Starting with 2006’s BBQ blog, I have written a year end wrap up summing up my past year pursuing this hobby. At years end everybody in the media seems to do some sort of Top !0 list. In my case I have reduced it to several Top 5 lists. The list helps me to think about what I have learned during the last year, plus I also use it to chart my course for the next year. By looking at my previous years blog I can see just how I did in reaching my goals. Many times I may not do everything I wanted to, but by reviewing the list from last year it is easy to see what I missed doing and add those items to this years list. Plus it is sometimes fun for me to reread the lists for each year to see my progression pursuing this hobby. 2015 year was a year with many changes and events. Serious illnesses suffered by both my parents and the eventual passing of my mother meant I was pretty much away from any grilling activities for nearly 5 months. Now that my father is healthy again I am continuing the tradition of having him over for a family meal on Saturdays. I often bring him over early so he can spend some time here just hanging around, watching a movie etc. When I put together this years QUE CALENDARI discovered I had still made quite a bit of food this year. This was due to the fact I was often cooking not just one, but 2 to 5 items for a meal. One of the reasons I was doing more multi-item cooks was the purchase of two Pit Controllers in the last year. They help free up my time on multi-item cooks and sometimes even give me some time to spend with my guests while the BBQ Gurus keep the Eggs under control.
My 3rd Egg which I picked up in September 2014, is dedicated baking Egg where I use no smoking woods on it. I use this for baked goods, deep dish pizza and desserts. This has made for many more multi-item cooks where in addition to the main dish, I often make rolls and one or more desserts. I added the second pit controller to help run this Egg. Now the pit controllers take over on the Egg I am making my main meal on, and the Egg I am baking on. I keep an eye on the third Egg, which is often used for direct grilling, This has made multi-item, multi-Egg cooks much easier and makes doing them part of my regular routine.
This past year was truly a year where I refined my process. The two pit controllers were the biggest change, but I also switched to a new brand of lump charcoal and found a new way to light the charcoal. This new lighting method also solved a problem I had lighting low-medium low temperature fires for direct grilling. It also made it possible to light the Eggs and get them to temperature in 10 minutes or less. I also feel like this year I have become one with the two Adjustable Rigs I bought in 2013 / 2014. I feel like I understand the basics of the set up possibilities and I have also learned some very useful tricks along the way. I also feel a lot more comfortable doing large multi-item cooks for holidays and special occasions. Towards the end of this year I refined my process for doing multi-item wok cooks. All of this adds up to being able to do more with less work.
The lists in this blog entry consists of the Top 5 Items Cooked in 2015, which is self explanatory. However there is also a Top 5 New Items Cooked in 2015 list. Some years the Top 5 Items Cooked list tended to contain food items that were my favorite foods too. So because I liked pulled pork if I made a pulled pork recipe that year it would usually end up on this list. Rather than have this list be populated with many of the same type things year after year, I added the Top 5 New Items cooked. This made room for some new entries that were very good and worthy of being on the Top 5 list, but might be crowded out by new versions of old favorites. Now that I have 3 Eggs I often use one for the main dish, one for the sides and one for rolls and desserts. As a result, I am making more side dishes and regularly baking on the Egg. So there are now separate lists for Top 3 Sides, Top 3 Baked Goods and Top 3 Desserts.
TOP 5 ITEMS COOKED IN 2015
Honey Curry Glazed Lamb (04-04-14)
For Easter I was looking for a new lamb recipe and this one turned out some of the best lamb chops I have made. The lamb received a spice rub prior to searing. I set up one Egg with two Big Green Egg half moon grill griddles to do this. The lamb was rubbed with a honey glaze after it was seared and was finished indirectly at 425 degrees (218 C) which I did on a second Egg. The direct grilling portion was interesting to say the least. The 40-50 MPH (64-80 kPH) winds fanned the flames and I had to wear long welders gloves to place or turn the food. It made stability a bit problematic too. But I was able to get the job done and finish the chops indirectly. The indirect part was easy because the Cyber Q WiFi had this Egg stabilized at 425 (218 C) and the 3 food probes allowed me to measure the doneness of each rack. The end result was 3 perfectly cooked racks of lamb. The lamb was served on a bed of oven roasted cranberries and grapes. The chops were so good, everyone had one or two more than normal. I was glad I added the 3rd rack at the last minute.
The Baltimore Pit Beef Sandwich is one of my favorite sandwiches. This recipe from Eric Mitchell’s Smoke It LIKE A PROproduced the best sandwich of this type I have ever had. There were several things that made it different from the other recipes I have tried, besides the obvious name difference. The cut of meat used was top sirloin vs. top round which I am sure helped in the tenderness department. The second difference was the spice rub went on just before cooking as opposed to the night before. This makes the recipe easier & quicker to make. The last difference was the cooking method. Typically the meat is cooked at a high temperature directly for the entire time. This recipe used medium heat and had you sear the beef directly and then finish it indirectly with wood smoke. This version of the sandwich was the most tender and moist version I have made to date. The addition of smoke from hickory chunks put this recipe over the top. The beef is taken to rare and is thin sliced after it rests. The meat is served on Kaiser rolls topped with a mayo/horseradish sauce, called Tiger sauce, and some thinly sliced onions.
Brunswick Stew is an everything-but-the Kitchen-sink stew which traditionally used whatever you had in your fridge and pantry. This recipe from Fred Thompson’s Kamado Grill Cookbook used smoked beef, pork and chicken as the meats together with a slew of veggies. I have made this type of stew several times and every recipe has been great. Each bite is a flavor explosion and each spoonful of stew is different from every other. Like many stews, this stew gets better over time.
