The cult of the Big Green Egg
May 13, 2012
What came first: the chicken or the big green egg? Well, obviously the chicken did, but once the Big Green Egg came along, chicken was elevated to new heights.
After last week’s article, many people asked me about the Big Green Egg, also known as the “BGE” or simply “the Egg.” I thought it would be fun to examine this humble, egg-shaped ceramic vessel by going behind the scenes in the home of the two talented gastronomes who introduced me to the “egg cult,” Jane and Ed Shriner. Dinner at the Shriners is never boring and always a delight to the senses: great food and wine beautifully presented amid Jane’s imaginative tablescapes. But the star of the show is most often the BGE.
The Shriners and their son, Ben, began their love affair with the Vail Valley in 1994. In 2004, Ed and Jane moved to Cordillera, but the permanent move from Carmel, Ind., came in 2011. Jane, a longtime passionate cook, presented the less-than-enthusiastic Ed with his first Egg – he now has two – for his birthday in 2007. Exchanging push-button gas grilling for something that required advance planning, charcoal and patience – particularly in the oxygen-poor high country atmosphere – was not initially a culinary evolution Ed embraced. His frustration with the little-known Kamado-style cooking and lack of available information was overcome when he returned to Indiana and discovered he was part of a growing culinary culture in the United States. Ed enrolled in “BGE 101” at a local grilling store and quickly learned the techniques to enable him to become an egg-tastic griller.
The Egg resulted from the collision of modern materials technology and the ancient clay-vessel cooking methods used first during the Chinese Qin Dynasty and later by the Japanese. Kamado is Japanese for “furnace,” but in cooking terms, it means a cooker or oven. Although the fuel source – charcoal and wood – has remained the same over millennia, the clay shell is now made of ceramic. The dome on top and the flat bottom each have a vent providing for optimal airflow, enabling good temperature control. The hallmark of the Egg is its ability to maintain even temperatures ranging from 200 to 600 degrees. The humble Egg can do it all: broil, grill, bake and smoke.
While serving in Japan in 1950, Navy second lieutenant Ed Fisher discovered the joys of food cooked in a clay vessel. Upon his return, Fisher opened a company in Atlanta to produce ceramic cookers based on this ancient Chinese concept. The modern-day Sino economic powerhouse is now exporting imitators to the States, but Fisher and his team at Big Green Egg have kept ahead of the competition with state-of-the-art manufacturing techniques and patented designs and materials. Needless to say, the company’s creative marketing and extensive customer-service network, supporting customers of more than 2,000 Big Green Egg retailers in the United States, keeps the Big Green Egg far ahead of the pack.
Ed and Jane will cook just about anything in an Egg, from turkey to a pizza or even a cake. As an example of how the Egg works, Ed shared with me the basics to creating mouthwatering, memory-making beef tenderloin.
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Of course, one should begin with the best-quality meat. Personally, I find beef tenderloin at Costco to be delicious and can still be bought without first seeing your banker. Victor or Manuel at City Market Avon also can help you choose a great piece of meat. Start with a 5- to 6-pound roast and remove the silver skin. Ed recommends letting the meat rest at room temperature before cooking. The jury’s still out on whether this makes any difference, but like me, Ed opts to follow the pros’ advice. Just before searing, rub on some extra-virgin olive oil and generously salt and pepper. Kosher salt and fresh, course-ground black pepper yield the best results.
Now, to the star of the show – the Egg. For flavor, Ed uses wood chips. He prefers about two cups of wood chips soaked in water, preferably Jack Daniels oak chips that were previously used for aging their whiskey. For fuel, lump hardwood charcoal is best to impart a nice, woodsy flavor. Building a hot fire – preferably 550 to 600 degrees – is a challenge in Cordillera, so he has to settle for 500 degrees. One very important point – never, ever use charcoal lighter fluid! Use it, and toss your Egg out because it will forever have that nasty petroleum taste.
With the grate hot and air vents completely open, sear meat on all four sides directly on the grate, about two minutes per side. As you get to the last side, close the vents about halfway to lower the temperature. Remove the seared meat, and set aside while spreading the wet wood chips over the charcoal, transforming the Egg from a grill to a convection oven by placing the grate over a ceramic “plate setter.” Return the meat to the grate, insert an external thermometer into the exact center of the meat, carefully lower the heavy dome, and continue cooking until internal temperature reaches 125 degrees for medium rare. The Egg’s internal temperature should be between 300 and 350 degrees while the roast is cooking. Adjusting the upper air vent will help with temperature control.
After removing the roast, you will feel an incredible urge to cut and taste it. Resist! Let the roast rest for about 15 minutes for the juices to settle into the meat. Chef Adam Roustom explained this fascinating process to me. Could be the subject of an entire article! But once rested, you will experience the most delicately smoked and beautifully cooked beef tenderloin you’ve ever tasted.
Obviously, the ability to cook such delicious food on the Egg helps promote its popularity. Whether at the Big Green Egg Cooking Academy in Atlanta or EggFests throughout the United States, there are ample opportunities to learn the techniques. The local chapter of the Chaine des Rotisseurs has several members who are EggHeads. We’re planning a local EggFest to raise funds for culinary scholarships. Recent convert to the Egghead culture Barry Davis, owner of Bol restaurant in Vail, is a keen supporter of a local EggFest. Although a newbie Egghead, Davis is already yearning for his second egg.
Ace Hardware is Vail Valley’s local supplier of Big Green Eggs. In 2011, 19 Eggs were sold. They come in four sizes: extra large, large, medium and small. The large is perfect for a 6-pound beef tenderloin and an 18-pound turkey, and they’ll assemble it for free.
Big Green Egg likens its Eggs to motorcycles. There are a lot of grills to choose from and a lot of motorcycles, too. But they consider the BGE to be the Harley Davidson of grills. So, with that, I’m now off to buy my first one and to see if I can convince Ed to teach his own “BGE 101” class.
Suzanne Hoffman is a local attorney, wine importer and the Chambellan Provincial of the Southwest Region and Bailli (president) of the Vail chapter of the Chaine des Rotisseurs. For more background information on her “Behind the Scenes” series, go to http://www.facebook.com/vailvalleysecrets. Email comments about this story to email@example.com.