The BBQ Vortex is a simple stainless steel cone for the Kettle and Kamado-style grills, such as the Weber Kettle and the Big Green Egg. The manufacturer of VORTEX (IN)DIRECT HEAT promises four uses of the accessory in direct and indirect cooking. However, you can use it in more than just four ways.
What’s Weber Vortex for?
The Vortex BBQ is an excellent kettle grill addon for direct cooking, indirect cooking, 2-zone cooking, and smoking. You can also use it for regular searing, reverse searing, or rotisserie.
Do you need to Get BBQ Vortex?
It makes using a Weber Kettle or any other Kamado grill much easier.
If you’re into low and slow cooking, you probably know how hard it’s to arrange the fire every time before cooking. You might be using methods like the snake or the minion method to arrange the briquettes so that they self-ignite over time strategically.
These methods are not 100% fail-safe and/or efficient. Besides, they require a lot of effort, time, and a steep learning curve to master. If you’re not that meticulous, you might be throwing the coals in haphazardly with varying degrees of results.
Smoking on a Kamado isn’t any lesser pain in the butt than low and slow cooking. Creating a 2-zone fire, however, is a bit easier–you just need to ignite and bank the briquettes off to one side.
Here’s where a Kamado Grill addon, such as the BBQ Vortex, comes in. There are a plethora of kettle and kamado grill accessories promising to solve the same problem, that is, a hassle-free cooking experience on a kettle or kamado. And the BBQ Vortex is one of them.
We’ll first see how you can use the BBQ Vortex, how it performs in different cooking settings, and how it fares against some of the best alternatives available.
This thing is rugged. The manufacturer takes pride in its USA-made, impurities-free, chemical-free stainless steel construction. You can roll or toss it around, and it won’t show any bents or dents. The weld is also seamless.
How do you use it?
Vortex (in) direct heat, the company behind the BBQ Vortex, promises four primary uses of its accessory, which include:
- Indirect (Low & Slow Cooking and Smoking)
- INDIRECT-DIRECT (High Heat Indirect Cooking)
- DIRECT (High Heat Searing), and
- INFRARED (Radiant Heat)
Here’s a brief overview of each:
INDIRECT – Low & Slow Cooking/Smoking
In this arrangement, the Vortex goes “wide-end up” in the center with coals all around it on the bottom grate. The coals are lit on one end and sneak their way around the kettle. The meat sits right on top of the vortex.
This setup is nearly perfect for low n’ slow heat cooking/smoking. One lit coal ignites the other until the entire bunch is on fire, taking a reasonable time. The vortex, placed upside down, shields the meat from direct heat, cooking it slowly over indirect, radiant heat.
However, this method limits the amount of meat you can cook as there’s little space on the vortex. If you have to cook for more than two people, you’re better off setting up a 2-zone fire yourself by banking charcoal off to one side and cooking on the other, or you’re forced to cook in batches.
Verdict: not worth it.
INDIRECT-DIRECT – High Heat Indirect Cooking
In this method, the charcoal-filled Vortex goes narrow side up with chicken wings, drumsticks, or thighs circling it on the fire grate. The intense heat goes up toward the lid and radiates down around the ring of meat you’re cooking.
This setting is the most efficient, useful way to cook with the Vortex. It provides even, consistent heat to whatever you throw around it. It just outclasses every method and accessory available for a kettle or Kamado grill.
Compare it, for example, to the snake or the minion method. Leaving effort aside, these methods don’t provide heat to every piece. Or compare it to set your fire off to one side of the kettle for 2-zone or indirect cooking. Again, pieces nearby the fire will burn off, and those far off may remain uncooked unless you rotate and flip them often.
Even this single arrangement justifies the Vortex’s purchase.
Wanting a bit of smokey flavor? No problem. Just place a chunk of wood directly over the Vortex onto the grill grate, and you’re good to go.
The manufacturer shares several tips for this method, of which two are worth resharing:
Open both dampers fully. This way, you can achieve a very high temperature faster.
“Rotate the Kettle lid every 5-8 minutes.” This is to avoid cold spots because of the offset exhaust damper.
Verdict: Highly recommended. Even this method alone makes the Vortex worth buying.
DIRECT – High Heat Searing
This method is for high heat searing and reverse-searing. You place the Vortex narrow side up on the bottom grate and add some charcoal to it–there’s no need to fill the Vortex entirely. Replace the top grate and put your steaks directly over the fire.
This way, the vortex produces an excellent sear on one side in just two minutes.
For regular searing, cook both sides of the steaks over direct heat and then shift them to the sides to let them reach the desired temperature. For reverse searing, flip the tradition on its head–first, let the steaks come to the temperature and then cook them over the Vortex for a nice brown finish and crispy texture.
Verdict: It creates a very high-temperature zone for searing, but the space is a bit limited.
INFRARED – Radiant Heat
This arrangement involves an inverted Vortex with the whole bird in the middle and charcoal around it. You can place a piece of foil in the Vortex’s bottom to block airflow and catch drippings. You would also need a beer-can holder or chicken stand to support the bird.
According to many users, Vortex performs better than banking charcoal to one side and cooking the bird on the other side on the bottom grate. The bird in the Vortex cooked more evenly, though it took more time than the one cooked without it.
(There’s not enough headspace on a kettle, so you can’t cook an upright chicken on the top grate. So, you’re left with only two options: either use an accessory like the Vortex or bank the coals to the side.)
Verdict: Very well worth it.
While we have discussed only four methods, you can use the Vortex accessory in many ways. You can set the Vortex with the wide side up or down, put charcoal inside or around it, and place food around it on the bottom grate or top grate or directly over it on the top grate.
You can also align it to one side of the kettle, just like the Slow n Sear accessory. The Vortex attaches to the barrel snugly. Using this configuration, you can cook and smoke larger pieces of meat, such as briskets, which the four traditional arrangements don’t allow.
BBQ Vortex addons
The company behind the Vortex has created an entire ecosystem. The following add-ons are available for the Vortex:
As the name suggests, this is a sear grate that fits the wide end of the Vortex for direct, high-heat searing. It’s not advised to direct sear with the Vortex on the standard grill grates as they’re prone to damage (there are many cries and woes because of this.) This grate is made for high-heat searing, so if you’re into direct grilling, it becomes a must-have.
If you’re into a beer can chicken, this high-quality stainless steel chicken stand is a must.
BBQ Vortex Alternatives
The following Kamado and kettle grill accessories can substitute the Vortex under specific circumstances.
If an accessory can truly substitute the Vortex, it’s this. Weber Charcoal Briquette holders come as a pair; you can position them together in the kettle’s center or on either side. But–based on their shape–I doubt you’ll be able to align them to the kettle’s wall. Also, handling a single accessory is better than two.
Despite Meathead of the Amazing Ribs singing its praises from the tops of the mountains, this accessory offers fewer fire and food arrangements than the Vortex. For example, you’re bound to fit the Slow ‘N Sear charcoal basket flush against the side of the grill. You can’t simply place it in the middle. Also, the outcome isn’t as evenly cooked as with the Vortex, which, being in the center, radiates heat equally to all sides.
Finally, here’s the Smokenator. The name is appropriate and self-explanatory–it’s only meant for smoking, not searing. According to several users, the Vortex does the smoking job excellently.
Why not make your own Vortex at home?
While you can make your own Vortex at home, factor in time, effort, and materials, and you’re better off buying one from the manufacturer. It’s available in four sizes to fit almost any charcoal grill, so you probably don’t need a custom one.
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