Everything is Coming Together
02/09/14 - 13:13 Filed in: Retrospective
Some of the other blogs I have written lately and some of the things going on in my grilling life, have gotten me thinking about the BIG picture and how much has changed in the last year and a half. I have come to realize that I have reached a high point in my grilling life where everything is coming together. I have all of the equipment and tools and support facilities available to me to make my pursuit of this hobby friction free and really enjoyable. I can focus on the food more and the technical issue less. While some folks enjoy the technical aspects of grilling and smoking, for me it is about the food. I enjoy the technical aspects too, and I always try to be the best I can be technically, but for me the final product is the food. The technical aspect is still there, but it is in the background. I still need to address those issues, but I am really able to focus on the food. I will be talking about all of the items that have come together and the joy I have been feeling lately. I am truly having the best time of my life with this hobby. Some folks may want to move on to the next blog entry, but there may be some ideas here for others or items that get you thinking about your own situation and how you might improve it.
This is going to be a somewhat more personal blog item than many I write. But I find writing blog entries sometimes help me understand a topic more myself. I have to organize my thoughts to write the blog and I often get a greater understanding of the topic myself. I also am a little nervous that people may think I am bragging or showing off. There is a fine line about being enthusiastic about what you are doing and bragging. Let me just say that my setup has reached its high point thus far. Do I have the best setup? No way, I know this. There are people that have amazing indoor and/or outdoor kitchens, some of which are bigger than my entire house. So I am thankful for what I have and thankful for the folks who helped me get here. I am celebrating how much fun it is to be able to have the right equipment and setup for me, where I can make any food I want and focus on making the food the best I can. Then the best part of all is sharing this with friends and family. Before I turn this intro into a blog item of it’s own, let me get onto the topic.
While some of the pieces have been in place for a number of years, a lot of the bigger items have all come together starting with the purchase on my first Big Green Egg in August of 2012, so I will start there.
BIG GREEN EGG: Having a great grill really makes all the difference in the world. The first meals I cooked on my new Big Green Egg were the best versions of those food items I had ever made. Even folks who didn’t know I had gotten a new grill noticed the difference. The Big green Egg is a grill, a smoker and an outdoor oven and excels in all of these areas. One of the best aspects of the thick ceramic construction of the Egg is that it behaves the same every season of the year. Together with some of the items mentioned below, this goes a long way towards achieving weather independence. I can grill in any type of weather without worrying about the weather having a significant impact on the cook itself. If you go to the INDEX OF BLOGS page you can look under the Big Green Egg heading & read through some of my blog entries on the Big Green Egg.
EGGCESSORIES: I will confess to being a gear junkie. I like having the tools and accessories for getting the most out of my grilling. I already had many of the basic tools from my years using my gas grill and smoker. Many of these are still useable on the new BGE’s. Over my first year owning my Egg(s) I gradually picked up Eggcessories (accessories) for my new grill. Over the last 6th months I was so busy working, that I had much less time for grilling. But I used the overtime money to add more Eggcessories to my arsenal such as the Adjustable Rig and Swing Rack. I now have all of the Eggcessories I feel I need for now and it really opens up many possibilities for me. I now can do stir fries and all types of baking on my Eggs. In fact I can cook just about anything on my Egg with the right Eggcessories. I am truly limited only by my abilities and imagination. Some of the Eggcessories I own, such as the Swing Rack and Adjustable Rig, have overlapping capabilities. One of the fun things going forward will be learning which tool to use under which situation.
