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Grill Basics: The Cook'N'Kettle

Grill Basics: The Cook'N'Kettle
 We're talking about charcoal and hardwood here. I do have an indoor gas grill but I only use it if there's a howling Northeaster going on, or (more frequently) to finish meats begun on the charcoal for a dinner party. Basically, gas is good for home heating, dryers and cooktops - but for barbeque you need a fire that produces smoke.

Bill at the GrillMy father, William Stanley Smith, was a brilliant surgeon, researcher (he had a hand in some of the basic science that led to hip replacement), and teacher. All of these things about him I know based on reports from others. But I had direct experience with his expertise at grilling and smoking and, though he's gone, I still have that wonderful gift.

Around 1960 a friend introduced Bill to the Cook'n'Kettle, a cast iron kettle grill on a stand. He applied his scientist's mind to the problem of the perfect steaks, smoked turkeys and roasts, and after a few years of taking measurements, timing carefully and keeping records in a notebook, he had it down. While most guys were timidly poking at a burned steak on their grills, he was in the den, watching the Tigers on TV. When my mother asked when the meat would be done, he'd look at his watch and say, "eight and a half minutes," without missing a pitch. The results were spectacular.

About fifteen years ago, after a lifetime of apartment living, I moved to a place where I could grill outside and got a Cook'n'Kettle of my own, and one afternoon I sat my father down to extract the secrets. (My three brothers also have them -- one has two -- and my daughter does too. We're featured in the Cook'n'Kettle marketing literature -- "Three Generations of Cook'N'Kettle." At last count, our extended family owns six Cook'N'Kettle setups.) I'll be revealing Bill's secrets as time goes on in, but this post is about the tool.

The Cook'N'KettleThe Cook'N'Kettle (see below for info on availability) is a cast iron kettle-type grill setup, not unlike the Weber grills. The kettle has tabs to support a fire grate and a grill, and adjustable top and bottom vents. Cast iron "smoke rings" are used to provide room for smoking racks and clearance for meat turning on a motorized rotisserie spit. The smoke rings each have tabs to support a grill, and can be used in multiple to increase smoking capacity.

Cook'n'Kettle DiagramCharcoal. Bill used Kingsford briquettes all his life, and though I had a brief romance with various hardwood charcoals (see The Thrill of the Grill, by Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby, or any of the hundreds of barbeque fanatics' forums if you're interested hardwood charcoal nuance), I've come back to Kingsford myself. If it was good enough for Bill it's good enough for me, and it's available everywhere (of course, avoid the "match-light" version).

Wood for Smoke. Chunks, not dust or chips, unless you like breaking the whole setup down every hour to refuel. You can get all obsessive about this, with fruit woods, etc., but I've found that any hardwood (that is, not coniferous) is fine, although each adds its own character so experimentation is in order. Sometimes I just grab a log from the woodpile, which has oak, birch and beech in it, and cut it in chunks. After a renovation I smoked stuff all summer with oak and maple scraps the carpenters left when they were done installing a new floor and stair. I've also experimented with other smoke flavorings, primarily rosemary sticks. If you can find the bundles of woody-stemmed rosemary sold in supermarkets as "rosemary skewers" these work, but it takes at least one bunch, and even better, two, to make significant smoke. No matter what you are using, all fuel for smoke must be soaked for at least half an hour in water before they go on the fire.

Starting the FireLighting the fire. We're making food here, to eat, so no petroleum products or other types of lighter fluid allowed! Use an electric starter (you MUST remove it after 10 minutes or the heat of the fire will melt it) or a chimney-type starter (a wad of newspapers in the bottom of the chimney and some coals on top of that. One Christmas I was all set to roast a turkey on the spit and the electric starter was dead, so I made a chimney starter out of a tall tin can...whatever it takes to avoid lighter fluid, do it! The basic procedure for firestarting is 10 minutes with the starter (bottom vent of the Cook'n'Kettle full open, lid off), then mound some unlit briquettes on top of the lit ones and wait 10 minutes, then give the coals a big stir and let them have another 10 minutes. The fire should be more or less ready at this point. (If you're using hardwood charcoal the process may be a little quicker.)