FAIL:This recipe shows a picture of a 5 Qt cast iron Dutch oven half full and implies you can use this size. If you add up the volume of the ingredients, they add up to more than 5 Qt. I used a 6 Qt which was filled almost to the top.
This recipe from SMOKE IT LIKE A PROwas a real winner. It made my Favorites list for Beef. My butcher planted the seeds for this when I bought some Beef back ribs a few weeks earlier. He asked if I had ever tried short ribs. He felt I might like them better because they were meatier than back ribs. I had only seen recipes where these type of ribs were braised, but SMOKE IT LIKE A PROhad a recipe for smoking them. The ribs are cooked in a similar fashion to many pulled pork recipes I have made. The ribs are rubbed and placed on the Egg for several hours to smoke at 250 degrees (120 C). When the ribs reached 160 degrees (71 C) internal temperature they were removed from the Egg. The ribs were placed in foil packets with a liquid, placed back on the Egg and cooked until they reached 200 degrees (93 C) internal temperature. The finished ribs had a crisp tasty outer bark, moist flavorful meat with great beef and smoke flavor. As promised, these ribs were indeed meatier than Beef back ribs. I have since used Beef short rib meat with great success in a stir-fry and I think I will move away from back ribs. Back ribs are hard to get with a lot of meat still left on the bone. If you are thinking of trying Beef short ribs you won’t go wrong with this recipe.
This deep dish pizza was the first double crust deep dish pizza I had made. I adapted the recipe from Weber’s Summer Grilling 2015 changing it from being direct grilled in a cast iron skillet to being indirect grilled in my BGE ceramic deep dish pizza pan. There was a full page picture of the pie and the second I saw it, I knew I had to make it. I was intrigued by the idea of a second layer of sauce and cheese on top of the upper crust. There were many layers of tasty ingredients, some of which were sautéed to help soften them up and release some of their flavors. The pizza took a bit longer to make and bake than other single crust deep dish pizzas I have made, but the extra work and longer wait were worth the effort. Everyone ate themselves past full, having one more slice than they thought they could eat.
See: STUFFED PIZZAPizza & More Picture Entry ________________________
TOP 5 NEW ITEMS COOKED IN 2015
Italian Sausage Smoke Bomb (01-17-15)
I love smoked meatloaf. It is one of my favorite comfort foods in the world. This recipe from the amazing ribs.com website put several interesting twists on a typical smoked meatloaf recipe. The meat was no a blend of beef, pork and veal. Instead it was ground hot Italian sausage. The meat was spread out into a rectangle and topped with some tasty fillings and rolled up into something resembling a pinwheel roast. Then it was completely wrapped in bacon. The final touch was the meatloaf was smoked on a cedar plank. This recipe had a subtitle of “The Ultimate Meatloaf Recipe” and I have no reason to argue with that. It was amazing inside and out.
Egg Drop Soup is one of my favorite soups. I have been known to patronize certain Chinese or Szechuan restaurants purely for their Egg Drop Soup. Toward the end of 2015 I picked up a new cookbook called: The Essential Wok Cookbook, which was said to help you reproduce your Chinese restaurant favorites at home. The fact it had Egg Drop Soup was reason enough for me to buy it. The recipe was made in a wok, which surprised me a bit. It was one of the easier stir fries I have made and the soup tasted as good or better than any version I have had in a restaurant.
See: EGG DROP SOUPSoups-& Stews Picture Entry ________________________
Best Beef Brisket Hash (12-05-15)
I have never liked any kind of hash. I used to gladly choose going to bed early without my supper, over eating hash. But when I saw this recipe for beef hash using smoked beef brisket in SMOKE IT LIKE A PROI had to try it. The idea of using a smoked meat as the basis for a hash really appealed to me, as did some of the new to me veggies used. I had never used fresh turnip or parsnips before and all of the various veggies used sounded interesting. The veggies were cubed and simmered for 30 minutes in beef broth until soft. The veggies were removed from the broth and the broth was reserved. Both were refrigerated over night. The next day the broth and veggies were recombined and the beef brisket was cubed and added in. The hash was cooked using my Big Green Egg Half Moon Cast Iron Grill Griddle. It was plated, topped with 6 poached eggs and sprinkled with a rub. The was the first hash I have ever liked, as evidenced by its inclusion on this list.
Another winner from SMOKE IT LIKE A PRO. A calzone is similar to a pizza, but the dough is folded over the ingredients like a turnover. A stromboli is similar to a pizza, but the dough is rolled around the ingredients. The pizza dough was rolled out into a rectangular shape and layers of smoked turkey, smoked ham and Genoa salami were placed in the middle. The meat was seasoned with Italian seasoning, salt and pepper next. This was topped with smoked red peppers and provolone cheese. The crust was rolled around the fillings like a large log. The outside was brushed with EVOO and seasoned with more Italian seasoning. The stromboli was baked on the Egg on the cream pizza stone. The final product had amazing flavor both inside and out. See: ITALIAN COLD CUTS STROMBOLIPizza & More Picture Entry ________________________
Biscuit Breakfast Pudding (04-25-15)
Fred Thompson’s The Kamado Grill Cookbookwas the source for this recipe. It makes a very hearty meal that can be served any time of the day. A 9x13” (23 x 33 cm) glass dish was lined with baked buttermilk biscuits. Next came some grilled breakfast sausage mixture which had flour and milk added to it to form a gravy. This was topped with eggs and torn piece of the biscuits. Last came a blend of cheddar and Gruyere cheese. The pudding was baked on the Egg indirectly for just under 30 minutes. This made for a very rich and filling mixture which was very light and fluffy.
