I mentioned several things coming together. The first was last week I had stripped and then refinished my outdoor table and chair set. It is a well built and comfortable set, but it was looking pretty old and ratty. I finished the refinishing task on Wednesday and the set looked as good as new. Actually it looked better because I used a stain to match the color of my Big Green Egg cabinets. I wanted a good meal to mark the return of the set to it’s previous glory. What better all-American grilled meal than some grilled hot dogs? It was a perfect day to eat outside, sunny, high 70’s, dry, with a light wind. Where my table is located it gets shade most of the day with some mottled sunshine.
The other part of this equation is I wanted to try out doing hotdogs on Level 6 of my Adjustable Rig. The AR mounts on top of the Big Green Egg’s ceramic fire ring and this is also where the stock grill grid mounts. This is considered Level 0. The top of the Adjustable Rig is 6” (152 mm) above the fire ring. The Ceramic Grill Store, makers of the AR, state on their website that Level 6 is good for direct grilling foods with casings. I also wanted to be able to grill up the New England style hot dog rolls, and so I added in a shelf to accommodate a BGE cast iron grill griddle. The idea was I would put the grill griddle on a round grid at Level 1.5 which is 1 1/2” (38 mm) above the fire ring. This would leave half of the grill surface open for doing direct grilling on the BGE s/s round grill grid at Level 6 above.
To keep things consistent I used my favorite hot dogs Kayem Beef Franks with All-Natural Casings. I used the New England style top sliced hot dog roll which gives you breaded sides perfect for toasting on the griddle. I also used the two condiments I typically use on hot dogs: mustard and relish. This way any variations in flavor would be due to the different method used to grill the dogs.
One of the nice things about the AR, is it goes on and off the grill as a single unit. This means complete with all shelves and even the food if you desire. I did a test setup off the grill and on my counter and discovered a minor hiccup. My plan was to place the half moon grill griddle on the front half of the BGE. This would make it easily accessible, because I could simply lift up the front of the grill griddle at Level 6 to access the buns. The half moon grill griddle has two projecting spacer tabs which serve to keep it from touching the side of the Egg and leaves a gap to insure proper air flow up the sides of the Egg. When I placed the grill griddle on the AR I found these tabs were coming into contact with the vertical support posts of the AR. This meant I had to move the grill griddle towards the rear of the grill and was beginning to limit the amount of space left for grilling the dogs. So before even heating up the grill I was able to make an adjustment to my setup. I turned the grill griddle 90 degrees so that it was taking up the left side of the Egg leaving the right side open, The tabs didn’t interfere with the support posts of the AR and the grill griddle took up only 50 percent of the available grill area, leaving 50 percent free for the hot dogs.
With the AR set up, I gave the Egg a moderate level of cleaning before firing it up to 400 degrees (205 C). I swirled around the coals to get the small stuff and ash to drop into the ash drop area. I added some more lump to top off the lump I had left from the last cook. I used the ash tool and cleaned out the ash drop area. Then I placed 4 fire starters in the Egg at 1:30, 4:30, 7:30 and 10:30 positions and fired up the Egg. I looked at the package for my hot dogs and saw they recommended a temp of 375 degrees (175 C) for grilling. They also recommended not piercing the skin to preserve the juices of the dog. Don’t ask me why, but I decided I would use 400 degrees (205 C). I think this may have been because I felt it would help out since the dogs were 4 1/2” (115 mm) farther away from the coals. It took about 30 minutes to get up to 400 (205 C) and I let the grill run another 10 minutes to make sure I was truly stabilized at 400. I should add that this was measured using the dome temperature. This was an exception to my new rule of measuring my temps right at my cooking level. I figured this higher cooking level was pretty close to the dome thermo.
The buns are toasted, The 30 second toasting time was so short a picture on the grill wasn’t possible. Given the choice between a perfectly toasted bun and a picture, you can see my decision. The hot dogs are up next
The downside to my turning the grill griddle 90 degrees to the left is it made grilling the buns more difficult. With it in front I would have been able to use some tongs or a welder’s glove to tilt up the front of the grid at Level 6 long enough to slip the buns onto the griddle at Level 1.5. With the griddle on the left half i had to use a grid lifter in one hand to completely remove the grill grid at Level 6, while I added the buns. The buns were a quick 30 second grill and I flipped them to do the second side. When they were done I used the grid lifter a second time to gain access to the buns. I need to figure out a different system for doing the buns. This worked, but was hardly an ideal solution. I don’t like the idea of holding a hot griddle in one hand, while focusing on something else I am doing with the other hand. seems like a good way to brand yourself some day. I was thinking I could probably put the grill griddle at Level 6 too. It would probably take a little longer to toast the buns, but that wouldn’t be a problem because 30 seconds is almost too fast.
The next step was to grill the hot dogs. They went on with a satisfying sizzle and when I checked them at the 2 minute mark it looked like they needed another 30 seconds. After 30 seconds more, I flipped them over from top to bottom. I checked again at the 2 minute mark. This time they were looking done after two minutes. Also they were beginning to look different than other direct grilled dogs I have grilled closer to the coals. These dogs were turning a medium to darker brown over a good portion of their surface. There were grill marks from the grill grid, but they were much less pronounced (smaller) and not as dark. The dogs had a pronounced curl to them so to do the final two sides I had to turn them parallel to the grids to support them. Without doing this the dogs would simply roll over back onto the two sides I had already grilled. As I was turning the dogs onto their third side, I noticed several of the dogs had begun to split. This surprised me a bit. I am not sure why they split yet. It could be my choice to use 400 degrees (205 C) vs. the recommended 375 degrees (175 C). But it also could be the actual grill grid temperature was higher still.
But before solving any of these problems, I had more important things to do, like eating these dogs while they were hot. I had no preconceived notions of what, if any, differences I might find. Upon first bite my impression was the dogs still had a nice charcoal grilled flavor. Zero differences there. It also seemed like the dogs had an overall crispier skin than times in the past. For the record, for me this is a good thing. Now this could have been my cooking them at a higher temperature than recommended on the package. So my more crispy, may have been simply more cooked. I am not so sure about this theory though for two reasons. First I know when cooking them on my gas grill in the past I used at least around 400 degrees (205 C). The hot dogs did split, but I never remember the skin being this crispy. Also While the skins were crispier, they weren’t excessively blackened. I plan to continue my experimentation with hot dogs raised direct using the AR. I know it is a tough job, but someone has to do it.
I have several things to try. Next time I will put the half moon griddle grid at Level 6 which will solve the accessibility issues I had this time. Hopefully they won’t take too long to toast. But I was thinking I may be able to toast the buns while grilling the dogs next time. With the griddle higher, I may not have to keep such a close watch on the buns if their grilling time is measured in minutes, not seconds. Next time I cook the dogs I am going to place an oven thermometer at the cooking level to see what it reads when the dome thermo reads 400. If it turns out it was close to 400, I will need to get the temperature down to 375. I have a feeling that the temperature may have been higher than I wanted. After my Egg had cooled off I measured the distance from the tip of the dome thermometer to the gasket. It was about 5 1/2” (140 mm) above the gasket. Level 6 on the AR puts the grill grid about 1 3/4” (44 mm) above the gasket. So there was actually a difference of 3 1/2” (90 mm) and in a relatively short cook there could be a great deal of difference. The oven thermometer should settle that next time. The nice thing about all of this experimentation is I am in the general neighborhood I want to be in. This means I am able to eat and totally enjoy the results. When I get to the bottom of things, I will write another blog entry about my findings.