PK Grill review for the Original PK300 Aaron Franklin Edition; includes assembly details, cooking recommendations and feature highlights.
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What is a PK Grill?
PK Grills have recently become popular because of how many teams are using them and winning on the Steak Cookoff Association (SCA) competition circuit, but the history of the PK Grill dates back to 1952.
PK stands for Portable Kitchen, which in my opinion is a great name for this grill, because it does more than just grill a steak and it does so without taking up an overwhelming amount of real estate on your patio.
Lately, so many companies are including features on their grills just for the sake of adding gadgets. Or I’m finding that they are being pressured to reduce the quality of the materials to meet the demands of mass production for big box stores.
But the PK Grill is different.
The PK Grill is a true American success story.
PK Grills stopped production in the 1970s, in part because of the challenges of competing in a crowded field of lower-priced grills. Americans were willing to accept lower quality at a lower cost.
But in the late 1990s, Paul James revitalized the company by purchasing the name and producing the grills, using the same castings and quality craftsmanship as the original product.
PK Grills is a U.S.-based company that has taken the key components that you need in a charcoal grill and focused heavily on those aspects to ensure you can create extraordinary meals over and over.
Through word-of-mouth and a true backyard grassroots effort, PK Grills continues to produce a limited lineup of cast aluminum rust-free grills in Arkansas. I was fortunate enough to be provided the Original PK300 Aaron Franklin Edition, which I’ll explain in depth in my review below.
I have used dozens of grills in my life, and people often ask me what grill they should buy. The answer usually depends on whether they want to grill or smoke, the fuel source they want to use, the space they have and their budget. If you like cooking with charcoal, which I love, then the PK Grill is a great investment, because it is both a grill and smoker that will last a lifetime.
This grill is very easy to assemble, and the PK Grills website includes assembly videos for those who prefer visuals. Although the video instructions are for the Original PK300, and not the Aaron Franklin edition, they’re very similar.
You start by adding the wheels and adjustable legs to the bottom frame, and then you add the side legs. It is important to pay attention to the placement of the legs, because the notches will hold the top frame.
You don’t need any additional tools. The needed wrenches and a small screwdriver are included.
With the Aaron Franklin edition, you’ll add the bottom speed racks, second side shelf and belly bar next.
Then, you add the shelf locks and bottom half of the grill, which will snap right into place. Finally, you just add the vent covers, grates, lid and handle.
I had it assembled in less than 20 minutes.
The Original PK300 Aaron Franklin Edition Features
Let’s talk about the Aaron Franklin edition. For those who don’t know, Aaron Franklin is a Barbecue Hall-of-Fame pitmaster based in Austin, Texas. Diners will wait in line for hours to eat at his restaurant. Like the PK Grill, he is an American success story. I highly recommend reading his book Franklin Barbecue to learn more.
Franklin has been a fan of the PK Grill for years, so it was only natural that he would partner with the company to design a special edition grill that still maintains the quality features of the Original PK300. Let’s talk about those unique features.
The Original PK300AF Grill
The Original PK300AF is still constructed of cast aluminum, using the same moldings as the Original PK300. However, it’s available in beautiful teal blue or coal black.
As soon as I started unpacking my PK Grill from the box, I was impressed with the quality of the aluminum. It’s not like the thin, rolled metal that most grills are made out of. The walls are thick and solid and built to hold consistent heat.
The lower capsule of the grill contains a steel grate for the charcoal along with a top steel grate for your food. The top grate includes a hinge about two-thirds down the grate. This allows you to rest your charcoal chimney right inside while lighting coals and also provides an easy access point for adding more coals for those longer cooks.
Controlling the temperature on the grill is very easy. There are four vents – two in the bottom and two on the top. The bottom vents allow the air to come in and fuel your fire, while the top vents allow the air to escape.
Having vents on both sides makes indirect cooking more efficient. I’ll explain that process in the cooking section of this review.
One thing you’ll notice with all PK Grills is that the upper capsule is actually the same as the lower capsule, so with an extra stand and grates, you could essentially cook on it, as well. The lid just lifts right off.
Speaking of that, because the lid is not screwed into place, if I open it by grabbing the center of the handle or further back, it will open with ease. However, if I grab the handle toward the front of the grill and try to lift it, the lid does go a little cockeye. I think this is mainly because I’m short, so I was pushing it backwards instead of lifting it straight up. Just something to keep in mind if you’re shorter or if your kids are using the grill.
