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Baking & Eggs-Part 1

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Lately my use of one of my Big Green Eggs for baking has come up in conversation quite a bit. It has been a combination of factors: I am baking more, I recently added a pit controller for my baking Egg and sometimes people at the food stores try to figure out what I am making based on what I am buying. But however it comes up, there are typically two main reactions and the occasional third one. Many folks think I may just be a bit crazy, particularly in the winter. I mean why leave the comforts of a warm Kitchen when there is a perfectly good oven there. The second reaction is surprise followed by interest when I explain my reasons. Once in a while I will run into a situation where the person knows the benefits of using a Big Green Egg or other Kamado style cooker. They know exactly of what I speak. I thought I might write this blog entry on Baking on a Big Green Egg (or other Kamado grill). In Part 1 I will discuss the big picture reasons why the Kamado style cooker can be better for baking than an indoor oven. In PART 2, I will talk about my experiences baking on my Egg. I will discuss both the benefits as well as the few disadvantage I have found. But if you own a Kamado style grill, you owe it to yourself to attempt baking on it.

BACKGROUND:
I tend to be a skeptic when people make claims, the stronger the claim the more they need to prove it to me with tangible physical evidence. For example it is easy to demonstrate what grilling your food brings to the table. You get a flavor that is unique to that style of cooking. Gas vs. Charcoal was a little more difficult to prove. I have found there is a difference and the longer your cooking time, the more you will notice it. A real hard one that took me a while was using a grill griddle vs simply frying something on the stove. At first the “best” argument I got when I asked people was that it gets you outside in the fresh air. Later as I forced myself to try my grill griddle for my gas grill, I discovered a big advantage that hadn’t occurred to me: surface area. You would have to fire up several frying pans to equal the area my one grill griddle gave me.

That brings us to the subject of baking on a Big Green Egg. When I first bought my Big Green Egg, one of the advantages of this Kamado style cooker was said to be it made a better oven than your indoor oven. I thought this was a rather bold claim and this item was often stated as a fact with little or no explanation to back it up. This was something I wasn’t going to believe without testing it out. My original use case for my Big Green Egg was to help extend the lifespan of my gas grill and offset smoker. Baking was not even something I ever really thought about. I soon found the Egg was so superior to my other two grills it wasn’t extending their lifespans, it was hastening their demise. As I began to use the Egg exclusively I knew I should try baking on it. I was also trying to do more baking to improve my meals with items such as fresh baked hamburger and hotdog rolls and some grilled desserts. My new Egg gave me an excuse to make more baked goods and do it outside where I could learn this new grill by baking on it. In the process I hoped to find some valid reasons, real world reasons to support the claim that: “The Big Green Egg is better than your indoor oven for baking.”

OVEN VS KAMADO GRILL:
I soon found there really were some valid reasons why Kamado style cookers were indeed superior to an indoor oven. I have both hands-on experience and some knowledge gained by research and various cookbooks. I will mention the reasons here and then move onto to discuss some specifics of baking on a Kamado and I will also mention some areas where the oven may have some advantages.

Precise Temperature Control: When you first think of it, the indoor oven would seem to have the advantage here. With the oven you set your desired temperature with a knob or keypad. Also how hard is it to get a traditional charcoal grill to hold a precise temperature? The kamado is a different story. With the thick ceramic walls, gasketed seal at the lid and little need for external combustion air, a Kamado grill is very easy to hold at a set temperature. With the Egg stabilized, I was soon able to achieve accuracies to within +/- 10 degrees (5.5 C) and often +/- 5 degrees (2.75 C). With my recently added pit controller the deviations are often +/- 2 degrees (1.1 C). Unlike an oven, which loses accuracy over time, these temperatures are achievable throughout the life of the grill. As long as you keep your gasket between the lids in good shape, the deviation does not increase as the grill gets older.

I never realized at first how variable indoor oven are. When you set your indoor oven to a typical baking temperature of 350 degrees (177 C), the heating element stays on until the oven hits 350 and then is shut off. When the temperature dips to a certain amount below this temperature the heating element is turned back on and the temperature is allowed to rise to some point above the desired temperature. The element is turned off and the temperature again falls to a low temperature and the cycle begins again . So what you are involved with is a series of high and low temperatures throughout your cooking cycle. In theory these high and low temperature swings average out to the cooking temperature you set. In a real good oven these may be as little as +/-10 degrees (5.5 C), but they are usually closer to +/-20 degrees (11 C). Deviations of +/- 40 (22 C) or sometimes 50 degrees (28 C) are not unheard of in cheap or aging ovens.