This category was added in 2012 as Top 5 Sides & Desserts. I am making many more Sides as well as Desserts so I have split this category up into two separate lists. The Top 3 Sides List has had the name changed to Top 3 Sides & Veggies. In addition I have added a Top 3 Desserts list.
Summer Succotash (09-15-15)
This veggie dish from SMOKE IT LIKE A PROwasn’t just one of the best veggie dishes I have ever tasted. This is one of the best dishes of ANY KIND I have ever tasted. I had a vision of it cooked by the cookbook’s author, Eric Mitchell, at my dealers Customer Appreciation Day. As soon as I took my first bite, I knew I had to make this at home next time out. Usually I pick the main dish and try to come up with sides, baked goods and dessert to suit the main dish. I actually based the meal featuring the succotash around the succotash. The succotash was made on the wok and the quick intense cook gave the veggies a nice crispy snap on the outside. This is definitely one of the best dishes of any kind I have had.
Yet another great dish from SMOKE IT LIKE A PRO. I made these to go with BOURBON GLAZED PORK CHOPSand they were a great pairing. The carrots were sautéed in the Big Green Egg Dutch oven, then some honey and seasonings were added and lastly the bourbon. At this point the carrots looked and smelled great. Then I made a mistake that caused a bit of a cosmetic problem with them, but fortunately it didn’t affect the taste. The pork chops ran long and I tried holding the carrots in the oven at 170F (77 C). When they emerged some of the skin was a darker black color. Fortunately it did not impact the flavor and these were some of the best carrots I have made on the grill.
This Adam Perry Lang take on a foil packet recipe from SERIOUS BARBECUE , turned out some tasty potatoes with a relatively small amount of work, particularly for an APL recipe. One thing I did to make the recipe even easier was to use real Old Bay Seasoning rather than the knock off version in the recipe. Foil packet dishes turn out very tasty because the ingredients are steamed and all of the flavors merge. This one had some particularly good flavor blends and went great with the chuck roast I was serving this day. The reality is this side would pair well with just about anything.
The Top 3 list for this category was added in 2014 year to cover non-dessert baked goods such as breads, rolls, scones etc. With the addition of my dedicated baking Egg in 2014 I have been doing many more baked goods, I am sure it will eventually become a Top 5 list in future years. This year recipes from the King Arthur Flour website took all 3 spots on the list.
New England Thanksgiving Bread (11-27-14)
This tasty seasonal recipe, which came from the King Arthur Flour website, turned out a tasty regional bread that featured three different fruit fillings. The bread was a bit of work and very time consuming with multiple rises, but the great flavor made it well worth the effort. The combination of whole wheat flour used together with all-purpose flour made for a great rustic flavored bread. The use of 3 fruit fillings made each bite taste a little different from the last and the next. When we gathered for Christmas dinner one month later, people were still talking about this bread.
Another holiday themed recipe from the King Arthur Flour website. I must admit that I did not know that these buns weren’t just made this time of year, they were specifically made for Easter. The baking process was a medium difficulty level. It wasn’t a no-rise quick bread, but the two rises required were relatively short. The “X” on the rolls which literally is intended to represent a cross, marked my first attempt to use a pastry bag. It was a little easier than I thought, but I will need more practice. Since I really liked these buns, I am sure I will have the opportunity for more practice. One last surprise when I got around to eating was these tasty buns had a texture that was more like a muffin than a bun. See: HOT CROSS BUNSBaking Picture Entry ________________________
Scone Pan Biscuits (12-05-15)
Yet another King Arthur Flour recipe made an interesting hybrid between a buttermilk/baking powder biscuit and a scone. This was a quick bread with no rise time. It got around a problem of excess dryness some people typically associate with scones by including pea-sized cubes of butter in the batter. These biscuits were actually quick and easy to make and were baked in a scone pan. The resulting biscuits truly were a hybrid. They had the great flavor of buttermilk biscuits, but they had the texture of a scone. The interior was very moist and buttery which meant the butter cubes in the batter had accomplished their mission.
This category was added for the 2014 list because I was making many more sides. Now that I have a dedicated baking Egg, this trend had continued. While I was not surprised that recipes from King Arthur Flour took ll 3 places in the Top 3 Baked Goods category, I was VERY surprised to find thatSMOKE IT LIKE A PROswept the desserts category. Two of the three desserts here also made my list of Favorite Desserts. Many times desserts tend to be an after-thought in general interest cookbooks. But author Eric Mitchell seems to like the same kinds of desserts I do and has easy to do recipes for them. This isn’t a total shock where he is a fellow New Englander too.
Creme Brule (03-27-15)
Eric Mitchell’s SMOKE IT LIKE A PROwas THE cookbook or 2015 for me. Creme Brule is a favorite dessert and I never expected to make it myself, let alone make it on a grill. The recipe was relatively easy to make, with the most difficult part being getting a pan full of boiling water out to the Egg. In retrospect, this can be easily solved by bringing a kettle of boiling water out to the grill and adding it to the water pan next to the grill. The next hardest part of this recipe was waiting for the final product to complete its time in the fridge before you can dig in. The creme brule was as good as any I have eaten in fine restaurants. See: CREME BRULEDessert Picture Entry ________________________
Hermits II (04-04-15)
This item, once again from SMOKE IT LIKE A PRO, could also have been number 1 on this list. These are my new go-to Hermits recipe, replacing a Cook’s Illustrated recipe from my Favorite Desserts list. They have great flavor and are quicker to make. This recipe does not require time in the refrigerator after the batter is mixed, the hermits go straight out to the grill. Hermits are regional New England favorites and when I made this recipe I was asked to make a double batch. Where Hermits improve with age making a double batch is not a risky proposition and they are the perfect make ahead recipe.
