Southern living means loving the Big Green Egg

8:00 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017 Food
Contributed: HENRI HOLLIS
The Big Green Egg headquarters has no shortage of grills. 

A few Saturdays ago, I observed the staff at Smith’s Olde Bar in Midtown turn the place into a sanctuary for Crimson Tide fans. Out came the Bama flag. On came the game, playing on every TV but one (for the University of Georgia). Up went the volume.

It was yet another reminder that the South is SEC Country. The South is not only that, though. It is also Big Green Egg Country.

Kent D. Johnson/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Ligaya Figueras is the AJC's food and dining editor and lead restaurant critic.

If front porches are where flags hang in allegiance to UGA, LSU and Ole Miss, backyards are where rivalries break down. It seems like everyone around here agrees that the Big Green Egg is best.

This cultural phenomenon became apparent to me last year while house hunting, visiting house after house with a hole in the deck.

“What is that?” I finally asked the real estate agent.

“Space for your Big Green Egg!” he said.

I didn’t end up buying a house with a hole in the deck for a Big Green Egg. I just have a grill. It’s fancy to me: four burners, plus an extra one that I haven’t really learned how to use, extendable work surfaces, a built-in thermometer. It’s been serviceable for searing steak, grilling fish and seafood and charring vegetables. I tried to make a cobbler on it not too long ago, but that dessert came out dry and smelling like smoke. The problem might be me. Or it might be my machine.

There are a whole lotta Big Green Egg prophets and disciples in these parts. They’ll preach on how it lets you grill, cook low and slow, smoke, roast and bake (OK, so like an Instant Pot for the outdoors). I’ve tasted their creations, but wanted to try it for myself.

It happens that the company’s headquarters, the so-called Mothership, is practically in my backyard. Jodi Burson, director of brand enhancement for Big Green Egg, agreed to arrange a visit. She enlisted two members of the culinary staff to Egg-doctrinate me.

Walking into the building on DeKalb Technology Parkway that overlooks I-85 is like a trip to Bass Pro Shops. Your eyes light up in the retail showroom. But instead of ogling a mammoth watercraft, ultimate fishing poles or new-age waders, you salivate over a custom cooking island and the XXLarge — the biggest and baddest of the Eggs. And since you can’t afford the $2,999 price tag, you manhandle all the gadgets, the so-called Egg-cessories. Maybe you walk away buying an Egg paperweight.

CONTRIBUTED: HENRI HOLLIS
The headquarters building for Big Green Egg overlooks I-85 near Spaghetti Junction. 

I didn’t check to see if they sell Egg postcards. Bet they do.

There’s even a museum, where you can learn about the Egg’s birth in 1974, when founder Ed Fisher began importing clay kamado pots from Asia. You can see the evolution of the Egg, like the mid-1990s model that moved to a ceramic formula to enable high-heat cooking, aka grilling.

CONTRIBUTED:  HENRI HOLLIS
An original Big Green Egg in the company’s on-site museum. 

Burson walked me to the culinary center in the rear where my tutors waited: Amanda Egidio and Taylor Shulman. Egidio handed me an info packet and broke down the Egg. She discussed the components of the apparatus, how to light it, get it up to the desired cooking temperature and shut it down. We talked about cooking on direct versus indirect heat.

“Am I going too fast?” she asked at one point. No, I lied. You know why? I was itching to visit the army of Eggs lined up on an adjoining side porch.

The plan was to prepare five dishes — steak, chicken kebabs, salmon, a pizza and a French toast casserole — to experience the versatility of the appliance.

“Anything you cook in your kitchen you can cook on a Big Green Egg,” Egidio said as we walked outside to get the fire party started. “Except deep-fried turkey,” Shulman interjected. Don’t do that, they both agreed.

As we lit four Eggs (yes, four!) Egidio and Shulman tossed out tips and tricks they’ve learned over time. Apparently, there is even an online forum where Eggheads share ideas.

One takeaway that applies to anyone who cooks outside — Egg or grill: If you’re cooking on a wooden deck, put a fire-proof rug under it. Errant sparks can fly, and that kind of fire isn’t what you’re after. Looking back, I guess I should pause and give thanks that my husband and I never burned down any house we lived in. Also, store charcoal indoors, away from humidity. Otherwise, it can take longer to get the device up to temperature.

CONTRIBUTED: HENRI HOLLIS
Chef Amanda Egidio, who manages the Big Green Egg Culinary Center, talks about cooking on the Big Green Egg. 

It’s amazing how certain accessories can quickly become a cook’s best friend. The convEGGtor is a pretty cool gizmo that helps with indirect cooking, but my new favorite has to be the flexible grilling skewers we used to prepare chicken kebabs. Made of food-grade stainless steel cable, they make marinating and grilling a snap. Once you thread the food onto the skewer, which holds twice as much food as a regular metal or wooden skewer stick, you can just toss it into a marinating bag. The pointed ends fit together to form a circle, so it’s easy to flip the food. If you’re cooking more than one thing at a time on the grill, the skewer’s flexible shape allows you to position it however you need to fit the space. Revelation!

The other eye-opening moment was putting together French Toast Casserole. We used a 14-inch cast iron skillet, to which we added chunks of ripped up challah bread, a custard-ish combination of eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon, and a crumb topping. It boiled and bubbled in the Egg and, once finished, we topped it with a persimmon compote, a recipe easily adaptable for whatever fruit is in season. That moist, brunch-perfect casserole put to shame my sore attempt at a blueberry cobbler in the grill.

Now I’m doubly sore that I didn’t make it to Eggtoberfest last month. I would like to have butted heads with Eggheads. According to Burson, people come in from all around the country. Some even turn the event into a vacation. It’s a Big Green Egg love fest.

I’ll have to content myself with attending one of the upcoming classes, perhaps make a few edible holiday gifts on the Egg so when I step onto my deck and smell the smoke from other backyards, I’ll have a neighborly present at the ready when I knock on the door and invite myself over for dinner.

I don’t care which SEC flag is flying out front. It’s what’s happening in the backyard that counts.

French toast casserole with bacon-persimmon compote, prepared at the Big Green Egg culinary center. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS
Contributed: HENRI HOLLIS
French toast casserole and chicken kebabs cook on the same grill. 
Contributed: HENRI HOLLIS
Cedar plank salmon over the fire on a Big Green Egg. 

Nov. 16: Thanksgiving on the Big Green Egg

Dec. 2, 12 and 14: EGG-made Gifts for the Holidays

Dec. 6: Creating a Hanukkah Dinner on the Big Green Egg

Dec. 7: Holiday Pie Making

Dec. 19: Holiday Recipes for the Big Green Egg

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