Smoking Setups on the Cook'N'KettleSmoking Setups. I use the two "hot-smoking" methods: Water Smoking and the Indirect Method, as diagrammed on the right. (I've never done the cold-smoking method, which involves smoldering sawdust at temperatures under 100º - I guess becaue I learned smoking from Bill and he never did it that way.) They are basically the same in that the direct heat of the fire is blocked from reaching the meat, but the water method adds moisture to the process. The pan in the water method can be a galvanized oil change pan (increasingly hard to find) or a large cast iron skillet. I use the water method mostly for smoking whole turkeys, and the indirect method for pork, brisket and fish. (The best procedure for setting up for water smoking is to place the pan on the lower grill and then use a watering can with a long spout to fill it. Remember, if you spill water on your fire you'll put your fire out so be careful!)

Smoking Procedure. I use some charcoal - about half the capacity of the fire grate - and usually about 8 - 10 meaty chunks of wood. Get the fire going with the lid off and the vent open, add the chunks and set up the grills, water pan, etc. (The holes in the rotisserie ring for the spit should be plugged with wine corks or aluminum foil.) Then put the meat on the upper grill, put the lid on and close the top and bottom dampers almost completely. For most smoking you want to regulate the fire so the temperature reading is between 200º and 225º (see "Measuring Temperature," below).  With this setup I routinely smoke for 12 hours or more without needing to refuel.  You need to check it every hour - if the temperature gets too low, open the bottom vent another quarter inch or so -- if too high, close it a tiny bit more. If you take a long nap and the fire gets really low it's a good idea to take the lid off and open the bottom vent for about ten minutes to get the fire going well again.

Roasting Setup. Roasting can be done with the spit, which is nice because it continually bastes the meat. Normally I put the spit in the lower smoke ring, which allows good clearance betwen the lid and the fire for the meat (which is an issue mostly with whole roast turkey). With the spit the meat is in direct contact with the heat of the fire. Roasting can also be done with the same setup as the Indirect Smoking Method.

When drippings from the roast start to flare up when they hit the fire it's time to put the lid in place, since there is a risk that the fat on the roast itself can be ignited. I once saw that happen to a roast beef Bill was doing. With thirty guests waiting inside for dinner there was a column of flame about eight feet high coming off the meat. Bill calmly put the lid on the grill, which extinguished the flames, and never said a word about it to the guests. The meat had an especially nice crust that night. But seriously, this is a potentially dangerous situation so be careful about letting fat drip directly into a high fire.

Roasting Procedure. I usually use a full load of charcoal and one or two chunks of wood for a little smoke flavor. The startup is more or less the same as the smoking procedure except that when using the spit I let the meat turn over the full-blast fire for a few minutes to sear it before I put the lid on and close down the dampers. Also, I usually roast at around 250 - 300º so the dampers have to be more open than in the smoking procedure. If using the rack method for roasting, I put a grill on just above the fire and sear the meat on that for a few minutes before putting in the foil covered rack and placing the meat on the open upper rack. This is a little more work than the spit method but sometimes (like when the motor dies) it's the method to use.

The Spit-Basket. This is an accessory to the rotisserie spit: a basket in which small items (like chicken wings, thighs or drumsticks) can be tumbled over the fire.

Measuring Temperature. Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby, in The Thrill of the Grill, give these instructions: "test by holding your hand about five inches above the cooking surface and seeing how long you can hold it there. If you can hold it there for five to six seconds, you have a low fire; three to four seconds is a medium fire; and one to two seconds means you have a hot fire." When I'm roasting or smoking with the lid on the grill I poke the probe from a remote thermometer though the top vent to get the temperature inside the grill. One thing NOT to do is to put the probe in the meat and close the grill...most probe wires will not survive this. To check the internal temperature of the meat you have to open the grill and poke the probe in the meat each time you check.

The Grilling Zone. When setting up the grill, place it near the kitchen unless you are a grill-only cook (as was Bill). A canopy (to protect the grillmaster, not the grill) is essential if you want to grill in all weather (why not?) and a light is also essential. Power supply, obviously, for the light, spit and starter, should not be too far away. And the surface under the setup should be noncombustible, since sparks will fall there. A hose or a bucket's not a bad idea either, just in case.

Cook'N'Kettle Availability. The Cook'N'Kettle name and operation has been through three or four owners since 1960, and for a while in the early nineties was out of production entirely. It's now owned by Larry Baker, an enthusiast who apparently operates the business as a sideline to his day job. The full rig as described here is about $900, plus shipping (which can be substantial, due to the weight) -- about 3 times the cost of the similar Weber Performer charcoal grill - but the Weber doesn't have the versatility and durability of the Cook'n'Kettle. To buy one, go to the Cook'N'Kettle website, or call Larry at (217) 359-0382. You can also email him by clicking HERE. With a little bit of care these things last decades (Bill's original Cook'n'Kettle is still in use, over 45 years later) but parts do need to be replaced now and then and Larry seems to always have what you need.


