Alton Brown's Grilling Tip If You Don't Own A Konro

If you've watched Alton Brown on one of his many shows, you'll know his cooking tips are worth paying close attention to. His years of experience and willingness to illuminate important details improve our cooking skills every time we read one of his recipes. For example, he has outlined the art of grilling perfectly cooked skewers without burning the wooden picks to bits on his website, and as usual, it's kitchen gold.

Brown favors a specialized Japanese Konro grill that has a perfect narrow cooking area which allows the skewer ends to stay away from the super hot coals while only the food gets the heat. Of course, not everyone has a Konro, but he says it's possible to recreate the square shape on your grill using concrete builder's bricks and a wire mesh grid. By building a hot charcoal fire inside the square brick area, the smaller grilling area keeps the skewered food cooking properly and those exposed parts of the wood out of the flame. The square mesh is important, too, as it prevents the skewers from falling through the bars of the grill, allowing for more even cooking of the meat, while also making turning the skewers easier. 

Why a Konro-style grill makes good skewers

Konro grills are popular for cooking skewers not only because they don't burn skewer handles, but also because they insulate the heat of the charcoal fire to produce a super-heated grilling area. By putting a wire grid rather low to the hot coals, meats and vegetables cooked on it caramelize beautifully, and the drips of fat that fall on the coals add to the flavorful smokiness of each bite. An authentic Konro is built from special clay which holds heat very well, but builder's bricks should do the trick nicely. You can arrange the bricks to match the size of your skewered food, which is another plus.

Brown also suggests that you can form a hot box within your grill simply using doubled-up strips of heavy-duty aluminum foil, slotted through your grill grates. This will also create the super-hot cooking box you're after. Top with a metal grid to rest your skewers on.

The fuel often used in a Konro grill is specialty binchotan charcoal that burns very hot with almost no smoke. In a Konro, the coals stay hot for hours, allowing yakitori cooks to use a minimum amount of fuel. You can substitute your favorite hardwood charcoal in your simulated Konro; Brown says to use just enough so that the heat feels intense when you hold your hand above the grill. The key is to have hot coals with no fire so the skewered food roasts rather than burns.