So, short background: I’m in the market for a charcoal grill, and I’m curious what others use and what they recommend. Ideally I’d like something that can be used both for high-heat grilling and lower-temperature smoking and BBQing. It’s often uncomfortably warm in our kitchen during the summer months, and I relish that idea of cooking outdoors while also making less of a mess in the kitchen – think fat splattering while searing steaks, etc.
Why the PK, you ask? It seems to have all the features I want and none I don’t. It’s basically rust-proof (important in this climate), with a cast aluminum capsule and marine SS fittings. All the Webers I’ve seen in Ireland have rusted somewhat, even the fairly new ones. I don’t want a gas or pellet grill, and I want something sturdy enough to last a lifetime.
So, what’s the downside? Well, I just discovered last night that unlike the PK Original or New Original or the Aaron Franklin model, the 360 is manufactured in China. That’s a deal-breaker for me, especially given the higher price tag. Why did PK opt to build the 360 in China rather than the U.S.? I imagine the cost of labor is significantly lower, but that clearly hasn’t translated to a cheaper price for the consumer.
I realize there are probably whole fora devoted to this topic, but it still amazes me how little discussion of grilling there seems to be on HO. The same was true of Chowhound to some degree.
Please chime in with your thoughts and suggestions. All are welcome.
(Keyrock the unfrozen caveman lawyer; your world frightens & confuses me)
I didn’t ask that.
Just kidding! Seems a really well-built and designed product.
It looks like a fine grill, especially if you’re just cooking for 1 or 2 people. The grilling surface area is a bit small for my liking, though (but I’m often grilling for 6-8). And if you’re mainly going to be doing offset grilling, it’s even less available.
As for the new 360 being made in CN - I got conflicting answers online but your info is probably correct. Have you tried to look for the PK Original on something like Craigslist or whatever resale type websites are in your area? People are always making purchases they either don’t like or have outgrown or for whatever reason want to get rid of them. I did a quick look and found local here for $200, but there wasn’t a lot of info about age or condition.
But the original seems to be even smaller than the 360 in terms of cooking surface area.
The other thing that caught my attention was dome height when closed is only reported to be 8 inches. My grill’s dome height is about 15 inches. I often cook indirect, with the food elevated on a grate supported by bricks, but even then have about 11 inches of dome height available which is (just barely) enough for smoking a turkey that’s about 18 pounds. That bird likely won’t fit in the PK.
But if you’re not going to be smoking large birds, I can’t think of anything else that has such a height profile that would be a problem for the PK.
This grill doesn’t look to me like it would be well-suited to BBQ or smoking. If those things (and grilling) are important to you in one unit, I’d encourage you to go with an offset firebox design and larger volume+area than the PK.
How do you feed and move coals in the PK? Can you do that from the side, or must you remove the grate to feed from the top? Can you rake out ash and live coals into a pail?
Also, is there a steel liner pan to catch live coals that sift through the botton grate? I’d be concerned about live coals in contact with the aluminum.
My BIL once spent $$$ to have an aluminum fabricator line two halves of a 225L wine barrel for use as a combination grill/smoker. He’s not making any confessions about why it’s sat–unused and covered–for years.
Thanks for the suggestions. I agree having a separate firebox would be ideal but I simply don’t have the space.
The grill grate on the PK is hinged on both ends, so you can lift up either to add coals during the cook. You can’t rake out ash during the cook, but there’s a plug in the bottom to sweep them out once everything has cooled.
There is no steel liner; the capsule is made of pure cast aluminum. I can understand your concerns about live coals being in direct contact with it, but the damned thing comes with a 20-year warranty and they’ve been making them out of cast aluminum since the 1950s. One would think they’d change the design – or shorten the warranty – if there were a significant rate of failure.
YW. Since space is a concern, and if you’re mostly just grilling, this is a good choice. Expensive, but fine. And pretty.
I once had a Weber kettle and found the feeding/raking to be a big issue, so I got one of those hinged grates. It didn’t solve the problem of moving the fire around, but I didn’t have to remove everything to feed. Still awkward, though, for the times I wanted some direct heat.
As far as rust is concerned, my experience is that the enameled steel kettles hold up pretty well for several years, even in a marine environment. The (replaceable) bottom ashpan and burn grates rust away long before the body or leg bracketry does.
Speaking of feeding, if you’re planning on doing slow cooks like brisket in this, I hope you like standing/drinking/talking/monitoring nearby all day to put in 1-2 'bricks at a time to maintain temp. That’s fine for entertaining and special occasions, but you might like to get a separate small electric or pellet smoker for non-grill uses.
How many people will you usually cook for? Only 2? Any specific requirements for direct vs indirect heat? Types of food: simple sausages and stuff or indeed multi-hour roasts?
I see a lot of people buying expensive grills and doing multi-hour roasts, dry rub and all, but if you ask me, nothing beats direct heat over charcoal doing some nice fatty meats quickly, max 1 hour.