SMOKE IT LIKE A PROswept the Desserts category this year. These cookies were made as part of the meal I focussed around SUMMER SUCCOTASH, which also made this years Top 3 Sides list. These cookies were made with a nod to my dad who likes oatmeal cookies, but not oatmeal RAISIN cookies. This recipe made a typical oatmeal cookie and used dried cranberries instead of the raisins. To everyones surprise, they felt these cookies were as good or better than oatmeal raisin cookies. See: CRANBERRY OATMEAL COOKIESDesserts Picture Entry ________________________
TOP 5 iOS COOKING RELATED APPS
This list was added in 2012 and had been somewhat the same. This year marks the biggest change in this list. There is a new app: CyberCook which makes using the BBQ Guru CyberQ WiFi easier to use and gives it new features like graphing your cooks. I am also adding the Apple Watch. Yes this isn’t a iOS app, but like these apps the Apple Watch is an extension of the iPhone which gives you additional functionality. All of these apps help make cooking outdoors easier and more fun. While this list is iOS specific, many of these apps or something like them are available for other smartphone platforms.
Grocery Gadgets (Pingwell Software)
This is the second grocery shopping app I have used. Once it is set up, Grocery Gadgets is powerful and using it day to day is easy. Where I have all of the groceries I typically buy stored in the app, it has really come into it’s own this year. Some of the nice features are: You can recreate the aisle structure of each store and organize the products by aisle for that store. There is cloud integration which backs up your lists and allows multiple devices to share the lists even real time at the market. Two people can go shopping and their lists will be updated realtime with the others purchases. Your spouse can even make a change to the list at home and you will get a push notification at the store. There is a web portal that allows you to perform editing tasks via a web browser on your computer for greater ease of use. The app allows you to have customized lists for multiple stores. These lists can contain custom aisle layouts, product lists, pricing and coupons. You are able to use your devices camera to input a product via its barcode. The software supports all of the major smart phone platforms. This is all good, but I am getting nervous because this app has not been updated for several years now.
This is a companion app for the BBQ Guru CyberQ WiFi, which makes the CyberQ easier to use and adds or extends features. There are several of these apps out there, But for my money this was the most polished version with the best features. One of the great usability features is that the touch interface of CyberCook is far easier to use for settings than the 4 arrows and center button scrolling menu system used on the CyberQ. The ability to create an attractive graph of your cooks is huge. You can call up other cooks in your history to see how this one compares. When setup correctly you can control the CyberQ over WiFi from anywhere in the world. This means you can run some local errands and monitor your cook from your iPhone or iPad. There are separate versions for the iPhone and iPad with interfaces tailored to the screen real estate of those devices. If you have a CyberQ WiFi definitely look into this app. The blog link below is to a rather extensive review I wrote about this app.
A handy calculator for converting from Imperial to other Imperial units or Metric to Imperial. It seems these days many recipes are starting to use metric units and I convert the recipes back to Imperial when I add them into my recipe management software. Also at the supermarket, many world foods are described in metric units and I am able to convert back to Imperial units. As mentioned you can also convert within measurement systems: How many teaspoons in a tablespoon. This can come in handy when you are up-sizing or down sizing a recipe and you need to use different units to be more precise. You might end up with a measurement of 1 1/3 Tbsp and there isn’t a 1/3 Tbsp measuring spoon. But by checking Teaspoons you will find the 1 1/3 Tbsp = 3.99 Tsp or 4 Tsp. Under the temperature portion of the interface is a handy chart of fahrenheit temperatures and their celsius equivalents. The chart covers the range from 225 F (110 C) and goes up in 25 degree intervals to 500 F (260 C) which has you covered for typical smoking and grilling temps. This is a convenient calculator to have for other uses besides cooking.
This past August I had two parents in and out of the hospital and I simply couldn’t afford to miss phone calls from their various doctors. I also needed to be able to take and make calls while I was driving for the same reason. Enter the Apple Watch. The haptic feedback where it vibrates against your wrist means you are far less likely to miss calls, alarms or other alerts. Now that I am back to cooking regularly again, I am finding some BBQ related uses for the watch. With the release of Watch OS2 I expect to see some more. For now one of the advantages is the not missing phone calls, only this time it is when I am out at the grill. The Apple Watch replaced the iOS Clock app on this years list. Once again it is easier having the clock functions (alarm, count up timer, count down timer) right on your wrist. You can also receive reminders on the watch no matter where you are. The Apple Watch allows you to keep your iPhone in your pocket all day and still use most of it’s functionality. You also can leave the phone charging somewhere in the house and the Apple Watch has you covered. This comes in handy when you are cooking. You can take a call and keep the phone in your pocket or in your house. By setting your notification preferences you can filter down the notifications to just the items you feel are absolutely necessary to see on the watch. Often you can glance at the watch without giving away what your doing, unlike pulling the iPhone out of your pocket. Right now the watch is a work in progress. It has some very convenient features to make your life easier when you want to stay in touch while cooking outdoors. The phone remains in your pocket most of the time: out of sight, out of mind. I have found there have been several instances where my phone’s battery ran down because the phone hadn’t left my pocket for two days. I am hoping the release of Watch OS 2 will mark the release of some good cooking related apps for the watch. I plan to write a future blog entry on the watch, but I am waiting for some of the pieces to fall into place. ________________________
Dark Sky (The Dark Sky Company, L.L.C.)
