The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

Getting Back on Track II

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If you heard a large sigh of relief yesterday morning around 11 AM, it was most likely me. You see for the last 4 months my grilling world had stopped making sense. It was like I was in some sort of parallel universe where things were similar but different and the normal rules suddenly didn't seem to apply. Earlier in the week I had a back to basics cook, where I solved my problems of temperatures suddenly running away on me, where I had not had this problem in the past. Saturday the second problem I'd started suddenly having, baked goods with burned bottoms and still not cooked tops, was solved. All is now right with my grilling world, and everything suddenly makes sense again. This blog will focus on the second temperature problem that had suddenly cropped up and how I solved it.

When I first got my Big Green Egg, I was amazed at how good it was at baking things. So much so, that I stopped baking indoors for all but a few items, such as reheating frozen food. Things went pretty well right from the beginning. The only problem I occasionally had was things might take more or less time than a given recipe called for. But this was nothing unusual, I've seen this in the indoor oven as well. As far as I was concerned, baking on the Egg was the way to go and I considered it a skill I had mastered. Then suddenly, last Thanksgiving, everything changed. I made a batch of Hermit cookies and when the tops were properly done the bottoms were improperly overdone. Fortunately the strong taste of the Hermit cookies masked the burned bottoms, so bullet dodged.

I scratched my head quite a bit about this one, and then I thought I had it solved. I looked back to the previous years Thanksgiving pictures, where I'd also SUCCESSFULLY made
HERMITS. It seemed when I made them a year ago I had installed the platesetter legs down, and put the Hermits and the jellyroll pan they were in on top of half inch plumbing T's. The plumbing T's served as shims, creating a cushion of air below the jellyroll pan. This year I had installed platesetter legs up, with the stainless steel grill grid on top of the legs of the platesetter. The jellyroll pan went right on the grill grid. All I could think of was having the platesetter right below the jellyroll pan had served to keep the hottest air away from direct contact with the bottom of the jellyroll pan. By using the platesetter legs up this year, there was a 3 inch (7.5 cm) gap between the disc of the platesetter in the grill grid. My thinking was some of the very hot convection air going around the platesetter had enough room to curve inwards and start making contact with the bottom of the jellyroll pan. This would cause the jellyroll pan to act like a grill griddle and heat the bottom of the Hermits faster than normal. This theory looked real good on paper, plus I had some pictorial evidence to back it. Last year with the platesetter installed legs down, everything came out fine all three different times I made hermits. This year baking them with the platesetter legs up, I ended up with burnt bottoms before the tops had finished cooking. There was only one way to test this theory, and since Hermits are my favorite cookie… The test batch of Hermits I produced this year with the platesetter installed legs down, still suffered from the same problem. The bottoms were overcooked and the tops were slightly undercooked.


The next thing that happened only served to complicate matters, never a good thing when you're trying to solve problems. I had picked up the Adjustable Rig from the Ceramic Grill Store back in October. One of the first uses I put it to was making a batch of
MINI GINGER WHOOPIE PIES. One of the things that had attracted me to the Adjustable Rig, was it's ability to let you cook multiple tiers of food at once. I attempted to cook two trays of the Whoopie Pies at once because I had a total of six trays worth to make. I had the identical problem here, where the tops weren't quite finished cooking and the bottoms were beginning to overcook. Now I had a whole new set of variables in the equation. Was the oval pizza stone of the Adjustable Rig causing a problem due to it’s shape? This pizza stone has the two sides squared off. It makes it easier to add wood chips on either side of the stone, without having to actually remove the AR from the Egg. But was this wider side gaps causing the problem? I was wondering if hot convection here was once again heating the bottoms of the pans. Another consideration was the relative position of the pans within the egg. Using the Adjustible Rig resulted in the cookie sheets being higher up and into the dome of the Big Green Egg. While I thought that would be a good thing, perhaps it was not. I had swapped the positions of the two sheet pans during the cook, both vertically and by rotating them 180 degrees to make sure there were no hotspots in the front or back of the egg. This just seemed to result in evenly overcooked bottoms, not exactly what I was going for.


If you look carefully you can see the lower edges and bottom of this dinner roll is overcooked, while the top is less brown than I would have wanted, I pulled the rolls a bit early to avoid the bottom of the rolls being beyond hope.

