Big Green Egg Buyers Guide
I’m a huge fan of my Big Green Egg. I have been a casual griller for a long time, mostly on a gas grill. At some point I decided I wanted to look at a grill that had more capabilities and that is when I found the Big Green Egg. After I got the Egg, set it up and used it, I put my previous gas and kettle grills on Craigslist and they were gone in a couple of days. I think I can count about ten people who have Eggs now in part on my recommendation. A number of friends that decide to get a Big Green Egg have asked me for advice on what accessories to get, or which Egg to get.
This post is a collection of those recommendations so I don’t have to repeat myself, and to share with the larger group of soon-to-be EGGheads!
Before we start on what to buy, let’s address where to buy. Big Green Eggs are always the same price so you won’t find a better price at one place or another. You may find some stores that will throw in a class or something, but not a discount. I bought my Egg, and recommend others in Minneapolis to check out Kitchen Window. I also buy a lot of supplies at Settergren Ace Hardware which is really close to my house.
I would encourage you to buy your Egg local, and buy it from a place where the person that runs the store has his own Egg at home. The guy that runs Settergren’s has an Egg at home. The manager at Kitchen Window does too. They know their Eggs.
You need more than just the Big Green Egg. These items are things that I view as a requirement to get with your Egg, starting with the Egg I recommend.
Large Big Green Egg
I strongly recommend that people get the large Big Green Egg. I started with a large and have added a small Egg to my setup as well. I’ve never owned a medium or x-large but have talked with people who have them. The medium seems an odd choice to me, sort of “no man’s land” between small and large. The x-large is really big and with that you need to factor in longer time to come up to temperature and more charcoal required.
The large will accommodate nearly everything you do on the egg. You can do a half-dozen or more full racks of ribs. Whole fresh hams fit fine. All but the most giant of turkeys will be fine. If you get a whole packer brisket you will likely need to cut it to fit it on the large, but you would on the x-large as well.
I also have a small so that I can have two temperatures going. Mainly if I want to do a tenderloin and corn on the cob, I can do both at the same time. Or if I’m smoking a brisket for 20 hours and need to prep some burgers for the kids I can use the small one. It’s very handy, but is certainly a luxury.
Getting a Big Green Egg without getting a plate setter isn’t really an option. I’m not even sure why it is sold separately. I guess if the only thing you plan on doing is typical grilling you could maybe skip it. But you really aren’t taking full advantage of the wonderful capabilities of the Big Green Egg. The plate setter is how you make indirect heat on the Egg and is required for anything other than high heat grilling.
The plate setter is required for smoking, but it’s also used for pizza. It’s not just a low temperature thing, it is about managing the heat distribution on the food.
Update (Sept. 2016): It looks like the marketing department at Big Green Egg got excited and renamed the plate setter to the convEGGtor. I’m going to flatly refuse to use that name but be aware that it may be called that in the store.
The design of the Egg leaves the ash in the bottom of the grill. The vent is there to control air flow and heat during cooking, as well as to reach the ash that has collected there. This is where the ash tool is used.
I don’t think there is anything that you could use besides the ash tool to clean it out. It seems like a required accessory.
Paraffin Fire Starters
I’m a big fan of the paraffin fire starters for the Egg. Feel free to start with the Big Green Egg brand, but I would quickly switch due to price. I get these in boxes by the hundreds at my local hardware store and I swear it is the same product inside.
Over time I’ve learned that I use one block to start a fire “slow” and two to get going faster. So if I’m smoking something and want a low temperature I use one block. If I’m doing steaks and want something closer to 500 degrees I light two separate blocks and start the fire in two spots. This is a handy shortcut.
A few advantages of the paraffin starters:
- There are some new reusable blocks that you put fluid on. I don’t want to have to find the blocks in the charcoal to reuse them. I like that the paraffin is a single use.
- They are made of recycled product.
- They tend to emit a burst of light-grey to white smoke, and the smoke increases a bit at the end. I use this to tell visually by looking at the smoke from the Egg how far along the starting process is, without opening it.
