We had some really nice weather last week, ending with a gorgeous May Saturday, highs around 70, lots of sun, so it was a perfect time to try out my new toy.
A lot of you reading this will know what a Big Green Egg is, though a lot of you may not. It’s pretty simple; a Big Green Egg is a green ceramic cooker. I can’t call it a grill or a smoker because it’s great at doing both.
Well, I finally have one! There are multiple sizes, from a tabletop ‘mini’, to the original and most popular ‘large’, to what I got, the ‘XL’. Though carefully engineereed, the unit itself is simple; ceramic shell that’s very well insulated, firebox, firering, fire grate, cooking grate, lid and exhaust. What’s so great about that? The cermic allows great insulation, meaning I don’t have to worry much about weather affecting my cooking, the cooker can go for hours and hours and hours with very little interaction, and it can also grill at about 800 degrees F when opened up.
Most will recommend a ‘large’ size, but I wanted the XL for the quantity of food it can hold. The cooking grate is 24″ in diameter, versus 18″ on the large. That’s 452 square inches vs. 254 square inches!
For Mother’s Day, I wanted to do my first cook, and I am a proponent of using smoker’s capacity when I do cook, so I planned on 2 brisket flats, 2 Boston butts and 2 pork tenderloins.
The set up for the fire is easily done; the cooker using natural lump charcoal and wood chunks. I just about filled the fire box with lump, adding in several chunks of hickory, and I lit one half a chimney of charcoal, adding that on top of the unlit lump. For smoking, a platesetter is used, which is a flat ceramic piece that sits on top of the firebox to ensure the heat is all indirect. It’s basically a ceramic layer between the fire and the food that still ensures proper airflow. I put the grate right on top of that instead of adding the fire ring because I was going to use a second lifted grate to hold the pork butts.
It took some fiddling around with the air intake and the exhaust to get the smoker to get to 225 degrees F, but once I did, I loaded up all the food. I did this around 6 pm on Saturday, and I fiddled here and there to make sure the fire kept going at the same rate. Now here’s my mistake… I got ahead of myself (read ‘too tired’) and thought I had the fire going perfectly, but I ended up shutting it down over about 4 hours. Since the smoker had cooled enough (completely my fault), I took everything in, wrapped it in foil and finished it in the oven for the last 20 degrees needed.
So how did the food turn out? The pork tenderloin only took about 1 1/2 hours, if that, to get to 145 degrees, which is right where I like it. So Saturday night, we got to enjoy that along with a salad. I had slathered the tenderloin with seedless blackberry preserves, chipotle pepper chile powder, salt and pepper. Then I also made a sauce to try with it out of the preserves, a bit of water and some chipotle Tabasco sauce. This was really good stuff!
The only problem I had about putting the pork and brisket in the oven was that I think meat loses some smokiness when you do that. With that said, the meat still turned out great. I actually overcooked the brisket a little, but the flavor was good, and there’s a modicum of smoke ring. It’s not what I’m used to with my big stick burner, but it’s still good. I think one of the things I’ve learned is to add a bit more wood; I only used about 4 chunks of hickory this time. Maybe I need to double that… It will be fun learning, though!
I didn’t take photos of our Mother’s Day meal, but I did make what I am calling ‘bbq sliders’. They’re on small, artisanal rolls instead of buns, just a few quick bites each. I did pulled pork on a multigrain roll, and brisket was done on rosemary rolls. The rolls were a nice way to add some healthfulness to a pulled pork sandwich.
I usually don’t like messing with classics like pulled pork and brisket sandwiches, but, now and then, subtle additions like the multigrain and rosemary work nicely. There’s still nothing quite like a pulled pork sandwich with slaw on a plain old burger bun, though.