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Some of us have, um, conflicting feelings about the liquid propane grill.
It’s handy, but only an imperfect substitute for high-temperature grilling over real charcoal. Plenty of cart grills 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.”
So we decided to get some advice from an expert on how to make gas grills get nice and hot.
“Top Chef” veteran and former Juhu Beach Club and Navi Kitchen owner Preeti Mistry told us that, with just a few expanding grates and a bag of lava rocks, you can hack your Weber propane barbecue to throw out as much heat as if it burned mesquite. We’re talking a steady 500°F(260°C) 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.
True, the process isn’t doesn’t create a finished product identical to a steak grilled over charcoal, but Mistry did manage to boost the grill’s heat and — more important — keep it high, even through repeated lid liftings. It’s a helpful solution to the gas-grill dilemma, and worth bringing back during any summer grilling season.
Follow the steps below to get that sought-after sear.
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. Try this expandable grill grate and lava rocks on Amazon.
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°F(260°C) 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.
Recipes for making the most of high-heat propane grilling
Itching to try this technique for yourself? We’d recommend starting with any of the following recipes: