06/15/14 - 05:50 Filed in: Gear | Eggcessories | Review
A few months ago I wrote a blog entry about my initial impressions of the Adjustable Rig (AR) for the Large Big Green Egg (and other similar sized Kamado grills). The AR is a modular shelf system for the BGE, which gives you more grilling real estate and more flexibility. It is made by the Ceramic Grill Store. I will supply links to both the Ceramic Grill Store and my initial blog about the AR at the bottom of this blog. This blog will describe my impressions of the AR after using it for about four months. I still have quite a bit to learn, but I already have come to rely on the AR for well over half of my cooks. If I have both of my Big Green Eggs in use, one of them will have the AR on it 99 times out of 100. The other interesting thing about my experience with the AR, is some of the things I've come to love about it are things I never expected or knew about when I bought it.
When I initially started using the AR, I was starting to have some temperature issues during indirect cooks that were totally unrelated to the AR. When I saw the temperature issues were extending into my use of the AR, I immediately set it aside until I solved the original problem. Certainly no sense introducing more variables into the equation when you're trying to solve problems. Plus I wanted to learn the AR once and only once on a Big Green Egg that was functioning properly. As it turned out, when I began to figure out what the problem was, the AR was instrumental in proving my working theory.
My difficulty was relying on the dome thermometer in very cold weather was proving to be problematic and the end results were not predictable. I decided to retry some of the same baking and low and slow sessions causing me problems. Instead of using just the dome thermometer, I would use a grate level probe. The AR allowed me to insert a shelf just above the pizza stone and just below the shelf for the items I was cooking. The allowed me to measure the actual temperature at the level I was cooking at. This quickly proved my theory that the dome and the grate thermometer had large variations of temperature in the extremely cold weather. These variations did not even out for 1 to 2 hours, explaining why I was having problems with 20 minute long baking sessions. Once I had solved the problem, I jumped into using the AR with both feet and haven't looked back since. I will list what I have learned or reconfirmed about AR in the four months I have been using it. This list is in no particular order.
LEVELS:For the benefit of people unfamiliar with the AR as well as some of my readers using metric measurements, let me explain Levels. The AR has regularly spaced notches for grill grid placement, just like a shelving system. Levels describe the spacing of the notches as they are measured above the ceramic fire ring of the Egg that the AR rests on. The notches are spaced every 1 1/2" (38 mm). The AR has 3 shelf notches which are Level 1.5 = 1 1/2" (38 mm), Levels 3 = 3" (76 mm), and Level 4.5 = 4 1/2" (114 mm). You can install the Egg's own 18" diameter stainless steel grill grid on the top ring of the AR which corresponds to Level 6 = 6" (152 mm). There is also an accessory for the AR called the Rig Extender, which will give you the ability to have a 13" diameter (33 cm) grill grid at Level 7.5 = 7.5" (152 mm). For another point of reference, shelves at Levels 1.5 and 3 fall below the felt (gasket)line of the Egg. The felt line of the Big Green Egg is about 4 1/4" (108 mm) the ceramic fire ring. As a result the sliding oval grid at Level 4.5 is just above the felt line by about 1/4" (6 mm). A shelf at Level 6 is 5 3/4" (146 mm) and one at Level 7.5 is 7 1/4" (184 mm) above the felt line and quite high into the dome. After defining these Levels here, I am only going to refer to them by Level name with no further reference to distances.
CONSTRUCTION:Unlike many grilling accessories on the market these days, which look like they are built just well enough to do their task without falling apart, the AR is a solid piece of work made from quality materials. Everything is well built and the attention to detail is quite evident. The folks at CGS take great pride in saying the AR is built entirely in the USA. They are also not sitting on their laurels. I ordered another sliding oval-grid for my AR and the new model had an improvement made to the rear crossbar. The change to the crossbar made it easier to use and more reliable. The bottom line is the AR will probably outlive me.
FLEXIBILITY:There is virtually no limit to the various setups you can create with this rig. This was no surprise. The big trick is learning which set up gives you the best results. But I must admit part of the fun is in the experimentation. For example I am waiting to try hot dogs direct grilled at Level 6. Grilling them raised direct, actually in the dome, is said to help keep the casings from splitting while still giving you a great grilled product. This total flexibility in setup is really great, but can be a little overwhelming at first. There is lots of information on the Ceramic Grill Store website illustrating the various setups and uses for the components of the AR. I suggest giving those pages a thorough read and it will help with your understanding of how to best use the AR.
