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BGE Newbie Quickstart guide

ShadowNickShadowNick Posts: 519
edited January 2014 in EggHead Forum
Big Green Egg Quickstart guide 1.0
By ShadowNick

I originally started writing this for a friend of mine who got an Egg but lives in another state, but realized I'm covering a lot of questions many new Eggers have and have decided to share this with the forum.

If anyone wants to repost this elsewhere, feel free, just send credit back my way, and any basic stuff I missed, feel free to add in the comments.

This is meant to be a comprehensive startup guide for a basic Egg setup, not going to be talking about temp controllers, AR's, etc, just an Egg with a stock grate and plate setter.  Most of the info in this guide is what I have gleaned from my own experiences, and the wealth of experience on www.eggheadforum.com over the years.  I'll try to provide info that is pretty much agreed upon as BGE fact, but will note when I'm injecting my own opinion on stuff.  Lets get started!

1: Oxygen equals fire
Many new Eggers report trouble getting their Egg up to high temps when they first start.  The heat in your egg is dependent on 2 main factors and a few secondary ones.  The two main components are amount of fuel (lump) and airflow.  If there is not sufficient oxygen to the burning lump, the fire will not get any hotter. Common airflow problems can be clogged fire grate holes, or the bottom cutout of the firebox (about the same size as the bottom vent fully opened) is not lined up directly with the bottom vent.  Also have seen some people not be able to get above 400 and come to find out, their cast iron daisy wheel cap is still on.  Even wide open it still restricts airflow. Take it off for high temps.  In fact, there are even a couple people who do not use it at all and control their temps exclusively with the bottom vent.  As far as lump amount goes, for long indirect heat cooks, you can fill the lump up to about an inch below the top of the fire ring and have plenty for whatever you need to do.  Damp lump can contribute to temps staying low for a while as well.  It takes a tremendous amount of energy to vaporize water and can really stall your egg getting up to temp. 

So, what to do if you have pulled the daisy wheel off, your bottom vent is wide open, and the lump is dry and you still aren't getting hot temps?  Chances are you have clogged fire grate holes, so make a wiggle rod.  Take a metal coat hanger (or something similar) and bend it into an "L" shape, so you can stick in through the bottom vent and wiggle into the holes in the fire grate, clearing airflow obstructions.  This will fix the problem 95% of the the time. Always keep an eye on your Egg after this.  I have had fires that would not get above 270, and after using the wiggle rod, it shot up to over 600 in less than 5 minutes.
Also, many Eggers will hand lay their lump in the firebox, with large pieces on the bottom and smaller pieces as you pile up, to help keep small pieces for clogging the holes. 

A final note on building the fire; its always easier to catch temps on the way up than try to bring them back down.  If you are aiming for 350, once you are within 75 degrees, start closing the vents to slow down airflow, and let it slowly come up to temp, gradually closing the vents more as you get closer to your temp.  Over time you will get used to where your vents need to be for certain temps.

*Caution*  If you have a hot fire going, and you clamp down on the supply of oxygen to lower the temps, be very careful opening the Egg next time, as the rush of incoming oxygen can cause a flashback, as everything that is still hot enough to burn but doesn't have to oxygen to, will ignite at once.  The best way to avoid that is to "burp" the Egg.  Raise the lid about an inch and then shut a few times right before you open it all the way.

*Note*  Even if you are at your target temp, you want to wait for the smoke to clear to a hard to see clear smoke, that smells good before you put your food on.  The beginning of the fire will be burning off volatile organic compounds(VOCs), which can give your food an acrid smoky taste.  Waiting for the smoke to clear lets your know those have been burned off.

2: Firestarting
There are several options here.  Most people start with the BGE starter cubes they get with their Eggs but move onto another method fairly quickly.  Paper towels soaked in oil then twisted up and laid in the lump are popular and cheap.  I've been using a propane torch this last year, some people like the MAPP torch, weedburners, and electic starters.  All have their pluses and minuses to startup time, safety, and cost.  Look around on the forum see what other people are using, and go with whats comfortable for you to use.

3: Dome thermometer
First, right out of the box, make sure it is calibrated by putting the probe end in boiling water, making sure it reads 212(adjust for altitude).  If it is off, use a wrench to twist the nut on the back till the temperature reads correct in the boiling water.  Also would recommend doing this after anytime the temp has gone over 650, as this can throw it off.

Keep in mind, when doing indirect cooking, the temperature registered at the dome is 25-50 degrees higher than at grate level, with them coming closer in line the longer the dome stays shut.

*Note*  When I start my fire with starter cubes or oiled paper towels, I keep the lid open until the flames from the starter material die and then shut, as high burning flames can really artificially raise the temp the thermometer is reading, sometimes throwing off the calibration.

4:  Low and Slow cooks
I'll discuss principles, rather than recipes or techniques here, as there are a 1000 ways to skin this cat, but it seems like a lot of new Eggers have questions right off the bat about doing a pork butt or ribs.  While I've churned out some pretty good product(I'll go as far as excellent on a few occasions) over the last couple of years, I'm far from an expert, but hopefully I can shed some light on whats going on in the Egg and in the meat as it cooks.