The Original PK300AF Cart
The Original PK300AF sits on a rust-proof aluminum cart that is truly portable.
When I’m judging grills, after assessing the function of the grill itself, I look at the wheels. So many grills nowadays are made with cheap caster wheels that really aren’t that maneuverable for anything beyond a concrete slab.
I live in the desert with rock landscape, and I take my grills in and out of my trailer to competitions. For a grill to be portable, it has to have wheels that can withstand a variety of surfaces. The wheels on the Original PK300AF are thick, solid rubber with aluminum rims, and they really hold up.
And when you extend the right shelf, you can lift the grill easily with the shelf handle.
Once the grill is in place, the bottom two feet are adjustable, so the grill can be stabilized on any surface. You just have to give them a twist.
Storage on the Original PK300AF
All Original PK300 grills come with a bottom storage shelf, measuring about 385 square inches and one extendable cast aluminum shelf that provides about 170 square inches of space to store your prep ingredients or finished dishes.
The Franklin Edition is unique, because it comes with a second extendable shelf on the left side of the grill. While this is a nice feature, be mindful that when you open the lid fully, half of the shelf will be covered by the lid, so you’ll need to adjust accordingly.
That’s no problem though, because the Franklin Edition has other storage options that the Original doesn’t have.
Under the grill, there are two speed racks. These are designed to hold sheet pans, so you can stack your ingredients on the pans or keep cooked food under the grill to help keep it warm.
The front of the grill also has a belly bar to hang towels or tongs along with a 3-inch shelf that’s good for holding spices or a beverage.
How to Cook on a PK Grill
I’ve used my PK Grill to cook at an SCA competition and in my backyard. Cooking on a PK Grill is as easy as lighting your charcoal and throwing on your meats and veggies. The advantage of its design is that it can be used to cook hot and fast dishes like burgers and steaks or slow and low meals like brisket and pork butt.
Cooking on any grill comes down to managing temperatures. While the PK isn’t as simple as a gas or pellet grill, it’s as set it and forget it that you can get from a charcoal grill.
If you want to cook over direct heat, you can fill the entire bottom rack with a layer of coals. The amount of coals you use and how wide you open the top and bottom vents will allow you to adjust how high the heat gets.
The grill is also large enough to accommodate a 10-inch cast iron skillet for searing or preparing sides or sauces.
For a two-zone cook, you can place coals in one side of the grill and leave the other side without coals. This allows you to grill a steak at 500F+ degrees on one side, while letting it finish cooking to your desired temp on the other side.
Or, you can cook with the reverse sear method. Smoke the meat first and then finish it over the coals to form the crust.
For a brisket, I add coals to the right side and open the bottom right vent about halfway while keeping the bottom left vent closed. Then, I slightly open the top left vent while the top right vent remains closed. This allows me to maintain a grill temp of around 275F degrees.
And because the grill grate has a hinge, I can add more coals as needed throughout the cook.
To measure the temperature of the grill, you have a couple of options.
The left side of the Original PK300AF has a removable plug. The grill comes with a metal disc that you put over the hole, once the plug is removed. Then, you simply insert the Tel-Tru Thermometer and secure it with a wingnut.
Another option is to run a probe from a digital thermometer like a Thermoworks Smoke through one of the holes in the backside of the grill. This way you can manage the grill temp and meat temp throughout the cook.
How to install the PK Grill Tel-Tru Thermometer
Original PK300AF Grill Accessories
The PK Grills website has several accessories for its lineup of grills. If you purchase the accessories at the time you buy your grill, you can save 10%.
When shopping for accessories, be sure to select items for the 300 model, not the 360 model.
Even though the grill is rust-free and has a 20-year warranty, I do recommend purchasing a cover. It will help your grill last even longer so you can pass it on to the next generation some day.
If you plan to compete in an SCA steak competition, you’ll want to pick up a set of GrillGrates® and the Littlemore Grid, as well. The grid is an elevated rack that allows you to let your steak finish cooking over less intense heat to rise to the perfect temperature.
As an American-based company, PK Grills appreciates America’s service members and medical and first responders. They always offer a 5% discount for verified military members (active, guard, Reserves and veterans), first responders (police, fire, EMS, those with a .gov email) and medical professionals (doctors, nurses, PAs, CNAs, and public and private healthcare workers.