Spring, sprung. And thankfully, the end of the youth-speak. About time.
In our previous two thrilling installments, we looked at a pair of single-use cookers – a large-capacity direct-heat charcoal grill and a “low and slow” pellet-feed smoker. Both do one job, and they do it very well. But for those of you who don’t have the patio space to keep two big ol’ barrel cookers on your backyard roster, today’s entry is a bona fide triple threat. It grills, it smokes, and it roasts. Hell, it even bakes, but that is four things and pretty much screws up my “triple threat” line so let’s just ignore that for now.
It’s the Big Green Egg and everything you have heard about these things from their legions of fans is absolutely true. These things rock.
At A Glance: Big Green Egg XL
Quality – OUTSTANDING
Ease Of Use – VERY GOOD
Flexibility – EXCELLENT
Value – EXCELLENT
The Nuts And Bolts
The Big Green Egg (hereafter referred to as “BGE” because typing it out all the time gets annoying) is a modern take on a fairly ancient design from Asia called a “kamado”. If you aren’t familiar with kamado cooking, it is a big ovoid ceramic vessel with charcoal in the bottom, an adjustable air intake, and a vent on the top. So you would think that there wouldn’t be much to talk about when it comes to quality – it’s basically a big ol’ flowerpot with a lid, right?
Yeah, not so much. They key with a ceramic cooker is the quality of the ceramics – there are cheap ceramic and insulated metal knock-off on the market that look almost the same, and will probably grill just as well, but will never have the same performance when it comes to indirect cooking and smoking. The body of a ceramic cooker needs a stupidly high thermal mass. It needs to absorb staggering amounts of heat and then begrudgingly part with it over an extended period of time. Conversely, the interior fittings – the fire box, the heat shield, the deflectors – need to reflect heat away and not absorb any of it. BGE puts a lot of care and development into their ceramics, and it pays off big time in the quality of your cooking experience.
It also makes the things wickedly heavy. The large and extra-large Eggs check in north of 100 kilos, and the quality of the mechanical fittings becomes more than a bit important. Your BGE has hinges, handles, and mounting systems that can handle the weight and will pretty much last forever.
Ease Of Use
Charcoal is intimidating to a lot of people, especially when it comes to the lighting. Fortunately, kamado cookers in general and the BGE in particular make lighting the charcoal a breeze. You don’t even need a chimney. You just open the lid and the damper all the way, stick a couple of fire sticks into the charcoal that is already in the cooker, apply a match or lighter, and go work on your food prep for about 15 minutes. No need to watch, baby, coax, cajole, or otherwise interact with the coals. The fire sticks are a combination of sawdust and paraffin wax, so they don’t impart any nasty benzene taste to your food (á la lighter fluid) and they come from sustainable sources.
Once the coals are fired and burning merrily away, you set your temperature by adjusting the dampers. You cook with the lid closed, which maintains an even heat and keeps moisture in your food due to the shape of the Egg. And when you do have to open the lid to tend to the food, the thermal mass of the body ensures that you come back to your desired temperature quickly and without having to re-adjust the dampers.
Temperatures in the dome will hold easily anywhere from 275 to 950 degrees Fahrenheit. And for the first sear on chops and steaks you can push up to a surface temperature on the grill of 1700 degrees.
When you are done cooking just close the dampers. The fire goes out, and you can use the remaining charcoal for your next cook. Ashes clean out of the bottom without having to remove the remaining coals, and you just add more in as needed. The inside of the body cleans itself under normal cooking temperatures. Care and cleanup is a snap.
If you can imagine cooking something outside, then the BGE can probably do it. This is a true “do it all and do it very well” proposition. Grilling, roasting, baking, smoking, you name it. I’ve done everything from steaks to crispy roasted chicken to casseroles to cornbread to pizza to vegetables to prime rib to wings to whole birds to ribs to baked beans. And every single item has been the best I have ever made or tasted. You will use it every day when the weather is nice and a lot of days when the weather is crappy, too. The egg is waterproof and winterproof and works just as well in the middle of February as it does on a nice June afternoon.
The only things that overwhelm it are staggeringly huge amounts of food and insanely long cook times. I know people who do 20 and 30 hours cooks on their Egg, but I would (and do!) personally turn to a pellet-feed smoker for that sort of thing.
If there was a higher rating that “outstanding” for flexibility, I would gladly give it to the BGE.
I’m not going to mince words here. You are going to pay a lot of money for your BGE. By the time you add in the nest or cart, the platesetter, and wings* you are going to be forking out well over 2500 bucks. If you cook outdoors a lot you will be glad you spent the money. If you are an occasional cooker, not so much. But once you start using the Egg, it’s hard to imagine that you would stay an occasional cooker. It’s that much of a joy to use.
*If you get the wings, get them when you buy the Egg so your dealer can install them when they assemble the unit for you. Don’t be a moron and install them yourself later. I’ve already been that moron, and can tell you that yes, the wings are great (especially the wood ones) and worth every penny, but installing them after the fact is a bitch. You’ve been warned.
And yes, you want your dealer to do the assembly. Trust me.
When All Is Said And Done
The Big Green Egg is the most versatile outdoor cooker on the planet. It costs a pretty penny, but it does everything. And every bit of food that comes out of that green dome is insanely good.