THE ADJUSTABLE RIG - FIRST IMPRESSIONS 2014 Blog Entry
BIG GREEN EGG - PT. 7 - EGGCESSORIES-BIG PICTURE 2012 Blog Entry
BIG GREEN EGG - PT. 8 - EGGCESSORIES-GENERAL 2012 Blog Entry
BIG GREEN EGG - PT. 9 - EGGCESSORIES-COOKING 2012 Blog Entry
BIG GREEN EGG - PT. 15 - GRATE ACCESSORIES-GRIDDLE 2012 Blog Entry
BIG GREEN EGG - PT. 16 - GRATE ACCESSORIES-RAISED GRID 2012 Blog Entry
GRILL GAZEBO: Having a permanent grill shelter was a long time wish for me, which I finally had come true in September of 2012. Prior to that I typically used an EZ-Up shelter around 8 months of the year. But there were the 4 winter months where I had to take it down. Also if we were getting a really big storm with lots of wind, I would need to take the shelter down. This wasn’t a big deal but it did required two people any time I needed to erect or pull down the shelter. Also in the winter months where heat loss was a big issue for my gas grill or smoker, I had no way to keep the snow off of the grills. No shelter made cooking in a snow storm a bit more inconvenient. I had to make additional arrangements to keep the food or anything I needed out at the grill covered and out of the snow. Having a permanent grill gazebo has given me a little more weather independence. The Big Green Egg is far more immune to weather issues than my previous grills, but there is also the cook to think of.
GIMME SHELTER - GRILL GAZEBO 2012 Blog Entry
GRILL GAZEBO Media Section Picture Entry
PERMANENT LIGHTING: Having a permanent grill shelter made it possible to install permanent grill lights vs. using battery powered grill lights. One less thing to bring in and out to the grill and one less thing to buy batteries for. This makes a HUGE difference in my grilling experience. Now grilling at night is really no different of an experience for me as grilling during the day. Plus something I’d never counted on was it helps out on overcast days too. This was a case where I didn’t realize what a big difference the permanent lighting would be, until I started using it.
I SEE THE LIGHT 2014 Blog Entry
LET THERE BE LIGHT - PART 1 2013 Blog Entry
LET THERE BE LIGHT - PART 2 2013 Blog Entry
SECOND BIG GREEN EGG: When I got my first Large Big Green Egg, I knew someday I might get a second Big Green Egg. After using the Egg, I realized (sadly) that my gas grill and smoker had both outlived their usefulness for me. My first Egg was purchased to extend the lives of the other two grills by spreading the load out to a third grill. Instead it hastened their demise. A second Egg moved up on the priority list and I got it in January of 2014. This is one of the most important items on this list. It has given me all kinds of options and flexibility and my two Big Green Eggs are my only grills. I will let you read several blogs I have written about my thought process in buying the second Egg and what I’ve learned after my first year of use.
ARE TWO EGGS BETTER THAN ONE? 2014 Blog Entry
DOUBLE THE PLEASURE, DOUBLE THE FUN - PART 1 2013 Blog Entry
DOUBLE THE PLEASURE, DOUBLE THE FUN - PART 2 2013 Blog Entry
CONGRATULATIONS IT’S A LARGE (My Second BGE) 2012 Blog Entry
KITCHEN RENOVATION: In the Spring of 2013 I had my Kitchen renovated. This has made a HUGE difference for me in my grill related prep. It has relieved some pain points, given me more flexibility and saves time. Part of the renovation involved adding more wall & base cabinet space which has had several positives associated with it. First I was able to actually store all of my kitchen utensils and prep tools in the Kitchen. Prior to this some of them were stored around the house in two other closets. Not having to go rustle up these tools saves time. Secondly I was able to create three distinct prep areas giving me lots of flexibility. One of these areas serves as a dedicated baking area and then later in a cook it is where I set up trays of food to go to and from the grill. Third I was able to get far better organized which saves me time. Prior to the renovation I had to do some planning to work around the limits of my Kitchen. Now I really don’t have to plan around the limitations of the Kitchen. I just go out and start my prep work. I now really enjoy using the Kitchen to prepare large complex meals because it is working with me and not against me.
