Sunday, September 9, 2012

Gadgets: Blacktop 360 Party Hub Grill-Fryer

The Blacktop 360 Grill-Fryer is marketed as the grill you'd bring along when you're tailgating, and it comes with a handy carrying case. So it's portable, right? Right. Which probably means it's tiny, right? Way wrong. This thing is about 30 inches in diameter, total, with the cooking surface just about 24 inches in diameter, so it's not a backpacker's grill.

What makes this portable is the legs that fold compactly, and the carrying case that makes it easier to haul around. I wouldn't want to lug it up a mountain on my back, but it's very polite about getting in and out of the car.

A small cutting board attaches to the side of the grill. I haven't used it for cutting, but it's great for holding spices and small items you'll be using at the grill. There's also an insulated cup with a cover - like a travel mug for coffee - that's meant for draining oil from grill so you can take it with you safely and conveniently.

The center of the grill is a like a bowl that you can use as a deep fryer or to boil water for steaming - thus the need for a way to get rid of oil. Around the bowl are three sections - an infrared grill, a griddle, and an unheated section that gets warm just because the rest of the grill is hot - that last section is used for warming.

There's also a lid that's designed to fit any one of the three outer sections and hanging hooks for grill tools.

The grill uses propane. A small propane tank will screw directly into the port on the grill. Or you can buy an adapter hose and use a full-size tank. That would be a less expensive alternative if you're going to be using the grill at home.

Before I tried this grill, I had no idea what an infrared grill was, except that Alton Brown seemed to think they were a big deal when they were added to the Iron Chef kitchen. After I got the grill, I still wasn't entirely sure. 

But it doesn't matter. The grill heats up quickly, and it gets very hot. If you want a good sear, you'll get one. And not just over the infrared section - the griddle heats up amazingly fast and gets blazing hot as well.

How hot? I have no idea. I tried to check the temperature with a laser thermometer, and the grill got too hot for the thermometer to measure.

The very first thing I tried was boiling some water in the center section. I turned it on, walked away, and I had a rolling boil. Woah. That's impressive. I haven't tried it yet, but I think it might also work well for stir-fry. Not exactly tailgate food, but great at home. Or, you know, stir-fry a big bunch of onions for burgers. Or heat up chili for chili dogs. No pots needed.

The one downside to this grill is that because of that bowl-shaped center section, you can't cook anything very large - so no big pizzas or oversized racks of ribs.

However, you can cook a whole lot of smaller things. I cooked an entire meal  for four people on the grill - with plenty of leftovers - and that included an appetizer, an 8-rib rack of lamb, potatoes, and grilled vegetables. 

Since the grill cooks at such a high temperature, it would also work well for continuous grilling of burgers or other relatively quick-cooking items, so you could feed a crowd that way. I mean, a barbecue isn't a plated dinner, right?

While this is marketed towards tailgaters, I think it's also great for small families - with the right planning, an entire meal can be cooked on the grill, and the warming section is perfect for keeping vegetables warm while you're working with the grill and griddle. Or for warming tortillas or buns.

The top of the grill comes off which makes cleanup easier, but it's a tad big for a standard kitchen sink if that's your plan. It can be done, though. But since you're outside, a sponge and a hose will do the trick, as well. Since that top is made from thin metal, not only does it heat up quickly, but it also cools down quickly, which is great if you're packing the grill up and taking it with you when it's done.

I received this grill from the manufacturer for the purpose of doing a review on Serious Eats.