SETUP:Once you have installed various types of shelves and the pizza stone once or twice, the set up is brain-dead simple. I typically keep the AR set up the way it was last used right in the Egg it was last used in. When I'm done cooking I simply shut down the Egg, place the metal cap inside the Egg, and leave the AR inside. Modifying any set up is a matter of only a couple minutes at the most. I also find it is handy to be able to test some of the set ups before I heat the grill. This way I can make sure my roast pans or drip pans or food will actually fit on the AR the way I have it set up. Better to find out sooner on a cold grill than on a hot grill where you are losing heat every second you keep the lid open.
EASY ON / EASY OFF:I was going to use the term "Removeabily" for this section, but that's not really a word. This is probably my biggest and most pleasant surprise in owning the AR. The fact that you can take the AR on and off the Egg as one unit in one operation, with all of the shelves and food intact is a huge advantage. The ring at the top of the AR at Level 6 goes three quarters of the way around the circumference of the AR. It doubles as a handle whether you have a shelf on Level 6 or not. It is never good to leave the lid of the Egg open for very long periods of time. You may be thinking that the temperature loss is not such a big problem on a ceramic, well insulated, grill like the Big Green Egg. Depending on the weather, this can be true. But don't just think of letting cold air inside in terms of temperature loss. This is also combustion air. Granted cold combustion air, but combustion air nonetheless. Also it is combustion air no matter what the weather. If you are cooking at relatively low cooking temperatures, your egg may recover and continue to rise right on past your desired cooking temperature. Because you were cooking at a low temperature your grates are barely open. So you really don't have a way to shut them down enough to stop this temperature rise.
This is an example of an easy-on / easy-off use. I had a single casserole dish of enchiladas and I was making it on the Egg so I could add smoke. Now as a single level indirect cook I could have used the Platesetter legs up with the stock BGE grill grid. But It would have meant removing 3 items to add the chips. Using the AR I was able to quickly remove only one item (including my food) which was quick and also easier to remove.
There are two use cases where the ability to get the entire AR on and off the Egg quickly and easily, food and all, comes in very handy. The first is on a cook where I need to add wood chips or chunks one or more times during the cook. When you heat the Egg, you heat the Egg with the AR installed. It is true that the oval-shaped shelves of the AR does make it easier to add chips or chunks without removing the AR. But these areas where you can add the chips are only along the two sides. If you are doing a low and slow cook, the fire may be in the very center of the fire box and the chips that you drop into the sides do not make contact with lit charcoal. So often it is still necessary to remove the AR to get the wood chips to land on top of lit coals. I simply open the lid and quickly remove the AR and land it on a piece of Corian that protects my counter surface from the heat. I then quickly close the lid and measure out or gather up the wood chips or chunks I wish to use. Then I re-open the lid, toss the chips or chunks on, and grab the AR and quickly put it back on the Egg and close the lid. This has proven to be such an advantage, I will often use the AR even to cook an item that could go on a single grid using the Platesetter installed legs up. Using the Platesetter, it is always a three-step operation to get the wood chips on the coals. You must first remove the hot food and land it, then remove the hot grill grid and land it and lastly remove the hot Platesetter and land it. These are three separate items that are are all scorchingly hot. You must find a safe home for not one, but three items, until you are through. It also takes much longer to do three operations versus the one. I will admit when I bought the AR, the ease of getting it on and off the grill as a single unit never occurred to me. Now this is one of the main reasons I use it for some cooks.
This is an example of being able to get multiple pieces of food, shelves, grate probe, drip pan & pizza stone on and off the grill quickly in one operation. For this low and slow cook of 5 pork steaks I needed to take the food off the grill and rotate it to even out the cooking and add wood chips onto the coals far below. The first picture shows the AR & food off the grill for repositioning and in the second picture I had just added wood chips just before putting the AR back on the Egg.
I also mentioned a second use case for taking the entire AR, grids, and food off the grill as one unit. This would be when I am doing cooks that have food that must be attended to during the middle of the cook or at various points along way. I often use the AR to bake multiple trays that need to be swapped vertically or rotated horizontally during the cook to even out the cooking. Baking 2,3 or 4 shelves of cookies fits this bill. Or if I am cooking something that needs to be mopped or glazed during the middle of the cook, I will use the AR so I can get the item off the grill and get the grill lid closed ASAP. Once again, even if I am doing something that fits in one pan or tray where I don't really need the AR, I still use it so I can get everything on and off the grill quickly.
