The Big Green Egg Is My True North

I’d like to dispense from the usual topics on this page to discuss one of my true loves. When I graduated high school, I might have been capable of boiling water but not much else. I could use the grill. In the glorious summer of 1989, the last one before I donned the McDonalds colors during the non-school months, my friend Tim would come over and I’d grill burgers and we’d watch horror movies.

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The first grill I owned was upon purchase of our first home in Atlanta. There were two things I required to fill the house. One was a giant TV downstairs in the man cave which of course is really the genderless and if we’re really being honest the cat cave. The other was a grill. I bought a middle-of-the-road gas unit with the propane tank and the four burners. I really enjoyed the four-burner aspect because I could do indirect heat, like when cooking ribs at a relatively low temperature for a long time. The problem with gas was of course refilling the tank and there would be flare-ups so I’d have to keep an eye on it as risk of burning my precious meat.

After five years, the sucker rusted out. Also the gas line had a break and I almost set the back yard on fire because of it. I was sans grill. It was time to step up in weight class.

The Big Green Egg is a brand. There are many kamado-style grills on the market but this is considered best of the bunch. The kamado-style grill originated in Japan. This was an earthenware cooking urn. The modern versions use charcoal and maintain temperatures very well. I can put on a rack of ribs, get the temperature to 250 and it will stay there for hours. It also gets a lot hotter than the gas grill, up to almost 1000 degrees if I want. Now there’s really nothing you can cook at that temperature. You can go in the 600-700 range if you have a really thin steak that you want to cook quickly. I like pizzas in the 500 degree range. Otherwise it’s around 300-400.

My current number one grill draft pick would be pizza. My wife gave me a cooking class one year for my birthday and I’ve been making my own dough and cooking them once every other week. It’s a bit of a process to do it but it’s ultimately fun and cheap.

You make one big ball of dough, cut it up into individual pieces and put them in oiled Ziploc bags. I like to make the dough a day early for pizza. The sauce is easy, a recipe from the class I took. Take a can of crushed tomatoes, add salt/spices and let it sit. I used to just use my marinara sauce but the sauce cooks as the pizza does so there’s no reason to do that in advance. My “secret weapon” is to saute some onions with garlic cubes (I prefer the frozen ones, probably being lazy there) and put that in the sauce or include it on the “white pie” that’s low-fat cream cheese.

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Maybe it’s just fun to burn things. Recently I took a beef tenderloin out of the freezer and did an old family recipe. There’s a marinade to put the “beast” in and when it’s time to cook, the instructions are to burn the shit out of it.

It can be fun if frustration is fun to get those old family recipes and see that some items are missing, like the temperature to cook the meat. I cut the tenderloin into two five-pound hunks and had to lower the grill temperature once the burning got too out of hand. That’s the hardest part of this grill: cooking something for the first time. When the goal is to make the outside burned and the inside rare to medium rare it’s a battle to get it “just right”. I haven’t bought the contraption that lets me keep a thermometer in the meat so I can check the temperature remotely. I tend to buy relatively cheap thermometers that don’t usually last that long.

I get almost universal kudos for what I make on the grill, which is nice. This is part of my Sunday football tradition. I tend to grill for the week on Sunday mornings then have burgers as the games kick off. The easiest burger recipe is the onion burger which is just diced onions in the burger. Throw some cheddar on that and you are set. I will do turkey meat even though the purists say go with the ground chuck because you really do need that fat.

Chicken breast has been a struggle. They’re so darn huge these days and even when they are evenly cooked, the meat can be a bit springy. I do two things. I brine the meat. That’s pretty simple, just put water, salt, sugar, and maybe a beer in with the chicken for a couple of hours, take them out and pat them down, and you usually get a more moist result. I also started cutting the breasts down into smaller pieces. They cook more evenly and in a shorter time.

You can even cook something called a vegetable. I got one of those trays for veggies because they tend to fall between the cracks. Maybe the grill’s hungry.

The only maintenance the grill needs is to clean the ash out of the bottom. Buying charcoal can be a pain but it’s the good stuff. I put a couple of fire-starters in, set it and forget it for about 30 minutes. That’s the downside. On a weeknight you’re going to need at least an hour to make even the most simple meals. That’s why I like to cook on weekends. Let’s be honest, though. There’s nothing like getting the food directly off the grill.

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