KITCHEN RENOVATIONS - BIG PICTURE ITEMS 2013 Blog Entry
KITCHEN RENOVATIONS - NICE TOUCHES 2013 Blog Entry
NEW KITCHEN Media Section Picture Entry
NEW DISHWASHER: You might be surprised to find an appliance (two actually) in this blog entry. But my new Kenmore Elite dishwasher has several features that make cooking a joy. First of all at the time of purchase it was said to be the quietest dishwasher made. This is nice when you are working in the Kitchen and have a load of dishes running. I didn’t by this dishwasher because of this, but it was a nice added bonus. The first feature that I bought this dishwasher for, is a high temperature wash and rinse cycle. The dishwasher has an electric booster heater to insure the hot water is the right temperature. The dishwasher has a stamp certifying it meets NSF home standards. The next feature is called Turbo Wash and involves a separate cycle that uses a dedicated set of washer heads located vertically along the back wall of the dishwasher. You place a badly soiled pan at the back of the bottom rack facing the rear of the dishwasher. You turn on this cycle and at the proper time the heads on the back wall of the dishwasher cleans the badly soiled items. The biggest feature for me though has to be the ability to remove the top glass rack from the dishwasher. This allows you to wash tall items such as plastic cutting boards, metal half sheet pans and large platters in the dishwasher instead of by hand. This is big for me because I use lots of cutting boards to avoid cross contamination and lots of sheet pans, I usually do a run of dishes and a run of large items and have just my knives to hand wash. A pleasant surprise for me was just how well this dishwasher does washing dishes. I noticed this right away when placing freshly washed glasses done in the new dishwasher back on the shelf next to glasses that had recently been washed with the old dishwasher. The glasses washed with the new dishwasher appeared clear, while the other glasses had a film on them. It was funny but I had never noticed this film until I had something to compare it with.
NEW COOKTOP: When I replaced my electric ceramic cook top it had two features that I’ve really ended up liking. The first was called Turbo Boil and features a large burner with triple the wattage of a similarly sized burner. This extra wattage allows you to bring water to a boil in no time at all. I can bring a large pot of water for pasta to a boil in under 3 minutes. Many times when I make potatoes or carrots on the grill they need to be parboiled before going on the grill. I would need to allow and extra 30 minutes or so to get the water boiling. Now it is almost an afterthought because you can get the water boiling so fast. The one thing you don’t want to do is take your eye of the water in the pan, because it goes from zero to boiling over in the blink of an eye. Don’t ask me how I know this. The other feature I like is the controls. The last ceramic cook top I had used traditional rotary controls. The new one uses electronic controls that uses touch sensitive up and down arrows on the cooktop. Besides being flush and easy to clean, these controls power a digital display the gives you reading from 0-10 with precision measured in intervals of a tenth: 2.2, 2.3 etc. I find this is far more precise than a rotary control. Once you learn that 5.4 is a good temperature for simmering liquids, you can easily find this setting and repeat your results every time.
LOOFTLIGHTER: When I bought my Big Green Eggs I used paraffin fire starters to light the Egg. I saw no reason I would ever change this. Around the holidays I ran into some problems lighting my grills on cold and windy days. My butane lighters would not light in the cold weather. Wooden stick matches were blowing out as were the paraffin fire starters. After having a session where it took me 15 minutes to light the grills, I knew it was time for a change. So far the Looftlighter is working marvelously and I know I am going to spend 5 minutes or less lighting the grill(s) no matter how cold or windy it is.
