2 Old Problems, 2 New Solutions
I recently made some BEER-BRINED WINGS and this cook confirmed a recent discovery and it also marked a new discovery that looks promising. I find this interesting because I am approaching my third anniversary of Big Green Egg usage and there are still valuable lessons I can learn. The first discovery solved a problem with the one type of cook I’ve always found difficult to get started: a Low to Medium-Low direct grilling session. The other discovery solved a problem with keeping the lid open on the Big Green Egg, but could also apply to some other similar grills both Kamado and traditional.
STUMP CHUNKS TO THE RESCUE:The Problem: I recently tried out STUMP CHUNKS FIRE STARTERS to light two different fires. The first trial was nearly a failure, while the second test was successful. I was very surprised by the fact they actually worked and worked well the second time out. The fact the Stump Chunks lit the fire while they solving a problem too, initially escaped me. I decided to make some chicken wings on Sunday using the Adjustable Rig to cook them raised direct. The cooking temperature was 350-375 degrees (177-190C). It suddenly occurred to me this was a bit of a problem temperature historically. I suddenly realized the Stump Chunks offered a solution. The problem with that temperature range and direct cooking is due to the insulating qualities of the Kamado style grill. It doesn’t take a big mass of lit coals to reach and maintain a low cooking temperature.
When you light a fire with fire starters shooting for that temperature range, you only need one or two paraffin fire starters. The fire starters burn for 9 minutes leaving behind two lit areas of coals which continue to burn. As they continue to burn, they ignite more of the lump pile The problem is the Egg reaches that temperature rather quickly and easily, and it can do it with one or two small areas of lit coals. With an indirect cook at this temperature, the Platesetter helps deflect the heat and even out the temps. With direct you are faced with being at your cooking temperature and not having a single evenly lit bed of coals. The only solution I had found was to let this fire burn for 30-45 minutes extra which would serve to let the fire spread and even out. The other choice was if you were cooking only one or two items, you place them on the grate over the lit portion of the coals. This was not a viable solution for 36 chicken wings which was what I was doing this day.
The Solution: I had discovered that the Stump Chunks could create a much more evenly lit fire. You can end up with a more widespread area of lit coals that is glowing but not fully involved. Then it is a matter of closing the dampers down and not letting these coals really get going. Using the ash tool, I scooped out a 6” (15 cm) slightly depressed area in the center of the lump pile. I spread a couple handfuls of Stump Chunks out, filling both this 6” (15 cm) depressed area and extending the Stump Chunks out to a total of 9” (23 cm) in diameter. I then moved some pieces of lump so that they partially covered the Stump Chunks. When I lit the fire, I found the Stump Chunks created a larger more evenly lit layer of lump than I could ever get with paraffin fire starters. The bonus here was it took under 10 minutes to accomplish this. When I was faced with the prospect of creating a 375 degree (190 C) fire for direct cooking, the light bulb went off in my head: The Stump Chunks would give me a more evenly lit bed of coals without the hot and cold spots AND do it in about 10 minutes. Win-Win! I rushed out and grabbed another bag of Stump Chunks and I found they worked exactly as I hoped for.
The End Results: Just as before the Stump Chunks got the fire going much faster than paraffin fire starters. After about 8 minutes I had reached 375 (190 C) and I was ready to cook. This was an added bonus as far as I was concerned. What was far more important is I had a fire the was far more evenly distributed than what I was EVER able to achieve with fire starters at this cooking temperature. I didn’t have to let the grill stay at that temp for 30 additional minutes to let things even out. I was able to put the pieces of chicken on the grill without having to deal with hot and cold areas. I now have a very compelling reason to use Stump Chunks as my lighting method of choice for low to medium-low direct grilling sessions.
Potential Problems: None to speak of. I don’t plan to use Stump Chunks to light my dedicated baking Egg, because I am trying to keep the baking Egg as smoke-free as possible. Baking on this Egg is typically an indirect operation and the problem the Stump Chunks solves is for Low to Medium-Low direct cooks. When cooking indirectly, the deflector plate on the Platesetter helps even out temperature variations. Plus for baking I typically let the Egg continue to heat for 30 additional minutes to help stabilize it and get the ceramics evenly heated.
