Christmas Eve

Giving the gift of grilling

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that a new grill, or smoker or steaks! would be there.

Yes, it’s Christmas once again. But more importantly, it’s bowl season and the NFL playoffs. What better time to get that special someone in your life what he/she needs most: a grill and stuff to help him/her grill?

Well, I’m here to help. From first-time grill owners to gifts for the veteran griller in your life, we’ll cover them all. So when we all huddle around our television sets to watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers march through the playoffs, we can enjoy football – and Christmas – the way it was meant to be enjoyed: with grilled meat.

Gas grills verses charcoal is one of the biggest debates in the grilling world. Charcoal enthusiasts argue that gas fails to impart the essential flavors of grilling. Gas enthusiasts claim that propane burns clean, is efficient and grills every bit as good as charcoal.


To me, the gas vs. charcoal debate comes down to convenience.

Charcoal grills are considerably cheaper than gas grills. The typical charcoal grill is also smaller than most gas grills, an important consideration for folks like me who live in small D.C. apartments and condos. However, charcoal grills are much less convenient than gas grills. Before you cook, you need to light the coals and let them get hot, usually a 30 minute process. After you cook, you need to let the coals cool before cleaning out the grill and brushing down the grates. If you don’t clean out the coals after every usage, the grill will cook less and less efficiently. If you don’t brush down the grates to remove bits of excess food, you’re gross.

Gas grills, on the other hand, is incredibly easy to use. Just punch the ignition and go, baby. Once the propane tank is hooked up, a gas grill is like your stove top, only with more fire. I grill a lot. If I owned a gas grill, I’d grill even more. Gas grills are also easier to clean than charcoal grills. Once every few uses, you need to clean out the drip tray underneath the burners – lest it will catch fire – but otherwise a simple brushing of grates once you’re done grilling is all you need to do. However, a decent gas grill will run you a couple hundred dollars. A nice one with a side burner, an oven and rear infrared burners for rotisserie cooking will cost you a few hundred more. A charcoal grill that will meet most of your grilling needs will cost less than $100.

Charcoal grills: When it comes to buying a charcoal grill, you don’t need many bells and whistles. I own a standard issue black Weber 22.5 inch One-Touch Silver charcoal grill. It was cheap and it meets 90 percent of my needs. The rest of my needs are met by my bullet smoker (more on that later). The 22.5 inch grill is an ideal size for most grillers. You can go bigger (the gargantuan 1104 sq. inch Weber Ranch Kettle charcoal grill) or smaller (the 14.5 inch Smokey Joe), but the 22.5 inch grill is the Goldilocks of the bunch. One more thing, you may come across the Weber One-Touch Gold. This grill is identical to the One-Touch Silver except it has an aluminum ash catch that makes it easier to remove ash after use. It also costs $50 more. Keep your $50, the ash pan the One-Touch Silver comes with works just fine.

Gas grills: It’s easy to blow a bunch of money on a gas grill. To keep costs down, focus on what’s important: cooking surface and useful accoutrements (the warming rack). I’ve used a bunch of gas grills and find that nine times out of 10, all I need is space to grill and a rack above the grates to warm buns, melt cheese on burgers and give me a place to put things I pull off the cooking surface but not from the grill. All other features are nice, but nonessential. Want to rotisserie a lamb leg? Get the rotisserie attachment. Want to bake cornbread outdoors? Get a grill with an oven. These features are great, but they’ll cost you. So figure out what you really want before buying. A good gas grill to consider is the Brinkmann 4 Burner. For about $200, you’ll get 550 sq. inches of cooking area, a warming rack and a side burner. Not too shabby.

Every griller, new and old, needs two tools: a pair of tongs and a spatula. I like tongs without locking handles, which annoy me to no end. Now, every grilling tool kit also comes with a two-prong fork. Throw it away. Never, ever, ever pierce a piece of meat that’s cooking on the grill. Every bit of flavor will drain out with the juices. Forks shouldn’t come out until the meat is on the plate.

Gifts for the griller

So he already has a grill, huh? No problem. Here are four gift ideas to make a great experience even better.

