Cult of Fire and Grate
I am always suspicious when something is talked about in overwhelmingly glowing terms by all who are associated with it. I usually suspect that there is some combination of a great marketing campaign and the human species’ tendency to engage in mythologizing. This suspicion almost prevented me from becoming a kamado grill owner – specifically a member of the Big Green Egg cult.
I say cult, because a good friend of mine and fellow BGE owner refers to buying an Egg as joining a cult. He is referring to the tendency of fellow Egg owners to evangelize (even gush) about the food they cook on the grill. It was this unalloyed hype from other Egg owners that made me cautious – could a grill really be this good?
I was ready to replace a mid/low grade gas grill. I was considering a number of grills including several high end gas grills (Holland, Weber, Vermont Castings, TEC,) a Traeger wood pellet grill and a Big Green Egg. The owners of some of the other grills spoke highly of them and said they would recommend them. The owners of the BGE, however, spoke in superlatives.
“The best blank ever” (burgers, steaks, etc) was a common phrase. They spoke as if no other option was even a consideration. “You have to get one,” several said. Online reviews were no different.
I was not convinced. Thinking there was no way it could be this good, I had pretty much made the choice to purchase a Holland grill. But just before pulling the trigger on the purchase, I thought, “what if the BGE really is this good?”
It was that possibility, however remote, that made me change my mind and buy an Egg. What do I think now? I am a convert – another true believer.
For the first cook, we grilled burgers. My wife said she thought they were the best she had ever tasted. The best steaks I have ever had have been prepared on the Egg (though the quality of the meat plays a big role in this as well). Meat grilled on the egg, when done properly, is tender, juicy and richly flavored.
I have heard similar stories from fellow owners. A friend, not the same one who likened egg ownership to joining a cult, grilled salmon on cedar planks during his first cook. He and his wife thought the fish was the best they ever had. Once when joking with a retailer about the passion of Egg owners, he recounted a skeptical customer who had purchased an Egg one day then came back and purchased every accessory for the Egg the store sold the next. The customer said that he made ribs that evening. And even though he had, in his words, “messed them up,” they were the best ribs he had ever made. You probably notice a common refrain.
If you are not a kamado type grill owner I imagine that you are getting suspicious that I may be overstating the case – another owner caught up in the hype. I understand. I was once the same.
A little history may be of interest at this point. Supposedly the kamado grill was introduced to the U.S. by GIs returning from service as part of the occupying force in Japan who brought some of the grills back home. You can see a vintage kamado here. The Japanese grills are believed to have origins in China over 3000 years ago.
Seeing an opportunity, some entrepreneurs made some additions and improvements and began selling Americanized, Japanese-style kamados in the U.S. If you’ve seen the classic film, “The Graduate”, you have seen an early kamado grill. In the iconic scene when Dustin Hoffman comes out in scuba gear and jumps in the pool, you will see two kamado style grills in the background. The film was made in 1967.
Though I have focused on the BGE, there are many versions of the modern kamado. If you are interested in a high end version that is more visually expressive, check out the KomodoKamado. Stainless steel outer shell versions are made by Caliber and Kamado Joe. Many others make similar style ceramic kamados.
One reason to consider the BGE is the large number of accessories (called eggcessories in the cult) available for the grills. Many of these will likely work in other grills as well. Important accessories to consider are the “wings” (table extensions that fit on either side of the grill), plate setter, pizza stone, and drippings tray.
The wings or some sort of table are very useful for holding your trays when loading or unloading the grill. You will definitely use these. The place setter and drippings tray are used when you want to cook with indirect heat. One example of this may be cooking a Boston butt (pork shoulder roast) low and slow for some of the most tender and tasteful pork BBQ you have tasted.
Since you can achieve temperatures of 600 to 700 plus degrees, you can cook authentic pizza on the kamado grill. For this you need to pair the pizza stone with the plate setter.
Another very important item to have when using the egg are grill gloves. You may think these are unnecessary, but the first time you reach over a 500+ degree grate, you will realize that they are needed.
I have tried several types of grill gloves that the ones I like the best are by Eastman Outdoors. There are many silicone grill gloves available that receive good ratings, however, I have not used those. I do not recommend the BGE mitts, unless they have been dramatically improved since I tried them several years ago. The glove design was so poor that I had a hard time closing my hand enough to handle grill implements.
Since the grill is fueled with lump charcoal, you will need a way to start the grill. I have used a number of methods and the best is a starter chimney. This is the one I use. I have also used an electric lighter and starter cubes/logs. Both of these work, but the chimney worked fastest. You will definitely want the have grill gloves if you use the chimney.
A quick word about the charcoal. While the lump charcoal by the BGE company is good charcoal, you don’t have to use it exclusively. Many others work well also. You will have to experiment to find one that works for you.
I regularly use one from a local grocery store with good results. One I cannot recommend if you are attempting to cook at high temperatures is Publix’s Greenwise lump charcoal. I, and others I have talked with found this charcoal slow to start and difficult to drive up to high temperatures. The charcoal may well work for long slow cooks, however.
If you are in the market for a grill I encourage you to at least consider a kamado style grill. While they are a little less convenient the gain in taste and versatility are worth the extra effort.
If you do get an egg, here is a way to cook steaks that has worked out for me. It was adapted from the “TRex method” found here. This method has worked well for all beef cuts I have tried. We usually cook ribeyes or filets.
I like a simple seasoning of coarse salt and coarse ground black pepper. Another good option is Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning (good on most everything). Of course use the seasoning of your choice. I usually season about five minutes or so before searing. There are many different theories on how long beforehand you should apply the seasoning.
You want to get the grill quite hot. Ideally the dome temp will be 600 to 700 degrees. Then sear the steaks on both sides. Since I don’t like a lot of char, I sear for about 30 seconds on both sides. Sear for longer if you like a thick char.
Then remove the steaks from the grill and put them aside while you bring the grill back down to 400 degrees. I close the top vent completely and I close the bottom vent until it is only about a quarter inch open.
It usually takes 10 to 20 minutes to get the grill down to 400 degrees. Then I put the steaks back on. Depending on the thickness, I grill on each side for 4 to 15 minutes. I usually keep the top vent closed and the bottom vent mostly closed. Open it more if the dome temperature begins to drop below 300.
For thin steaks (about an inch or less), about four minutes on each side will get you into the medium range. For the thick fillets, you may need roughly 15 minutes on each side. I take them off when the internal temp is approximately 135. Some like them more, some less. Cook to suit your tastes.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Didriks
For all sorts of tips, recipes, and other info about the Big Green Egg, check out their forums – you’ll find a wealth of information there