Gentlemen’s Review – Grill Mark – Electric Charcoal Fire Starter

So, we have enjoyed a couple of months of warm weather (sometimes downright hot) here in Michigan. Generally, the arrival of warm weather signals the commencement of outdoor grilling. Now, I am certainly not a grilling aficionado, but I attempt to put forth an honest effort for a properly grilled meal. Over the years, I have experimented with various grilling accessories to enhance my grilling experience. One evening while searching the Internet for grilling advice, I discovered an interesting accessory constructed to ignite charcoal briquettes via an electric current. The design is quite simple. A looped metal wand, it is activated by plugging it into an outlet. The cord is fairly short, so an extension cord is highly recommended. Fortunately, I not only have an outdoor extension cord  – a heavy-duty 100 foot cord to be exact – but I am lucky to have a nearby outdoor electric outlet.

For years, my preferred method of igniting charcoal briquettes was employing the service of a chimney charcoal starter. However, I had grown tired of the fuss related to stuffing the chimney starter with newspaper and igniting it with a long stick lighter. Sometimes I had to deal with a pesky breeze and the ash produced from the burned newspaper irritated me. It took longer than I desired for all the charcoal briquettes to eventually become aflame, and I was not a fan of the smoke. The videos related to the electric charcoal starter seemed relatively easy and cleaner. And so, for $20.00 I was willing to evaluate its performance. The set-up was simple enough. I laid a briquette base inside my grill, inserted my electric wand, stacked more briquette in the form of an irregular pyramid, and finally plugged it into my outlet.

The safety directions on the package are clear. Do not leave it unattended. Do not leave it plugged into an outlet greater than the recommended time on the package (8 minutes was the guidance here) else you risk a possible explosion (oh damn). Do not leave it nestled in your lit briquettes – the extended time in the heat can damage the unit. After I plugged in the wand, I observed smoke a little after 30 seconds. I set my Google timer to 8 minutes so I would be notified to pull the plug. After a minute, the wand began to glow red. After the timer expired, I unplugged the unit and removed it from the hot coals. I placed the hot wand inside my chimney starter (still good for something) until it cooled off.

Granted, this was my first time using the Grill Mark Electric Charcoal Starter, so the thing may break down after a few more uses for all I know. Nevertheless, my first impression is very positive. Once my charcoal briquettes were lit, I simply removed the wand and tended to the hot coals with a fire iron to arrange them to their desired position. I closed my grill and directed the air flow to control the temperature. I would not recommend this electric charcoal starter for large amounts of briquettes or lump charcoal, as I am unsure if all of the charcoal would be able to be lit.

Pros

  • No assembly required, simple design, and easy to use
  • Ignites charcoal in 30+ seconds (ignition time may vary)
  • No lighter fluid required, less smoke, less ash
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Short cord
  • Lower wattage (500 watts) compared to other brands (600+ watts)
  • No on/off switch or safety automatic shut-off

For small to medium size meals, this electric charcoal fire starter saved me a lot of preparation time and reduced the amount of smoke emanating from the grill. I picked mine up from Ace Hardware (I actually ran into a masked Calvin Johnson in the outdoor grilling aisle) for just $19.99. Keep in mind, the cord itself is very short, so an outdoor extension will be required for proper, safe usage.

The Gentleman’s Kitchen – Coronavirus Chronicles: Glorious Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes w/ Homemade Tartar Sauce

As previously documented in my latest Daddy Diary post – The Coronavirus Chronicles: 10 True Confessions of a Parent Working From Home – fulfilling one’s job responsibilities remotely has been quite the challenge. Nevertheless, there have been some surprising, positive consequences as a result from working from home. Under normal circumstances, I would arrive home from work in the evening after the children’s dinner time. However, in the current world of SARS-CoV-2, my work hours have shifted, thus allowing me to enjoy dinner with the family. Also, it affords me the opportunity to cook more meals. It is a great opportunity for the kids to see Dad putting in work and serving up some delicious eats. It’s at the point now that I am receiving special requests, so I guess the hush puppies (Ava) and sweet corn bread (Miles) were a hit. Accompanied by some classic rhythm and blues music (Stevie Wonder Superwoman anyone?) gently playing in the background, the interactive vibe combines two activities that I enjoy – good music and cooking. And bonus: I was able to dust off my Canon Rebel T3i and take some great pictures (a few with my Samsung Galaxy S9 as well). The normal work grind was simply not conducive to that feel-good flow.

