High and Low
The High and Low in the title refers to high temperature cooking, low in the grill down near the coals. I have wanted to try this form of grilling since getting my first charcoal grill (Big Green Egg) 4 years ago. I had most of the gear necessary, and with the purchase of one final item I was good to go. This blog entry will discuss the gear I used to accomplish cooking low over the coals and my first impressions. While this blog discusses the Big Green Egg, the Ceramic Grill Store Eggcessories will work on some other brands of Kamado grills and the Ceramic Grill Store has started making accessories for Primo, Kamado Joe and Vision Grills.
BACKGROUND: The catalyst for this cook was my new cookbook, Meathead by Meathead Goldwyn. There was a recipe called BIG, THICK, STEAKHOUSE STEAKS. The recipe called for the steaks to receive a variation on the so called Reverse Sear. This is where you cook the steaks indirectly to start at 225 degrees (107 C) and finish them off with direct grilling. The twist in this case was the direct grilling was to be done down low in the grill just above the charcoal bed. This was intended to give the outside more than just grill marks, but instead a totally blackened and crusty exterior.
ESSENTIAL GEAR: I knew some of the gear I already owned would be ideal for this cook. I only had to add one piece.
Legs up for Wok (1st Picture) Leg Down for on the coals grilling (2nd Picture).
- Spider - The Ceramic Grill Store (link below) makes an item called the spider. It is a stainless steel ring with either 3 or 5 bent metal legs. The legs sit on the Big Green Egg's ceramic fire ring. Big Green Eggs made in 2012 or earlier will use a 5 leg spider. Eggs made in late 2012 or after will use the 3-legged version. Look at the number of notches in your ceramic fire ring before ordering your spider. When installed legs down/ring up, the spider is intended to support a wok. When installed legs up/ring down the spider is intended to support a small grill grate about 1" (2.5 cm) above the coals. In Meathead there is a discussion of cooking directly on the coals and Meathead Goldwyn is against it for several reasons. So for this reason, I bought a grill grate so I could use my Spider. When the spider is installed correctly, the legs sit down in the notches of the fire ring and the low grill grate heats up with everything else when the Egg is fired up. With the legs set down in the notches of the Spider, you can sit the Adjustable Rig, or Platesetter or a regular grill grate directly on top of the fire ring without worrying about interference from the legs of the Spider. This is why it is important to choose the 3 or 5-legged model to suit the number of notches in your fire ring.
- 13" (33 cm) Cast Iron Grill Grate - The grill grate for the Small Big Green Egg is perfect for this task. It fits comfortably on the ring of the spider between the upturned legs. Being cast iron this grate gives you good searing. This was the one additional piece of gear I needed to buy, and it is readily available at the Big Green Egg dealers in my area.
Ash tool (left) Grid Lifter (Right).
- Ash Tool/Grid Lifter - To place the small cast iron grill grate on the Spider you will want to use a tool. You will be doing this immediately after starting your fire and you won’t want to be trying to place the grate on the Spider with flames licking all around. There are several options. The Big Green Egg Ash Tool doubles as a grid lifter for lighter grill grates. While it can lift the standard 18” stainless steel grill grate that comes with the Egg it is less secure doing so than with the dedicated grid lifter tool. Also the Ash Tool is definitely not up to lifting the 18” cast iron grill grate for the Egg. Don’t even try it, you may drop (and break) the cast iron grill grate. The 13” (33 cm) cast iron grill grate is borderline weight for the Ash Tool. Me I owned the Big Green Egg Grid Lifter already so it was a no brainer which to use. It is much more secure and safer and I know I will not drop the grate. The grid lifter sells for around $20.00 which is about half the price of replacing even a small cast iron grill grate. To me this is short money for the insurance, safety and piece of mind you get.
- High Temperature Gloves - I already had some leather Welders Gloves that I had picked up from the Ceramic Grill Store when I bought my Adjustable Rig. It gets wicked hot down near the coals and I found I needed these gloves even using 19" (48 cm) long tongs. They were needed even more when I used my Thermapen to check on the meat temperature. Definitely have some good high temperature glove at the ready.
- Long Tongs - The heat is very concentrated down deep near the fire bowl of the Egg and you will want a pair of long tongs. The Ceramic Grill Store recommends 16” (41 cm) as a minimum length. My tongs are 19” (48 cm) which is even better.
NICE TO HAVE GEAR: There are several ways to do the indirect portion of this cook.
The Adjustable Rig allows you to remove the entire indirect cooking setup, including the food in one quick easy step. This helps minimize the time the lids is open and is safer to do than removing and indirect setup using the Platesetter.