I will cite a specific example: I was cooking a ham low and slow at 235 degrees (113 C) and it receive two glazes with 1 hour and 30 minutes left to go in the cook. It took quite a while to glaze the entire ham and where it was about 6 degrees (-14 C) outside, my biggest fear was how long it would take the temps to recover. It turned out the answer to that was: not long. All of that air had served to stoke the fires and when I closed the lid the temps climbed to 275 degrees (135 C) and showed little signs of stopping. Where I had been cooking at 235 degrees (113 C) my daisy wheel on the metal cap was only open a crack and the bottom draft door was only open 1/4" (6 mm). I had no room to maneuver here because I really couldn't close up any more and it would take a long time to drop 40 degrees (22 C) at these low cooking temps. I couldn't let it cook that high because the sugary glaze I'd just applied would most likely burn in the higher temps. My first thought was to use my oven, but a weird coincidence saved my bacon. I had a pan of baked beans smoking on my other Egg also at 235 (113 C). I used two Eggs because I didn't think both items would fit correctly on the single Egg. I gave it a shot and they both did almost fit. The food extended slightly beyond the Platesetter but with only 30 minutes left I figured I'd be OK. Going forward from that point onward any cook I have where I need to mop or glaze a piece of meat, I use the AR so I can take it off the Egg and get the lid closed quickly. Trust me, once you start using this feature you'll get what I am talking about. I'm betting it will be one of your favorite things about AR.
IMPROVEMENTS USING A DRIP PAN:
This item does not refer to the use of the CGS stainless steel drip pan. I do own one of these and it is a well made piece of gear. Instead I'm referring to the use of a drip pan on top of the Platesetter, versus the possibilities for drip pan placement using the AR. The problem comes when a drip pan placed directly on the Platesetter. The drippings falling into this pan can become too hot from the direct heat coming off the Platesetter. These drippings will burn off producing a noxious smoke that certainly doesn't improve the flavor of your food. Also if the drippings were intended for use as a starter for gravy, you don't want them burning off in an overheated drip pan. People use shims such as the green ceramic feet that used to ship with older Big Green Eggs, or pieces of aluminum foil wadded into ball shaped shims, or in my case I used 1/2" (13 mm) copper plumbing-T's. These items served to raise the drip pan up off the Platesetter, creating a cushion of air and keeping the drip pan a bit cooler. Using the AR, you can place the oval pizza stone on one level, with an oval sliding shelf 1 1/2" (38 mm) above to hold the drip pan. Then you place the food at another level sufficiently high to clear the height of your drip pan. This is yet another use case where you may be using the AR to help you out with a single level cook. It was another unexpected bonus of having the AR, which I never planned on when I bought it. But I've been taking advantage of it quite often.
ADDED SHELF SPACE FOR A GRATE PROBE:Sometimes due to either the size or the shape of your food or the pan you're cooking it in, it is not possible to get a grate probe on at the exact same level as your food. This is often true of low and slow cooks. If you are using the stock Platesetter legs up and the stainless steel grill grid, you are basically out of luck. If the food probe doesn't fit on the cooking grid you can't set it down on the Platesetter for one of several reasons. With the AR this is a set up that is easily dealt with. I typically set the oval pizza stone at Level 1.5, an oval sliding shelf at Level 3 to hold the grate probe and an optional drip pan if needed. The shelf for my food goes at Level 4.5 or 6, or both. Even though the shelf for the grate probe is at Level 3, by the time you factor in the clip that holds the probe up off the grill grid, the actual probe itself is just below the cooking shelf directly above it at level 4.5. You also get a much better choice of placement for the grate probe when you aren't worried about avoiding your food. You also don't want the probe to extend beyond the Platesetter or oval pizza stone because then you aren't measuring indirect temperatures. The ability to add a shelf to receive a grate probe was once again another unexpected bonus of owning the AR.
