How to Make Your Gas Grill Burn Hotter
Before summer technically even began, I had conflicted feelings about my liquid propane grill. It’s handy, but only an imperfect substitute for high-temperature grilling over real charcoal. The cart grills many of us have cook like glorified butane burners: The grill marks are never as thick and black as you want them, and there’s no ambient smoke to flavor the food, unless you classify grease flareups as “smoke.”
Preeti Mistry (right) told me to get over myself. She’s a Top Chef veteran (season 6) who’s opening her own restaurant later this summer in San Francisco (Juhu Beach Club, with California versions of the Indian street snacks called chaat). Mistry told me that with a $40 purchase of expanding grates and lava rocks, she’d managed to hack her Weber propane barbecue to throw out as much heat as if it burned mesquite, a steady 500 degrees Fahrenheit or more. That means browned, deliciously crusty, juicy meats.
I was into finding out how, especially since Mistry happens to live in my neighborhood, and she promised me grilled steak. So on a sunny afternoon last week, I showed up in Mistry's backyard in Oakland, California, for a demo. While her hack did yield a fantastic piece of grilled hanger steak seasoned with chaat spices, the results weren’t exactly the same as if she'd used charcoal. But Mistry did manage to boost her grill’s heat and—more important—kept it high, even through repeated lid liftings. Not a perfect solution to the gas-grill dilemma, but a worthwhile enhancement.
Here's how to hack your grill:
1. Gather your equipment: You’ll need expandable grill grates to cover your barbecue’s burner well and enough lava rocks to form a tightly packed single layer on top of those grates. Remove the cooking grates from your grill and cover the burner well with the expandable grates you’ve purchased.
2. Cover the grates with a tightly packed layer of lava rocks.
3. Replace the cooking grates and crank the burners as usual; keep your grill’s lid closed while it heats.
4. Allow about 20 minutes for the temperature inside your grill to reach 500 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. The lava rocks will retain heat, so the temperature won’t plunge when you lift the lid. After several uses, the rocks will eventually get coated in rendered fat—flip them over when you need to. You’ll probably need to replace the lava rocks every few months, depending on how often you grill.