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After two years of dreaming, I can finally say it: I am an Egg man.
Never heard of the Big Green Egg? I hadn't, either, until a fateful fishing trip to Tampa, Florida. My smoker-fiend fishing host (Bobby Flay is his idol) turned me on to the concept of "Beer Butt Chicken," a creation that involves shoving an opened can of beer up a chicken's rear and then grilling the bird upright, so that the flesh gets all beer-steamy. So in my case, the chicken came before the Egg.
But Egg smokers have been big for years in the South, where warmer weather makes for a longer smoking season. The Big Green Egg (BGE, or Big Green Beast, to its legions of followers) looks just like it sounds: It's a green, egg-shaped orb patterned after the 3,000-year-old Japanese "kamado" cookers. Those clay cookers were first brought to the States by servicemen returning from post-WWII Japan who'd been won over by the kamado's efficiency.
Ed Fisher, father of the Big Green Egg, helped further the kamado's popularity in this country. In the mid-'70s he began importing kamados into the U.S., along with pachinko games: the upright, Asian pinball machines that quickly reached fad stature. While his pachinko orders soon slowed, the kamado orders increased. But rising costs, as well as the clay grill's inherently fragile nature, inspired Fisher to create his own kamado-style device, built with the modern-day chef in mind.
And so, in 1985, the Big Green Egg was hatched. Built for higher heat tolerance and fabricated of a hybrid ceramic allegedly created by the U.S. Space Shuttle program, the BGE quickly hit home with Dixie cookers. Fisher estimates he's sold over 250,000 Eggs so far; they're carried in 400 stores across America, including Outdoor Kitchens and the Pacific Mercantile, an Asian market in downtown Denver.
The BGE's main appeal is its thick ceramic vessel, which enables "low and slow" cooks to smoke food at low temperatures for as long as fourteen hours, on one load of the natural lump charcoal used in the Egg. (Lump charcoal burns far more efficiently than briquettes, creates less ash and imparts better flavor.) The Egg's heat-holding quality and its air-efficient design (featuring top and bottom dampers for boosting and controlling interior airflow) also enables it to reach extreme heat levels while barely warming the exterior. "You can get this thing up to 1,000 degrees and pour cold water on, and you can't damage it," Fisher says from his Atlanta office.
But the grill's greatest feature is what comes out of it. "The food is incredibly juicy and has more flavor because of clay's insulating property," Fisher says. "It surpasses anything that you can get in an oven at home or in a metal cooker."
Rich Dix, a Denver heating and air-conditioning-parts salesman, agrees. A longtime gas man (note: cooking outdoors with gas is a sacrilege), he purchased his Egg two years ago and changed his evil ways. "I threw my gas grill away," he says. "You can't beat the taste of food cooked on the Egg."
Jim Sandon, who's been cooking on an early-model BGE for years, says it delivers something no other grill can: "Taste. You will notice it immediately. You can taste the meat a lot better; it's more juicy."
Sandon works for Pacific Mercantile, where he sells several Eggs a month. Aurora's Outdoor Kitchens is the state's BGE distributor; grateful grillers can purchase Eggs there and through a number of area retailers.
"We call them 'Eggheads,'" says Caleb Clark, BGE's CEO. "We have people who travel hundreds of hundreds of miles to attend our Eggtoberfest each year."
What inspires such allegiance? "First of all, it's a little different -- which can always catch attention," Clark says. "Second, the dynamics of cooking on ceramic really make cooking more of a sport than just making a meal. For a lot of Eggheads, it's all about, 'How can I do it better next time?'"
The typical customer is someone with "a little free time and a little money in the bank," according to Clark. Eggs aren't cheap: A smaller model starts at just under $300, and a large Egg goes for around $600. Additional gadgets and attachments up the price, making the BGE a gift that keeps on taking as well as giving.
Eggheads hone their eggspertise through the BGE user exchange (find it and more Egg info at biggreenegg.com), where users swap recipes and tips. A visit reveals a wealth of obscure, do-it-yourself smoker info, including suggestions for smoking cheese and ribs and cooking pizzas; a link sends visitors to a site that sells "Willie's Chicken Sitter," a ceramic stand that takes beer-butt birds to new heights. Forum users post photos of their latest creations (mmm, that's a good-looking Boston Butt) and news only an Egghead could love. "We had a guy on there going through a divorce," Clark remembers. "His wife was going on about how she was going to get the Egg. He was giving up everything he could and wasn't sure how long he was going to be able to hold out.