I cooked my first dinner on my Big Green Egg on July 1st. I made Atomic Buffalo Turds for the appetizer and Bone-in Ribeyes with Grilled Corn and Asparagus.
Tonight I used the last of the 24 fire starters I got with the Egg. 24 dinners in 78 days. That’s a 31% utilization rate. Far higher than any other grill I’ve ever owned. Since I travel for work, I haven’t actually been home for all 78 of days. If we just count days I’ve been home, it jumps to 24 dinners in 50 days. That’s 48%.
Damn, I love this thing.
24 Dinner Recap
Best Dish – Tandoori Style Chicken
This is the Tandoori Style Chicken recipe for the BGE cookbook. It’s not actually Tandoori Chicken, because it’s cooked on the grill. Real Tandoori is cooked on a 3 to 4 foot long skewer shoved into a 900° F tandoor oven.
But it is simple, easy and close to the real thing.
The marinade is traditional, yogurt, lime juice, garlic, chiles, garam masala, cilantro, salt, pepper, red curry paste, and cumin. When I took an Indian cooking class at LivingSocial in DC these were exactly the same ingredients we used.
My family voted this as their favorite thing I made that first week. It was a landslide at 3 to 1. My son (who voted for the ribeyes) still said this is his favorite chicken.
1 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 TBS freshly chopped cilantro
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp red curry paste
1 tsp ground cumin
1 Thai red chile, minced
2 TBS neutral oil, like corn, canola or peanut
1 chicken, 4 to 5 lbs
Mix the marinade ingredients (yogurt through oil). Quarter the chicken and place in a large resealable plastic bag. Add marinade. Squeeze out air and refrigerate for 24 hours.
Set up Egg for 500° F indirect cooking with Plate Setter legs up and porcelain grate.
Place chicken, skin side up, on grate. Close Egg and cook for approximately 30 minutes.
Check chicken with instant read thermometer. Remove when breast are 165° F and thighs are 170° F.
Worst Dish – Tandoori Chicken
If the best thing I’ve made so far is Tandoori Style Chicken, the worst thing I’ve made has got to be “genuine” Tandoori Chicken.
After the success with the BGE version, I got a wild hair to make real Tandoori Chicken, skewer and all. I found this blog which made it look so easy and I found an Indian restaurant supply company that had the skewers. “This is going to be great!”, I naively thought.
Thingelstad’s set up calls for putting the Plate Setter from a small Egg directly on the coals of a large Egg. I figured I could use my pizza stone in my extra-large Egg for the same effect.
My first time out, I cracked my pizza stone in half and burned the chicken to a crisp. Clearly, there’s more to it than that.
I’ve tried this set up a couple of more times and failed every time. I’ve burned the chicken, dropped it off the end of the skewer into the fire, made a huge mess on the outside of my Egg and generally screwed it up every way possible.
Finally, my son forbid me from experimenting with his dinner any more. Now, when I make the Tandoori-style chicken from the BGE cookbook, I’m allowed to save one piece to try on a skewer. Sunday I came very close to finally getting it right. I think I’ll have it down next time.
Then it will be nothing but true Tandoori Chicken for us.
Most Improved Dish – Pizza
The big reason I got an Egg instead of a more traditional grill is because I wanted to bake in it. I have a friend who has had an Egg for a decade. He makes some killer pizzas and breads in it.
I made my first pizzas in it on Day Six using the BGE cookbook dough recipe. It was OK.
I didn’t have a sauce recipe I really liked and I couldn’t get the crust stretched out as thinly as I wanted. The BGE dough has a lot of gluten and it snaps back like crazy. I stretched it out, let it rest and stretched it again and again. It still pulled back into a thick, bready pie.
It was pretty good, but it wasn’t the thin, crisp crust with the chewy, leathery edge I wanted.
That made all the difference. Nothing like having a professional show you how to do it right. Saves a lot of time experimenting and a lot of mediocre pizza.
Mayo’s dough recipe is a pleasure to work with. It’s smooth and elastic with almost no snap-back. The first time I worked with it, I was able to get it so thin that you could literally see through it. Chef Mayo said that was thin enough.
Chef Mayo’s sauce recipe is also very, very good. He uses roasted onions and garlic, which I love. Unfortunately, my wife doesn’t like them as much as I do, so I have to use them raw when I make the sauce.
Give it 6 minutes in a 650° F Egg and it bakes up exactly like I wanted it to. I would hold my pizza up to any of the higher end pizza chains, like Bertucci’s, and to many of the best pizzas I’ve ever had.
¼ cup hot water
1 tsp dry active yeast
2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
½ cup levain or sourdough starter (or 1/2 cup additional cold water if you don’t have a starter)
1 cup all purpose flour plus several TBSP for dusting work surface
2 ½ cups Caputo “00” Flour
1 tsp Kosher salt
¼ cup wheat germ
2/3 cup cold water plus 1 to 2 TBSP
Place hot water and yeast in mixing bowl, mix well, allow yeast to bloom for 5 – 10 minutes.
Add oil and levain, mix well. Add remaining dry ingredients. Using dough hook with mixer set to 3, mix wet and dry ingredients.
Gradually add cold water until flour is mixed together and forms a ball. Dough should be wet and sticky. Add 1 or 2 TBSP more water, if needed.
Set mixer to 7 for 4 minutes.
