I am worse than a dunce at barbecuing. When a cookbook calls for grilling over coals, I turn the page. A sack of mesquite has been in my garage for so long it may have developed termites. But I don't know, because I can't find it.
Therefore, I was thrilled by an invitation to get hands-on barbecuing experience, actually hand-held experience, because someone would guide me through each step.
On a Saturday afternoon, the Weber BBQ Boot Camp took place in a parking lot in Playa Vista (at top). Food bloggers like me were invited--so we would write about Weber and its products, of course, but that was a small obligation for a chance to overcome my ignorance. I confessed to the Weber team that I knew nothing. This didn't matter.
After appetizers (cheese and fruit) in the classroom of our grill academy, we were sent outside, wearing long black aprons embroidered with our names. Here we were assigned to grill stations with all sorts of equipment--cutting boards, paper towels, a chef's knife, seasonings and more. Our task: to grill the perfect burger.
To begin the class, we gathered around our instructor, Jeff Carter, who said he would help us "become the backyard rockstar griller." The first step, he said, would be to preheat the grill. That might seem obvious, but not to me.
Then we should clean the grill, if it had been used before. "You don't want today's hamburger to taste like last night's salmon," he said. We didn't have to do this, because Weber people cleaned our grills as needed.
Next, Jeff taught us about meat. The perfect ground beef for burgers is 80% lean and 20% fat. "This gives a juicy burger, but there is not so much fat that it will fall apart," he said.
Then he showed how to put our meat in a plastic baggy, wearing rubber gloves so we wouldn't touch it, add seasonings and knead them in (above). I chose salt, pepper and a seasoning blend that I had never seen before.
Next, we were to put the meat into a burger press. This is better than shaping by hand because it seals the edges so they won't crumble on the grill, Jeff said.
And then a crucial step--making a thumb print in the middle of the patty. Doing this keeps the meat from rising to a peak in the center as it grills. If this happened, it would be hard to put the patty in a bun, I figured.
We were to grill our patties with the lid down for 4 minutes, then flip them for another 4 minutes. If I had opened the grill to check doneness, I might have been expelled. "Lookin' ain't cookin'," Jeff emphasized, explaining that lifting the lid lets out heat and flavor.
At the end of the cooking time, we were to check doneness by inserting a digital thermometer into the side of the patty (above). This was hard because my patty was so thin, but I only had to keep it there until it read 155 degrees, when the meat would be safe to eat.
Some wanted melted cheese on their patties. I grilled sliced mushrooms. When the meat was done, we grilled buns. Then we assembled our burgers with sliced red onion, tomatoes, avocado, pickles and other fixings and ate them in our classroom along with pasta and kale salads.
Although I was nervous, I was helped at each step by an expert grill-mate, Valerie Mitchell of the blog Mama Likes to Cook.
After eating, we were sent back to our grills to make dessert. "Everything you can do in the kitchen, you can do on the grill--breakfast, lunch, dinner," Jeff said.
Weber has formed a partnership with popchips. These potato chips are crisp as can be but aren't baked or fried and don't contain anything bad, meaning preservatives, artificial flavors, synthetic colors, cholesterol and trans fats. Being potatoes, they're gluten free. Another plus, they're made in Los Angeles, where I live.
The base of our dessert would be a sweet potato cinnamon twist popchip, a new flavor coming out in the fall. On top, we placed grilled green apple slices caramelized with brown sugar (above) and then squirted on whipped cream and trickles of caramel syrup.
Then we were done and class was dismissed, but not without rewards for our hard work. We left with a barbecue mitt, assorted popchips, a red popchips hat, a water bottle, a jar of Chicago steak seasoning, Weber's "Big Book of Burgers" (above) and a coupon for ordering a free grill online, like the ones we were using.
Now I will be forced to grill, not so much for flavor, although that will be nice, but because I won't be able to resist using my new fuchsia grill--it's so pretty.