Most of the text of this entry is from last years version of this list. There is one new change I will mention at the end RE: the release of an Apple Watch version of this app. I will italicize this new information.
I used to really love this app and actually used to use it for the pure fun of it. An update changed all of that. The app originally told you with a high degree of accuracy, measured in mere minutes, when it is going to start raining or snowing and the expected intensity in the next hour. By looking only one hour into the future this app tends to be very accurate. The app also sends you an alert on your iPhone or iPad if it is going to start raining. A subsequent update changed all of this in two ways. The app added a bunch of new features in an attempt to become a full fledged weather app. The second item was the program has a flatter look and feel ala iOS 7. Frankly the addition of the additional weather functionality is unnecessary clutter for me. I have other apps I prefer to use for this information and the new user interface makes a lot of the additional information hard to comprehend, The new user interface also took much of the joy and wonder I used to feel using Dark Sky. I find the presentation of the information is harder to comprehend and I get less out of it. So this app is still very useful, but now I use it because I have to and not just for fun sometimes like I used to.
2015 marked the release of Watch OS app for the Apple Watch. With the release of Watch OS2, Apple added the ability for third party watch apps to have a feature called a Complication. A complication is an icon you can add to your watch face that allows you to directly call up specific apps by tapping on its icon on the main watch face. Dark Skies added a Complication feature, but I am rather underwhelmed by both the Watch OS version of the app and its Complication. To me the Watch OS version of Dark Sky doesn’t present a whole lot of useful information above and beyond the built in weather app that comes on the watch. The additional information is buried several levels deep. But the Watch app is included as part of the iOS iPhone app. So don’t let this color your judgement of the iOS app.
Pit Controllers Have Many Valid Use Cases on Kamado Grills
I really never saw the point of using a pit controller on a Kamado Grill like the Big Green Egg. A Kamado grill was so stable by itself, especially compared to my old CG Smoking’ Pro horizontal barrel smoker. Once I picked up the CyberQ WiFi just before last Christmas, I quickly changed my tune. Having three Big Green Eggs and cooking on all 3 at once meant more of my time was being consumed tending to the grills. Kamado grills require far less adjustments than other types of grills, but using 3 grills means 3x the amount of adjustments. Often the timing of these adjustments did not coincide with each other, so that one trip out to the Egg didn’t take care of adjustments on all 3 Eggs. When I added the first pit controller, I found I could light the Egg and then ignore it while I continued my prep in the Kitchen. When it was time to put the food on I was 99 percent sure the Egg would be exactly at the temp I wanted. I could monitor the rest of the cook from the comforts of my Kitchen and focus on other things. The CyberQ WiFi allowed me to keep an eye on things from anywhere I could get internet access. With the CyberCook software I could graph my cooks. I could do overnight cooks without having to stay up to take temperature readings and babysit the grill. I could sleep confidently knowing in the unlikely event something went wrong, I would receive an alert. I soon saw a use case for adding a second controller for my baking Egg. With these two pit controllers on the job I had more time to devote to prep and other tasks. I only had to keep an eye on the third Egg. Multi-item cooks suddenly became far easier and less stressful
This item is a repeat from 2013 & 2014, but the more I learn the more I see this is key to a stable cook. Allowing more time for the BGE to warm up, has proven to have several benefits. These benefits are even greater over the course of a long cook. The first benefit is a longer warm-up assures you that you are stabilized at your desired temp. Instead of putting the food on and having the temperature drop leaving you wondering whether to adjust the temperature or not. You can often leave things alone and the temps will quickly get back to where they were. The second benefit is you are much more immune to the effects of cold weather. All of the ceramics have been heated to their final temperature for the cook. You can open the grill lid and when you close it the temps will drop, but most of the time they quickly return to their prior setting and you can return to your work and not sweat it. In fact you need to be sure to close the lid ASAP because the cold air you let in is not only cold air, it is combustion air. A third difference is you are not facing wide variations between dome temperature and grid temperature. When you first start the temps can vary 50-75 or more degrees, and over time they get much closer, more like 20-30 degrees higher in the dome. I had my two large BGEs going for many hours on Thanksgiving of this year. I let them warm up and stabilize for an hour before I put food on either of them. I was rewarded with a cook where I did not have to keep going out to the grills to make any intermediate tweaks. A couple times I was off 5 or 10 degrees which I adjusted when I went out to do something else for the cook, such as flip the turkey over. But it didn’t require a special trip out to the grill. This gave me more quality time for indoor prep and made for a stress free cook. ________________________
Multi-Item Cook Timing Really Does Become Second Nature
