Baking & Eggs-Part 2
04/15/15 - 05:16 Filed in: Baking | Big Green Egg
PART 1 of this blog discussed some of the theories about why the Big Green Egg can be a better oven than your indoor oven. Reality is never quite as cut and dried as theories make it sound. Part 2 of this blog will discuss some real world situations and how they might impact your decision about whether to use your indoor oven or your Big green Egg. I will take some of the theoretical advantages of the Big Green Egg, or other kamado cookers, and discuss how they play out in the real world. I will also cut to the chase here and say with very very few exceptions, all my baking is done on my Big Green Egg. Even when it is near 0 F (-18C). The truth of this can be demonstrated by the fact last September I picked up a third Large Big Green Egg. which I use exclusively for baking related tasks. I never use smoking woods in it and I leave it setup with a second Adjustable Rig configured for indirect baking,
THEORETICAL ADVANTAGE 1: More Accurate Temperatures. In Part 1 I discussed how an oven averages out to whatever temperature you set it to in a series of temperature swings above and below the set temp. Depending on the oven this is often 20 degrees (11 C) or more. The Big Green Egg can be easily held to within +/-10 degrees (5.5 C). When you get good at it you can often hold +/- 5 degrees (2.75 C) and I have seen my pit controller hold +/- 2 degrees (+/-1 C) over a long multi-hour cook. Plus on the Egg these aren’t a series of high and low swings, you run a little too high or a little to low.
REALITY: More Accurate Temperatures. In real world conditions you may find yourself outside baking when it is below 0 (-18 C) if you are “crazy” like me. Under these circumstances you want to minimize your lid open time. Ovens have a recovery time too. I have seen it mentioned in various places that even opening the door for a quick peek can drop the temps 50 degrees (28 C). Longer door open times of 30 seconds can drop the temps 150 degrees (84 C), You are less aware of the temperature drops with an oven because the temperature readout on the oven shows your set temp, and not the current temperature. You don’t actually see deviations. But your foods take longer to cook for overtime you open the oven door. The same is true with the Egg, but there are two additional factors involved you don’t have with a Kitchen oven. The first is the air you let into the Egg when you open the lid can be considerably colder than the room temperature air in the Kitchen. This means you have the potential for bigger temperature drops. Secondly the Egg needs very little combustion air to maintain it’s cooking temperature and the air you let in when you open the lid is also potential combustion air. You will need to take steps to minimize your lid open time. So you do get more accurate temps baking on the Egg, but every time you open the lid you are negating this advantage.
I have found this out first hand when I need/want to take photographs of the food going onto the Egg. I can usually get the food on quite fast and then I close the lid. But the pictures add another step. I fire up the camera and open the lid a second time and take a picture. This is where I can cause some serious temperature drops and make for a longer recovery time. The camera may take a while to lock the focus in and meanwhile the temps are dropping and you recovery time is increasing. Plus you run the risk of the additional combustion air causing you to over-shoot the temps. On the coldest of days I will sometimes skip the pictures of the item going on the grill and settle for a picture of the finished product where temperature drop no longer matters. When I cook the same recipe again another day and I don’t have to take more pictures, I often notice faster baking times. Also the recovery time is more of an issue for short baking times of 15 or 20 minutes vs an hour or so. I also have added a DigiQ DX2 pit controller for use with my baking Egg. It gets the Egg up to temp without my having to watch it and can deal with overshoots better than I and without my involvement. Photos won’t be a factor for the majority of you. So just be sure to get your food on and the lid closed ASAP. If you need to, on very cold days have a helper go outside with you to open the lid. As soon as the lid is open you can place the food and get the lid closed back up. As you can see: in the real world cold weather does have an impact on the accuracy of your temperatures. The Egg still has an advantage in terms of lack of temperature swings, but the cold add in additional recovery time which means you aren’t baking at your desired temperature. But I still bake on my Egg in the cold weather due to some of the other advantages it has over the indoor oven. Read on.
TIP: I will often not use the top metal cap at all when baking. If I do use it, I pull it off briefly so I can shine a flashlight down the chimney of the Egg to see how my baked goods are progressing. Please note this practice can be dangerous, because above certain temperatures the Egg will be shooting a hard to see blue flame out of the chimney. On my Eggs this is closer to 500 degrees (260 C) than the 400 (205C) or less typically used for baking. But learn the characteristics of your Egg before attempting this at home. Never put your face directly over the chimney in any case. Even though there might not be blue flames, there is still wicked hot exhaust air. You can peer in at an angle where your face off to the side to the chimney. You may have to walk around the grill to see on all sides using this method.
