Two months ago, my girlfriend and I moved across an ocean. Our first big purchase, before the boxes of clothing and kitchen supplies even arrived at our new abode, was a Big Green Egg. The Egg has been faithful ever since*.
For those not familiar with the Big Green Egg (“BGE”), it is a barbecue and smoker with thick ceramic walls that retain heat and moisture exceptionally well. The lower air vent, combined with the “Daisy Wheel” top vent, control temperature to within a few degrees, even during hours of slow cooking. The Egg uses lump charcoal, none of that briquette nonsense. Many prefer propane to charcoal because of its convenience, but the benefits of charcoal are overwhelming (have you ever tried to smoke using propane? It doesn’t work effectively due to the water vapor released by the burning propane**.) The Egg takes only 10 – 12 minutes to start, and cleanup is minimal. My good friend Larry alerted me to the benefits and the pure superiority of the Big Green Egg, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
This Labor Day weekend, I was watching my culinary superhero Alton Brown (AB) smoke a pork butt**, and inspiration struck. Alton uses a home-made ceramic flower pot configuration. “Aha!” I exclaimed, “a poor man’s Big Green Egg!” (not really a fair comment given the hefty price tag of the Egg, but it was meant as a testament to the ingenuity of both AB and the BGE). The following chronology presents how I executed the inspiration:
17:35 inspiration strikes
17:36 on my way to whole foods
18:23 newly-acquired 5.34lb pork butt (which is actually from the shoulder) enters brine. No measurements were made for the brine, but the following approximate proportions were used: 15 parts water, 2 parts red wine vinegar, 1 part molasses, 1 part honey, 1 part soy sauce; 1 tablespoon each of salt and pepper. The pork was placed in a large sealable plastic container, totally immersed in the brine, and the container was sealed and refrigerated.
09:00 Jack Daniel’s Wood Chips began soaking in water (about 2 cups). Egg started with a LARGE heap of BGE lump charcoal (I usually use about 3-4 cups of charcoal, which subsequently get extinguished through suffocation and reused; I doubled the charcoal for this extravaganza).
09:13 pork removed from brine and patted dry. Brown sugar-based rub patted onto pork.
09:30 With Egg temperature stabilized at 220 degrees F, the BGE Plate Setter was put in place for indirect cooking. Added the porcelain grill grate; pork placed on grill. Top closed, magic ensued.
19:27 cooking complete
Throughout the day I periodically checked the temperature of the egg. It varied between 200 and 275 throughout the day (depending on the adjustments I made and how frequently I checked the Egg), but generally I had no problem keeping it right at 220. I added wood chips after I noticed very little smoke coming out of the egg, at approximate 4 hour intervals from the start. Also during the day, I made a tangy barbecue sauce to serve with the pork.
After 10 hours, I checked the internal temperature of the pork butt, which was at the desired 200 degrees. I removed the butt and wrapped it in foil. At this time I weighted the pork; it came in at 3.3 lbs, about 2lbs less than its uncooked weight.
With the pork resting, I increased the heat on the BGE to 400 degrees without adding any charcoal. I then roasted corn, eggplant, onions, poblano peppers, zucchini, and Portobello mushrooms. With the vegetables almost done, I pulled the pork apart with two forks, which it did all too easily. Finally, after about 11 hours of cooking, the charcoal started to lose heat right as I pulled the vegetables off the grill.
The Eggsperience was a success, the pork a thing of perfection. The BGE does such a phenomenal job of retaining moisture that, despite 10 hours of cooking, the meat was juicy and flavorful. I’m sure the brine helped out here as well, but given past experiences with the Egg, I’m sure there was a little green magic at work. I was impressed, as were the other diners. Next up: slow-cooked baby-back ribs on the BGE……..
*There was one “learning experience,” during which I added the bottom of a charcoal bag to the Egg, clogging the air holes with dust and inhibiting the Egg’s heating ability. Other than that embarrassing episode, the Egg has been a champ.
**Good Eats episode EA1G04, “Q,” recently aired on August 31, 2009 on the Food Network