MULTI-TIER BAKING:This was one of the things I anticipated doing with the AR. Depending on the thickness of the end product, I can bake up to four sheets of cookies or two or three pans of dinner rolls simultaneously. You do have to swap the positions of the food about midway through the cook. But you also typically have to do this when baking in an oven. The difference here is I have the option to remove the AR from the grill so I can get the lid down quickly. I swap the trays around with the AR outside of the grill. If using two trays you put the one on top on the bottom and vice versa. With three trays I swap the vertical positions of trays 1 and 3, with tray 2 remaining on the middle shelf. With four trays I swap the position of trays 1 and 4 and trays 2 and 3. In all of these cases while swapping the vertical positions I also rotate all of the trays 180 degrees horizontally. The vertical swap deals with temperature differences depending on whether you are high or low on the grill. The 180 degrees rotation helps even out the cooking by eliminating potential problems caused by hotspots found in every grill (or oven). It is interesting because when using the Platesetter there was definitely a hot spot towards the rear of the Big Green Egg near the hinge. So far I am not noticing this so much using the oval pizza stone in the AR. I do need to bake some more food before I state this as a certain fact. The AR has made me much more efficient because the same two pans of rolls that would not fit next to one another on the stainless steel grid over the platesetter, will fit on multiple levels on the AR. I can bake most batches of rolls or cookies in one round.
RAISED DIRECT GRILLING IN THE DOME:This is something I have not experimented with as of yet. I have been getting used to using the AR in more a conventional fashion. But soon I plan to experiment with raised direct grilling. The first thing I plan on trying his hotdogs grilled at Level 6. This puts the grill grid 6" (152 mm) higher than it would normally go for direct grilling, actually up in the dome a little. It is said the grilling hot dogs or sausages up high like that helps keep the casings intact, while still giving you the great grilled flavor. I also want to try doing some baking high in the dome. When you go high in the dome you're relying less on direct radiant heat from the charcoal and more on reflected radiant heat from the curved dome. You are also using the Egg more like a traditional brick oven.
SOME THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR:There are really no negatives about the AR itself. This is high praise coming from me, because I can usually be very picky. But honestly I have zero complaints. It is a well built, well thought out product that is far more useful than I had ever imagined. However there are some things you can do with it that might have negative outcomes that you should be aware of.
Hot, Hot, Hot: Like any item you use on the grill, the AR will get extremely hot. You should have a very good set of grill gloves if you plan to remove the AR from the grill during the cook as I have described above. The Ceramic Grill Store sells a pair of welder's gloves for use with the AR and I picked some up when I ordered my AR. You should also have a safe place to land the AR when you remove it from the grill. The granite top of my cabinets is not up to receiving this kind of heat. I have a piece of Corian that I uses as a landing area.
Things Can Get HEAVY: The AR and it's metal shelves are a nice combination of well made, and a relatively light weight. But start adding in the oval pizza stone, the Rig Extender, 3 or 4 shelves of food and you suddenly have quite a bit of weight to place on and remove from your grill. Be sure you can safely lift this on and of the grill. Also be careful of your posture. I had a 10 pound (4.5 kg) roast on the AR, along with the oval stone and a couple shelves and I managed to tweak my back a little. It was winter and there was a small area of ice in front of my Egg and I stood back a 6 or 8" (15 or 20 cm) farther than normal to avoid it. This meant I was leaning forward when I was lifting the AR on and off the Egg. When I lifted it off one time, the act of leaning forward to pick it up followed by leaning, twisting and stretching to put it on my counter gave me a warning spasm of pain in my back.
Dome Thermometer Interference: For me, who uses a grate level probe any time I am using the AR, this is virtually a non-issue. If there is interference I can pull it back or off and it doesn't affect me one bit. But if you have food high up on the AR do be careful closing the lid for the first time. You don't want to damage the shaft of the dome thermometer.
The Higher Up You Go, The Less Room You Have: The AR gives you the capability to grill high in the dome or on multiple vertical levels higher up in the Egg than normal. Anytime I attempt a cook where I start going above the felt line and into the dome, I start paying more attention to whether the food and or the pans I will be cooking it in will actually fit into the dome. If your pan is shallow and fits on one of the raised shelves of the AR, you are probably ok. If your pans or your food are a couple inches high (50)mm) you might want to pre-flight check it. Assemble the AR as you plan to use it and test fit the pan or your "food" on the Egg before you light it. The reason I wrote "food" is I will sometimes use a stand-in for my food. Something that is the same size as the food. The other thing I sometimes do is wrap the wrapped package with the food in it in a piece of foil to protect it during the test fitting. Trust me, this is well worth doing. I have avoided several potential food placement disasters on the day of a complex cook by doing a test fitting. Once the grill and AR are hot any adjustments you need to make become awkward and take longer.