THEORETICAL ADVANTAGE 2: More Even Baking - Pt 1. The thick ceramics and domed lid of the Big Green Egg give it a definite advantage over the typical indoor oven. This is an advantage that is irrefutable and can be easily seen. Using a plate setter or the Adjustable Rig with a pizza stone gives you indirect cooking. These items create a convection oven like effect where the air rises up the sides of the Egg into the dome area where the dome shape reflects the heat downward and evens out the cooking. Most indoor ovens have one or more hot spots and as a result most recipes call for you to rotate the food midway through the baking time.
REALITY: More Even Baking - Pt 1. The domed shaped of the Egg definitely makes for even cooking. The qualifier here is you need to be cooking up in the dome to see the impact. If you are using the Big Green Egg Platesetter legs up with a grill grid on it, you are essentially baking at the felt line. The felt line is the name used for the level of the gasket between the upper and lower lids, When you are cooking below the felt line you get little to no impact from the dome. In fact when cooking indirectly, the Egg has a hot spot in the rear near the hinge line. When you are baking in your Egg you are typically going to be baking at the felt line or above. I have found when baking the felt line I still need to rotate the food at the midway point. When using the Adjustable Rig (AR) The first 3 shelf heights fall at or below the felt line. The third shelf, which I will call Level 4.5, is at 1/4” (0.63 m) above the felt line. Level 6 is 1 3/4” (4.5 cm) above the felt line and if you use the Rig Extender this gives you a shelf at Level 7.5 or 3” (7.5 cm) above the felt line. Baking at the felt line, I turn the trays/pans about 50 percent of the time. Sometimes things look fairly even, other times they don’t Whenever I have baked at either Level 6 or Level 7.5 I have never had to rotate the trays/pans to even out the baking. So there is a demonstrable difference between the Egg and most indoor ovens, IF you are baking up in the dome. If you plan to do much baking on your Egg, get an Adjustable Rig or some other Eggcessory that allows you to bake high in the dome. I will provide some links at the end of this blog for the blog entries I have written about the AR.
THEORETICAL ADVANTAGEe 2: More Even Baking - Pt 2. If you are using something like the Adjustable Rig (AR) to allow you to bake multiple trays of baked goods on different levels this changes the equation.
You don’t get more even that this: Skillet cornbread baked up in the dome did not need to be turned midway through and still came out this evenly.
REALITY: More Even Baking - Pt 2. This is one area where there is no difference between the Egg and your oven. You can’t change the laws of physics. Things that are located closer to the heat source are going to cook up faster. To even this out you will need to swap the positions of the trays midway through your baking session. The tray on the lower shelf is swapped out with the tray on the upper shelf. Also when you are cooking multiple trays of food you are going to lose some of the advantages of the domed lid. So when I swap the trays I also rotate them 90 degrees too. Once again I still choose to use the Egg in this case too because of some of the other advantages.
THEORETICAL ADVANTAGE 3: Better Moisture Retention. The tight seal of the Egg coupled with the use of ceramics make for better moisture retention.
REALITY: Better Moisture Retention. I have generally found this to be true with some qualifications. Baked goods done on the Egg tend to have a crispier crust and more internal moisture than when I have baked the same items in my indoor oven. The crispy crust can be explained by the convection currents created within the kamado cooker. The more internal moisture is from the tight seal of the Egg. The qualifications I mentioned are: You notice this on longer cooks and cooks where you don’t need to open the lid. But I definitely have notice a difference.
THEORETICAL DISADVANTAGE 1: Less Available Area. My Kitchen oven has more available area and shelf space than my Large Big Green Egg. There is no disputing that. But this only matters if you are baking large batches of bread or desserts.
REALITY: Less Available Area. How much this matters depends on the quantities you typically bake. For me I am usually baking for from 4-8 people maximum so I can get most items baked in one round. You may need to use slightly smaller trays on the Egg. For example my Large. You also must use smaller pans than you could fit in your oven. For example I can fit a 1/4 sheet pan (12”x18” / 30x45 cm) in my oven, but it will not fit on the 18” (45cm) diameter LBGE. I need to use a jellyroll pan on the Egg 10”x15” (25x38 cm) which fits nicely. Depending on what I am baking or how many items, this may or may not make a difference. Or sometimes I will set up the AR so I can use two shelves worth of Jellyroll pans if I can’t fit everything on one. You will want to determine this type of thing in advance so you don’t find out the problem when you go to put your food on the Egg. Don’t ask me how I know this. The other potential problem you may have is in the vertical direction. The higher up you get into the dome the less area you have. On the AR the shelf you use at Level 7.5 which is 3” above the felt line is 13” (32.5 cm) in diameter compared to 18” (45 cm) diameter grids at the felt line.