This item has been on this list now for four years. I find my process keeps evolving and getting easier over time. When I first started doing large scale, multi-item cooks I would make rather elaborate bar graphs. These helped make sure I was not going to be scheduling myself so I would need to be two places at once or not leaving enough time to cook everything in the time allotted. The next evolution of this was making some quickie charts or graphs showing the desired end time and some major milestones along the way such as lighting the grills, or putting the food on the grill. These rough outlines were far less elaborate and the complexity varied to suit the complexity of what I was making. These days as long as I got the task(s) done in the allotted block of time, I didn’t worry about the specifics. In the last couple of years I’ve found for many cooks I can get buy without any type of chart. I may scribble down a few key times such as: end time, light the grill time, start the whole prep time etc. The rest of it I figure out in my head quickly using the key times as reference points. I make sure there is more than enough time to get everything done without sweating specific details, Now that I have a number of these types of cooks under my belt, I now have some fairly accurate ideas of how long these tasks take overall and can allow enough time without getting bogged down in minutia. As I go along, I figure out what the best order of doing the tasks is. These days I often review the recipes a few days ahead of time to decide which items I may be making ahead. Then I just review the recipes the morning of the day(s) I am going to cook them. Reaching this level is not something I expected, but it was a natural evolution of doing a number of these more complex cooks and seeing what worked well and what didn’t. For Thanksgiving 2014 I had no chart of any kind. This was a first for a big holiday meal. I started with what time I wanted to eat. I worked the time backwards carving, resting, cooking, light the grill, prep the turkey and remove from fridge. I worked the times backwards on the other grill for baking the rolls, baking dessert #1, baking dessert #2, light the grill. Before that I work the times backward for prepping the various items to get them ready to go on the grill. It was very interesting to do this cook in a rather free-form manner. Everything about it was somehow more low key, relaxing and enjoyable. Hobbies are supposed to be enjoyable, so this is exactly what it should be all about. This year the addition of a pit controller(s) made my life even easier. One controlled the warm up and cooking on my baking Egg and the other controlled the Egg where I was smoking the turkey. Even though I was doing the entire meal from A-Z this year, it was no harder for me. I have reached a place where many things are totally second nature. Now I routinely do multi-item cooks without giving it much thought. If you are trying to get started with more complex cooks, just keep pushing forward. Before you know it, things that once seemed way too complex will be come second nature. You won’t have to break the process down and guess how long it will take, you will know. Now I routinely do multi-item cooks without giving it much thought. ________________________
A Different Lighting Method is Required for Low & Medium Low Direct Grilling
There was one use case I had a problem with and I wasn’t alone: lighting a low to medium low temperature fire for direct grilling. One of the Egg’s advantages is its great insulating properties, but it made lighting this type of fire with fire starters difficult. The two or three fire starters would light small amounts of the adjacent charcoal. With the insulating properties of the Egg, you would hit 350 degrees (150 C) with only a small amount of charcoal being lit. You would have two or three separate glowing piles of lump which would not work well for direct grilling the food. Too many temperature variations to try to deal with across the pile of lump. The only solution was to carefully monitor the temps and give the fire 30-45 additional minutes to even out. The solution to this proved to be the Stump Chunks Fire Starters I began using. I found I could spread a thin layer of Stump Chunks across the bed of coals and they would get the grill to that temperature quickly. The trick was to keep and eye on things and get the dampers closed and set as the Stump Chunks were finished lighting. This would leave an even bed of coals across the surface of most of the lump pile. You were evenly lit and ready to go in 8-10 minutes. Stump Chunks also worked well for high temperature fires where you wanted to be lit in less time. Once again you spread the Stump Chunks across most of the coals in an even layer. You just use more of them to reach the higher temperature. In less than 15 minutes I have hit 650 degrees (343 C).
Hobbies are Supposed to be Fun - Take Time to Enjoy Yourself
During the summer of 2014 I realized I was letting the more complex cooks I was doing get under my skin and stress me out. I decided to take a new approach, because I was the only one getting stressed out about some of the delays causing my meals to run late. I told myself “Hobbies are supposed to be fun.” Why should I let something bother me if it wasn’t bothering the people I was cooking for? I began to relax and have more fun with things. I began to try to enjoy the time spent pursuing my hobby. The best way I can put it was: I was stopping to smell the roses. An interesting thing happened. I was enjoying things more and people also noticed the change in me and liked it. I also started having better results. I can’t say there is a cause and effect here, but the last 6 months of 2014 I was on an amazing run. I have turned out some of my best cooks and enjoyed myself more than ever. This past year this run continued. The addition of 2 Pit Controllers freed up some of my time and further reduced my stress levels. As I did more and more multi-item and complex cooks I learned more, refined my processes and everything just became somewhat easier and more natural. Having less unknowns certainly makes things more relaxing. But my attitude has also evolved when the inevitable problems do come up. It is not the end of the world, learn from it, adapt and usually I can make due with what I have. An example of this happened at Thanksgiving. The Pumpkin Cheesecake Roll I was making started to crack. I didn’t get upset like I might have a few years ago. I gave it some thought and thus were born Pumpkin Cheese Cake Squares. I left the cake flat, frosted it and cut it into squares. Everyone loved it and no one knew until I told them. It turned out people liked the smaller portions you got this way. The bottom line was I didn’t get upset, there was no point. Instead I relaxed and figured out a way to make what I had work. Despite this setback, Thanksgiving 2015 was a fun cook as it should be. After all: Hobbies are supposed to be fun.
This section documents some mistakes that come up while grilling. All of them are items I try to do only once, I seem to be able to find new and more creative mistakes to make going forward. Sadly I am beginning to think some of these mistakes may achieve permanent status and some will change from year to year.
