Getting Back on Track
02/26/14 - 09:46 Filed in: Lessons Learned | BGE | Big Green Egg
This blog documents my cook last Monday night, where I made JAMBALAYA-STUFFED BELL PEPPERS. I also made a concerted effort to turn around my recent streak where I've had some problematic cooks. I have been extremely lucky. Even though the cooks have been problematic, in all cases the end results were very good. Getting to those good results was quite the adventure. Struggling with my grill is not my idea of fun, and hobbies are supposed to be fun. The primary reason for this cook was to try out this recipe to make sure it wasn't going to be too hot for some of the people I would be serving it to this coming Saturday. The second reason was I wanted to get a sense of time for how long it would take to make. On Saturday I would be making something on my second Egg and I wanted to know how long these stuffed peppers would really take. The third reason, and equally important to me, was I wanted to do a cook on my own time. One where there was no set schedule and I could get back to basics and focus on good grilling practices.
MAKING A PLAN:After going through my error-filled cook last Saturday, and then writing the blog COMEDY OF ERRORS - 2014 about the experience, I was beginning to have doubts. I've also had some other recent cooks that have had various issues. Frankly I was beginning to wonder if I had somehow had a year of beginners luck and now the Barbecue God's were coming for payment. Now I know part of my recent issues involves learning a bunch of new gear that I bought starting last October, up until now. It is only in the last month or so that I've gotten around to using these devices. Trying to learn a bunch of new things at once can sometimes be problematic. I am still learning the Ceramic Grill Store’s Adjustable Rig which sometimes offers you three or four ways to do the same thing. The trick is learning which is the best set up for a given type of cook. Also, I am still learning my Looftlighter, which lights the coals faster but does give you a different type of start up. The coals seem to get lit deeper into the pile instead of on the surface and the warm-up process seems to be considerably different. At first it seems like not much is happening and then all of a sudden the temperatures are rising rapidly. The last item in this equation was my new ET-733 remote read thermometer, which is just similar but different enough from previous models to cause me some problems. Ultimately I take the blame for any of the issues involving these new items. It is easy to point the finger at something else. But the bottom line on many of these problems I've been having is I didn't pay strict attention to getting a properly stabilized grill like I should have. I was letting questions or issues surrounding the new gear distract my focus away from the startup process.
So this was to be a back to basics cook. The first thing I was going to do is NOT let myself get distracted during the start up process. Whatever else I was going to be involved with during startup, the Maverick ET-733 receiver would be with me and I would be keeping a constant watch on it. I made a point of coordinating the prep with the grill warm-up to avoid needing to be two places at once. I wouldn't find myself inside trying to do something else and get distracted while the Egg was overshooting the temperature mark once again. The bottom line recently, was many of my temperature issues were caused by MY lack of attention. I decided to let the Egg warm up while I was doing the chopping and other prep for the jambalaya. This was prep only and not cooking it. If you're chopping up an onion, you can certainly stop and go out and make any necessary adjustments to the Egg. It doesn't affect what you were doing in the kitchen one bit. I also made a point of not thinking let me just finish chopping the onion, and then I will deal with the temps. For today’s cook proper warmup of the Egg was back to being Job 1. I was guessing if I focussed totally on proper warmup, my recent issues would be a thing of the past.
EXECUTING THE PLAN:I did not want to actually be making the jambalaya on the stove while the temperatures were still in the process of rising. Then you're faced with the dilemma of: If I run out to the grill my food might burn. But if you wait another minute or two the Egg may have overshot the mark by 100 degrees (55C) or more. Wherever I went in the kitchen I had the receiver for the ET 733 with me and I looked at it several times a minute. Once I had the temperatures pretty much stabilized, where they would be rising or falling very slowly, then I could start actually cooking the jambalaya in the kitchen. I did not deviate from this plan of attack. I was shooting for a cooking temperature of 235 degrees (113C). My plan was when the Egg got up to around 200 degrees (93C) I would start closing down the dampers. I’d set them to be open just a little more than the ballpark neighborhood where I’d expect them to be in order to maintain 235 degrees (113C). I would then keep a close eye on the thermometer and make sure the temperatures were slowing down considerably, but still rising enough to give me the 235. At this point, I could begin heating the vegetable oil in my Dutch oven. When the Eggs temperature got up up around 225 to 230 (107 to 110C), I would make any final adjustments to try and coast right up to the 235 (113C) mark without overshooting it. Only at this point would I feel safe to start actually cooking the jambalaya. Turning on the stove and heating up the oil was one thing. I could always turn the heat back off if there were issues and I wouldn’t be faced with ruining food.
