Big Green Egg - Pt. 5 - Total Cost of Ownership
08/25/12 -18:36 Filed in: Big Green Egg
This blog is about a topic most folks don’t consider when they are looking to buy something. It is called Total Cost of Ownership or TCO. TCO factors in annual operating and maintenance costs, training costs, cost of downtime etc. When I first started writing this series of blogs about my initial impressions about the Big Green Egg (BGE), I had no intention of writing this particular blog entry. But two things caused me to consider writing this blog. The first was how many folks hear the price of the BGE, roll their eyes and dismiss it as an over-priced gimmick. The second item was when I found you actually could use your charcoal over and over again and I saw first hand just how stingy the BGE was with charcoal. This is a case where over time, and not much time, the BGE, and more broadly Kamado style grills, actually cost you less than traditional charcoal grills.
Here are the two contenders: For briquettes I use Stubbs All-Natural Hardwood briquettes which are sold in 15 lb. (6.75 Kg) bags & sell for $8.50 around here. (left) For the lump I use in my new Egg it is Wicked Good Weekend Warrior lump sold in 22 lb. (10 Kg.) bags which cost $22.00 (right).
Before I get rolling here, let me also mention that even without the savings in charcoal the quality of the food you turn out on BGE is well worth the initial higher upfront price. As I mentioned, I had no intention of writing a blog entry about the lower fuel costs. I was vaguely aware I might be using less charcoal, but I had no idea until I started using using it what a big difference there was. This will be a case where your mileage might vary depending upon the cost of the charcoal you use and the insulation qualities (if any) of the grill you are currently using. Also let me say I am on very solid ground when it comes to the cost of doing indirect low and slow cooks on my CG Smokin’ Pro. I’ve kept logs and I know how many bags I go through, I am also including some figures for direct grilling. Where I didn’t actually do that myself, I had to rely on figures I found on the internet. Believe me I have no agenda to push here, feel free to use whatever cooker you prefer. But after using my new Egg for a while I realized that while the cost of entry is higher, the Total Cost of Ownership is lower. Surprisingly lower.
All right, lets talk low and slow first because this is where I am on the firmest ground. My second cook on the Egg was a low and slow brisket cook. The total time from warm-up to finish was 10 hours. It took about 30 minutes to light the lump and get it to temperature, 7 1/2 hours to cook the brisket and I kept the Egg idling at 225 (110 C) for another 2 hours before cranking it up to 600 degrees (316 C) to cook two pizzas. For the low and slow I filled the Egg’s firebox up completely and let the lump go up another 4” (10 cm) to the top of the fire ring. This used up about 1/4 of a 22 pound (10 Kg) bag of Wicked Good Weekend Warrior Blend lump charcoal for which I paid $22.00 a bag. A similar cook in good weather on my CG Smokin’ Pro in the summer would have used about 2 15 lb. (6.75 Kg) bags of Stubbs All-natural Hardwood Briquettes which cost $8.50 per bag. So doing the math on the Egg that cook cost me $22.00 / 4 or $5.50. The same cook on the CG would cost me $8.50 x 2 or $17.00. This is roughly 3X as much. I’m guessing the difference would be even greater in the winter. I have no first hand experience with the BGE in the winter to see what the cold weather does to fuel consumption. But I’m guessing it doesn’t take anywhere near the hit the CG does. In reality the saving are even greater because I had the Egg up to 700 degrees (371 C) for another hour cooking pizzas after that using the same charcoal. The next day there was still usable charcoal left from that batch. At least enough for another short cook. So if you do two low and slow cooks per month, over the course of a year you save $276.00 ($11.50 savings x 2 per month x 12 months). Suddenly the additional expense to buy the BGE vs a standard charcoal grill doesn’t seem so much does it?
The amazing thing about the Egg is after it spent 10 hours at 225 (110 C), I was able to crank it up to 700 (361 C) & cook pizza on it. There was still usable charcoal the next day.