Egg setup:  Plate setter in with legs up, drip pan on plate setter with a spacer keeping it lifted off the plate setter about a quarter of an inch, with grate on top.  Keeping the drip pan elevated a bit off the plate setter keeps drippings from burning.

First, to dispel a myth about the dreaded stall.  In case you are not familiar, the stall happens on cuts meats you take up to higher temps (around 200) slowly till they are butter tender (Pork Shoulder, for pulled pork, Beef and Pork Ribs, Brisket, and Chuck Roast, for pulled beef)  It generally happens once the meat hits somewhere between 150 and 175, and is characterized by the internal temp of the meat not rising (and sometimes falling a few degrees) for several hours in the case of pork shoulder, brisket, and chuck roast.  Traditional wisdom attributed the stall to the heat energy going into breaking down connectivity tissue and fat in the meat, but recent experiments by Alton Brown and others have shown it the be the result of evaporative cooling.  Temps start rising again when there is no longer enough moisture evaporating off the meat providing a cooling effect to offset the heat in the egg.  Ribs also go through a stall, but due to their higher surface area to volume, and the fact its hard to get a probe in them to monitor the whole cook, most people do not notice it.  (There are techniques for turbo butts, ribs, and briskets, and a range of opinions on foiling to push through the stall, but just addressing basics here).

Many people, especially coming from the offset or vertical smoker world, wonder if they need a water pan for moisture.  While you definitely want a drip pan, most people will agree a water pan is not necessary.  When you are cooking at low temps (250-300) the vents are open to such a small degree, you have a very slow air exchange compared to a traditional smoker, so you are not bringing in a ton of dry air, and the air inside stays very humid.  As far as getting smoke flavor goes, some people use chips, some use chunks, usually mixed throughout the lump, amount depending on taste, but never any need to soak them in water for use on the Egg. 

With your fire, once you have it at a stable temp in the range you are going for (225-275) before you put the meat on, know that it will drop as that cold piece of thermal mass gets put on the grate.  The temps will eventually level back out.  Try not to "chase" temps. If you really feel like you need to adjust your vent, make very small adjustments and be patient.  It can take 45 minutes or more for those changes to show an effect.  If you get impatient and open or close them anymore too soon, you could overshoot your temp or snuff your fire out. Your Egg will typically settle into sweet spot it likes being at on its own if you leave the vents set the way they were when you stabilized the temp before the meat was added.   

5:  Indirect medium to high heat cooks
Pretty straight forward, setup the egg the same as with the low and slows and your Egg will function like an amazing oven.  Only thing here to note is the vertical temperature gradients.  The higher in the dome, the warmer it is, so keep this in mind if you get a second extended grate to cook on two levels, or have something tall like a beer can chicken. (hint for the beer can chicken, stick it on the can or stand upside down, as the thighs need to be cooked to a higher temp than breasts anyway)

6: Direct heat cooks
Egg Setup: No plate setter, grate right on the fire ring.
Anyone who has ever cooked on a charcoal grill is pretty familiar with this.  Not really much to go into here, except the egg can get far hotter than any weber or gas grill can if you leave the vents wide open, so be careful.  I've lost more arm hair than I care to admit to fires going quite hot.

Opinion: Many people will talk about cooking raised direct, which involves raising the grill grate to the felt line or higher while still cooking direct to avoid charring from flare-ups, but personally, with careful fire control, I have never felt the need.

7: Conclusion
Always cook to temp, not time.  Investing in a good instant read thermometer (Thermapen brand is the most popular) is probably the single best investment you can make to get consistent results.

There are certainly a wealth of accessories you can get to up your game, but with just the basics you can still turn out fantastic food.  I'm a big believer in learning to cook first with the basics, then once you have mastered that, start investing in the automated pit controllers and stuff.  Electronics can die mid cook, and you want to have the confidence to be able to finish it off unassisted if need be.

www.eggheadforum.com is a fantastic resource full of friendly people.  If you can't find the answer to your question, feel free to ask, people will gladly answer.
Chicago, Illinois

Comments

  • henapplehenapple Posts: 15,575
    Or the cliff notes version. ..ask Henapple

    =))
    Green egg, dead animal and alcohol. The "Boro".. TN 
  • henapple said:

    Or the cliff notes version. ..ask Henapple

    =))

    Fire + meat = food?
    :)
    Chicago, Illinois
  • dldawes1dldawes1 Posts: 2,022

    Only being here for a couple of weeks now....I've read for hours and learned so much from all you great folks.

    @SHADOWNICK... I appreciate this thread as I have now learned a few more things and you confirm some of the ideas I have learned but were not sure I understood !!!!

    @HENAPPLE....you always make my day !

    Thanks again to everyone here on the forum for sharing...I apologize if I jump the gun and ask questions that I should take more time searching for the answer.