My paying close attention to the temperatures on the Egg while it was warming off paid off nicely. It took under 15 minutes for it to reach 200 degrees (93C). I immediately went out and set the top and bottom dampers, to slightly more open than where experience had shown me they needed to be set to achieve 235 (113C). The temperatures continued their rise, but at a much slower pace. They began slowing down even more once I get around 230 degrees (110C). They still continue to rise but I was hoping they would stop at about 234 (112C) so. As luck would have it, they still rose above and beyond 235 (113C) to 236 (113.33C) and then 237 (113.9C). At this point I went outside again and closed the dampers ever so slightly to reverse the temperature rise. At this point after three tweaks, I had my temps just where I wanted them. And they stayed there for the next 2 1/2 hours, despite the cold and windy weather. After the sun set the temps dropped from 34 degrees (1.1C) to 24 degrees (-4.4C) very quickly. The wind picked up to 15mph (24kph) with gusts up to 25mph (40kph). But because the Egg was truly stabilized at the right temperature it stayed rock steady. An added bonus to all this was I got to stay inside where it was warm. My only other trips out to the Egg were to add the food to the grill and collect it when it was done. I kept constant vigil in the kitchen looking at the ET-733 every couple minutes to make sure nothing was amiss with the temperatures.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT GEAR:The other thing that helped contribute to the good temperature karma, was my use of the Ceramic Grill Store’s Adjustable Rig for smoking these peppers. I could have used the platesetter, legs up, with the stock BGE s/s grill grid to do this indirect cook. But the problem with the platesetter is when do you add your wood chips? You either have to add them before hand and waste a bunch of smoke, or you need to try and yank the platesetter out when it is hot. This isn't the easiest proposition, particularly when it is installed legs facing up. The adjustable rig on the other hand, is designed where the top ring serves double duty as a handle. You can grab the whole assembly, with all of the various pieces parts plus your food, and remove it as one unit from the grill. I now have a piece of Corian sitting on top of the granite countertop of my cabinets. This provides a safe landing place for the adjustable Rig when it is hot. You are not supposed to put hot items on granite, and cold granite like this day would be even worse. My set up to cook these peppers indirect on the Adjustable rig was: The Adjustable Rig, with the oval Pizza stone at level 1.5, the 13” (33cm) s/s drip pan wrapped in foil sitting on top of plumbing T's on the oval stone, the sliding D rack at level 4.5. I have a set of S/S rings made for smoke roasting apples on the grill. They help steady the round bottomed apples so the cored and filled apples don't tip over. Although the bell peppers were a bit larger, these rings worked like a charm for the bell peppers as well. I placed the four bell peppers on the stainless steel rings on top of a small quarter sheet pan sized wire cooling rack. This allowed me to add and remove all 4 stuffed peppers in one quick operation.
Once out of the grill the procedure was as follows:
- Lift the adjustable rig out of the Egg and place it on the Corian sheet on the countertop.
- Close the lid.
- Gather a handful of the wood chips I was using, open the lid and distribute the wood chips onto the center of the coals.
- Close the lid.
- Place the wire cooling rack with the four peppers onto the sliding D-grid on the Adjustable Rig.
- Open the lid and placed the Adjustable Rig, with the food on it, back into the Egg.
This minimized the amount of time the lid needed to remain open. As I discovered, and as I wrote about in my blog COLD HARD FACTS, even in the cold weather you do not want to keep the lid of the Egg open very long. Yes initially it lets in cold air and drops the temperatures. But don’t be fooled. Notice I said initially. That same cold air also serves as additional combustion air and helps fire the coals up and ultimately drives the temperatures higher than they were before you opened the lid. Using the Adjustable Rig, the time the the lid needed to be open was reduced down to a minimum.
END RESULTS:Finally I had a cook that went the way I expected it to. All I had to do for my part of the bargain, was keep an eye on the temps and not let them rise beyond my desired cooking temperature. For that I was rewarded with a stress-free cook. The egg remained within +\- 3 degrees (1.67C) of 235 (113C) throughout the entire 90 minute cook. This despite rapidly falling temperatures and winds gusting up to 25mph (40kph). So despite having to work some new equipment into the mix, the cure to my problem was actually simple. Despite the new gear and new processes, the need to keep a close eye on the temperatures have not been changed. This simple thing allowed me to stay warm and toasty inside during the cook and the end results finished at the stated time because my temps were steady. Even more importantly: The JAMBALAYA-STUFFED BELL PEPPERS were excellent.
SOME RELATED LINKS: Here are some links to other blog entries about the temperature control issues I have been having recently & what I’ve learned. Also there is a link to the picture entry for the food I made this day.
COMEDY OF ERRORS - 2014 2014 Blog Entry about some recent mistakes made and lessons learned (or so I thought) doing cold weather cooking on my BGE’s. Part of my problem this day is I ignored some of the things I’d recently learned.
COLD HARD FACTS 2014 Blog Entry about some recent mistakes made and lessons learned (or so I thought) doing cold weather cooking on my BGE’s. Part of my problem this day is I ignored some of the things I’d recently learned.
JAMBALAYA-STUFFED BELL PEPPERS
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