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Fire on food, and “black oil” from flames

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    Fire on food, and “black oil” from flames

    Alright, this is one of those posts where I sheepishly admit I don’t understand something I should probably know. It’s in two parts.

    First, I’ve always been under the impression (and this has served me well) that you really do NOT want flames from the coals touching the food. It’s all about proximity to hot coals, not letting the fire actually engulf the food. And yet I see it all the time in videos — even in the new (amazing) Netflix “Chef’s Table BBQ”, where in ep2 that amazing chef in Sunday cooks literally everything over fire. There’s tons of shots where the fire wraps around the food and I’m thinking “WTF”. So, is that thinking that it shouldn’t touch just wrong? It looks cool, and makes for great youtube videos, but when I see a Michelin start chef doing it, it’s suddenly time to rethink my life.

    Second, and this is somewhat related, is understanding where the black-ish “oil” comes from that sometimes shows up on grilled food, which I think is related to the above paragraph of flare-ups and actual flame touching, although I think it might also be from cooking over not-quite-burned-down charcoal briquettes. If your coals are running low and you need to keep cooking, is it bad to add fresh coals to the already burning ones? Should I be starting another chimney to add already-lit coals instead? I’m pretty sure, but not 100%, that this is one of the things that leads to that occasional “black oil” issue. Or maybe that’s simply from having too much oil on the food before adding it to the grill, which now that I write this I think I see this mostly on veggies like asparagus where I definitely oil before adding to the grill.

    Thanks… be kind, I’m feeling a little vulnerable posting what are probably pretty basic questions here!!

    #2
    Flames touching the food is ok, and can be a good thing, briefly but not for extended periods of time. The oily black residue could be burnt oil, typically it’s caused by grease fires in the grill. It could be incomplete combustion in a stick burner, but charcoal will not cause that.

    Comment


    • Ahumadora
      Ahumadora commented
      Editing a comment
      +1 cold dirty fire in a stick burner.

    #3
    On my cookers, I add unlit charcoal routinely if I need more cook time. Have never had a problem or any “off” flavors

    Comment


      #4
      Thanks guys… it’s just good ol’ Kingsford briquettes, and good to know not letting them fire up first isn’t an issue. It must jut be the oil on the food. Gotta keep an eye on that. I do see it on corn quite a bit if it gets too close to the flame, and I don’t do anything to the corn other than shuck it. Interesting. Well at least I’m not doing anything hideously wrong ;-) Thanks again!

      Comment


        #5
        It may also be on your grates/underside. Often with a flare up you will pick up the crud. Corn is a canvas and will show anything.

        Comment


          #6
          How clean is your grill - overall? You could be picking up residue from previous cooks. Don't hesitate to power wash your entire cooker twice a year or more, unless it's old enough to let be to hold it together (I love them at that age).

          It took me a long time to get used to using very little oil or none. Once I did make the leap, everything turned out better.

          Comment


            #7
            Grease fires cause soot. Happens to me occasionally. Usually from chicken fat or steak drippings that ignite. If I see it I just move the food to the safe zone and let the fire die back.

            Comment


              #8
              I think the answer to the flames question depends on what you are cooking. If you're searing a ribeye for a minute per side you want NASA flames. If you are grilling asparagus, not so much. When using Kingsford, which I don't do much anymore, I prefer to burn off the white smoke before adding new coals to a cook.

              Comment


                #9
                I'm in the camp that adds hot coals from a chimney whenever the smoker gets low. I use a lot of KBB, and it's often reported here to impart off flavors in the initial heat up phase. I never want to take the chance by adding cold KBB briquettes to hot ones while the meat is still in the cooker.

                Kathryn

                Comment


                • HouseHomey
                  HouseHomey commented
                  Editing a comment
                  This!

                #10
                Originally posted by HouseHomey View Post
                It may also be on your grates/underside. Often with a flare up you will pick up the crud. Corn is a canvas and will show anything.
                That’s a good point… it’s not as clean as it could be. And I usually replace the grates every couple of years, but didn’t this season!

                Comment


                  #11
                  Originally posted by JGo37 View Post
                  How clean is your grill - overall? You could be picking up residue from previous cooks. Don't hesitate to power wash your entire cooker twice a year or more, unless it's old enough to let be to hold it together (I love them at that age).

                  It took me a long time to get used to using very little oil or none. Once I did make the leap, everything turned out better.
                  It has been a spell since I power washed it. Probably time for another blast!!

                  Comment


                    #12
                    Originally posted by Old Glory View Post
                    Grease fires cause soot. Happens to me occasionally. Usually from chicken fat or steak drippings that ignite. If I see it I just move the food to the safe zone and let the fire die back.

                    Yeah I try to avoid actual flame on the food. Doesn’t seem to me to ever do anything good… always get better results for a sear with no flame and hot-as-hell coals.

                    Comment


                      #13
                      Originally posted by hoovarmin View Post
                      I think the answer to the flames question depends on what you are cooking. If you're searing a ribeye for a minute per side you want NASA flames. If you are grilling asparagus, not so much. When using Kingsford, which I don't do much anymore, I prefer to burn off the white smoke before adding new coals to a cook.
                      Interesting about the flames. I prefer to sear with just massively hot coals and no flames. On charcoal there’s of course no way to just turn on the flames, and if there are suddenly flames that’s because fat has dripped and caught fire. I suppose if I had actual wood fire burning that might be different though. Hmm… maybe have some smaller pieces of wood ready to throw on the coals to ignite and get some proper flame? Worth trying, I suppose!!

                      Comment


                      • JGo37
                        JGo37 commented
                        Editing a comment
                        I use chunks of either pecan, hickory or mesquite every time I cook, usually tossed on top of the briquettes. In a big cook, the coals come up to the grate on the indirect side and I put the wood on the grate. I have a spray water bottle on hand to douse big fires and flareups.

                      #14
                      Originally posted by fzxdoc View Post
                      I'm in the camp that adds hot coals from a chimney whenever the smoker gets low. I use a lot of KBB, and it's often reported here to impart off flavors in the initial heat up phase. I never want to take the chance by adding cold KBB briquettes to hot ones while the meat is still in the cooker.

                      Kathryn
                      Hmm… this does seem more logical to me. And I also have been using natural charcoal more (or whatever it’s called… big bags of just the charcoaled wood instead of pressed little briquettes) and I like them more except that they spark a lot and burn down faster, so I don’t use them all the time. But I am thinking more and more that adding just “raw” briquettes isn’t the best plan.

                      Comment


                        #15
                        On long cooks in my WSM, I use the minion method and I haven't noticed any problems:

                        https://www.virtualweberbullet.com/f...20and%20steady.

                        For low and slow in the kettle/sns, sns recommends lighting a dozen coals and filling the basket with unlit coals when the lit ones are burning well:

                        https://snsgrills.com/pages/slow-n-s...n%20the%20cook.

                        I use Kingsford Blue almost exclusively and I haven't had any problems.

                        Comment

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