance. The 18.5 inch One Touch Kettle is so simple and so practical that it might be easy to overlook its many virtues. With that, a person new to grilling and outdoor cooking might also miss why it is worth so much more than the twenty extra dollars you'll have to pay for it over its competition. This charcoal burner's performance is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Recommend this product?
History: This little cooker comes from a long line of charcoal and gas barbecues that dates back to the Forties. The first Weber kettle was fabricated in a plant that manufactured sea-buoys near Chicago. With the resources that a sea-buoy company would have at hand, like stamping machinery and other metal working devices, one of the company's founders began creating cookers from the unique buoy shape, and the rest is history. The shape of the Weber kettle is world famous and is even featured on the rondelle of the firm's high-dollar gas models.
Special?: "Whats the big deal?", and "Why is this cooker different than the Sunbeam (insert any brand name here)?" These are two questions that a potential buyer might ask. Well, apart from the outstanding quality and fit and finish of Weber products, there are two reasons why this grill is a standout: the enamel coated kettle, and the function of the kettle shape and air intakes.
Enamel Coated Kettle: The enamel coated kettle will outlast any other grill on the market, bottom line. The thick, heat resistant enamel is simply impervious to the charcoal fire laid within. The coating is frankly impervious to all but the craziest scenarios. Spiking the lid like a football might crack the enamel, but normal use will have that kettle lasting a mighty long time. I'll be straight ahead with you. If you use your Weber grill with reasonable care and do the very minimum in preventative maintenance, it will last at least twenty years. They did not skimp on the kettle.
What about the Air?: The kettle design is ingenious, and here's why: the vents, when fully open, will not offer enough oxygen to support an open flame in the cooking chamber as long as the lid is in place (very important). That's it. That is the secret behind the Weber Kettle and why it is different than other charcoal burners on the market. This property of the kettle allows you to sear a fat marbled steak or cook juicy chicken leg quarters without the nuclear bomb blast grease fire so common with cheap gas and charcoal grills. No squirty water bottle, no crazy fire-fighter gloves, no six foot spatula. This "no-flare" feature is what is going to make the novice griller a success with this product.
Cooking Styles: There are two ways to approach the meal with the 18.5 kettle, and that is using either direct or indirect heat. Direct heat involves lining the grill grate with hot coals and placing your item to be grilled directly over the hot coals. The thickness and composition of your cut of meat will come into play when you plan your cooking. This method is what is known as "grilling", but your ace in the hole is the Weber's ability to avoid flare-ups. You simply gauge your cooking time using Weber's excellent cookbook that ships with the grill, and you're meal is nearly foolproof unless you have trouble boiling water. The trick is to avoid cooking without the lid. I know its hard, but trust me, keep the lid on, no matter what your dad did!
..Indirect Heat: OK, indirect cooking is more advanced than grilling, right? Wrong. Indirect cooking on your 18.5 kettle is as simple as pie. You can't screw it up! You can cook pork roasts, beef roasts, ribs, and whole chickens like you are a pro from the very first try. Indirect heat involves stacking coals against two sides of the kettle and placing a drip pan in between. Weber offers you advice in fine detail, up to and including the number of coals you should use per side and how long you might expect your cut to take. You simply place your meat to be cooked over the drip pan and let the Weber's beautiful cooking action take over. And if you're looking, you're not cooking! Indirect cooking benefits from leaving the lid tightly in place unless it becomes absolutely necessary to open it. For every time you open the lid, add time to your final cooking time. The Weber indirect cooking process does not require you to turn the meat, so grab another beer and chill out! Check your meat with a good quality probe style thermometer when you ascertain that it should be about done, and go from there. Tip: Remember that your cuts will raise four to five degrees in temperature after coming off the cooker, and allow time for your cuts to rest before carving, this preserves their juicy goodness and minimizes dry-out. Also, consider an electric/digital thermometer with probe that will allow you to monitor cooking temperature without lifting the lid.
