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Cooking meat on a grill with a fan


nakji
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I've just gotten back from a trip in Malaysia, where I noticed that all the satay stands were manned with people frantically fanning the meat over the grill with hand-held fans. This reminded me of yakitori chefs in Japan I've seen who also emplyoed this method, and all of the bun cha stalls on the streets of Hanoi which were equipped with electric fans blowing meat smoke out to the street to lure in hungry customers. Advertising strategy aside, what's the goal of fanning meat on a grill? I assume it's to better distribute the heat in some way, but are there other benefits? Should we all be buying fans for our summer grilling season? Does anyone try this trick at home?

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Aahh.. the fanning.

The grills are simple metal boxes with no vents (at bottom or sides )and no racks to elevate the coals above the ashes. They actually prefer to start the fire on a bed of leftover ashes.

One's first impression is that the people haven't a clue about ventilation, combustion and air convection. Elementary stuff to anyone who has used a Weber grill or the like.

But one would be wrong. These grills work very well for their intended purpose. That is to quickly cook skewers of meat or chicken with lots of smoke and no flareups. The coals are choking in the ashes until skewers are placed over them, fanning is then needed to wake up the embers.

Bottom photos are of us grilling at home the same way. In the last photo corn cobs are used instead of coals.

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Yes good point. These very crude kind of grills are common around the region. However, I believe that no matter how well your ventilation is designed you won't be able to get the coals hot enough (glowing red hot) for the very quick searing and crisping needed for satay. Think of fanning the the bellows to make the furnance extra hot.

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I am no grilling expert , my few turns at grilling chicken turned out well not worthy of any mention ..But I did read Alton Brown's first book where he tries to attach a hair blower to a weber grill ....

I dont rememer the explanation but it may be worth checking out ..

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So...is it a worthy practice for the home cook? Will it make my grilling more efficient or more tasty? Or should I just leave it on the grill as is?

(Not an expert by any means but here's my 2c)

I've owned a very simple folding grill and an old fashioned refractory brick grill, neither of which had any ventilation for the coals. With both of them I found that the only way to get a decent sear on the meat was to force a higher rate of combustion by moving air onto the coals using a fan, usually fashioned from a piece of cardboard torn off from a 12 pack. (Yeah this is probably as close as I'll ever get to molecular gastronomy :raz: ). The procedure proved unnecessary on windy days, for evident reasons.

I've also owned a couple of modern grills with adjustable ventilation, grill height and lids. In these the necessary high heat could be obtained simply by adjusting ventilation, grill height and orientation relative to the wind direction and fanning never seemed necessary or desirable.

So I think the answer depends on the kind of grill you have?

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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I'm somewhat of a grill geek.

Chicken satay is a perfect application for infrared grilling. Convection isn't quick enough and conduction is too hard on the meat.

My favorite gas grills work on the same principle as good salamanders in the kitchen -- ceramic infrared heating.

And just like motorheads will tell ya, "There's no substitute for cubic inches (or liters, for continental motorheads)." Grill geeks will tell ya, "Theres' no substitute for BTUs (or joules, for the continental grill geeks)."

BTUs, surface area, and distance from the heat source to the grill -- all that will determine the maximum possible temperature. The best grill I ever had topped out at about 900f. Some of the best commercial infrared grills go almost hot enough to MELT SALT. (1550f, if I'm not mistaken.)

I learned to grill steaks on an infrared, and I'd never use anything else. (Barbecue is a different story.)

Meat behaves differently when cooking at extremely high heat. I like a one-inch thick ribeye, cooked for two minutes at 900f.

I'm guessing Alton will never do an infrared grill show. The equipment is spendy, esoteric and dangerously hot.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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I've just gotten back from a trip in Malaysia, where I noticed that all the satay stands were manned with people frantically fanning the meat over the grill with hand-held fans. ... and all of the bun cha stalls on the streets of Hanoi which were equipped with electric fans blowing meat smoke out to the street to lure in hungry customers. Advertising strategy aside, what's the goal of fanning meat on a grill? ...

First point, yes, more air means more oxygen, means more heat.

So why not just provide more bottom (through) ventilation?

Second point - these were street stalls. Cook on demand. They want the fire to just stay alive, using minimal fuel, when there isn't a customer waiting.

Using a small, hand-held fan would allow them to, quickly but temporarily, make a controlled, SMALL hot-spot where they can grill the required quantity of food - and then let the thing return to smoulder before the next customer order.

I think it could be quite a rational method of increasing the efficiency of fuel usage. And fuel is going to be a significant part of their business costs, so care with it could easily be the difference between profit and loss.

ChefCrash is quite right, these folks DO understand exactly what they are doing.

Once upon a time, this writer was part of a team tasked with constructing a large oil-drum based charcoal grill (or barbecue as we'd call it in the UK) for the hospitality side of a factory open day.

Being engineering-design-led, ventilation and non-toxic means of lighting a large charcoal mass were considered at the design stage and duly sketched on the back of an envelope.

Some drilled pipework was thus laid into the base of the drum, (about two inches off the base) with an external connection well outside the fire.

Attaching the office vacuum cleaner to this - importantly the exhaust of the vacuum cleaner - did indeed dramatically speed up the lighting and establishment of a good grilling fire.

In fact, with the turbo running, it produced a spectacularly good imitation of a blacksmith's forge ... and consumed charcoal at a prodigious rate.

If you want to wake up a somnolent portion of your charcoal grill, an electric hairdryer can be a useful tool ...

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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Attaching the office vacuum cleaner to this - importantly the exhaust of the vacuum cleaner - did indeed dramatically speed up the lighting and establishment of a good grilling fire.

In fact, with the turbo running, it produced a spectacularly good imitation of a blacksmith's forge ... and consumed charcoal at a prodigious rate.

If you want to wake up a somnolent portion of your charcoal grill, an electric hairdryer can be a useful tool ...

I'm visualizing a nice uniform coating of ashes on my food....

Monterey Bay area

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've eaten at a lot of places who cook skewers like this, and surprisingly I have never noticed any ashy skewers. I haven't really noticed the technique, but I think they fan them first to get any loose ashes out and heat up the coals before putting the meat on. The other thing could just be the fanning method, they could fan it in a way that the ashes spread out to the sides rather than getting up into the food. But now I'm just speculating. I'm sure they would love to have an infrared grill, but I think it's a little out of their price range. The thing about these charcoal grills is that they're cheap to build and maintain, plus they do also give a nice smokey flavor that I'm not sure you could get from an infrared or propane grill setup.

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