- Adjustable Rig -You could use the Big Green Egg brand Platesetter (aka Conveggtor) with a drip pan and the stainless steel grill grate. I own two Ceramic Grill Store Adjustable Rigs which I have written about extensively in this blog. One of the nice things about the Adjustable Rig (AR) is you can set the whole thing up in advance, light the Egg and add it as one unit. Better yet you can take it off the hot Egg, food and all, in a single operation. This is much easier than the stock Platesetter/Conveggtor solution where you must remove the food, then remove the hot grill grate and the hot Platesetter one by one. Not to mention: removing a hot Platesetter is not the easiest thing to do. Using the AR, I set a pizza stone at Level 1.5 to give me indirect cooking, a shelf with the drip pan at Level 3, and a sliding D-Shelf at level 4.5 to hold the steaks. The beauty of this setup was when the steaks reached the desired internal temp of 110 degrees (43 C), I was able to open the lid, pull the entire AR plus the steaks in one operation. The AR has a ring at the top that doubles as a handle and makes this removal very easy. This allowed me to only have the lid open for a short period of time while removing the steaks. The Platesetter/Conveggtor is more difficult to remove on the fly. With either Eggcessory, you must have an area that it is safe to land hot pieces on.
- Thermapen Instant Read Thermometer - You should really own one of these for any type of cooking. Being able to get an accurate reading in 2 seconds comes in handy for several reasons for this type of cook. First of all it minimizes your lid open time. Secondly taking a temperature reading that close to the coals is VERY HOT. Being able to do it in 2 seconds avoids charred skin. Also you can quickly take readings in several places on a piece of meat with various thicknesses or densities.
THE COOK: Here are the basic steps of this particular cook with a final high temperature reverse sear directly over the coals:
- The Steaks - The steaks were two 1 1/2” (3.8 cm) thick USDA Prime Grade Bone-In rib-eyes weighing in at 1 1/4 lb. (0.58 kg) each. The outside was trimmed of excess fat and the steaks were simply seasoned with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. The were wrapped in plastic wrap and went into the fridge for an hour for what Meathead calls a dry brine. While this was going on I set up the grill, set up the Adjustable Rig and lit the grill and stabilized it a 225 degrees (107 F).
- Grill Setup - Fresh charcoal was added and it was filled up the the joint between the ceramic fire box and the bottom of the fire ring. You don’t want to go higher or you will interfere with the placement of the Spider. I also added two Cherry wood chunks for some smoke flavor. I poured out a light even coating of Stump Chunks fire starters sufficient to cover all areas of the charcoal bed. I lit the Stump Chunks in several places to start the fire. Stump Chunks are my preferred method of lighting my charcoal these days. I can speed them evenly across all of the lump pile to get an even fire. By controlling the density of the coating of Stump Chunks, I can control how hot the fire will be when the Stump Chunks have finished their work. I will provide links below for anyone interested in reading more about Stump Chunks fire starters.
- Lower Grill Grate - The 13" (33 cm) cast iron grill grate was brushed with avocado oil, which is a high smoke point oil, before going on the grill. Once the Stump Chunks were ignited, I wore my Welders Gloves and used my Big Green Egg grid lifter to install the grill grate on the Spider.
- Add the Adjustable Rig - The Adjustable Rig (AR) was set up as described above. Once the lower grill grate was installed, and while I was still wearing the Welders Gloves, I placed the AR on top of the fire ring. I then closed the lid and let the temperature rise and stabilize at 225 degrees (107 C).
- Indirect Cook the Steaks - I placed the steaks on the AR to cook indirectly. I had an estimated cook time of 30 minutes, so I both flipped and rotated the steaks at the 15 minute mark. I noted they appeared to be cooking evenly after 15 minutes, so I did no further rotation or flipping when the cooking time ran longer than 30 minutes. I began taking internal temperature readings with my Thermapen at the 25 minute mark. I wasn't close yet and it turned out the steaks took 45 minutes to reach the target temperature of 110 degrees (43 C).
- Indirect to Direct - When the steaks reached their target temperature, I pulled the entire AR, steaks and all, and landed them on my Corian heat shield on top of the counter next to the Egg. I closed the lid quickly and opened the bottom damper to 1" (2.5 cm) open. I slid the top of the Dual Function Metal Draft Cap so the daisy wheel was closed and the top was 1/4 open. I let the temps rise for about 5 minutes and then I added the steaks onto the lower grill grate.
- Direct to the Finish - I placed the steaks on the low cast iron grill grate and tried to get the lid closed ASAP. These USDA Prime Grade rib-eyes quickly started dripping fat, creating massive flare ups because the steaks were so close to the coals. This was another essential reason for having Welders Gloves on. Fortunately due to the tight seal of the Egg, the flare ups died down as soon as the lid was closed again. I set a timer and turned the steaks every 45 seconds. I was careful to burp the Egg each time I opened the lid to avoid flash backs. Burping means raising the lid and inch or so for a few seconds to let a little air in before opening it the rest of the way. Refer to your owners manual for more information on this. The recipe specifically said you were not looking for grill marks, but an all over charred crust. After 3 minutes I flipped the steaks over onto the second side and checked the internal temps with the Thermapen. I was shooting for a 135 degree (57 C) internal temperature for Medium Rare. The recipe also called for no resting time, which they said would cause you to lose the crispy crust you had just achieved. So it was straight from grill to serving platter once I reached 135 degrees (57 C) internal.