The One-Touch Product: The One-Touch product represents the entry-level cooker, below the Gold and the Platinum model, but be clear about one thing: apart from convenience features, the kettles all perform in exactly the same way. The "One-touch" feature refers to the ash cleaning assembly that is greatly improved from former products. Instead of having three vents with three separate holes each and separate vent covers that you had to manipulate with older models, this model features a stainless steel ash sweeper that pushes used ashes through holes in the base of the kettle into an aluminum pan using one lever. Advanced models have a self-contained ash catcher that is decidedly less messy to use but offered at a premium price. When considering a cooker of this size, I would certainly disregard any fancy options and buy the basic model. That clearly has a large impact on this product's appeal, the value pricing, and fancy gadgets offered on higher end models get you in the price range of the company's basic grills of larger capacity. See the pattern? Stick with the basic grill for the best value. Sure, you may not get the fancy colors or crazy ash catcher, but the performance of the cookers is identical and you save a few bucks to boot.
18.5 inches, is it enough?: For a three or four person family, the answer is: yes. It offers nearly 300 square inches of usable grill. For large dinner parties, turkey roasting, pork shoulder roasting, or other large cuts, the answer is no. You can cook a turkey breast, a pork loin, a large chicken, a tenderloin, anything less than eight inches tall. If you are planning larger cooking, plan on a larger cooker. Still, at around 32 inches high and about 22 inches in width, this compact dynamo can produce an impressive bounty. Two small chickens, three nice sized game hens, four or five half-pound hamburger patties, three or four large steaks, 15 weenies, a couple pounds of sausage links, you get the picture. This grill would be an excellent size for an apartment dweller with a small balcony or for a guy who has a super power gas grill and wants to own a small charcoal grill as well. This little guy is a stand-up griller like the larger models, and it doesn't require you to squat down like the (excellent) tiny Smokey Joe. This unit is also compact enough to make it very mobile if you want to haul it over to the lake or maybe do some tailgaiting at the game or race.
Product Quality: Outstanding fit and finish and fine quality materials are Weber hallmarks. The lids all fit like a glove and all the parts work as advertised. At some point in time they replaced the hardwood handles with nylon handles that I didn't think I'd like, but they have a great non-slip feel and work very well. As previously stated, the kettle is top notch and the hardware is very good. The only place I can find fault is with the legs, my, they are made from some thin aluminum. They do the job, but they are not the most confidence inspiring. The wheels and other peripherals are pretty darn good considering the purchase price.
Warranty: With the exception of the grates, most all parts of the kettle are warrantied a full ten years. Awesome. The grates are high quality carbon steel, and will last quite a long time, but they will eventually require replacement. Replacement grates are available at most home chain stores.
A Word about Charcoal: Don't skimp. I recommend Kingsford, and you can even give lump charcoals a try, just remember that they burn hotter and faster. Still, with the Weber system, you're not going to scorch your chops. And as far as cuts go, if you're going low and slow, you can buy cheap, the cooking process will tenderize your fare. If you are grilling direct, spend the extra couple of bucks and get choice beef or the nice looking pork chops. It'll be worth the money. Another thing you might try is to add wood chunks either to your indirect cooking coals or direct coal bed. It will add a dimension, especially to your slow-cooked products.
Final Thoughts: From a guy who has cooked barbecue on $5,000 trailer model log burners on down to grilling on a Smokey Joe, I can tell you that it is hard to go wrong with a One-Touch kettle. Sure, the design is pure suburban and not very awe-inspiring, but they sure do a great job with just about anything you'd like to try. There is a special magic that attracts me to a Weber kettle, and I'm proud to say I once again feature a kettle in my stable of cookers.
Bonus Recipe: Take a whole chicken, rinse and pat dry. Build two piles of briquettes in your 18.5 inch One Touch of 20 on each side of a disposable aluminum drip pan. Light coals. While coals become ashen (about 25 minutes) season bird with Kosher salt, fresh cracked pepper and creole seasoning (thyme, paprika, cayenne, garlic powder and white pepper). Loosely stuff bird with quartered onion, celery and bay leaf. Tie legs of bird if desired (not mandatory). Place bird over drip pan and put lid on cooker. Cook for one hour and twenty minutes, check internal temperature at thigh, look for 180 for well done. Rest, carve and serve with baked potato and beans. Enjoy!
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Amount Paid (US$): 58