I’ve used these all the time and I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve had a failed start.
Big Green Egg Charcoal
You’re buying a charcoal grill, you need some charcoal. If you previously used charcoal briquettes throw those away. Use only natural lump charcoal in your Egg.
I tend to think of charcoal like film photographers used to think of film. I don’t experiment a lot. I’ve learned a couple of charcoals and I stick with them. I know how they work, how they flavor the food, how they burn. If I’m using new charcoal I’m always a bit on edge about how it will behave.
I only use Big Green Egg charcoal. It is composed of oak and hickory, has a good flavor and consistency and burns consistently. I do use Wicked Good charcoal at times when I want less of a smokey flavor. Oak and hickory are powerful, and if I want to bring more subtle flavors I use the Wicked Good as it is a more mild flavor.
An important note, if you are adding wood chunks to your charcoal to add smoke you must consider that in conjunction with your charcoal. Using a mild, sweet smoking wood with the oak and hickory in the Big Green Egg charcoal is a waste. The flavors will be completely overloaded by the charcoal.
If you decide to play with other charcoal, make sure to consult the charcoal database.
Serious Hand Protection
Working with the Egg you are going to need some very serious hand protection. I have two options that I use. I have a pair of very thick welding gloves. These work well for handling heavy and very hot pieces of ceramic, such as removing the plate setter from the grill when it is hot. However, if they get at all moist I’m in for big trouble. The heat will flash through in no time.
For more cooking uses, I have a pair of liquid resistant Kitchen Grips mitts that are rated to 500 degrees. These work great and protect my hands even when there is some moistness to the surface.
I like having both because the mitts don’t have fingers so I can’t do anything complicated with them. The gloves are fingered, and work well for lifting or setting things in place. I would recommend a similar combo.
Table or Stand for the Egg
You will need a place for your Egg to sit. The cheapest option is to get the Egg nest and set it in their. You can also get “wings” which are swing out little tables on it. If this is all you can accommodate from budget or space, it would be fine. However, I think you are going to want more space.
While I think a table for your Egg is required, I’m not a fan of the table from the Big Green Egg company. I got one of these to start with and was never happy with it. It is strong enough, but barely. Boards started to sag after a year. I had problems with mold on it. It absorbs every mop sauce or rub that ever touches it and was just very dirty.
I had a custom table made by a wonderful woodworker and am a huge fan. If you are handy with tools there are plenty of kits to building your own table, and for many Egg owners there is great pride in building their own custom table.
These items are not required, but they are highly recommended. You’ll be able to grill and get things done without them. But, I think you will make better food and enjoy yourself more with these items.
Cast Iron Grid
It took me a while to get a cast iron grid for my Egg. I just used the porcelain one for everything. Mostly that is fine, but the cast iron grid is really needed if you want to get good char marks (and the flavor!) on steaks or even vegetables.
The cast iron grid holds a good amount of heat. I can tell just from the sound when you put a steak on the cast iron grid that you are getting that true steakhouse look and taste.
The cast iron grid is also very useful for veggies. The spaces between the grid are smaller and easier to cook on. Grilled romaine actually grills on a cast iron grid, on the porcelain you get more of a high temp cooked effect.
Thermapen Instant Read Digital Thermometer
My good friend and grilling mentor Mike introduced me to the Thermapen and I can’t imagine grilling without it, and certainly not smoking anything. The Thermapen is a must have for me, but I left it as recommended since you can cook without it. You can also drive a car with your feet if you like. Yes, it is $100 for a thermometer, but it’s worth it.
I’ve written before about the miracles of the Thermapen. The speed that the instant read works at allows for amazing uses. For example, when smoking a brisket you can put the probe in and pull it out slowly over several seconds seeing the temperature at each location from the center to outer region of the brisket.
The grill gripper is more needed than you may think. I use it every time I grill. It is what I use to lift the porcelain grid out of the grill and get the fire started.
You will also find this useful if you are pulling a deep dish pizza pan, or cake pan off of the grill.
