Thursday, June 3, 2010

Tools of the Trade: Big Green Egg

Sorry about the lack of bento post this week, it was memorial day and there was much bbqing to be had. It also was a great time for me to finally fire up my newest cooking acquisition: The Big Green Egg. As you can see above it is indeed big, green and somewhat egg shaped. I've been told over and over that having the above smoker, grill, wood burning pizza oven would complete my life. I have to say that I'm not much of a griller, there's too much variability in heat control on a grill, I must endure swarms of mosquitos, and it just takes a long time. If you couple that with the hefty price tag, you can understand why it's taken me quite some time to get around to owning this device.

Now after all that whining above, what made me change my mind? Well one, a bunch of us at work did a bulk purchase and got a deal, but that wasn't the game changer. I was talking to several proud egg-owners at work and they explained the science behind it. It's basically similar to a kiln it can get up to about 700F, you can fine grain control the temperature, and one bag of charcoal will last you several sessions. (wha? I know, but it's true) And apparently the devotees to the green egg are exactly that, rabid devotees, it's almost cult like. One of the guys at work was looking at the egg and another guy went on and on, turns out he wasn't a sales guy, just another owner. My friend said, "well that's cool i'll have to come back with my truck and pick one up". The Egghead (as they are called) eagerly offered to put it in his truck on the spot and help him transport it home and set it up.

Ok lets set this thing up: as you can see I used the purchase of the egg to also give me an opportunity to purchase a blow torch. Yes, I start my grill it a blow torch. I have learned the proper technique after you light up a few spots in your wood pile you close the hatch and open up the vents full open. Let it get to full temperature (700 degrees) then adjust your vents and let the egg cool to the proper temperature. (I was not quite privy to this information during my first run.) Another cool thing, while fireing this bad boy up I didn't have to be in front of it during setup or cooking, it just went, so I avoided my mosquitos.

My first run I think was somewhat of a "fail" due to poor planning. I had preseasoned chicken quarters that I wanted to slow cook and some friends brought burgers and sausage. I brought the egg to 350 (without first bringing it to full heat) but my friends wanted to try to do both things at once (bad idea) the heat was not enough for the burgers and dogs and it required active grilling management. I ended up cranking up the heat a bit and then using the egg more like a traditional grill. This is not how you work with the egg. What I should have done was bring it to 600F put the patties on, close the lid for two mins and then flip and repeat. After that I should have lowered the temp to do the chicken. The whole beauty of the egg is that it doesn't use a lot of fuel because it's not exposed to that much air to burn through the wood. Even for low slow cooking the wood is not burning as fast as you would have in a less efficient steel grill. The thick ceramic walls retain and keep the heat. The vent controls the air getting in (and thus the temperature). In this case we didn't even do the chicken as I could never get the temperature back down after pushing it up. I did manage to sear up my sous vide lamb shoulder and it was delicious.

Second run. This time I decided I had enough chicken to go ahead and try one batch in the oven and one batch in the egg. Now this is where I'm gonna ask for some help from any egg owners reading this post. I fired up the grill full open vents, got it up to 650F, my target temperature needed to be 375F, I shut the bottom grate to just about 1/4 inch and half cover the top vent. After an hour and a half the grill was *still* at 475F. I lost patience because the oven chicken had finished by then and I went ahead and dropped in the chicken. In the end the chicken cooked, and due to the fact that they were thigh meat the really high internal temperature I ended up with really didn't hurt anything. But had it been a more delicate slow smoke I would have failed. (the end temperature was still something north of 375F when I finished)

Final thoughts? Well this by no means is the last of the egg I mean I paid a lot for it. No doubt it will feature prominently in many a lunch to come. I think I'm gonna need a few lessons before I can confidently use the contraption, but there are so many believers, I must be doing something wrong. Am I a convert? Not just yet, I still like my orion cooker, six simultaneous racks of ribs in one hour and forty mins. Mr Egg you have some catching up to do. But the cooker isn't really a grill or smoker so perhaps they can co-habitat side by side.

Back to bentos next week!


cliffster said...

Not sure why the problems with grilling temperature, but keep in mind it is first and foremost a smoker. Put some meat in, light the fire, come back 10 hour later and have fall-off-the-bone delicious meat.

Hatch said...

I'm still trying to find success with controlling temperatures on the BGE myself.
What I do know is it much harder to reduce than it is to increase temperatures. Once the BGE reaches a certain temperature then it is very hard and very slow to reverse the momentum especially if the intended drop is anything over 50 degrees. This has much to do with the efficiency of the BGE and thermal insulation. I believe if you intend to cook at a certain temperature, you should fire your BGE probably within 50 degrees of target temp. Definitely no more than 100 over target. Then adjust vents and try and stabilize for at least 15-20 minutes. When it looks rock solid and on target then introduce food.

Ironjack said...

@hatch Thanks for the tip. I've also gotten similar tips from other folks. One big piece was since I was lighting from a torch it was recommended that you light only one spot near the front vent (instead of the four spots I usually do) and "catch the temp on the way up" Thanks again for the advice and the visit!

traizen said...


I'm new to Austin and I have an egg too..

With the egg once it gets to a tempature it cools off really slow.. for 350 if you have a large egg and want to be lazy.. open the daisywheel till the pedals are open and leave the bottom wide open.. mine will sit at 350-400 like that.

If you want to do be more specfic, here is a guideline

For chicken, I recommend buying a whole chicken and cutting the spine out to spatch cock it.. Then leave it in the fridge for 24+ hours to let the skin dry.. then 350 until 160 in the breast and 180 in the thigh - best chicken ever.

Ironjack said...

welcome to Austin Traisen! Thanks so much for the advice (and the visit).

I'm planning on a egg get together at some point you'll have to come over and school me on my egg usage. I managed to not even be able to get it started the other day. Very frustrated.

traizen said...

Sounds great - I don't know how much help I would be but I could let you know what I do know..

Richard said...

What's working for me thus far (not a lot of experience) is to fire up the egg open to get the charcoal started. Once it's going well, close the egg with the vents [more or less] wide open. When you get within 50 degrees of your target temp, close the vents (thus far experience says that the bottom has more effect than the top, your mileage may vary) and see if you can soft-land your egg at the desired temperature. Put in any additional hardware at this point (plate setter, whatever) and go get the food organized. Come back, put on the food, adjust the temperature as appropriate. Come back in 10 minutes and make sure that everything is holding. You shouldn't need to touch it again.

Ironjack said...

Awesome thanks for the tip! I agree, catching the egg on the way up is the only way i've been able to get and keep a low temperature without burning out all the charcoal too quickly.

I've also run across a pid controller attached to a blower fan that would control the egg as well as my sous vide rig so I'll be giving that a try too.