At Christmas time I decided to make some BEST AMERICAN DINNER ROLLS and I was concerned whether this problem would rear its ugly head again. For the time being, I had decided to go back to using the platesetter for all baking. While the Adjustable Rig had great promise for the future, I needed to solve this baking issue without introducing additional variables like multi-level cooking into the equation. I'd had decent success with rolls in the past using the platesetter. The only times I burned rolls it was the tops, because I baked them a minute or two too long. This was totally understandable. I was a little more confident in the rolls because they were in a 9" (23cm) cake pan and would take up less surface area over the platesetter. If the problem really was convection air heating the bottom of the pan, the smaller diameter pans should suffer less from this problem. There smaller size would afford them more protection from the platesetter or oval pizza stone. But to be honest, I still was totally confused about why this problem had suddenly cropped up. So I actually hedged my bets a little. Instead of putting both pans of rolls on the Egg all at once, I did them one pan at a time. This would allow me to center them over the platesetter instead of having them extend far out the edge of the grill. The second concession I made was I pulled the rolls a little earlier than I might have before this. By having the tops not quite so far along, it might help with the bottoms if I was still having a problem with the bottoms cooking too fast. A third thought was if I had a total disaster with the first pan, I’d still have a pan I could throw in the oven to save the day. I couldn't believe how far I'd fallen. Doing rolls in the oven was crazy talk less than three or four months ago. Suddenly everything I baked was suffering from overcooked bottoms.

To cut to the chase: These rolls had burned bottoms too. Pulling them a little early kept the bottoms from being too far gone. Plus the rolls had enough flavor of their own, that it was impossible to taste burned bread. Still this was a sad state of affairs. I made another batch of these rolls a week later and I tried them with the platesetter flipped from how I made them the first time. The position of the platesetter was making zero difference. So what in the world was going on? It seemed like a temperature issue. Somehow these baked goods were getting too much heat on the bottoms.

In the past I had always used the dome thermometer is a gauge for temperature for baking. I would let the Big Green Egg warm-up for 45 minutes to an hour before I put any baked goods on. This way the Egg had time to stabilize and the dome temperature and the grate temperature get closer to one another. Or so the theory went. Yesterday blew this ASSumption totally out of the water. The funny thing is, the solution to the problem almost went untested. Let me begin at the beginning.

I was making yet another batch of Hermit cookies to give to my nephew to take back to college with him. I had planned on doing that at Christmas, but I didn't want to give him some of my problem Hermits. I was also going to be cooking for my family this same day, so I decided to do a double batch and we would have Hermits as our dessert too. It was making this double batch that inadvertently caused me to find a solution to the problem. I had bought two disposable foil jellyroll sized sheet pans to bake the Hermits on. For some reason, these disposable pans were just slightly bigger than my non-disposable jellyroll pan. I had originally hoped to try cooking these in a two-tier fashion on the Adjustable Rig.

One “best” practice I have in place actually saved the day. I always pretest new set ups on the Big Green Egg prior to firing up the grill. Using a round domed grill with square or rectangular pans sometimes proves interesting. Not all pans fit as you would expect. I actually added a new Tip entry today:
PRE-FLIGHT TESTING, describing this practice in greater detail than I do here. Plus the Adjustable Rig introduces vertical space issues as well. The rig itself is designed so it tapers in and fits nicely under the dome. However if a pan hangs out, even a little, beyond the rig you may or may not be able to close the lid. This is certainly not something you want to find out with the grill all fired up and you ready to add your food and start cooking. When I run out to the yard to clean and add charcoal to the Egg, I leave a little extra time to bring out the various Eggessories I plan to use and test them out for fit. This saved my bacon for sure this day, I and my revised solution also showed me the reason for and solution to my baking temperature issues.

My original plan was to do a two-tier, indirect cooking set up on the Adjustable Rig. I would have the oval pizza stone on level 1.5, the sliding oval grid with one of the foil pans and hermits on level 3, and the BGE s/s grill grid on top of the AR at level 6 with the second foil pan of hermits on it. The whole reason I had originally bought my non-disposable jellyroll pan, was for making these Hermits. The jellyroll pan was about 1 inch (2.5 cm) longer than a standard one quarter sheet pan and allowed the 10 inch (25 cm) dough log for the Hermits to fit. It was a tight fit on the Adjustable Rig, but it did fit. Yesterday, to my great surprise, I found the foil disposable jellyroll pans did NOT fit. The raised sides and turned lip on the disposable pans we're just slightly bigger all around than my non-disposable jellyroll pan. So suddenly I was faced with the fact I was going to have to do this cook in two batches. I always go out early to do my grill set upend any tests and today it proved invaluable. I always do this first thing early in the day, before things get too hectic later. I still had time to work in the two batches of hermits plus the item I was cooking for Saturday's dinner, without changing my schedule.


