Backyard cooking changed dramatically for Tom Vogds about 10 years ago when he decided to splurge on a Big Green Egg.
Not only did he expand his culinary repertoire, but he also found himself part of a culture that added a few thousand new friends to his circle.
"I was tired of replacing my grill every three or four years," says Vogds, a Denton commercial real estate broker by day -- and a self-professed Egghead the rest of the time. "Then I decided I wanted something that both grills and smokes."
Like the legions of Big Green Egg fans around the world, Vogds revels in the plentiful capabilities of the domed, dimpled, charcoal-powered ceramic cooker with the catchy name.
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The Big Green Egg traces its roots to the Kamado-style cookers of Chinese and Japanese cultures many centuries past. The modern Egg originated in Atlanta in the 1970s, and its construction quickly has evolved to incorporate ceramic materials developed by NASA space engineers to withstand intense heat and remain durable for a lifespan of 20 years or more.
Worldwide devotion to the Egg is the stuff of modern cooking lore.
Across the Big Green Egg website's discussion rooms, Eggheads gleefully share cooking and entertaining ideas. Ogling each other's outdoor kitchens, most of which have been elaborately designed around their Eggs, Eggheads virtually attend each other's dinner parties.
A glance at the events section of the Big Green Egg website (www.biggreenegg.com) shows summer "Eggfests" taking place from Pennsylvania to Montana, from Indianapolis to Sonoma County, Calif. Closer to home, a "TEggsArkana" Eggfest is planned for October.
"It's not uncommon for me to run into people I've met over the years at one Eggfest and another," says Vodgs, who owns Eggs in four sizes. "We get to know each other at Eggfests and on the forums."
Nearly 20,000 Eggs sell annually in the region covering Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and part of Oklahoma, with an increase of almost 30 percent annually.
"Once someone tries an Egg, they have to have one. Once they get one in the back yard, they want to build an outdoor kitchen around it," says Jimmie Railey, a manager for Morrison, a wholesaler with 25 locations in Texas that offers Big Green Egg 101 classes for prospective clients. "The average person can become a pro with the Green Egg. It produces such good food."
Chefs love Egg's versatility
The Egg made a believer of Fort Worth's cowboy cook and restaurateur Grady Spears. Now a distributor selling the Big Green Egg at his Line Camp restaurant near Granbury, Spears shows his guests how to use the Egg before they take it home.
"People are just fanatical about them because they're so easy to use and to clean," Spears says. "I like that it can do anything -- bake, smoke, grill. It's really a versatile tool."
Steven Raichlen, host of PBS grilling programs and author of bestselling barbecue guides, tempers his opinion on the Egg somewhat. When he teaches his BBQ U, an intensive outdoor cooking summer camp at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, his equipment includes the Big Green Egg, along with 30 other cookers, smokers and grills.
"The Egg's advantages include thick walls that hold in heat and moisture, and clever venting and thermodynamics, which enable you to go from low heat to high heat quickly," says Raichlen, who enjoys using the Egg to smoke turkeys and grill lamb burgers. "Its disadvantages include a relatively small cooking surface and the need to remove the food and grate whenever you refuel it or add smoking chips."
The ease in controlling temperature made the Egg a huge hit for Tyler Merrell, a cutting-horse trainer from Poolville whose wife gave him his first Big Green Egg a year ago.
"I used to get really stressed about temperature when I was grilling and smoking, so [my wife] gave it to me so I wouldn't worry anymore," says Merrell, who uses his Egg at least two to three times a week in nice weather. "I'll do whole meats on it, but we still like doing simple things, too."
Merrell and his wife, Katy Keenie, a country-music singer, agree that their Egg produces astonishingly good results across the board, whether they are doing a big brisket, burgers or steaks.
Merrell teamed up recently with buddy Eric Hunter, owner-chef at Fire Oak Grill in Weatherford, for a Sunday-afternoon cookfest on the Egg.
Good Egg news travels fast, as Hunter's pal Kevin Martinez, chef de cuisine at Tokyo Cafe in Fort Worth, jumped into the fun -- and an evening of grilling, baking and smoking ensued.
On the menu were pizza, salad, lamb, cornbread, salmon, corn on the cob and even a plum cobbler using fruit from local trees. All were cooked on a Big Green Egg.
Hunter fell hard for the Big Green Egg when he worked with one at a restaurant in Atlanta several years ago. Since then, he has cooked on Eggs whenever the rare day off allows.
"Being able to do anything on the Egg is so great," he says.
And just as Eggheads promise, the backyard gathering naturally became one of friends who share a love of great food and Kamado camaraderie.