Leave Enough Time for Prep
This item is a regular item on this list. I am getting better, but it still ends up being a repeat problem. One of the things that is happening is I am doing more difficult or multi-item cooks. If I am not familiar with what I am making, I tend to underestimate the amount of time it is going to take. One of the things I am doing is taking my estimated times and adding on 30 minutes to an hour. If it takes the time I thought, then I can take a break and relax, but often I end up needing the extra time I added in. But at least this way I not running late, or at least too late. On real complex cooks involving a main dish, sides, rolls, and dessert I simply start as soon as I get up in the morning. If I am running ahead of schedule I can take a break. Once again this rarely happens, but once again I am not too late. One thing I am doing to improve on long prep times, is having my butcher do some of the prep work: Cube stew beef, cut the beef short ribs into thin strips for a stir fry, trim and pound thin chops for me. I take 2 or 3 times longer to do it and this time can be better used for other things. ________________________
Before You Start, Make Sure You Have Everything
Sadly this item is on the list regularly, but I am happy to say things are getting better. I think the main reason things are improving is I am back using a Shopping app. See the entry above for Grocery Gadget. The App makes creating shopping lists easy and I also have created a special shopping list with must have items. When I run out of one of these must have items, I check it off so the next time I am at the market I will restock. I am also trying to force myself not to ASSume I have something in stock. If there is any doubt, I force myself to check. Things are getting much better, but I need to finally get this item off the list. The things tripping me up now are items I think I have around in my fridge or pantry, but don’t. I am either mistaken or there isn’t enough or something is past it’s expiration date. I am trying to force my self to check the status of items “I think I have”. Doing this things are improving. Perhaps it will disappear from this list once and for all. ________________________
Be Sure to Add the Right Ingredients at the Right Time
This item has come up from time to time in the past, although I think this is the first time it has made this list. More than once lately I have either added the wrong ingredient because two ingredients look the same or I have missed adding an ingredient at the correct time. I think I know the reason: I am doing more ambitious cooks. I will sometimes have 3 foods cooking on 3 Eggs, plus some dough in an unlit oven rising and something else being prepped at the same time. A little piece of my brain is probably keeping track of each process. Just be sure that you focus on the prep task at hand. Re-read the directions to make sure you aren’t forgetting something and make sure you are grabbing the right ingredient. Take a little sample to test taste. Or look at the quantities. One might be 1/2 tsp. and the other 1 tsp. so you should be able to tell them apart this way. If not taste test. Baking Powder and Baking Soda look alike, but they sure don’t taste the same. ________________________
Do Not Let the Grill Temps Run Away at Startup (Even with a Pit Controller)
This item first made the list in 2014 even though I have been using an Egg since August of 2012. I think it is a case of trying to do more and having to fire up more grills. But the BGE can have a weird startup that you need to keep an eye on. The Egg may go for 5 or 10 minutes with a very small temperature rise. Then suddenly it can start rising 100 degrees (55 C) in a minute or so. If you aren’t paying attention you can miss the mark by a large amount. A BGE Green Egg is great at maintaining temperatures or quickly raising its temperature, but it is hard to drive the temperatures back down once they have overshot the mark. This is particularly true with a low and slow cook where the dampers are barely open to begin with. The addition of two pit controllers has helped this, but they are not cure alls. With a pit controller you still need to start with the top damper fairly wide open to help get your temperatures to the cooking temperature range quickly. About 50-75 degrees below your desired cook temperature, you still must close the top damper down to the settings you typically use to hold that temperature without the pit controller. Failure to do this and you will still overshoot and pay the consequences. ________________________
Preflight all Cooking Setups in 3 Dimensions on the Egg
Unlike many grills where you are usually worried whether all of the food will fit on the grill grate, with the Egg you are dealing with issues in height too. Due to the domed shaped lid, the higher up in the Egg you are, the less room you have in length, width and depth. This can result in some surprises. I bought a roast pan for my 2014 Thanksgiving turkey that JUST fit in plan but the slight inward curving of the lid at the felt line interfered with closing the lid. Fortunately I had put the pan in a plastic bag to test it and I was able to return it. Several weeks ago I made a bundt cake using the Adjustable Rig (AR) and I set it one notch higher on the AR to bake. When I finished I found that the stem of the dome thermometer had contacted the front lid of the pan and had tilted the pan forward. I had the “leaning tower of bundt cake” where the batter was not level at the bottom due to the tilting of the pan. So I make it a habit of pre-flight testing out all of my setups involving the Adjustable Rig and multi-tiered shelving arrangements. I often clean and refill my Eggs the night before or earlier in the day and I check my intended setups then. For a big roast or a turkey I will wrap the roast in foil or put it in a plastic bag and test it out to make sure the lids closes and has some clearance between the food and the dome. Better to find out this way than putting your food on a hot Egg and finding out it doesn’t fit. Then you run into the issue of not keeping the lid open too long and possible high or runaway temps. ________________________
TOP 5 GRILLING/SMOKING RELATED HAPPENINGS
This section includes items related to my grilling/smoking activities but that are not food items. Examples include BBQ or Cooking Events, Cookbooks, Grills, Grill Accessories that were important contributors to my enjoyment of this hobby.
Smoke It LIKE A PRO (Cookbook)
As you can see from my list of Top Items for this year, this cookbook played a huge part in my grilling and smoking activities this year. Eric Mitchell’s cookbook came out in the Spring and placed 9 items out of the 18 items on this list this year. Four of these recipes also made my all-time favorites list. I have met Eric and his wife Cindi at several different BGE related events around New England and have sampled their food at least a dozen times. Seeing the wide variety of foods Eric used the Egg to cook really opened my eyes to the fact that with a Kamado grill you were limited only by your imagination. This book has a wide variety of items you can cook on the Egg or any other Kamado grill. I am eagerly awaiting his next cookbook, but meanwhile I still have plenty of things left to try from this cookbook. If you wish to learn more about this cookbook, you can read the blog I wrote when the cookbook came out.
If you had asked me a year and one half ago about getting a pit controller for a Big Green Egg used for backyard BBQ, I might have laughed at you. But with the addition of a third Egg and my often cooking on three Eggs, things changed. I found that although one Egg doesn’t require a lot of babysitting and tweaking, three Eggs needing to be attended to at their own separate times do add up to some significant time running out to the grill. I decided to get the BBQ Guru CyberQ WiFi, which could be controlled remotely over the internet. It also gave me the capability of graphing cooks with the addition of third party software. Also the CyberQ took all worries out of overnight cooks. Problems might still happen, but I would find out about them when they happened, not several hours later when I woke up. My first use of the CyberQ WiFi was on an expensive beef standing rib roast, and it handled that cook easily and accurately. I gained back both time and some extra peace of mind. Soon I realized the Egg I used for baking could benefit from the use of a pit controller. In this case it could be simpler, So I got the simpler DigiQ which included just the features required for baking and saved me some money in the process.
