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Like many people, some of us have conflicted feelings about the 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.”
Then we got some advice from the experts.
“Top Chef” veteran and former Juhu Beach Club and Navi Kitchen owner Preeti Mistry told us to get over it. They showed us how, with just a few expanding grates and a bag of lava rocks, they managed to hack their 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.
We had to see it for ourselves, so on a sunny afternoon in the chef’s Oakland backyard, Mistry gave us a demo. The hack yielded a fantastic piece of grilled hanger steak seasoned with chaat spices. Not identical to a steak grilled over charcoal, but Mistry did manage to boost the 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, and worth bringing back to light for the 2020 grilling season.
Here’s what you need:
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.
2. Remove the cooking grates from your grill and cover the burner well with the expandable grates you’ve purchased.
3. Cover the grates with a tightly packed layer of lava rocks.
4. Replace the cooking grates and crank the burners as usual. Keep your grill’s lid closed while it heats.
5. 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.
Itching to try this out for yourself? We recommend our Grilled Rib-Eye Steaks with Chile-Lime-Tequila Butter.