Published September 1, 2011. From Cook's Illustrated.
Since many grilling gadgets promise more than they deliver, were we courting disappointment with the new Weber Gourmet BBQ System?
Since many grilling gadgets promise more than they deliver, we wondered if we courted disappointment with the new Weber Gourmet BBQ System. Designed to expand on our longtime favorite charcoal grill, its mechanics are simple: Replace the cooking grate on the Weber 22 1/2-inch One-Touch or Performer Grill with a stainless steel grate ($29) featuring a removable inner 12-inch circle and insert any of three cast-iron attachments: a crosshatched sear grate, a griddle, or a wok While the sear grate ($29 or $54.99 with the stainless steel grate grate) created beautiful, professional-looking crosshatch grill marks on large cuts of meat, the widely spaced pattern was far less discernible on smaller cuts and burgers.
Furthermore, inserting the sear grate into the grate once the coals were hot was challenging; a few times it slipped into the fire. We recommend assembling the two components on a flat surface before placing them over hot coals.
The griddle attachment allowed us to get great crust on delicate proteins such as scallops and salmon, and eliminated the sticking and tearing associated with traditional grates. It also kept vegetables nicely contained. But a solid pan bottom limits exposure to smoke flavor—and what’s the point of grilling if you don’t get good grill flavor? Unlike the sear grate, the griddle must also be removed after cooking to prevent a burned-on mess (a maneuver requiring elbow-length potholders and a trivet). If we want to prevent sticking or keep smaller items corralled, we’re better off with our favorite grill pan, whose perforated bottom allows smoke to penetrate. (Plus, it doesn’t require the purchase of a specialized grate.)
Finally, we tried the wok, preparing beef and vegetable stir-fry. Each batch seared beautifully. But when we were ready to add the vegetables, the wok had cooled, so we needed to cover the grill and wait for it to reheat. Overall the wok performed adequately, but it took more than twice as long as stir-frying indoors. Furthermore, it added no grill flavor, and its rough texture made it difficult to wipe with paper towels between batches. Last but not least, cleaning a 10-pound pan that’s hard to fit into a sink is a big chore. (The wok is the only component not available in a set with the modular grate.
We found one final fault with the Gourmet BBQ System: the stainless cooking grate isn’t as seamless as a traditional grate. Its hinges and connecting parts create areas in which any food grilled around the perimeter of an attachment can easily become lodged. These areas also make bumps that snag your spatula.
The bottom line: We might consider buying the sear plate and the griddle for the fun of it, but the wok is definitely not worth the expense.