IF YOU ARE LOOKING YOU AIN’T COOKING:The Problem: The Big Green Egg and other Kamado grills are intended to be used with the lid down. They have unique characteristics which require you to keep the lid closed. When you are cooking with the lid up, the Kamado isn’t a whole lot different than any other grill. One problem with raising the lid (on any grill) is you lose the heat you have built up inside the grill. This takes some time to recover and affects the cooking time. The second problem is unique to Kamado grills. It is not something that immediately occurs to you, but does make sense if you think about it. Kamado grills, like the Big Green Egg, need very little oxygen to maintain a fire. When you lift the lid up you are losing temps, this is true with any type of grill. The cold air you are letting in is not just cold air-it is cold COMBUSTION air. The Kamado grill does not need much oxygen to maintain a fire. You have just exposed the lump to lots of oxygen which gets more coals to ignite or burn hotter. When your temps recover from the initial heat loss, you may find they shoot right past your former temperature and level off 100 degrees (55C) or more higher than before. When it comes to certain operations like glazing, basting or in this case: turning lots of chicken wings, the lid open time can be lengthy. You run the dual risk of extending the cook due temperature losses, as well as overshooting the cooking temp after recovery.
Enter the AR:I have written many blogs about the Adjustable Rig (AR), which I will link to below. One of the unexpected bonuses of using the AR, is if you need to “service” the food you can remove the entire AR. This includes the food, grates, drip pan, pizza stone etc and it can all be done in one operation. This allows you remove the AR and food off the Egg to get the lid of the Egg closed quickly. In fact the minimal temperature losses you do get, are often gone by the time you need to reopen the lid to add the food back on. Until this time I had only done this with indirect cooks where I removed the AR, the pizza stone and the grill grids along with the food. This day I would be grilling raised direct with an 18” s/s grill set at Level 6. To those of you who don’t understand the lingo, this translates to a grid that is 6” (15 cm) above the ceramic fire ring and a little under 2” (5 cm) above the felt line (gasket). The ceramic fire ring is what the grill grids of the Big Green Egg normally rest on if you aren’t using the AR. This puts the grids 4” (10 cm) below the felt line and it isn’t a simple operation to remove this grid during a cook. There is a grid lifter tool which I own, but trying to use this to lift a grid full of food and set it down on something safely is not realistic. There are too many ways to fail. But with a grid at Level 6 above the felt line, it is easily accessible and can be grabbed with a pair of thick welders gloves. Lastly with the grill grid off the grill to receive the wings, it was easy to add some wood chunks just before placing the grill grid and wings back on the grill.
The Solution: It occurred to me that cooking 36 chicken wings was going to result in 4 extended length periods where the lid would need to be open for long periods of time. I’d need to add the wings onto the grill grids initially, turn the wings midway through, near the end I’d need to remove them to sauce them and then add them back to firm up the skin. The recipe had me cooking these wings raised direct using the AR. Using the AR got me thinking about the possibility of removing the grid to perform these tasks. Now I could remove the whole AR, and land it on a piece of foil on my Corian cooling pad on my grill cabinet’s counter. But with the shelf on the AR at Level 6, that would put it at 6” (15 cm) above the countertop. This might be too high to easily work with. For one or two larger items: no problem, but this would be 36 chicken wings. My solution was this. I would use a 1/2 sheet pan (12” x 18” / 30 cm x 45 cm) to lift the grill grid up off the Corian. Because the 18” (45 cm) diameter grill grid was bigger than the sheet pan, I would put down a large piece of aluminum foil first to catch any drippings that missed falling into the sheet pan. When placing the wings on the grid, I also tried to confine them to the area where any drippings would fall over the sheet pan. I have some heavy duty welders gloves I could use to grab the grill grid. With the grill grid 2” (5 cm) above the felt line it would be easily accessible. I simply needed to grab the grill grid on each side and move it 2 feet (60 cm) to the side and place it over the sheet pan on the counter. Then I could close the lid and work on the food off the Egg. I could work fast, but not feel the same urge to really rush because every second with the lid opens was bad.