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I'm stickin' with hardwood. It smells like a campfire when you light it, which gets/keeps your appetite going. It's sort of a 'holistic' approach. The effects of the coal are enhanced almost exponentially, by the way, with a strategically placed cold brew...

It helps that here in Rochester, NY, hardwood coal is as easy to come by as generic toilet paper at the local mega-grocery store chain Wegman's - they have their own store

Go Lance!

Thanks for the comment, Craig. If I lived near a Wegman's, instead of here in Hannafordmonopolyville, my whole life would be different. However, I still have that trump card: it was good enough for Bill, and you really can't argue with that logic. See you soon...BTW, if I'm counting correctly, you've now made the finals for three of the Big Five on days when they weren't really picking someone...What's up with them anyway, running these practical jokes on starving artists....?

It's always great to read what others are doing with their cook'n'kettles. My story goes like this...
I remember the day my dad brought his home. I was 7 Y.O. They had just brought home a set of twins, a boy and girl. That made 7. Not including mom and dad. I remember him firing it up for the first time, when I was 7. I was thinking... this is Great! I'll learn this from him so I can do it when I grow up and be a big boy. And so I would follow him to the grill for the next twenty, thirty years to see if I could help or better yet learn something. Well, I don't know if I was any help but I sure learned a whole bunch from watching. Dad was a Dentist and loved to dabble and try stuff. Too bad they broke the mold. Dad passed away when I was 30 and one of my brothers took the grill. Ironaclally, at his feuneral, the son of the man he got it from came to pay his respects. I went to school for years with the son. Anyway, I asked hin about the unit and he said, come over when you can... I have something you could use. When I went over, he GAVE me his junior. I knew that Christmas had come forever. It's the perfect size for 4 burgers or a great flat bone sirloin. Since then, I have aquired my dad's kettle and it still fires up the same way after 48 years. I still use the Rottersire and am the biggest fan of these units. Any body who knows anything about B-B-Q'ing knows of these units. Simply the best! I want to thank Larry Baker for his intense interest to keep this unique foundry alive and on fire. My sister has two of them and another got one from dad for their wedding present umpteen years ago. Though, they don't use it until I come down. My sister with two wants to sell one but I'll barter it out of her. I just wish they'd put up a web site!!! Sure would make life easier. I need items and long distance costs toooo much. Tell 'em to git'r' done. So, life is good and the food is GREAT! My fav is meat loaf. Can't remember the last time I did one in the oven. If you can cook it inside, you can cook it outside!
Jim Read
[email protected]

Really enjoyed your comments on the Cook N Kettle. I have had these cookers in my family for as long as I can remember (I'm 56). My father was a Ford dealer in Oklahoma and we used to sell these grills in our automobile showroom along with Kingsford Charcoal. I guess you could call us a Cook N Kettle "dealer" too. We used to make trips to Tulsa to pick up new units to keep our inventory stocked. I have the grill that my grandmother bought in 1947 and the one my dad bought in 1950. Both are still going strong. The secret to longevity is to put them inside when not in use. Never let them get rained on. I have since bought three more kettles from various sources as my daughters want one each when they get married. I routinely cook delicious smoked turkeys, ribs, hams and almost anything that walks,crawls, swims, or flies. I am covinced that the Cook N Kettle is the finest grill ever made; certainly the most durable. I wish Baker's would create a web site. I am convinced that it would help their business. Thought I knew everything about the kettle, but your story gave me some new ideas to try.

In 60 + years I have tried numerous cookers. I purchased the cook'n kettle and felt I would give it a shot at ribs and brisket. Wow!!! put the meat in and forget it. come back several hours later and the meat falls off the ribs bones and the brisket is like slicing butter. If you enjoy cooking, save up your money and try this unit.

Help needed: I have a 1868/69 cook'n'kettle and would like to know if there were different sizes and cost?

