Incredible Egg

Michael Kraus

When my dad, an officer in the United States Air Force, was flying between Travis Air Force Base, in California, and Japan, in the 1960s, one of the treasures he brought home was a charcoal grill that he called a kamado oven. This heavy, egg-shaped ceramic grill, based on a design for a clay rice steamer called a mushikamado, could sear T-bones over super-high heat or smoke pork low and slow without drying out the meat. In my dad's time, kamado ovens could be had for about $7, making them popular souvenirs for U.S. military men. In the 1970s, a former Navy officer named Ed Fisher began manufacturing a version using ceramics with a high thermal resistance, meant to withstand searing heat without cracking. And he came up with a catchy name: the Big Green Egg. Today, Fisher is the high priest of a grilling cult whose faithful (collectively known as Eggheads) gather each fall by the thousands in Atlanta at an event called Eggtoberfest. Having cooked with an Egg many times, I understand their devotion. It's a snap to control (a bottom vent and top damper regulate airflow and temperature), and it produces results you can't achieve with a conventional kettle grill. Its insulating walls radiate so much interior heat that fuel burns with extraordinary efficiency: a single load of lump charcoal will suffice for several hours of cooking—a dream for slow-smoked foods. My father eventually traded up to an Egg himself, and though the heavy grill is not all that portable (if dropped on its side, it still can crack), it came with us as we moved from California to the Philippines to Alabama to New Jersey (where my dad wore his government-issue parka to grill during snowstorms). Every place we lived, it sat outside the back door, a constant in a life where there wasn't a lot of it. And though its wheels finally rusted off its stand, the Egg grilled, smoked, and even roasted and baked just as well as ever.