The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke
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Pre-Flight Testing

While writing the blog entry GETTING BACK ON TRACK II, it occurred to me that some of what I discussed might make for a good tip. I have found any time I am doing an important cook, where I am doing something new or using a new set up, is always a good idea do some pre-testing. This way you make sure that the grill, the gear, the food as well as the combination of the three will actually work together. This past Saturday, my pre-testing showed I would have to cook two batches of Hermit cookies because my foil jellyroll pans wouldn't both fit on the Adjustable Rig properly. Knowing this well in advance, it allowed me to a just and had no impact on the finishing time of my cook. You certainly don't want to walk out to a screamingly hot grill only to find out your food or your gear isn't going to fit. You will lose time, temperature and possibly your fingerprints trying to improvise something on a hot grill. Don't ask me how I know this. Actually in this Tip I plan to tell you how I know this.

SOME REAL-WORLD EXAMPLES:

Most of these can happen on ANY type of grill and half of these items occurred to me before I owned two Big Green Eggs. But with the Big Green Egg being both round and having a dome shaped lid it introduces its own set of variables. For example: You sometimes have less space than you might imagine because the available space shrinks the higher up you go in the dome. This is also true with other Kamado style grills as well as Weber kettle's. Here are some examples of things that you don't want to have happen to you:
  • Your food is too tall for you to properly close the lid.
  • A variation of this is the probe for your lid thermometer is contacting the food.
  • Another variation on this is you can't put the temperature probes where you want and be able to properly close the lid. If you have a food item that you find is really big, you might want to check this out in advance. You'll need to figure out exactly where you CAN put the probes versus where you would LIKE to put the probes in an ideal world.
  • Your drip pan is too tall to fit below the grill grate.
  • Your drip pan is too big to fit in the area you need to drop it into. I have had a couple drip pans that don't quite fit inside the BGE platesetter. The legs of the platesetter interfere with the sides of the drip pan.
  • Your food sitting on additional accessory items is too tall for you to properly close the lid. I had a friend-yes a friend. This is the one item here that wasn't my boo-boo. Anyway, for Thanksgiving this friend tried to do a beer can turkey on a vertical poultry roasting stand. The turkey on the poultry roaster was about 50 percent too tall to close the lid of their offset horizontal barrel smoker. They found this out on Thanksgiving morning after heating up the smoker.
  • You can have a fussy fit, where something actually does fit, but barely. The first time I did a turkey on my Big Green Egg I found out it barely fit under the dome. I had to precisely place it exactly in the middle of the grill in order to be able to close the lid. This is the type a thing you want to find out on a cold grill when you aren't letting out all of the heat keeping the lid up. This was a double whammy too, because I had to reposition my temperature probes.
  • When you do new or bigger types of food on your grill always double check the set up. The first time I did beef ribs on my horizontal barrel smoker I found out that the lid would not close when I put the taller beef ribs in my typical rib rack. The rib rack I normally use raises the ribs about an inch (2.5 cm) up off the grill grate height. This was just enough so that the curved top lid of the smoker was hitting the ribs. I happened to have an older rib rack around that held the ribs down at the grate level. This was just enough of a change and I was actually able to just close the lid. I lost a lot of heat and gained a few gray hairs trying to resolve the situation on the fly. So if you are making something a little bigger than the norm, double check your set up.
  • Make sure you're disposable foil pans fit in the amount of space you think they should. What I mean here is, I recently bought some disposable foil jellyroll pans that turned out to be just slightly bigger than my non-disposable jellyroll pan. The area of the the food sat was the same size, but the sides and lip of the foil pan was just ever so slightly bigger. While that seems insignificant, it meant the difference between fitting and not fitting on my Adjustable Rig. This changed the whole cook, because I had to do it in two batches.
  • If you plan to use the probe for a remote read thermometer at the grate level, be sure both the probe and the food fit. You don't want to walk out to a hot grill with food and find out you need to mess around with temperature probe location to get everything to fit right.

PRELIMINARY PRETESTING:

By this I mean do some early testing before you even buy a grill accessory or large food item. I often do some testing prior to going to the store to buy some new piece of gear. Rather than waste a trip to the store to buy something and then have to return it later when it doesn't fit, I will do some preliminary checking. Once again this is particularly true with a round grill like the Big Green Egg. With any grill with a domed or curved lid, you have to think about potential problems in three dimensions. Here are some things I do to avoid buying something that has no chance of fitting.