Unfortunately, you cannot grip the cast iron grid with this. The gripper doesn’t open wide enough.
You may have a pizza stone already, but be careful. The Egg can get really hot, hotter than a lot of grills. I have read temperatures that exceed my infrared thermometer and just show +999 on the surface. When I do pizza I have a full firebox, and the top and bottom air vents are wide open. It’s very hot.
A lot of stones will crack in these temperatures. I’m not sure why, but it is a common problem that people mention on the EGGhead forums. I have a Big Green Egg stone and it is fine. It is also thick and heavy.
If your stone doesn’t indicate a rating, or is less than 3/4 inch thick I would not put it in your egg.
The ash pan isn’t required but you will miss not having it. You use this with the ash tool to collect the ash out of the Egg. You could use anything else to catch it, but the key is that the Egg is round so there is a curve. The winning feature of the ash pan is that it is the same curvature as your Egg, and has a little lip that sits into the vent mechanism to make a tight seal.
It is worth noting that even with the ash pan you should plan that there will be some ash spill when you clean out the Egg. Like many Egg owners I place a 18″ square paving stone underneath mine so that the ash falls on that instead of any wood.
There is nothing Big Green Egg specific about the meat hook, I just find it to be such a wonderful tool for dealing with meat on the grill. I find that I can deal with a tightly packed cooking surface better with it.
Just get one, I think you will find it very useful.
These optional items you can probably skip.
I have one of these riser racks and it is handy for times when you are doing a lot of food. If I do a full brisket I will often cut off the point and put it on the riser rack. It also is handy if you are doing a lot of corn and want to get another 8 or so ears on the grill.
Beware that it isn’t very heavy-duty so I wouldn’t put a dutch oven on it. It’s fine to hold most any food, but beware of weight limits.
Cast iron Griddle
I have one of these for two reasons. I like to have it to sear meat or do a burger in a fried (versus grilled) style. I also like it for cooking vegetables on, or if you are doing up some potatoes to go with your meal. If you’re doing breakfast on the Egg this is a great way to do some hash browns while your sausage cooks on the other side.
These are some things that you may think you should buy, and I really recommend you don’t.
Electric Charcoal Starter
I’m biased against the electric starters for a lot of reasons. I will say that a couple of friends of mine got them and they like it. I also know that my favorite Egg seller, Kitchen Window, regularly recommends these to customers. I don’t have one and won’t be buying one.
The first reason I don’t recommend these is really out of principle. You are working with an Egg and charcoal. I just don’t like the idea of introducing electricity to the setup. It seems, well, wrong for some reason.
The better reason I don’t recommend them is that I feel it limits your ability to start the fire with a specific intent. I mentioned above when talking about the starter blocks that I use one or two depending on the type of fire I’m building. I also will top or bottom-start the fire, again depending on intent. I don’t see how you can start different kinds of fire with the electric starter.
To elaborate, if I’m looking for a 220 degree Egg temperature for a brisket I top start the fire with a single starter. It’s slow and gradual, I can keep it in line and it will burn for 24 hours. If I want to do pizzas at full blast, I’ll top and bottom start to get a ton of fire going quickly.
If you are looking at one of these your probably coming from a kettle grill. You don’t need these at all on an Egg. The lump charcoal starts easily, and the firebox of the egg is its own containment area. If you are used to using one of these on your existing grill, please don’t try to use it on your Egg.
I will admit that I was foolish enough to buy a drip pan. One of the great things about the Egg is that you really don’t clean it. If it’s dirty, just start the fire. At 800 degrees it will be clean. :-) Don’t worry about dripping from meat getting on anything, just let it burn down.
You may think you want a drip pan to catch drippings. That is what I got one for. I just haven’t ever seen that work. The pan boiled empty and was destroyed with black residue.
If you wanted to introduce a mop sauce into the cooking chamber, you may want a drip pan for that. But in that case just get a cheap aluminum pan or old cake pan and keep an inch of liquid in it.
Hope that helps. You should also download the Big Green Egg community cookbook.