Barbecuing is one of the most sensory culinary experiences one can enjoy. The hiss of the grill, the smoky wisp of charcoal-kissed meat, the ferocious heat biting at ungloved hands – there’s nothing else in the food world that quite elicits the same primal joy as cooking on an open flame.
It’s not just us Brits that adore our barbecue either: Australia, South Africa, Japan, Korea, North and South America, and a whole host of other cuisines are equally seduced by this fiery romance.
For me, though, the act of barbecuing goes even further than that: it’s a near prayer-like summer ritual that I will always associate with family. There’s my Mum in the kitchen – a finer sous chef you won’t find – minding to thai-inspired noodle salads, slow-roasted onions to lay atop hot dogs, or maybe a passion fruit pavlova for afters. And then the Three Musketeers, my dad and his two sons, lighting firestarters within carefully stacked pyramids of charcoal. There’s trepidatious discussions about the temperature of the grill and how long it’ll take to cook the steaks to a perfect medium-rare, before chat turns to whatever sport happens to be on TV accompanied by long drags on cold beers. It’s my happy place.
Of course, not all barbecues are the same. Some people like the convenience and cleanliness of a gas-lit set, while others will invest thousands in a luxurious ceramic design from the likes of Big Green Egg or Kamodo Joe. In my opinion, though, the humble kettle barbecue will always be the perfect grilling tool – and my most recent discovery has only further cemented that thought for me.
Napoleon Pro Charcoal Kettle Grill
In replacing a battered old Weber Grill at the beginning of the summer, I elected to abandon probably the most iconic barbecue brand on the planet in favour of a lesser-known rival: Napoleon.
Unlike Weber BBQ’s inventive founder George Stephen Sr – who invented the kettle barbecue design in the late 1950s, by manipulating two spheres of a metal buoy – Napoleon’s German founder Wolfgang Schroeter got into the barbecue business by accident. Having moved to Canada to start a steel fabrication business in 1976, a one-time offer to manufacture a wood stove for his father-in-law soon led to a new line of business that would eventually give birth to Napoleon in 1981.
These days, Napoleon is the closest adversary to Weber’s world dominance, with a focus on producing high quality barbecues like the Pro Charcoal. This kettle grill features a number of touches that, for me at least, see it beat the opposition for overall features.
Out the box, the first point of difference is the hefty cast-iron cooking grid that weighs in at about 8kg on its own. Cast iron is not only the perfect surface upon which to grill, but it’s also an incredibly robust material that will take many summers of intense barbecuing – the ten year guarantee is proof of that. Bonus points for the hinged design on both the grill itself and the barbecue lid, which enables you to easily lift up a portion of the grill to top up the charcoal on longer cooks.
The other feature that strikes the eye is the metal band intersecting the two porcelain hemispheres that make up a traditional kettle barbecue. Aesthetically, it does add a stylish edge to this design, but the real advantage is that it allows you the space inside the grill for several different grilling heights – depending on how close to the flame you desire to be.
Set-up time was for the most part straightforward, give or take the usual antics of a flatpack build, though for the securing of the legs I’d recommend pulling in a buddy to help. One person can build this bad boy easily enough, but two makes it into less of a wrestling match.
Once built, it has to be said that you’re unlikely to find a better looking kettle grill. Even the temperature gauge neatly packaged up with the vents on the top of the kettle is as pleasing for its design as its practicality.
Clocking in at £300, there are cheaper options available, but for overall build quality and design, the Napoleon Pro Charcoal might be one of the finest investments you’ll ever make in Britain’s favourite summer pastime.
The Napoleon Pro Charcoal Kettle Grill costs £299.99. For more information, see napoleon.com