FLAME ON! - THE LOOFTLIGHTER 2014 Blog Entry
THE MAVERICK ET-732 & ET-733 REMOTE READ THERMOMETERS: I now own one each of the two latest generations of Maverick remote read thermometers. Remote read thermometers allow you to monitor your cooks from the comfort of your house. You do not have to keep running out to the grill to check on the temps of the food or the grill. Instead you can work in the Kitchen or relax. These thermometers feature triple the range of my first generation Maverick ET-73 and this means I don’t need to worry about losing the signal anywhere in my house. If the signal is lost, these thermos have a synch alarm that informs you when the unit is out of synch for more than one minute. The probes and probe wires are rated for a much higher temperature than in the past, meaning I can use them for normal temperature direct grilling tasks on the BGE. The probes can now be used to measure the food temp or the grate temp, giving you a lot of flexibility. I can have up to 4 food probes or 4 grate probes or any combination in-between. Now that I have one of these thermometers for each of my grills, I can anticipate making far less trips out to the grill. The trips I do make will have serve a genuine purpose: Either to make a recipe required change to the food or to adjust for an actual temperature shift.
MAVERICK ET-733 - FIRST IMPRESSIONS 2014 Blog Entry
MAVERICK ET-732 - NEW & DEFINITELY IMPROVED 2012 Blog Entry
THERMAPEN - INSTANT READ THERMOMETER: I owed two instant read thermometers that were part of a dual infra red/instant read thermometer package. The Thermapen has a reputation of being the GoTo Must Have instant read thermometer. I could tell it was faster than my other two instant reads right from the first use. Having the Thermapen has made checking temps easier and more accurate. i can take a single reading quicker than ever and take three readings with this thermometer in the same amount of time it would take for one using my other two instant read thermometers. Until I got my Thermapen I didn’t realize what I was missing. I just wrote a rather extensive blog entry on the Thermapen if you are interested in learning more about it. It is totally worth the price.
THERMAPEN INSTANT READ THERMOMETER 2014 Blog Entry
OUTDOOR CABINETS FOR MY GRILLS: I have been slowly creating an outdoor Kitchen in piecemeal fashion using the great cabinets made by American Outdoor Kitchens. They use a man made material for the cabinet body and feature a granite tile top. At this point I have two base cabinets made as stands for the Large Big Green Egg on each end of the cabinet run. In the middle I have two base cabinets, one a door/drawer unit and the other features 3 drawers. These two cabinets give me about 5’ (1.5m) of counter space between the two grills. This is a great sized work surface for one or two grills. It is much better than the fold out shelves on the Egg nest and far easier to clean. The large surface area available outside next to the grills gives me a choice of wether I want to do a grill related prep task indoors or outdoors. I have bought some gasketed storage bins that I have placed in some of the drawers. These bins allow me to store many of my Eggcessories out nearv the grill. There is room for my bags of wood chips and chunks out at the grills. The platesetters and pizza stones fit in the short base cabinets under each Egg. The grill grates hang on a hook on the tall cabinet door. The bottom line is I am now able to store the items that belong out near the grill, out near the grill. The items that start out indoors are stored indoors, but there is more room for them because of being able to store items outdoors. The next piece I plan to add is a bar top type unit with a high top for seating and a pair of base cabinets on the back side. This will allow me to store more Eggcessories out by the grill.
WRAP UP: All of the items listed above have come together to make my outdoor cooking projects a joy. The Big Green Eggs and the various Eggcessories I have picked up, give me all kinds of flexibly. What I make is really limited only by my imagination and skills. The BGE’s, grill gazebo, remote read thermometers and Looftlighter give me the a large degree of weather independence. I don’t need to limit what I grill or when I grill except for the most extreme weather conditions when it is dangerous to be outdoors anyway. Using the Big Green Eggs is a similar experience year round. The renovated Kitchen makes prep an easy and fun and saves me time compared to my old kitchen. The cooktop and dishwasher help improve the prep and clean up process. The outdoor cabinets and permanent lighting make prep & cooking tasks outdoors easier and more fun. Grilling at night really feels no different than grilling during the day due to the better lighting.
All of these items combine to remove little “pain points” that were part of my grilling experience. It has gotten to the point that there are very few if any limitations to using the grills and the experience has became more and more all about the food. This allows me to attempt more things and be more creative. Plus I am having the most fun I’ve ever had with this hobby, and I am excited to say I only see things getting better from here. How cool is that?
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