  1. Barbecue! Bible by Steven Raichlen. I own a half dozen or so books on grilling, but find myself coming back to Raichlen’s Barbecue! Bible whenever I need tips or new ideas. This is arguably the best book on grilling from the guru of grilling.
  2. A smoker. Once I got the hang of grilling, I was curious to tryout barbecuing. One of the best ways to do that is to invest in a smoker. A simple one, like the Brinkmann Smoke N’ Grill, are cheap and easy to use. If you have a more experienced griller, consider a larger smoker that can double as a grill.
  3. La Caja China. This might just be the Holy Grail of gifts for a grilling enthusiast. This simple aluminum lined wooden box is a testament to the genius of simplicity. It can roast lambs, goats, pork butts and whole pigs in half the time (or less) than traditional pits. And when you’re done, it’s small enough to store in your garage, shed or bedroom (mine will double as a nightstand).
  4. Meat. What good is a grill if you don't have meat to cook? Rather than sign your special someone up for Omaha Steaks (Meat by mail? Great!), give him the gift of fresh cuts from local butchers. Although you could toss a couple chops under the tree, I’m not sure how well the pork will keep. Luckily, a number of area butchers offer gift cards and gift certificates.
    a. Canales Quality Meats (202-547-0542) and Union Meat Company (202-547-2626), Eastern Market, 7th St. S.E., Washington, D.C.
    b. Wagshal’s Market, (202-363-0777), 4845 Massachusetts Ave. N.W. Washington, D.C.
    c. The Organic Butcher, (703-790-8300), 6712 Old Dominion Dr., McLean, Va.
    d. Wegmans, 45131 Columbia Pl., Sterling, Va. (703-421-2400), 14801 Dining Way, Woodbridge, Va. (703-763-5500), and 11620 Monument Dr., Fairfax, Va. (703-653-1600)
    e. Dean & Deluca, (202-342-2500) 3276 M St. N.W., Washington, D.C.
    f. Let’s Meat on the Avenue, (703-836-6328) 2403 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria, Va.

Now that you’ve given the gift of grilling, cook something. I can think of no better way to break in a new grill than to let fire kiss beef. When is comes to steak, there are quite a few cuts to choose from, but few are as fine as the porterhouse. Twenty-four ounces of beef and bone is about as good as it gets in the world of steak. So don’t screw it up with a bunch of sauces or spices. Salt, pepper, fire and butter are all you need.

For this recipe, I bought the porterhouse from Canales, which always has quality meat. But you can find quality cuts at any of the butchers listed above.

Steak8The Porterhouse

(Makes 2 servings)

2 24 oz. porterhouse steaks

2 tbs. salted butter, warmed to room temperature

2 tbs. fresh cracked black pepper corns

1 tbs. of sea salt

1 tbs. of oil (olive or canola)

Steak1Whenever I do this recipe, I grind up the black pepper corns by hand in a mortar. This way I get bigger chucks of pepper. If you own a spice grinder (I don’t) feel free to use it instead. Otherwise just use whatever black pepper you have on hand.

If you’re using a charcoal grill, pull the steaks out of the refrigerator when you’re ready to light the coals. This will allow the steak to loose some of the chill before going on the grill. If you’re using a gas grill, pull the steaks out of the refrigerator 30 minutes ahead.

Rub both sides of the steaks with the salt and black pepper. Drizzle the oil over top the steaks, saving back some to rub on the grill grates. This will prevent the meat from sticking.

When the coals have ashed over and the grill is hot, place the steaks on the hottest part of the grill.Steak7_2   Cook for four minutes or until a dark brown crust forms on the meat. Flip and cook in the same place for about two minutes before moving the steaks to a cooler part of the grill. Cover the grill and cook for another two minutes for rare to medium. If you like medium rare to medium, cook for an extra two minutes or eight minutes total. If you like it well done, stop reading.

As the steak is cooking, warm a couple plates in the oven. Once the steaks are done, pull them off the grill and let them rest for five minutes. In the meantime, take the plates out of the oven and spread a tablespoon of butter in the middle of each one Peter Luger style. When the steaks are ready, place the steaks on top of the butter – which will melt and mingle with the steak’s juices and seasonings – and dig in.

Holiday Dining in the District (And Maybe Parts of VA)

I've received many emails on this topic lately, so rather than bothering to return all of those emails, I thought I'd just post something on the subject and save myself a little time...

A Christmas Eve buffet will be available from noon to 8PM. Menu is on the 2941 web site here. 2941 is not open on New Year's Eve.

Check out Equinox's Christmas Eve menu featuring many incredible options like Cream of Chestnut Soup, Maple Glazed Muscovy Duck with Leg Confit, Mustard Crusted Rack of Lamb, and Eggnog Ice Cream. It won't be cheap, but it'll sure be good. Full menu on the Equinox web site here. On New Year's Eve, a six-course tasting menu will be offered for...well, the web site doesn't say. 

Bringing a traditional meal normally served in Italy on Christmas Eve to DC. From the Dino web site, "The Feast of the 7 Fish is is an all seafood meal that usually includes fried fish, seafood soup, ravioli and a whole fish." A limited version of their regular menu will be available as well. See the full "Feast of the Seven Fish" menu here which will be available the 22nd through the 24th. On New Year's Eve, Dino will be offering a five-course menu for $85 a person. I'd spend time describing the menu, but you can easily read how fun it sounds here.

Fahrenheit at the Ritz Carlton in Georgetown
Open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day offering a four-course dinner both days. Call (202) 912-4100 for reservations. They're also open New Year's Eve and Day, but no menu is available on their site.

Evening Star Cafe
Evening Star Cafe, one of my favorite restaurants in Virginia, is open New Year's Eve and will be offering a five-course tasting menu for $85. Their menu for the evening is on their web site here.