Natural gas and propane grills use a layer of super-porous lava rocks below the grill surface to help distribute heat around your food. The lava rocks, heated by gas flames, burn off grease and other food drippings, which helps flavor the food. Lava rocks by themselves, however, do not add to the flavor of your barbecue.
The convenience of a propane grill is fantastic at the end of a workday when you're craving a juicy pork chop, swordfish steak or char-broiled portobello. Grilling purists, however, say the flavor of food cooked on a propane grill just isn’t as savory as fare fired up over wood or charcoal. Just because your grill happens to employ propane doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t experience the tasty essence of classic grilling.
Adding wood to a propane grill seems overkill until you consider the flavor enhancement. Unlike a fire pit, where you simply light the wood ablaze, there’s need for additional preparation when using wood in a propane unit. Placing wood directly on the lava rocks creates ash that can clog the gas burner, so you must create a “smoke bomb” -- something as fancy as a specially made container or a pouch of several layers of heavy-duty foil poked with holes. The wood chunks are placed in the bomb to keep oxygen out and the wood ash in -- rather than at the bottom of your propane grill. The slow burn means smoke, which translates to flavor. Aged hard fruit and nut woods and citrus are favorites, as are specialty chunks that include whiskey-soaked keg wood. Pine wood with a lot of sap is not recommended, nor is treated wood or lumber scraps that contain chemicals.
Like wood, charcoal leaves behind ash after burned, which clogs the gas outlets on your propane grill. Also, a full bed of glowing charcoal gets much hotter than propane or natural gas, which could damage the body of your grill. Placing just one or two briquettes in a heavy aluminum pie or loaf pan and placing it on top of the lava rocks gives you that charcoal flavor without the mess or danger of clogged outlets.
Tea and Other Flavorings
Placed in a smoke bomb pouch, tea adds a distinctive, Asian-influence flavor to grilled foods. In a smoke bomb pouch, rice, which smolders slowly, releases a nutty flavor; the zest -- the outside part of the peel -- on citrus fruit sweetens your grilled foods; sugar, which smokes as it burns, leaves behind a baked-goods or marshmallow essence; and fresh herbs, with their earthy undertones, will spice up your flavors during grilling.
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