Since leaving London and moving to the counry I have aquired a new toy, a Big Green Egg. Having read about them I wondered if they were really this fantastic device for cooking/smoking food. I was not disappointed!
The Big Green Egg is a sexy looking piece of kit, as its name suggests it is a huge green rugby ball shaped barbeque. Inside the ceramic shell is the lower bowl where the charcoal is placed. Sitting above this is a ledge where you place the grate and used in its simplest form it will cook great burgers and sausages. But to have the egg for just simple BBQ food would be like hiring Heston to cook for you and asking him to pick up the pizza from the shop.
There are many wonderful attachments and gadgets that can be added to the egg, some really enhance the cooking experience and some are maybe directed towards the foodie collectors. All of them serve a purpose for great cooking.
The most common and in my opinion essential add on is the convEGGtor (plate setter) which transforms the egg into an oven for either low and slow cooking or roasting in one position and then turned over becomes a great baking oven.
What impressed me the most was how easy it was to achieve your desired temperature and then maintain it. Once cooking has finished the egg is then ‘switched off’ by closing the vents. Switching off may sound instantenous and of course the egg maintains the heat for an hour or two, but when cooled I was delighted to see that not all of the charcoal was used at the bottom and after a small top up was able to give it another outing.
Now these are not a cheap hobby, and you wouldnt take this to the park for a spontaneous summer picnic but they really do enhance your food and will become a serious alternative for some conventional cooking methods.
After trialling a chicken on the family on stir up sunday, I’m going to do the turkey on it at christmas. Smoking the the chicken gave it a subtle flavour that was hands up the favourite choice compare to a standard oven roasted chicken. Having brined the chicken, it was also one of the most moist birds I have tasted too.
There are noticable differences when using an egg, and its not just flavour. A pink hue can appear on all meats when they are smoked. This is due to the myoglobin in the meat, which is the pigment responsible for colour of the muscle, changing state. Because you are smoking with wood, the nitrogen combines with the oxygen to form Nitrogen Dioxide, and as this is water soluble it will set into the moist meat to form nitrous acid. All of this may not sound too appealing, but the pink ring effect is heralded among smokers as a sign of beauty.
There are many types of smoker available and those of you that are DIY fans could even upscale some equipment to make your own beast. For me being a bit of a gadget nerd I love the consistency of the egg and the shape of it sits well on the patio and allows a talking point when entertaining.
Below is the recipe for smoking a whole chicken and I will put out some other ideas over the coming months.
Smoked whole chicken in the big egg
Serves 4-6 (depending on size of chicken)
1 Whole chicken
For the brine (giving you 5%):
3 litres of water
1 heaped tblsp dried thyme
For cooking on the egg:
- To make the brine add the sugar and water to 500ml of the water, bring to a simmer until dissolved add the thyme and take off heat. Add the remainder of the water and cool completely.
- Remove any giblets from the chicken and immerse in the brine. Allow to sit for 24 hours in the fridge then remove, pat dry and rest for a further 8-24 hours uncovered in the fridge.
- Before cooking the chicken your green egg needs to be at a consistent temperature of 180ºC, with the plate setter positioned with legs up and grill replaced.
- It will take the egg approx. 30 mins to get to this temp with top vent open and lower vent fully open. Whilst your egg is reaching the correct heat, bring your chicken out to allow it to come to room temp. Once the temp has been reached close the top vent so that only the slots are fully open and close the lower vent to about 1”.
- Mix the olive oil with paprika and baste the chicken, sit its cavity on a vertical chicken roaster, can of beer (half empty) or a bundt/saverin tin. This will allow the chicken to cook a little more efficiently, however it can be placed into a roasting tin and cooked. However you choose ensure there is a container to catch juices. Place the chicken and your chosen vessel onto the egg grill and close the lid.
- You can baste the chicken up to about 4 times during the cooking time, but rememeber that when the egg is open the temparature is dropping. Duration of cooking time depends on the size of the chicken but the average 3-4lb (approx. 1.5-2Kg) chicken will take just over 1 hour and an internal temperature needs to be 75ºC, be aware that this form of cooking can sometimes give the chicken a pink hue, so check that the fibres are set too. If you are unsure it is possible to keep it in the egg for another 20-30 mins without it drying out because of the brine.
- Allow the chicken to rest wrapped in foil for at least 20 mins and upto 1 hour before carving. It is advisable to serve the chicken immediately after carving so as not to cool the meat too much.