Faced with the new reality that I was only going to be able to do one batch at a time, it got me thinking. I began to wonder about the possibility of working in a grate above the pizza stone and below the jellyroll pan. Instead of a second pan of Hermits, the intermediate grill grate would allow me to mount the grate probe to my remote read thermometer. This way I could check into temperatures and be assured that the temperature at the grate level was the actual temperature the recipe called for. Earlier in the week I had solved my start up issues, that were also suddenly plaguing my recent cooks. I documented them in the first part of this blog titled:
GETTING BACK ON TRACK. What it came down to was paying strict attention to the start up process on the grill, not getting distracted by prep and other issues, and focusing on getting the temperature locked in without overshooting the mark. Where my baking-related problem was also most likely temperature related, having a thermometer right at the grate level would be a good thing. I had never been able to do this before because there's no way to place a probe on the ceramic disc of the platesetter when it's installed legs down. So here was my revised set up on the Adjustable Rig: I moved the oval pizza stone up to level 3 to get it closer to the food. I put the sliding oval grid on level 4.5 to hold the temperature probe and I put the BGE stainless steel grill grid on top of the AR at level six. My plan was to watch this the temperatures like a hawk. I would not start baking the Hermits until I had a stabilized grate temperature of exactly 350 degrees (177C). This would help remove temperature as one of the possible suspects. Although at this point I couldn't figure out why temperature would be a variable because the same set up worked just fine a year ago.

I put my preconfigured AR on the Egg, lit the Egg and allowed it to warm up and stabilize at 350 degrees (177C). While I did go back in the kitchen to do some prep, I kept an extra close eye on the proceedings. My eye was never off the receiver of my remote read thermometer. Besides starting some of the prep, another reason for wanting to be back in the kitchen, was it was extremely cold and windy. The air temperature was only 7 degrees (-14C) and the wind was gusting strongly. When I went back out to the Egg with the first pan of Hermits, I noticed something interesting. On this cold day, the dome temperature was registering only 225 degrees (107C) on the dome thermometer. Over the next hour, subsequent trips out to the Egg showed the thermometer rising slowly to 250 and finally 275 degrees (121 to 135C). Meanwhile the Hermits were cooking perfectly. Despite the cold, the Egg was stabilized and recovered quickly when I turned the tray around 180 degrees at the midpoint. In fact things had reverted back to the old days of 2012, where the Hermits took about an extra five minutes to cook correctly. When the first batch came off the egg, I quickly looked at the bottoms of the Hermit logs and was thrilled to see they were perfect! The second pan went on and I had the exact same results: Perfect Hermits! In fact, later taste testing proved these were actually the best hermits I've ever made. I am not attributing this to the baking process. I used a new type of crystalized ginger and I like the constancy of these Hermits better. But I couldn’t have done a better job baking them, a far cry from my other efforts in the last year.

To say I was thrilled, was an understatement. I had solved this weird overcooked bottoms issue and it all came down to temperature. At the same time I wanted to slap myself on the forehead and go “Doohh"! The solution was actually brain-dead simple. This past winter has been a lot colder than the previous winter. All three times I attempted to cook the Hermits, the air temperature was in the single digits and the wind was gusty. The same was true for my two attempts at the dinner rolls & also the Whoopie Pies. As I saw this day, when I got the grate temperature to 350 degrees (177 Celsius) the dome thermometer registered only 225 degrees (107 Celsius) at the beginning. Last year, the air temps were always at or above freezing. My working theory is with the higher air temperatures, the dome area was able to heat up much much faster. As a result, my cooking temperatures were closer to where they were supposed to be. Although I now have no doubt they were off in 2012 too, just not as much. I had been assuming about a 50 degree offset in temperatures, with the dome temperature being HIGHER than the grate temperature. Instead it was far LOWER, 150 degrees (83C) LOWER, and I was cooking at way too high of a temperature. I was shooting for a dome temperature of around 400 degrees (204C) to achieve a grate level temperature of 350 degrees (177C). What this really meant is the temperatures at my grate level were probably approaching 550 degrees (288 C). No wonder I was having problems!! It's a wonder I didn't have worse problems.

So as yesterday proved once again, cooking is all about using the proper temperature and the proper time. While you can adjust one to suit deviations in the other, at some point you can't compensate enough to overcome the problems. The other thing yesterday proved is: With the proper grate temperature, it is hard to go wrong. Going forward I am always going to make an attempt to get temperature measurements at the grate level. In the past this is what I've always done with my other grills. I rarely even looked at the dome or lid the thermometers. But the Big Green Egg was a little different than my previous experience. Many people use the dome thermometer and many recipes are written with the assumption you are using the dome thermometer. I am going to go back to my previous way of doing things which is: Get the temperature right at the grate level, where you were actually doing your cooking.


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