  • If I'm going out shopping for grill accessories, I make sure to bring a small tape measure along with me. While the packaging will usually give you information about length and width and height of an item, it never lists the diagonal dimensions from corner to corner. This is where you can run into trouble with a grill that is round in plan like the Big Green Egg or a Weber kettle. If the rectangle is big enough the lid will clip the corners when you're trying to close it.
  • I will sometimes make a life-sized cardboard mockup of an item I've seen online or in the store and place it on the grill to make sure it actually fits.
  • I am an architect, so I have a CAD program around where I can do a line drawing on the computer to see if something fits. I've actually got a drawing on file that has the Big Green Egg in both plan and section. I can draw plans or sectional views of any potential accessory. This way I can check the fit of potential purchases in both the horizontal and vertical directions. While most of you aren't Architects, many of you may work in jobs where you have access to a computer and some sort of drawing program where you can draw the items to actual scale on the computer.

FIELD PRETESTING:

Here are some things you can do to make sure your cock will go smoothly:
  • Take the piece of gear out of the grill and set it up the way you plan to use it and make sure it fits.
  • If it involves gear and food, take the gear and the food out to the grill. You can keep the food wrapped, and if need be place it in a big plastic bag so it won't get anything on it when you pretest it on the grill.
  • If you have a set up like the Adjustable Rig, Set it up well in advance. Install all the pieces in the configuration you actually want to use. This will ensure that you aren't missing crossbars or some other accessory piece essential to your proposed set up. Once the AR is set up, add any potential drip pans, v-racks etc. to make sure they fit. Lastly, if need be, place the proposed food item on the top shelf to make sure it's really going to fit.
  • For smaller items like cookies or burgers, test to make sure you can fit the total amount of items you plan to cook. If you're doing trays of cookies make cardboard cutouts the size of your proposed cookies and lay them out on the sheet pan to make sure they actually fit. You don't need to make one for each cookie you are baking. Just make enough so you can place a few side-by-side to determine the amount of rows and columns you can fit on a tray or griddle.
  • Test the food itself to make sure it actually fits on the grill. If it is something big like a turkey place it, still in it's packaging in a second plastic bag. Then bring it, together with any of the gear, out of the grill. This will also let you see if the temperature probe can fit in where it needs to go.
  • Additional food testing may be necessary for round grills. Round grills tend not be as efficient in terms of food placement. Things like grill baskets and griddle grates are generally not rectangular shaped for curved grills. They are either half-round, as is the case with many Big Green Egg Eggcessories, or sometimes they have clipped corners to accommodate the curvature of the grill grate. I will often use coasters or paper cups the size of the items I want to cook as test samples. I will sometimes make cardboard cutouts the shape of my sandwich bread or food item. This way I can see how many items I can get on the grill griddle. For obvious reasons it's important to know in advance whether you can do everything at once or you will need to do more than one round of cooking.

WHEN TO TEST:

As mentioned earlier: If I'm thinking of buying something, I will actually try and check the measurements at home to make sure things fit. This is before I visit the store or click to place my order.
  • For items involving holiday cooks, where the stores may not be open on the day of the cook, you will want to test several days in advance. This way if the item isn't going to fit, you'll know about it while the stores are still open and you can make a Plan B. Notice I said several days. If it is a holiday and a bunch of people are going to be making the same thing as you, such as turkey, you may need to go several places before you find the item you want to use for Plan B in stock.
  • Now that I own only charcoal grills, I work my testing into my routine for adding charcoal. I like to make setting up the grill the first thing I do on the day of a cook. I try to do it is soon as I get up, way before I need to actually light the grill or start my prep. I will bring any of the various items needed from the kitchen outdoors with me when I go out to the grill. The Adjustable Rig remains installed on one of my two Eggs. Many of my other accessories are stored in the outdoor cabinets by my grill. I will do any of the necessary testing first, before I get charcoal dust all over my hands from cleaning and refueling. Then after finalizing my set up, I will clean the grill add add the charcoal.
  • As I just mentioned, this is the first thing I do, often several hours before I actually plan to light the grill. The reason for doing this so early is to allow yourself time to react and deal with any surprises you may find. This way if a trip to the store is required, I have plenty of time to react. If I find I need to do multiple rounds of cooking, because all the food won't fit at once, I have time to adjust my timing to suit. If you need to come up with an alternate plan, you not in the middle of doing three other things at the same time. You are able to think in a somewhat more relaxed environment.

CONCLUSION:


So there you have it. Some of this may sound excessive or like micromanagement. But if you've ever run into the situation where you have a hot grill and food all ready to go on it, and then you run into a show-stopping problem, you will understand. Even worse, you may possibly have other items cooking and slated to finish up at the same time as the food you now can't cook. If you haven't run into this problem yet, just go back up and reread the list of some real-world problems I have experienced or seen. Trust me, you really should thank me. It is far better to find out about the potential show-stopping problems while you still have time to think and react to them. The time is certainly NOT when you are ready to cook..
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