The End Results: This worked like a charm. It was easy to move the grill grid on and off the Egg, even loaded with the chicken wings. I was able to work quickly and easily but I did not feel the same urge to rush that I would have with the lid open. Plus I was able to take the gloves off while I worked, because I wasn’t working directly over the hot grill. This made the process move faster too. This lid was open for only 30-45 seconds and the temperature losses were 25 degrees (13 C). By the time I got done turning the wings the Egg was already back to temperature. I wasn’t involved with trying to guess how long to extend the cook to adjust for the temperature losses - there were none. I originally was going to bring the wings inside to toss them in the Buffalo sauce, but I changed this plan mid-stream. I poured the heated sauce into a large bowl and took it out to the grill. I took the grill grid and chicken wings off the Egg and tilted the grill grid and “poured” the wings into the bowl. I donned heat resistant “rubber” gloves and used those to toss the wings in the sauce by hand. After tossing the wings in the sauce, and still wearing the “rubber” gloves, I placed the wings back on the grill grid. Then I returned the grill grid to the Egg wearing the welders gloves. Everything was done out at the grill and I probably saved 5 additional minutes saucing the wings right out at the Egg. Plus it was easier to boot. This was a very successful experiment and I think it will be a keeper.
Potential Problems: There are a few problems with this method, but I feel the risk is worth the benefits.
By taking the food off the grill, you are handling the food more. You run the risk of potentially dropping some or all of the food if you have an accident.
- You run the risk of burning yourself. BE CAREFUL!!! Be sure that the gloves you use are up to grabbing a hot grill grate and holding it for a minute or so. El Cheapo thin gloves need not apply. In my case, I had already used these same leather welders gloves to remove a hot Platesetter from one of my Eggs, so I knew it could handle this task. When I did this for the first time, I was removing the hot grill grid to add food to it, so I was working with an empty grill grid. This was a bit of a proof of concept run. I was able to see how easy it was to grab the grill grid and remove it from the AR and get it off the Egg. I didn’t have to worry about losing food off the grill grid.
- This might not work as well for a grill grid that is really packed with food. It would be more difficult to grab and handle. This isn’t a big problem for me because I don’t try to over crowd my grill grids.
- This might not work as well with heavy items. This technique worked well because the chicken wings were light and didn’t add much weight to the grill grid. Nor did they affect the balance of the grill grid like heavier items could. If I was cooking heavier items I would go back to removing the entire AR vs. just the grid. Even though it is heavier this way, the top shelf rim doubles as a handle and makes the assembly easy to handle.
- I will have to wait for the cold weather to see if there are any issues caused by having the food out in the cold air while you are turning it or working with it. It may extend the cooking time, but that remains to be seen.
- Be sure to protect your work surface from heat. The piece of Corian I use serves to protect the granite counter top from the high heat. The sheet pan served to elevate the grill grid so the food wasn’t directly touching the Corian piece and further protected it from some of the heat.
- Be sure to protect the counter top from food drippings. I laid down a large piece of aluminum foil to catch any food drippings from partially cooked chicken and protect the counter top. The sheet pan also served this purpose, but wasn’t as big as the grill grid which is why I also used the foil.
CONCLUSION: I seem to have stumbled on to a couple unexpected solutions to real world problems. They’re not something you might run into in a text book, but going by the book isn’t always going to offer you solutions to quirky little problems. So give one or both of these solutions a try and let me know what you think. Leave comments here about what you liked or didn’t like about these solutions. If you have any improvements or other ideas please let me know.
SOME RELATED LINKS:Here are links to Stump Chunks and the Adjustable Rig were covered in previous full length blog entries.
STUMP CHUNKS FIRE STARTERS 2015 Blog Entry about my first impressions and my early experiences using Stump Chunks fire starters.
STUMP CHUNKS WEBSITE
The Adjustable Rig:
THE ADJUSTABLE RIG - FIRST IMPRESSIONS 2014 Blog Entry about the Adjustable Rig, a combination of my unboxing type impressions and my early experiences.
GETTING TO KNOW THE ADJUSTABLE RIG 2014 Blog Entry about my first four months using Adjustable Rig including some unexpected and pleasant surprises.
AR RAISED INDIRECT BAKING - FIRST IMPRESSIONS 2014 Blog Entry about my first attempt at baking raised indirect on the Rig Extender at Level 7.5 of the AR.
ADJUSTABLE RIG-SEEING DOUBLE 2014 Blog Entry about my rationale behind getting a second AR for use on my baking Egg..
ADJUSTABLE RIG WEBSITE
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