Food Probe Placement Issues: If you are going to be using one or more food temperature probes for remote read thermometers, you will want to give some thought to this and might want to check out potential placement issues while doing your preflight check. If you re going into the side of the food, make sure the probe will not contact the side of the dome. If you are coming in from the top, make sure there is adequate clearance above the food and below the curved dome shape of the lid. You could damage the probe where the wire enters the probe and you could also drive the probe further into the meat and get a false reading by doing so.
WHEN I DON'T USE THE AR:
Direct Grilling Requiring a Big Sear: For direct grilled items like steaks or burgers, where I'm looking to lay on a big sear, I don't need to use the AR. All I'm dealing with is the cast iron grill grid sitting directly on the fire ring. If I need to add wood chips it is easy enough to use the grid lifter tool to lift the grid off the grill long enough to add the chips. Also the cast-iron grill grid does not fit on the AR.
Direct Grilling Using the Dutch Oven: There is no need to use the AR for grilling with the Dutch oven on the stock stainless steel grid sitting on the fire ring. Once again, it is easy enough to use the grid lifter tool to pull the grid to add in wood chips.
Pizzas: Even though the piece you can buy for the AR is called a pizza stone, I use it for baking only. I do my pizzas one of two ways. For high temperature pizzas, at 600 degrees (315 C) I use the Platesetter installed legs up with a stainless steel grill grid on top. On top of this I place the 13 inch diameter BGE pizza stone. The second method for pizzas cooked at around 450 or 500 degrees (230-260 C) I use the Two-tier Adjustable Swing Rack from the Ceramic Grill Works Company. I generally do not use wood chips for grilling pizza, so I don't need to be able to easily remove and replace my set up for grilling. For a single high temperature pizza, the stock Platesetter set up works fine. The Swing Rack allows me to easily do two pizzas at once. While I could also do this on the AR, the pizzas are much more accessible on the Swing Rack.
Using Grilling Pans or Grilling Trays: When I am using a grill pan, it is typically a single level cook on the standard grill grid sitting on the fire ring. As in the situations described immediately above, adding wood chips is easily done in this situation and doesn't require the quick removal capabilities of the AR.
SUMMARY: To say I am more than pleased with my AR, is an understatement. It has given me all the capabilities that I bought it for, plus has given me some convenience features I never planned on. As I mentioned at the start of this blog, if I am using both of my Big Green Eggs, 99 times out of 100 the AR will be in use on one of them. I am often asked several questions with regards to the AR:
I have a feeling this won't be my last blog entry on the AR. As I continue to use it more and more, I am sure I will discover more unique or interesting capabilities that it gives me. As I learn more I will be sure to write additional blog entries.
- The first is whether it is worth the price? That is easy. Absolutely!! It gives you so many additional capabilities and flexibility. It is well built and should last as long as your Egg itself. I fell it is worth every penny. Also what did you pay for your Egg? For some people the use of the AR may save them from buying a second Egg to gain more grilling space.
- The second question is: Will I ever want to buy a second AR? While I will never say never, it is very unlikely. I usually do not need it's advanced capabilities on two grills at once. If money grew on trees, I would certainly have a second AR. But in the real world there are other accessories I would spend the money on first.
- The last question is: Should I get an AR or the Two-tier Adjustable Swing Rack? That answer is a little harder. I am very glad I have both. If push came to shove and I could only have one, I would probably get the AR for the type of cooking I do. Your mileage may vary depending on the type of grilling you do. I do quite a bit of baking, and the AR is ideal for that. I also plan to start playing with the Swing Rack some more soon to find out about it's capabilities. Right now I would have to say that there is some overlap in their capabilities, and there are some use cases where one is better than the other for a similar task. But the bottom line is the AR does give you more flexibility in my opinion. But once again if you can afford it, buy both.
SOME RELATED LINKS: Here is a link to an earlier blog entry about my first impressions of the Adjustable Rig, plus a link to the web site for the AR.
THE ADJUSTABLE RIG - FIRST IMPRESSIONS 2014 Blog Entry about the Adjustable Rig, a combination of my unboxing type impressions and my early experiences.
ADJUSTABLE RIG WEBSITE
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