Remove dough from bowl. Knead lightly on a floured surface. 2 to 3 minutes. Dough should come together quickly to form smooth ball. It should feel damp, but not sticky.
Place in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.
Arrange Egg for indirect cooking with plate setter legs down. Put pizza stone on plate setter and pre-heat to 650°F. Pre-heat for at least 30 minutes. 1 hour is better.
While Egg is pre-heating, cut dough into 4 portions. Shape each into a ball. Allow dough to come to room temp.
Stretch dough into 10” – 12” crust. Sauce (see recipe below) and top pizza as desired.
Bake at 650° F for 5 to 8 minutes.
Pro-tip: If you have an oven with a top broiler, you make this pizza indoors with great results. Pre-heat the oven and pizza stone at 500°F for 1 hour. Turn broiler on high and continue heating stone for 10 more minutes. Make sure you are using a heavy stone for this. A thin stone will crack under this treatment.
Once stone is sizzling hot, top and bake your pizza as you would in your Egg.
1 ½ cups crushed tomatoes (Cooks Illustrated suggests using San Marzanos)
¾ tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 TBS sugar
1 ½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
2 cloves roasted garlic
2 TBS roasted onions
1 ½ tsp fresh basil
1 ½ tsp fresh oregano
1 ½ tsp fresh parsley
To roast garlic and onions – Toss Garlic and Onions in ½ of olive oil. Roast at 500 degs till translucent.
Combine all ingredients in food processor and blend until smooth.
One limit on how often I can use my Egg is eating my way through all the leftovers. Just 3 days into my first week, my fridge was already overflowing with leftovers.
I took advantage of that situation to invent a really nice Thai-style soup. It’s a great way to use leftover stir fried vegetables. I say Thai-style because no one would mistake it for authentic Thai cuisine. But it uses a lot of typically Thai ingredients, so Thai-style will have to do.
My daughter likes this so much, she asks me to make it even when we don’t have the leftovers. As a testament to the power of habit, the first couple of times I made it fresh I first made the stir fried vegetables, then I made the soup with them.
Eventually I figured out that I could just finish the soup in the wok. That saved a pot and it made the vegetables crisper and fresher. That was a big improvement.
The other big hit I’ve had with leftovers is Tandoori Chicken Pizza.
I used leftover chicken, Chef Mayo’s dough and the tomato-yogurt curry recipe from Food.com. I topped and sauced it according to the Food.com recipe and then, pro-tip, I brushed the crust with a curry oil I made. That really took it over the edge.
I made this for some friends. It was the hit of the evening.
I have learned a few useful lessons over the last 78 days. Here are the big ones.
Smoking – The Egg is very fuel efficient. Even on 7 or 8 hour smoke, it will only burn about 1/3 of the charcoal in the fire box. If you scatter your smoking chips across the entire surface of the charcoal, most of them won’t burn so they won’t contribute any smoke.
Keep the chips in the center of the fire, in order to get the most out of them. I sprinkle them in a roughly 6 – 8″ circle around the center. That way they all get consumed and I get the smoke I want.
Temperature Control – The Egg holds its temperature like no other smoker or grill I’ve ever used. Once you’ve got it dialed in, it will sit there literally for hours with no adjustment. On Day 3 I made my first pork butt. I was cooking it around 250° F. About 3 hours in there was a torrential storm that managed to cool the Egg down to about 200° F. As soon as the rain stopped, it bounced right back up to 250° F and stayed there for the rest of the cook.
That said, the Egg will bounce around as you’re getting it up to temperature. It seems to stay at a relatively low temperature for quite a bit, then shot up once it is uniformly heated. I’ve over shot my target temperature for smoking a couple of times. Then I have to chock it down and wait for the temperature to fall (which takes forever) before I can cook.
Try to raise the heat slowly and sneak up on your target temperature. Once you hit your target, let the Egg sit for 20 minutes to half an hour to make sure it is heated through. After you’ve held your target temp for that half hour, you should be good to go for your smoke.
Charcoal – My friend told me to only use BGE brand hardwood lump charcoal. I stuck to that advice for two bags. Those two bags lasted for almost a dozen cooks, including two pork butts that went for 7 to 13 hours and a couple of batches of ribs that cooked for 4 to 5 hours each. That’s a lot of heat from two bags of charcoal.
After that, I tried some cheaper brands. I needed charcoal and was already in the grocery. They had hardwood lump and I didn’t want to make a special trip to get the BGE brand.
Big mistake. The cheap stuff doesn’t burn as hot or come to temperature as quickly. It has a lot of little bits that fall through the grate in the fire box and it gives off a chemical order like briquettes do. It also doesn’t burn as cleanly. The BGE charcoal gives off almost no visible smoke (unless you add wood chips). The cheap stuff smokes a lot.
I’m back to using the BGE brand now and I’m much happier. I also buy the charcoal two bags at a time, so I don’t run out.
I’m working my way through the cookbook and picking up a bunch of good recipes from the BGE forums. I’m also inventing my own stuff.
The next big thing I want to try is Tacos Al Pastor. I found this recipe on Serious Eats. I think I can adapt it to the BGE by putting the trompo on a skewer (I know, there I go again) and slow roasting it till it hits about 180° F. Then I’ll crank the heat to 500° F or 600° F and get the surface crispy. Hopefully, that will replicate the texture and crunch of real Al Pastor.
I’ll let you know how it goes.