One day my youngest son called to say the guy next door was taking some scrap iron to the junk yard and there was a heavy old barb. grill onthe truck and the guy will take ten dollars for it. I took alook at it and though at least it would make a good conversation piece as i grilled on my old char broil I later cleaned itup and fired it up and wow what a cooker. you could cook a meal for two with two handsful of wood charlcoal. I have searched for over 2 years to find out if the company was still in business so i could get a parts list as some parts on this i had to make in my shop. Ilove cooking with the kettle ,we cooksmoke all our meat onthis little jewel and our chose of wood chunks in fla are oak and hickory have made a steel stand for mine to sit on. No one in the tampa area has ever heard of this cooker from all the dealers i have talked to. so get that web site going, if people can't see them they can't buy then. later t melvin1936@

This past weekend, {May 6th, & 7th., it was rainy and cold at the Anthony Lake in Anthony, Ks. Not having used the Cook'n Kettle with over 1 rack of pork ribs I was apprehensive about trying to feed 15 people ribs. I nevertheless put 4 5lb. racks in the smoker at 10 a.m., did not look at them till 6 p.m.. When I opened the lid the bones were falling out of the ribs! Juicy and golden brown. No one wanted sauce on them after the first taste. Wow!! This is wonderful. Oh yes, I pulled the ribs out and shut the vents. At 8a.m. the next morning about 20% of the coals were still unburnt, and the temp. was 205.

My name is Patrick Elliott from Tulsa, Oklahoma and I just stumbled onto this page talking about the Cook-N-Kettle. My father-in-law's uncle was the one that originally designed and patented the Cook-N-Kettle and I have often wondered who had the rights to it now.

We have a Little Cook-N-Kettles and a regular with the rotissery ring with the original motor. I also have one of the original pamplets that came with the Cook-N-Kettle back in the 50's. We still use our's pretty regularly. It makes a KILLER rotissery chicken!
I even used it in a Kansas City Babeque Cook-off here in Tulsa last summer. I had one guy walk up and was almost in a daze looking at it. You could see in his eyes that it was a flash to the past as he asked me where I got it. I had a hard time making he believe I didn't get it from his late father.

The Cook-N-Kettle is a good grill and will always hold a place in my heart!

If anyone has any questions for me, contact me at [email protected]

Great commentary. I have been using my kettle for years. Tried your method with the water pan and could not get the temperatuure above 200. The only oil change pan I could find was nearly as large as the gill and only permitted about 1/2 inch of clearance between the edge of the pan and the inside of the kettle. It probably didn't let enough hot smokey air to pass. I also found that my fuel was pretty much spent after 6-8 hours. I must be doing something wrong.

I live in the chicago area and am 62 years old. My fathers boss who was quite wealthy asked me if I would like their barbeque. Their loss..It was a cook,n,kettle, I love it I,m guessing it was from the early 50, or late 40,s.I have closed all the vents and come out in the morning, it was still hot. I,m wondering what the cast iron grate is used for? possible for roasts? Its too wide for chicken or burgers.This grill does not have smoking rings. Its the one with three tools, original equipment I,m sure.

Mr. Elliott, my name is Bob and am in thev Chicago area. I have an old cooker and would like to know if there is a date on the cooker anywhere? Also what is the cxast iron grate up top used for Thanks R Lazaretti

I have had a cook n kettle for my entire cooking life. I purchased one that was ancient twenty some years ago and it has served me well. Only problem I am moving cross country and it just too damn big and heavy to move. Anyone wants to buy it, give me a yell.

My name is Derrick from Mesa, AZ and I am SO happy to have stumbled across this website learning about the Cook N Kettle. My brother acquired his from an elderly lady that just wanted "that ol black planter" out of her backyard as she was preparing to move. My brother dusted it off, grabbed a nearby hammer and GENTLY tapped the kettle and realized that it was cast iron and not a planting pot as the woman thought! Its AWESOME and many of our friends also look in amazement when we have a cookout. Glad to see others having decades of use and enjoyment from theirs. Happy Cooking!

Hi there,
I was so happy to find you on the net. I have a beautiful old cook n kettle. It has a stand that three little feet sit in. This brings it up to a perfect hight to work with. It has to weigh 100 lbs. I'm sure. It is in great shape and I remember my parents using it when I was a child. Do you have any idea what it may be worth today? I don't think I would part with it, but would be happy to know what it is I have. Thank you for your time. Yours truely Pamela.

I have a Cook'n Kettle that has the name on the lid andmade by Cook'n Tools Tulsa Oklahoma

how old is it?

how old is it?

I have a cook n kettle. I think it was made in 1951 I would like to find out more about it .How do you know when it was made.I have all the books on it .Do they still make it.What do they cost. please email me and let me know .