With the round shape of the grill grate and the curvature of the dome, it is always a good idea to pre-test your intended setup before firing up the grill.
TIP: Pre-test your set up to make sure your intended square or rectangular pan fits on the round shape of the Egg. Also check the vertical clearances to make sure the curvature of the dome isn’t an issue. You will often find you need to pull the dome thermometer part or all of the way out to avoid it interfering with the food up in the dome. I will sometimes create my intended setup and bring my food item out to the grill for test fit. I leave the food shrink wrapped or I will wrap it in foil for this test.
This pan was a very tight fit. I mocked it up in CAD on my computer, but it all depended on the radius of the corners. Before taking this muffin pan out of its packing materials, I put it in a plastic bag and tried it out before unwrapping. As you can see it JUST fit.
TIP: Pre-test any pan you intend to purchase for use on the Egg. I sometimes make a to scale drawing of the setup in my CAD software on the computer. Or I will cut out a cardboard template and try it out on the Egg. If it is really close I will buy the pan, but leave it wrapped or leave it in the bag and test fit it on the Egg. This way if it doesn’t fit I will have no problem returning it as it is unopened and unmarked.
THEORETICAL ADVANTAGE 4: Adding Smoke Flavor. Here is a case where it is no contest. This item lands totally in favor of the Egg. IF you want smoke flavor you aren’t going to get it in your oven.
REALITY: Adding Smoke Flavor. Most of the time I use a charcoal that is smoke neutral for most baked goods. Even so there is often just the slightest kiss of smoke flavor if you really look for it. This is not a bad thing, but with some really sweet desserts I don’t care for much smoke flavor. This is why I bought a third Egg for baking. I use no wood chips or chunks in this Egg. When I want some smoke flavor I can add it with wood chips or chunks. When I do this I use one of my other Eggs for baking this item. This way my baking Egg stays smoke neutral, with no residual smoke flavor from prior cooks.
THEORETICAL ADVANTAGE 5: Avoids Heating Up the Kitchen. Not using the Kitchen oven avoids heating up the Kitchen once again this is a no-brainer.
REALITY: Avoids Heating Up the Kitchen. How much this matters to you may depend on the time of the year, whether your house is air conditioned or not and how hot or cold it is out in your yard. Your mileage may vary on this one. For me my house is air conditioned, but it is still nice not having to run my electric oven, which run up the electric bill x2. The electricity for running the oven and the electricity for the AC to remove the extra heat generated by running the oven.
THEORETICAL ADVANTAGE 6: Frees up the Oven. This can sometimes be a big advantage. Other times not so much. Once again this is a given, but whether it is important to you may depend.
REALITY: Frees up the Oven. This comes in handy for holidays and special occasions when you have lots of things going on. Often you may have items that were cooked ahead and need to be reheated before serving. If you are baking on your Egg, your oven is free for other task such as this. You don’t have to worry about coordinating cooking temperatures, say if you are baking at 425 and you need to reheat something at 350. There is no delay cause by having to let the temps adjust. You are baking on the Egg and the oven is free to set any other temp you want. Another baking related bonus is I often use the oven with the oven light turned on to place the dough in for a required rise. I can be baking out on my Egg and the oven is still free for letting the next round of dough rise.
CONCLUSION:I LOVE baking on my Egg. I get better results using the Egg vs my Kitchen oven and that is the bottom line for me. It gives me added flexibility such as the ability to add smoke flavor and also my oven is free for other tasks. So if you are considering buying a Big Green Egg (or other ceramic kamado cooker) don’t let the price throw you. You are getting a GREAT grill, smoker AND an outdoor oven that can give you better results most of the time than your Kitchen oven. Divide the price by 3 and also remember the ceramics on the Big Green Egg are guaranteed for life. If you already own an Egg and haven’t used it for baking, give it a shot. You don’t have to have a dedicated baking Egg like I do, but for best results I’d say start out with a smoke neutral charcoal. Also if you used wood chips or chunks, or a more smokey charcoal for your last cook, clean out your firebox. Save the good pieces of this leftover lump for future re-use, but get yourself some smoke neutral charcoal and use it to bake with. I think you will find that baked goods on the Egg are a cut above what you can make indoors.
SOME RELATED LINKS In addition to the link to Part 1 of this entry, here are some links to earlier blog entries about the Adjustable Rig (AR), which I mention throughout this blog. It really extends your capabilities with the Egg, particularly if you plan to get serious about baking. You can also learn more from the manufacturers website which I have also linked to below.
BAKING ON THE EGG - PART 1 2015 Blog Entry about why my Big Green Egg and not my indoor oven is my first choice for baking.
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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