Next I am going to talk about direct grilling. While I have facts and figures for the Egg, I had to rely on a mix of actual experience and average figures derived from the internet. While I can vouch for the figures for the Egg, I had to rely on other’s figures for direct charcoal grilling. I will lay out the figures and assumptions I made, and you can decide whether they are reasonable. Or better yet plug in your own figures. As for the Egg: I did 13 cooks totaling 27 hours of cooking and warmup time and used two 22 lb. bags of the Wicked Good Lump doing it. Now deducting the 10 hour brisket cook which used 1/4 of a bag of lump, leaves me with 17 hours of direct grilling time which used 1.75 of the 22 lb. (10 Kg) bags of WG lump. I know exactly which cook I had to switch to a 3rd bag when filling up the Egg. My photos time stamps document the cooking times from start to finish. For direct charcoal grilling I used the figures I’m showing below. These figures came form various charcoal cooking websites and the figures I chose to use occurred more than once on multiple sites, so I feel they are probably right.
- A 5 lb. (2.25 Kg) bag of charcoal contains 75-80 briquettes. (Weber & others)
- A full Weber charcoal chimney holds 100 briquettes (Cook’s Illustrated and my own experience.
- Depending on whether you want high or low temps you light more or less coals. I typically use anywhere from 1/2 to a full chimney. For the purposes of this discussion I used 3/4 of a chimney which = about 75 briquettes. This also = about 1 five lb. (2.25 Kg) bag of charcoal.
- I used a warmup time of 30 minutes for the charcoal chimney.
- I used actual cooking times for the Egg factoring in warmup time would skew the numbers even more in the Eggs favor.
- I used a figure for an 18 1/2” (47 cm) diameter grill, which I believe is based on a typical Weber size among others.
- For grill roasting a turkey at 375 (190 C) on an 18 1/2” (47 cm) grill they say you need to add about 16 new coals per hour.
- Please note that my average cooking temp was higher than 375 (190 C) and probably closer to 450 (230 C), so the cost figures for the charcoal grill would be worse than I am showing.
Ok lets plug in the numbers and turn the crank. We are talking 12 cooks and 17 hours of direct grilling at 375 degrees (190 C). For direct grilling on a charcoal grill we’d need to light 12 chimneys with 75 briquettes. That is 60 lb. (27 Kg) of charcoal or 5 bags. We have 17 hours of additional grilling time at 16 coals per hour to hold the temperature, or 272 coals. 272 / 240 (number of coals in 15 lb. (bag) / or another 1.1 bags of charcoal for a total of 7.1 15 lb. (6.75 Kg) bags of charcoal. Stubbs comes in 15 lb. (6.75 Kg) bags at $8.50 per bag: 7.1 bags x $8.50 = $60.35. For the Egg I used 1.75 bags of charcoal x $22.00 a bag or $38.50. The BGE actually used 64 percent of the charcoal that a typical 18 1/2” (47 cm) diameter grill would have used. The reality is slanted even more towards the Big Green Egg. We used a figure of 375 degrees (190 C) to measure the additional coal consumption for the charcoal grill. Of those 17 actual cooks on the Egg: 1 was at 325 (160 C), 1 was at 375 (190 C), 4 were at 400 (205 C), 2 were at 425 (220 C), 1 was at 450 (230 C), 1 was at 500 (260 C), 2 were at 550 (288 C), 4 were at 650 (343 C) and 1 was at 700 (371 C). So the average temperature was far higher than the 375 degrees (190 C) I used for the charcoal grill. So far more coals would have been consumed keeping the charcoal grill going at the higher temperatures. If you say you cook 12 times in a month, the savings I am showing here for direct grilling add up to $394.00 per year.
So there you have some numbers relating to the Total Cost of Ownership of the Big Green Egg. Personally I hadn’t even considered reduced charcoal costs when I was evaluating the Egg. That was an: “Oh yeah that will be nice” item. I bought my Egg for the quality of food it could produce. It wasn’t until I started using the Egg that I saw just how little charcoal it does use. Quite stunning actually and the reality is that savings in charcoal would mean the higher initial cost of the Egg would be a 1 or 2 year break even for most people. Then after that you are saving every year. Also when you figure the Egg is a grill, a smoker and an oven all in one, there is some cost of equipment savings for most people. The next time I hear someone dismiss the Egg out of hand as an expensive gimmick, I’ll have some figures I can throw out there to shoot that silly statement full of holes. Plus as I have said several times now: I didn’t really know about the lower fuel cost when I bought the Egg. I mean I knew a little, but it was off my radar screen. Even if the fuel costs were the same, the added cost to buy the Egg is more than offset by the great food. It is amazing but everyone who has tried food I’ve cooked on the Egg has noticed a big difference. The fact I am saving some money in the process is just icing on the cake.