    Donnie

    Donnie Dawes - RNNL8 BBQ - Carrollton, KY  

    TWIN XLBGEs, 1-Beautiful wife, 1 XS Yorkie

    I'm keeping serious from now on...no more joking around from me...Meatheads !! 


  • lousubcaplousubcap Posts: 10,074
    @ShadowNick - most eggcellent post.  Lots of good solid info and hopefully it will be read and bookmarked.
    Louisville;  L & S BGEs 
    Pit Barrel Cooker
    ABC- 
  • Great post, thanks for the tips.
    Large Egg - Loudon County, VA.
  • minniemohminniemoh Posts: 1,729
    Great post @ShadowNick. This should get a lot of new eggers off to a solid start.
    L x2, M, S, Mini and a Blackstone 36. She says I have enough now....
    eggAddict from MN!
  • jfm0830jfm0830 Posts: 985
    Eggcellent post!! I wish something like this was around when I was learning the ropes. I also like the approach of learning to use the basic Egg & platesetter first.
    Website: www.grillinsmokin.net
    3 LBGE & More Eggcessories than I care to think about.
  • Very helpful. Thanks!
    ShannyShooShoo 
    Owner of 1 Mini BGE and 1 Wood-fired Brick Oven.
    Mother of 4 boys, 1 obese feline, 1 mean-assed chow, 1 rowdy bulldog, and 6 completely spoiled sugar gliders
  • wish you could have wrote this when I was first starting out. It's a good piece and you touched on just about everything, especially the main problem ares for a new egger. I can see this being bookmarked by a lot of people
    Pure Michigan
    Large BGE, Medium BGE, Weber Performer.
    If dogs don't go to heaven, when I die I want to go wherever they went
  • minniemoh said:
    Great post @ShadowNick. This should get a lot of new eggers off to a solid start.
    Ditto !

    Alexander City,Al
  • GriffinGriffin Posts: 7,449
    That should help out a lot of the newbies. Very nice write up.

    Richardson, Texas

    Griffin's Grub or you can find me on Facebook

    The Supreme Potentate, Sovereign Commander and Sultan of Wings

     

  • SmokinDAWG82SmokinDAWG82 Posts: 1,704
    Great write up, with as many newby's as we've had since Christmas this will benefit a lot of folks including some of us that have been here for awhile!
    LBGE
    Go Dawgs! - Marietta, GA
  • HDumptyEsqHDumptyEsq Posts: 1,095
    The value and spirit of this forum in one post. Nice one.

    Tony in Brentwood, TN.

    Medium BGE, New Braunfels off-set smoker, 3-burner Charbroiler gasser, mainly used for Eggcessory  storage, old electric upright now used for Amaz-N-Smoker.

    "I like cooking with wine - sometimes I put it in the food." - W. C. Fields

  • Nice post.

    It would take me 11hrs to type that, five to edit and it would still be a garbled mess. Helll this note took nine minutes.
    Hood Stars, Wrist Crowns and Obsession Dobs!


  • henapplehenapple Posts: 15,575

    henapple said:

    Or the cliff notes version. ..ask Henapple

    =))

    Fire + meat = food?
    :)
    Green egg, dead animal, alcohol.
    Green egg, dead animal and alcohol. The "Boro".. TN 
  • dgroce10dgroce10 Posts: 17
    edited January 2014
    Thanks for the tips. I am a new egger since Christmas, and I've been having trouble with the temp. First, I realized I "de-calibrated" my thermometer when I twisted it to have 350 on the top. I re-calibrated last weekend.

    I've also been having trouble getting the temp too hot and it taking too long to bring it back down. I was waiting to do anything to the daisy wheel until I hit my target temp. Now, I'll start closing it off when I'm 50 degrees out.

    I think my gaskets can be considered adhered now, so I'm looking forward to trying burgers this weekend.

    Again, thanks to you and the many great contributors on this here forum. I spend hours reading through these things.
    Daniel
    Smyrna, GA | LBGE owner since Jan. 2014
  • Thanks for a great post...as a newbie since January 2014 I found it extremely helpful.
    Large Big Green Egg, Old Weber Kettle, Saber Gas Grill...Peoria, AZ
    "Vegetarian is an old Indian word meaning "Bad Hunter"" Author Unknown
  • jls9595jls9595 Posts: 1,519
    Nice, you put some effort into this post.  Great info, as others have said, I wish I had something like this when I first got my egg a couple years ago.  I did get most of my info from this forum, just not all in one post like this.  
    In Manchester, TN
    Vol For Life!
  • Little StevenLittle Steven Posts: 27,980

    Steve 

    Caledon, ON

     

  • Man, thats a great link...  Thanks Little Steven!
    Chicago, Illinois
  • I was looking for a discussion that got really silly on the subject but couldn't find it

    Steve 

    Caledon, ON

     

  • Bumping this up for new Eggers we may have from the holidays.
    Chicago, Illinois
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