I still have mine. It has a Pat No. 2787995 stamped right on the lid. The motor for the rotisserie broke since I had it weathering outdoors. I got it as a hand-me-down so I know mine is at least 45 years old.

I live in Tulsa and saw my first Cook "N" Kettle about 10 years ago at a customers home. Smoking is a passion and I told the customer if he ever wanted to sell it to call me. A few years later I got the call and I jumped at the 150.00 price. It has the stand, rotissorie motor and ring and most aluminum utensils. I would love to have a smoking ring to get the height for standing more ribs. If anyone can direct me to one please let me know.

I have a Junior cook-n-kettle, by cook-n-tools,Inc. of Tulsa, Oklahome I have had it since the 70's.. Can anyone tell me about how old it might be and is it worth anything?

We desparately need a new kettle. Ours is 44 years old and has been used continuously. Please some help.

I would like to buy a kettle if anyone has one. please email me at [email protected]. Thanks

I have a cook"n"kettle "JR".
I have owned it for 30 years, and last night was the first time I used it.
I LOVE it.
I called Larry baker and ordered a fish cooker for the JR.

I would like more info on this kettle if possibe. Is there any place to buy them now

I have an old cook n kettle and I would to get the smoke rings for it.

I acquired a Cook N Kettle a short time ago & would like some information on it. The lid indicates its a Cook N Kettle junior trade mark registered Pat. Pend. Cook N Tools Inc. Tulsa Oklahoma. Approx. what year was it made,is the lid also ment to be used as a skillet? The bottom grate is burnt out, can you purchase them or do you have to improvise? It dosen't look like this one was ever ment for a rotisserie.Thanks.

I just revived my kettle again and with the new interest found this site. I found my kettle (senior) with a stand that looks similar to the sportsman and Junior stand, in a junk pile behind the barn of a house I bout 10 years ago. I revived it then and used it for quit a while until I received a big gas grill and it went to my work for Friday BBQ’s. As work got busier the kettle again became forgotten and I am ashamed to say rusted. I rediscovered it last week and brought it home. Cleaned, re-seasoned and am ready to start using again. I did some searching on the internet when I first found it (ten years ago) but found little. This time I found several links including this one and the folks that have revived the industry to make and sell new ones and PARTS. In case anyone wants their URL it is; I am interested in two things: Finding out how old my kettle is and getting some good recipes including maybe some Dutch oven recipes. Thanks Nicholas [email protected]

We found our Cook n' Kettle behind a shed in our back yard and would like to restore it so we can use it. It's rusted, what is the best way to get it ready to go? Thanks for your help!

I have a 1957 COOK 'N' WAG'N (catalog picture, that is in super condition with all the tools. At the present time it is buried behind lots of stuff in my garage. We will be moving in a couple of months and will have to sell it. When I can get to it to get actual photos will get them posted. by the way, the original company name was "COOK 'N' TOOLS" and was located at 810 East First Place in Tulsa.

I owned one of the orginal
cook n kettles and gave it away when I moved and went
to a gas grill. I would like to go back to Charcoal
please send price sheet.

I inherited my kettle from my father-in-law who purchased it in the late 40's. It has a two wheel stand which makes it quite portable to move to any location on the patio. In the early 70's I purchased a light weight fine meshed steel grill from the factory that fits atop the cast iron grill. This grill allows me to cook chicken parts etc. without any parts falling into the fire. I have cooked turkeys ribs whole chickens etc. and guests rave that it was the best they ever had and want to know where they can get a kettle. I have one friend who was srictly a gas grill person who would convert if he could purchase a cook n' kettle. My specialty is pulled pork. I load the kettle up with lump charcoal and almond wood and while the coals are hot I sear the roast, leave dampers slightly open and cook for ten hours. The only cooker that comes close to the cook'n'kettle is a kamato. My kettle has been turning out delicious food for over sixty years and still going strong.

I have a cook n kettle for sale. What should I ask for it?

I have 2 cook n kettle bottoms, one smoke ring and one lid. I live in Arkansas City,Kansas 67005. Phone number 620-442-7521 if interested in purchasing it. Wayde

I have a Cook'N'Kettle that my grandfather bought in the early 50's up in Clintonivlle, WI. It has Trade Mark Rec, Pat Pend on the lid. Up until a fews years ago it looked in good shape. I thought that I would sand blast the rust off of it and recoat it. Can any one suggest what I should use to restore it.

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