I’ve extensively used a Big Green Egg minimax, and while it’s very impressive, my Weber Smokey Joe performs as well for the food I cook, and is easier to manouver as well as quicker to set up. If I were to upgrade now, I might look into something like this: Asado/Santa-Maria style grill
From your previous buying decisions I have a feeling you will go for the one with the best specs. My only advice would then be to think about practical issues. For example, grilling outside is often an impromptu decision, or when it is planned ahead, the warm weather always discourages me from being very active. I’d want a grill that accomodates me in that behaviour.
I’ll be cooking for two adults and two kids most of the time. And probably occasionally for up to six adults and four kids if we host, which we’re doing more frequently since the weather has been so nice this summer.
Unlike you I tend to want to be outdoors – not inside my kitchen – when the weather gets warm. Our kitchen is a bit of a greenhouse on sunny days, and in the late afternoons and evenings it can easily top 28 degrees, even if it’s only 20-22 outdoors.
To be clear I wouldn’t be buying the PK primarily to BBQ or smoke, but rather a combination of high-heat quick grilling and also low and slow smoking/BBQ. It just depends on the cut of meat and my tolerance for checking in on the grill every so often. I wouldn’t BBQ a ribeye steak and I’d never grill a brisket, for instance.
The way I see it, a big batch of Bolognese takes me the bulk of a day, anyway, including prep and clean-up. Every so often I could spend a similar amount of time making a BBQ brisket, which is basically impossible to find here in Ireland.
Oh, it’s not that I want to be indoors when it’s hot out - I’d just rather sit down outside sipping an Aperol spritz instead of standing over hot coals…
From what you’ve mentioned so far, the PK seems a good buy for you. That grill grate would work very well indeed I think.
Are you able to close the grill down completely in order to save coals for next time?
I wouldn’t worry too much about refilling coals during sessions, as long as you buy good coals and the grill is well isolated. With my tiny Smokey Joe I can do over three hours with a single dose of good quality coals - actual coals, not briquettes. If I need to refill, I just use kitchen tongs and pick up the griddle.
Thinking about this a bit more. Downsides of the 360 for me: made in China - not that I have a big problem with the PRC in itself. It’s just that it can be a sign of a company wanting to outsource as much as possible and losing an integral view on quality control.
Second- I have no clue how that aluminum body will perform, versus the known to me ceramics of the BGE and steel of the Weber.
The website says the aluminum “conducts heat 4x more efficiently than steel, which means heat is dispersed evenly throughout the capsule. Say goodbye to expensive mistakes and hello to evenly cooked meats and veggies.”
What are your reasons for thinking an aluminum body would be better versus e.g. ceramics?
Heat only comes the coals (so the bottom only, unlike a fan oven), and then you need to hold on to that heat as much as possible - knowing that you have the valves to control the temp. If the aluminum body results in the sidewalls losing heat a lot, you need to refill your coals more often. Plus it might result in a higher temperature volatility, i.e. more difficult to maintain a set temp. These are questions I’d want answered before buying. Maybe check out a grill forum?
My understanding is that the capsule is made of 1/2" (12.7 mm) thick aluminum, so it should have decent heat retention and distribution. With the 20-year warranty I’m not really all that concerned about durability. My primary reason for choosing aluminum over steel is because it’s guaranteed to be rust-free, even in the marine-like climate of Ireland’s coast. Obviously I could pick something like the Kamado Joe, instead, but it’s about twice the price of the 360 here in Ireland. I’m not sure the BGE would be big enough for our needs.
Yes, all four vents can be closed (or opened) independently. From reading reviews online and watching videos, it seems that the PK is pretty efficient in terms of charcoal consumption. For something like BBQ, it can last about 4-6 hours on a single fill, and adding more charcoal isn’t terribly difficult. I agree I prefer to use lumpwood charcoal over briquettes as much as possible, although the latter might be easier to squeeze into the curved areas along the perimeter of the 360.
The only alternative I’m considering at the moment is the PK New Original (or the Aaron Franklin model), which is at least still made in the USA, but looks to be slightly too small (and short).
I like Weber, especially their traditional kettle grill. I have a Smokey Mountain, too. It is a very effective smoker but not really a grill. My only complaint is that it is hard to feed the fire. The opening is small, and the water bowl gets in the way. If I were starting over, I’d get an offset.
I haven’t used one, either, but I have a bad case of want. I’ve sampled pulled pork/pua’a kalua from them, though–fantastic. If I could also grill on one with an adjustable add-on grate like that, I might give in to my desire…
I have a 40+ year old Kenmore aluminum clamshell grill - I’ve replaced the grilling grates and the coal grates a number of times. it’s so old replacement grates/parts are not available - I buy oversized grates and use a circular saw with metal cutting blade to “make 'em fit”
had a stainless ash pan “custom made” by a local shop35+/- (?) years ago - it’s still perfectly serviceable.
if you get one, before you even fire it up, replace all the mild steel nuts/bolts/washers/screws with stainless steel fasteners. once it’s heated and all that stuff rusts/seizes you will have great difficulty getting it apart.
time to decades of time, one will be inclined to take it apart, wire brush/clean up the interior smoke flaking, and repaint with hi temp flat black. Aluminum tends to oxidize and go whitish with time.
I’ve looked as some of the new snazzy all stainless steel models - and find it curious that at those price levels they are still assembled with fasteners that will rust comma near immediately…