With newfound freedom to burn in the kitchen, I thought it would be fun to explore some new material here on the site. Because, of all the listed skills that a gentleman should possess, cooking a proper meal should definitely be included on list. My introduction to the kitchen began in college when this brother had to fend for himself. Along with my close friend and roommate, we cooked up some good meals with the means that we possessed. As my cooking evolved, I began to rely on three key components that would result as a delicious dish: time, temperature, and technique. Time is two-fold. Unless a gentleman is a skilled chef competing on Iron Chef; rushing through preparing a meal may not yield the best work. Moreover, a gentleman should grant studious attention to cooking time for his designated items. There can be fine lines that separate perfectly cooked, undercooked, and overcooked. And those three outcomes can hinge on the correct temperature being selected during cooking. Technique is self-explanatory. I enjoy watching videos online; absorbing cooking methods and adding my own variations. For certain, I am not professionally trained in culinary arts, but I am skilled enough to cook an above average meal.

So, during this time of sheltering in place, I have chosen to flex some creativity in the kitchen. One particular entrée that was a hit with the family was a batch of jumbo lump crab cakes that I rolled out of the oven for Mother’s Day. It was only my second time making crab cakes. I wanted to prepare a meal that was simple in execution, yet sophisticated and special. To take it up a notch, I decided to make a homemade tartar sauce to top off those beauties. Now, to achieve a restaurant quality crab cake, a gentleman must embrace two unavoidable starters: 1. It has to be lump crab meat. 2. It can’t be cheap. Apologies (not really), but if you want a flavorful cake that is a mouthful of 98% crab, cutting corners is definitely not an option. I have been posting a few pictures on social media, and I have received positive feedback with some asking for recipes. So, let’s dive into the details of cooking a killer crab cake – straight from the Palmer Kitchen.

 

Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes – The Ingredients

  • 1 can of premium lump crab meat – approximately 16 ounces
  • 1/4 cup of mayonnaise
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh parsley
  • 1/2 lemon (squeezed)
  • 1-2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/3 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 1/3 cup chopped green onion
  • 1/3 cup breadcrumbs – approximate to taste and consistency
  • pinch of salt – approximate to taste
  • pepper – approximate to taste

Okay, now that the ingredients have been listed, lets jump into how we put these bad boys together.

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together your mayonnaise and egg to a smooth consistency.
  2. Start adding the Worcestershire sauce, thyme, parsley, Dijon mustard, chopped red bell pepper, and chopped green onions. Give it a quick, gentle whisk.
  3. In a small bowl, empty the crab meat and gently sift through the contents to remove any cartilage and shell. Ensure you don’t disturb the lumps of crab and shred them unnecessarily.
  4. Add crab meat to your binding mixture you created in steps 1-2. Add Old Bay seasoning and gently toss so you don’t break up the big lumps of crab meat. Squeeze out juice from 1/2 lemon. Add salt and pepper.
  5. Add breadcrumbs (I used Panko brand) and gently incorporate into your mixture.
  6. Chill in your refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. I push it beyond the 1 hour mark so the crab cakes have a chance to really solidify.
  7. Remove from refrigerator and use an ice cream scooper (or a large spoon) to collect balls of your crab meat to make patties. I like to pat them around in my hands back and forth until I have solid ball that doesn’t fall apart.
  8. Over medium high heat with vegetable oil, place patties in skillet and fry 3-5 minutes each side until golden brown. Finish in oven, heated to 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.
  9. Alternately, you can skip the skillet, go straight to the oven and bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees. In this case, I like to broil my crab cakes for 2-3 minutes (no need to flip) to achieve that crispy exterior (this version is the photo at the top).

 

Homemade Tartar Sauce – The Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup of mayonnaise
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (Grey Poupon – Country Dijon preferred)
  • 1-2 tablespoons chopped capers
  • sweet pickle relish
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • salt
  • pepper

After I whipped up this tartar sauce at home, I reserved myself to never purchase tartar sauce in a grocery store again. Making this topping is seriously simple, and of course the measurements can be adjusted depending on personal preference. Tasting along the way, I make adjustments as needed to achieve the right flavor. I prefer tartar sauce with a little zing, so I usually increase the amount of dill and capers. The execution is simple. Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and refrigerate immediately until serving. I like to make the tartar sauce 1-2 hours well in advance of topping the crab cakes, so it is good and creamy for serving.

So, there you have it. Toss some fresh greens (baby spinach was used for this meal) with some olive oil, salt, and pepper; place your juicy crab cake on top and finish with your chilled tartar sauce. Enjoy.

Ready to be cooked.

 

Brown each side on the stovetop; finish in the oven.

 

Served on a bed of baby spinach with pan-fried asparagus and bread.

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