I’m lucky enough to work with some of the world’s best chefs, though I’m careful not to abuse my access to these great culinary minds (i.e., I don’t show up on Jacques Pépin’s doorstep at 1 a.m. with a fallen soufflé, and I certainly don’t call Jean-Georges Vongerichten's cell phone when I need hors d’oeuvres inspiration.) But this morning I broke my own code of conduct and sent a desperate e-mail to grillmaster Steven Raichlen. Hear me out: I need to test a couple of his recipes this weekend (about the only thing the F&W Test Kitchen lacks is a charcoal grill), but some backyard bandit walked off with my well-worn Weber grill (this model, the 22-1/2-inch One-Touch Silver charcoal grill).
So now I need a new grill, and I figured this might be a great opportunity to try out a new model. I searched online for some potential replacements with some momentary cleverness, thinking that if I bought a grill that didn’t look like a grill, it might actually have a chance of surviving the mean streets of the Lower East Side. I found one that looks like a giant mosaic vase, another that moonlights as a toolbox—I even found an ersatz football and a keg of beer. But all of these had more style than substance, and I wanted my old workhorse back (If you see a black Weber thumbing a ride on the Long Island Expressway, tell it to come back home, okay?). I e-mailed Steven to see if he had a favorite inexpensive grill (I already know his deep-pocket picks). A few seconds later, he e-mailed me back from his Blackberry—a straight answer from the Smoky Oracle: "The Weber 22-1/2-inch kettle is the way to go." I felt vindicated, then guilty for doubting my Weber: I had been using the right grill all along. I'll pick one up tomorrow, along with one of these