Grilled ivory salmon with grilled broccoli and shiso pesto
Chef Kevin Martinez introduced this dish in June at Tokyo Cafe. You can substitute mahi-mahi or halibut for the ivory salmon. Shiso leaves and yuzu citrus juice are found at Asian grocers. For shiso, you can substitute spinach leaves. Togarashi, a Japanese seven-spice blend, is available at Central Market and Asian markets. You can substitute cayenne pepper, if you like.
12 ounces of salmon, mahi-mahi or halibut
1 head broccoli
1 to 2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
1 tablespoon Togarashi
6 shiso leaves
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon peeled, diced fresh ginger
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 scallions, green parts only
1 tablespoon yuzu citrus juice (or lime juice)
Salt to taste
1. Dust fish fillets in sea salt and set aside.
2. Cut broccoli into 1/3-inch-thick stalks. Toss with olive oil and seasonings and set aside until ready to grill.
3. Combine all shiso pesto ingredients in food processor. Process until smooth and thick. Set aside.
4. Place fish skin-side-down on the grill in a 350-degree Egg. Make sure the grill is oiled first. Total cooking time is about 8 to 12 minutes; turn once during cooking.
5. Grill broccoli about 2 minutes per side, so that it remains crisp.
6. Arrange fish and broccoli on a platter; top with shiso pesto.
-- Chef Kevin Martinez
Grilled Belgium endive with gorgonzola and Parker County peach salad with fig vinaigrette
1/2 cup fig vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
12 heads of endive
1/2 cup Gorgonzola
Salt and pepper
1. In a large bowl, pour vinegar and whisk in 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil until emulsified.
2. Cut endive heads in half lengthwise and toss with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil while adding liberal amount of salt and pepper. Grill endive on Big Green Egg at 400 degrees until you get good grill marks on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from grill and let cool to room temperature.
3. Roughly chop 6 halves of endive. Slice peaches into 1/2-inch slices. Place chopped endive and one sliced peach in a bowl with vinaigrette. Add 1/3 of the Gorgonzola crumbles, and toss thoroughly. Arrange remaining endive and peaches on a platter. Add the tossed mixture on top, then crumble the remaining Gorgonzola over the salad. Add salt and pepper to taste.
-- Chef Eric Hunter
Venison prosciutto and heirloom tomato pizza
You can substitute regular prosciutto or serrano ham, if you like.
1 cup water, room temperature
1 tablespoon dry active yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1. Mix water, yeast and sugar in a large bowl; let sit until it starts to bubble.
2. Mix the rest of the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Mix in by hand, the wet into the dry, until you get a ball of dough.
3. Move the ball onto a floured surface and knead by hand for three minutes. Then rub a bowl with the olive oil and place the dough in the bowl and cover with a dish towel. Keep the bowl in a warm area until the dough triples in size.
Note: You will have enough dough for a 13-inch pizza.
10 cloves garlic
3/4 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup smoked almonds
2 tablespoons asiago cheese
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Combine garlic, basil, almonds and cheese in a food processor. Process while slowly adding extra-virgin olive oil.
1/4 cup basil pesto
Extra-virgin olive oil to taste
1 large ball, about 8 ounces, of fresh mozzarella
2 yellow heirloom tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
4 ounces venison prosciutto or serrano ham
1. On a well-floured surface, place dough and begin to press into a circle, pushing the dough outward while trying to keep a nice thick edge. Flip and continue to work the dough until you reach the desired shape, working to make it as thin as possible without tearing.
2. Spoon on the pesto to cover the dough, leaving about an inch for the crust. Rub extra-virgin olive oil on the edge to prevent over-browning. Place thinly sliced pieces of mozzarella to almost cover the pie. Spread tomatoes on top of cheese. Finally, top with the prosciutto or ham.
3. Place the pizza on a stone in a 600-degree Big Green Egg. Bake for 6 minutes and check to see if cheese has melted and bottom has browned. Remove and cut into slices.
-- Chef Eric Hunter
Chef Kevin Martinez combines his Hispanic heritage with his Japanese cooking training for this treat. Kewpie is a Japanese mayonnaise found in Asian grocery stores, as is katsuo, a fish flake mix that is also sold at Central Market.
4 shucked ears of yellow corn
8 wooden skewers
1/2 cup melted unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Kewpie mayonnaise
2 tablespoons katsuo mix
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons Togarashi (or cayenne pepper)
Yuzu juice, to taste
4 scallions, sliced thin
1 jalapeño, seeded and sliced thin
1. In a 350- to 400-degree Big Green Egg, place the corn on the grill and cook until lightly charred, about 3 minutes each side for total of 6 minutes. Cut the corn in half and skewer so that it is easier to hold and dress.
2. Brush some of the melted butter and mayo on the corn to act as the sticky agent to hold everything to it. Sprinkle the katsuo mix, salt, pepper and Togarashi on next. Finally, sprinkle with a dash of yuzu juice and garnish with scallions and jalapeño.
-- Chef Kevin Martinez