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BGE Newbie Quickstart guide

ShadowNickShadowNick Posts: 493
edited January 15 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

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