The cycling of the temperatures is not the only problem. One would think that the cycling temperatures would be centered on your set cooking temperature. When I was researching the purchase of my Thermapen instant read thermometer, a visit to the Thermaworks website opened my eyes about a second factor. It seems the deviations, or oscillations as Thermaworks calls them, are not always centered around you set temperature. When set to 350 (177C) one oven may be +/- 30 degrees (16.7 C) with a center point of 360 (182 C) and another oven might have the same +/-30 degree deviation centered around 340 degrees (171 C). If you’ve ever wondered why two ovens set to the same temperature can take quite different times to cook the food, this is why. Thermaworks actually sells an oven thermometer: the ChefAlarm, which measures the high and low points of this oscillation so you can either adjust it on your oven (if possible) or set a higher or lower temperature to trick the oven into giving you a the temperature you want. I never realized ovens were this variable. With electric ovens you can run into an additional variable when you have high or usually low voltage when you are trying to cook.

More Even Cooking: It is no secret that most ovens have hotspots. Just about every recipe I have seen for baking tells you to rotate the pans, trays or whatever you are using 180 degrees midway through the cook to even out the cooking. With it’s dome shape a Kamado grill can have very even cooking. The reason I said can have is you need to be somewhat up inside the dome to realize these results. When I first started baking on my Egg, I was using the BGE platesetter, a ceramic disc with legs that blocks the exposure to direct flame and turns the cooking into indirect cooking, I would install the platesetter legs up with a grill grid set onto of the legs of the platesetter to hold my baking items. This put the grill grid at the gasket level of the Egg. This is the point where the dome shaped lid meets the base of the Egg. At this level there are still hotspots, particularly at the back of the grill near the hinge. When I bought the Adjustable Rig eggcessory for my baking Egg, one of the reasons was it gave me the ability to have one or two shelves higher up, above the felt line and into the dome. Up inside the dome the shape of the dome tends to even out the heat and the food is cooked with warm air reflected evenly back from the dome. The effect in the dome area is similar to a convection oven with swirling patterns of warm air cooking the food. If I have the food raised up into the dome area, I find almost all of the time it is unnecessary to rotate the food midway through to even out the cooking. At the midpoint, I typically remove the top metal cap and shine my iPhone’s flashlight down the chimney to see if I need to turn the food. If the food is up into the dome the answer to that question is typically no. Now if you are doing two or three trays of baked goods, say cookies, you will still need to rotate the trays so the trays spend equal time in the upper and lower positions. But one tray up in the dome will most likely not require any rotating or moving.

WARNING: Don’t try this trick of shining a flashlight down the chimney of your Egg until you are familiar with its habits. Above a certain temperature you can have actual flames coming out of the chimney in addition to the heat. So learn what that temperature is on your grill where flames occur before trying this. The safest way is to open the lid quickly for a quick peek. Remember to burp the lid, open it an inch or so and wait a few seconds before opening it the rest of the way. This will avoid flashbacks.



Less Moisture Loss: Once you get the Big Green Egg stabilized at your cooking temperature it is a fairly closed system. You have thick ceramic walls and a gasketed lid combined with a fire that requires very little oxygen to maintain. Little intake means little exhaust. This closed system retains much of the moisture and you will find your baked goods are more moist when cooked on the ceramic cooker. If you own a Kamado cooker and grill or smoke with it, you already know how the foods come out more moist than cooked on a regular grill. The same is true with your baked goods.

WRAP UP:
This ends Part 1 of this blog entry. In PART 2, I will discuss my real world experiences. You will often find things aren’t always so simple in the real world. I will discuss what I have found so far, both good and sometimes not so good. But for now I am off to do my Easter baking. I am doing it one day ahead. I will be making Hot Cross Buns to go with the meal and Hermits for dessert. Yes of course I will be baking them on the Egg.

   BAKING ON THE EGG - PART 2 2015 Blog Entry about the reality of using my Big Green Egg for baking.

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