END RESULTS: The steaks were amazing!! They had a crunchy and tasty outer crust and were moist and juicy on the inside. Their great beef flavor was allowed to be front and center. I really can't think of any way to improve on these steaks.
LESSONS LEARNED: Here are my takeaways from my first attempt at this type of cook:
- The Spider & Small Grill Grate Are Perfect Solution - The Spider/Small Grate gives you a grate 1" over the coals. You don't need to worry about ashes or pieces of lump sticking to your food like you would if you were grilling directly on the coals. You can install it immediately, using a grid lifter, after lighting the fire. This means it hot and is ready to go whenever you finish the indirect phase.
- Small Batch Cooking - At the most you will be able to fit 2-3 steaks on the small cast iron grill grate. If you need more than 3 steaks you will need to do things in batches. If you are using the AR you could set it up to accommodate around 6 steaks on 2 or 3 levels. You would want to rotate the steaks so they spend equal time on high and low shelves. Then you could hold the steaks and sear them in batches and serve them to people hot of the grill in multiple rounds.
- The AR Makes the Indirect Portion Simple - You can use the AR for the indirect portion and then remove it (and the food) in one quick operation when you re done. This is so much simpler and faster than using the Platesetter, particularly the removal.
- Use a Grid Lifter to Install Lower Grill Grate - When you light the fire using your fire starters, it will be really hot, really fast down near the coals where you need to place the small grill grate. Use a grid lifter so your hands will remain away from the hot coals. You could try Welder Gloves, but there is not a lot of room to maneuver down at the bottom of the grill because of the tapered sides. Plus I don’t like the idea of exposing even Welders Gloves to direct flames that close to the lump. Bulky gloves heavy duty enough to resist the heat are going to be thick. This will give you even less room to maneuver. The Big Green Egg ash tool has a hook on the end for lighter weight grill grids, but the Small Big Green Egg cast iron grill grate is bordering on too heavy for the ash tool. Big Green Egg also sells a Grid Lifter intended for heavier grill grates. It keeps your hands about 12" (30 cm) away from the grill grate. Down low like this I would still recommend using gloves when using the grid lifter.
- High Temperature Gloves are Essential - Lump charcoal can reach temperature of 1,200 degrees (650 C) or more and your food is only 1" (2.5 cm) away. When taking the temps or turning the meat your hands are very close to this volcanic heat. Then there are the the fat induced flare ups you get when turning the food. I had flames running up my lower arms and I was glad the Welders Gloves ran high up my fore arm.
- A Truly Instant Instant Read Thermometer is Essential - If you plan on opening the lid to take the internal temperature of you food, the only was to go is an instant read thermometer like the Thermapen. It gives you an accurate reading in 2 seconds. Sure the money you save buying a thermometer that takes 4 or 5 seconds or 9 or 10 seconds is tempting. But when operating under these severe conditions, 2 second for a reading makes a HUGE difference. This will help minimize lid open time, minimize time for flare ups to start and allow you to take multiple readings to insure the right doneness.
- Be Safe - At all times remember you are practicing extreme grilling at extreme temperatures right above the screaming hot bed of lump charcoal. Make sure your gloves and other gear are up to being used this way. Pay close attention to what you are doing to avoid mistakes.
- Keep Your Eye on the Prize - When grilling over this level of searing heat, things happen fast. Do not allow yourself to get distracted by other tasks or you will go from edible food to something looking and tasting like a hockey puck in the blink of an eye.
- Leave the Spider/Low Grill Grate in Until the Grill is Completely Cooled - These two items are mere inches from the hot coals and will remain very hot for a very long time.
CONCLUSION: My first attempt at grilling directly over the coals was very successful. I have some other recipes for this type of grilling which I intend to try now that I have all the necessary gear and some experience doing it. I am guessing as I get more experience I will write another blog entry on the additional things I have picked up along the way.
SOME RELATED LINKS: Here are some links to earlier blog entries about my initial impressions of the Adjustable Rig. If you are unfamiliar with the AR, you might want to read these first so this blog entry makes more sense when you read it. You can also learn more from the manufacturers website which I have also linked to below. The Ceramic Grill Store is also the source for the Spider accessory and the leather Welder’s Gloves I mention above. They are available locally, but I ordered my gloves when I ordered other items from the Ceramic Grill Store.
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 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.
CERAMIC GRILL STORE WEBSITE The home page of the CGS website. I will provide some links specific to the Large Big Green Egg below. Here is where you would go if you have another brand Kamado grill or a different sized Big Green Egg and want to see if they make accessories for it.
LARGE ADJUSTABLE RIG WEB PAGE Information about the Large Adjustable Rig with links to purchase.
LARGE SPIDER WEB PAGE Information about the Large Spider with links to purchase.
LEATHER WELDERS GLOVES Information about the Leather Welders Gloves with links to purchase.
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