[By Nic Lindh on Thursday, 19 April 2012]
You may have heard of the Big Green Egg, a Kamado-style grill inspiring near-religious fervor among barbecue nuts.
I don’t have one of those. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I wanted one. Went to my local barbecue place, got a quote, got the quote wife approved and then one of my cats got his butt kicked in a fight leading to the entire Big Green Egg budget going to his vet bill.
And lo, there was sadness.
But Costco has started selling another Kamado-style grill at half the cost of the Big Green Egg, and as our bank account had recovered somewhat from the damage caused by that damn cat and his fighting ways, it was time to (trumpets!) Enter the Kamado.
The brand sold by Costco is Vision Grills, and follows the same concept as the Big Green Egg, except it’s not green. Instead it’s a black egg. I’ve named mine R2-D2—surprise! I’m a huge nerd. The Vision Grills egg at Costco will set you back $569, which like everything else at Costco is a great deal.
Granted, I don’t have a Big Green Egg to compare it with, so it’s quite possible the Vision Grills egg is a horrible joke compared to the original. But I doubt it. If wrong, I might literally die from happiness if I eat something grilled on a Big Green Egg. But more likely the Big Green Egg is like Bose: They have a great brand and charge a premium for the name plate. Nice work if you can get it.
A note here: If you decide to get a Kamado-style grill of whatever brand, you will need a truck and at least two burly men to bring it home. The one Costco sells weighs 200 pounds. Yes, a 2 and two zeroes pounds. Ceramics are heavy.
The reason you want to break your back dragging one of these things home is simple: Food grilled on it tastes frigging awesome. You can grill, you can sear, you can smoke, you can use it as a pizza oven, and it all comes out better than anything else you’ve grilled. Really. Better. So much better. The egg is sealed, so it ends up functioning as grill and oven at the same time, locking delicious moisture inside, and it gives you incredible temperature control. Once you dial in the controls, you can set it at a certain temperature and by golly, it will keep that temperature until the charcoal runs out.
You control the temperature through two adjustable openings in the egg: One at the bottom and one at the top. By adjusting the aperture on those you control the amount of air flowing through the egg, and thus the temperature. Once you get the hang of it, it’s second nature.
There is a definite learning curve, so if you’re interested in a Kamado egg, here are a couple of tips that will save you some trouble and time:
You must use lump charcoal, not briquettes. Stock up. The egg is surprisingly efficient, so you don’t need that much coal, but you don’t want to run out.
If there’s one thing all Egg Heads agree on, it’s that lighter fluid is the devil incarnate. (Apparently there was a meeting at some point and the people who are inordinately obsessed with their Big Green Eggs decided to call themselves Egg Heads. It’s cute, I suppose.) You don’t want your meat to taste like chemicals, so you need a way to light the lump charcoal. There are (of course) many ways to do this, but the easiest is to use an electric lighter. Get one.
You control the temperature in the grill by restricting the amount of oxygen the flames get. This means that when you open the lid to turn the meat, you are giving it more oxygen. To avoid a backdraft—which in a worst-case scenario can scorch off your eyebrows[^2]—you need to “burp” the grill. Open it an inch or so, count to three, then open it fully. Safety first!
You will need an ash tool to clean out the bottom of the egg occasionally. Get one.
Patience, grasshopper. The egg is not quick. It takes eight minutes to fire it up with an electric lighter, and then another ten or 15 to get it up to temperature. This is a good time to adopt a Zen attitude and enjoy looking at your backyard. If you wanted your food quick you would have microwaved it.
If you sear meat at 600F, you are dealing with a lot of heat. Two words: oven mitts. Get some. Don’t be an idiot like me and burn your hand.
Searing meat generates a lot of smoke. You might want to restrict yourself to days with a breeze. Seriously, I seared some steaks on a day with zero winds and it looked like I was putting up a smoke screen to sneak a battleship through the neighborhood.
The Egg Head forums are full of people who are clearly using their eggs as therapy. They actually match photography forums for craziness. Listen up: you don’t have to overcomplicate things that much. It’s a grill. There is a flame. You put food on the flame. Then you turn it. Then you take it off and eat it. It’s not a Mars mission.