Road Trip to Tasty Licks BBQ - Shillington, PA (May 15 & 16, 2015)
With everything else going on in my life this year, I knew Eggtoberfest was not in the cards for 2015. I needed a mental health break and what better break than a leisurely drive down to Amish country in Pennsylvania to see one of the bigger BBQ stores in the US. This was my Eggtoberfest substitution. You may have seen Fred Bernardo aka “The Smoking’ Guitar Player’s” grilling/smoking related videos on YouTube, where he sometimes also shows his store Tasty Licks BBQ in Shillington, PA. Despite the fact the store recently downsized somewhat the trip was still successful as a grilling related mental health break. If you are interested I covered the trip and the store in a blog entry.
This was my third trip to this regional Eggfest sponsored by the New England Big Green Egg distributer in Brentwood, NH. It is a small scale version of EGGtoberfest, but 10 percent of the size: Tens of cooks and hundreds of tasters as opposed to hundreds of cooks and thousands of tasters for Eggtoberfest. The day starts at 9:00 and goes to 3:00. Last year there were less booths and less people. This year I think the events sponsors adapted to the new realities and designed the event from the ground up around less booths and a smaller crowd. I heard they had sold out most of the tickets they had so it looks like they were intentionally trying to keep the crowd down to a manageable number. This meant the lines to taste food coming off the Eggs were shorter and you spent more time circulating and less time in lines. As this year’s event proved, bigger isn’t always better. I met some interesting people and tried some interesting food. If you are interested in reading more about NewEgglandfest I have written a blog about it.
This item was a total surprise to me and something I really didn’t think I needed. I received a sample bag to try out and the first attempt was pretty much a failure. This was user error. I soon found out that this product was a good fire starter AND it had the bonus of solving two issues lighting two type of fires on the Egg. The first was a low temperature direct grilling session and the second was getting a real high temperature fire lit quickly. The second item was more an item of convenience. The first however was a real problem that up until this point I didn’t have an answer to. A quicker and easier fire works for me.
This year was a different kind of year for me, where I had to spend many months dealing with more important issues than grilling. The last 3 years have marked big changes: I picked up 3 Large Big Green Eggs, my indoor Kitchen was renovated, I got a grill gazebo, and I am about 50 percent of the way along in the process of getting my outdoor kitchen set up. Now that these items are in place the next few years will be less dramatic changes and more about refining my processes, doing more multi-item cooks and learning how to make new things on my Eggs. What time I did grill this year was the start of this new era. I did more multi-item cooks, changed how I monitor my cooks and found a new and better way to light some of my Eggs.
Continue to Learn More About the Big Green Egg
My trips to the NewEGGlandfest and EGGtoberfest , plus the release this year of the SMOKE IT LIKE A PRO cookbook have shown me I have only just begun to scratch the surface of what I can cook on my BGE. The only limits to what I can do are self-imposed limits. ________________________
Explore Deep Fat Frying
I have tasted items that Eric Mitchell has deep fried using the BGE Dutch oven at various local Eggfests. He has several recipes in SMOKE IT LIKE A PRO that look really good to me. I want to experiment with deep fat frying. Doing it outdoors on the Egg keeps the mess and the smell out of the kitchen and seems safe than doing it indoors.. ________________________
Do Some More Long Term Low and Slow Cooks
Now that I have the CyberQ WiFi pit controller and I know it takes any and all drudgery and risk out of an overnight cooks, I want to make more Low & Slow BBQ than I have been recently. Low and Slow cooks no longer require the kind of investment in time and sleep (lack of) they used to. The Egg is an excellent smoker and I want to start taking advantage of that. ________________________
Make More Fish
This item keeps going on and off the list. I really wanted to grill and smoke more fish this year now that I had a good comfort level with my Eggs. Sadly it didn’t happen, but one thing that this list does for me is allows me to set goals and see if I achieved them. In this case in 2014 I failed miserably, but it is back on my list for 2015. I also picked up a Craftsy class on grilling fish, so I hope this will encourage me to get off the dime and grill some fish. ________________________
Learn to Use My 2-Tier Swing Rack
I wanted to learn this device in 2014 and again last year, and I did use it three times each year for making two pizzas at once. But I know it is capable of much more and I really do want to use this device more in the coming year. ________________________
If you’ve made it down to here, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read this blog as well as visiting the entire site. I realize my switch over to using the Big Green Egg exclusively has possibly changed the demographics of who visits my site. I am sure I have picked up some Big Green Egg users and lost some folks who use other grills. I would just like to point out that the majority of the picture entries on the site are items that can be made on other grills and smokers. The blog may have Big Green Egg related entries, but it will continue to have lots of general interest topics. This year 2/3 of the blogs applied to all grills. Over the years I received lots of help from real world friends, virtual friends and websites. One of my goals for this site was to share what I have learned with others. I see it as a form of payback for the help I have received, past & present, from others. As always let me know via Blog Comments or the Contact Form what you think about how I am doing. Thanks again for looking. Happy Holidays!! BACK TO BBQ BLOG 2015 ARCHIVE OF BLOGS: 2015 INDEX OF BLOGS: ALL YEARS