The ultimate tool for the BBQ purist

I will admit to being a bit of a BBQ geek. We have the traditional built-in terrace BBQ at home, to which some years ago I added a wood burning oven in the garden. Then came my Weber, a piece of outdoor cooking equipment that changed my perception of BBQ from direct charcoal grilling to indirect BBQ roasting in the American style.
I also have a cheap €16 BBQ bought at the supermarket that sits outside the kitchen door – the sort that people take camping. So I hardly needed yet another outdoor cooking contraption … that was until I saw the Big Green Egg.
The Egg appeals to the BBQ purist and takes the use of charcoal as a cooking fuel to a whole new level. I finally took delivery of mine last weekend.
The BBQ purist is of course someone like myself, who would never even contemplate a gas BBQ. I think of gas BBQs a bit like silicone breast implants; they look good and they do the job but they’re just not the real thing!
I had read a great deal about the Big Green Egg and was intrigued a couple of years ago when it started to be adopted as an essential piece of kit for top chefs.
Here in the Algarve for instance, the Egg is used on every service at both of the region’s two-star Michelin restaurants, and others such as Florian in Quinta do Lago, whose chef Piet Warink was one of the first chefs here to use it professionally.
So what is so special about it? In a nutshell, what sets the Big Green Egg apart from any other barbecue is its versatility and efficiency.
Based on the concept of ancient Chinese clay ovens but made from NASA grade ceramic, the egg can reach and cook at extremely high temperatures – over 400ºC – but it can also slow-roast at low controlled temperatures, such are the heat retaining qualities of the ceramic construction. 
On Sunday – after an initial fast roasting attempt to christen my Egg on Saturday – I made slow-roast pork belly, closing down the airflow to a bare minimum to roast at around 100ºC for five hours, then opening the vents to quickly raise the temperature to over 200ºC and crisp off the crackling.
For this type of cooking, it is important to use the right charcoal.
Casa Curiosa in Almancil, the Algarve distributors of the Big Green Egg, sell the recommended natural lump charcoal, which is of excellent quality, but for fast-roasting or direct grilling any natural charcoal is fine, as long as decent-sized pieces are selected.
After five hours of slow roasting, I was amazed by how the coals were still completely intact and came back so easily to a high temperature when the air flow was increased.
Once finished cooking, it is simple to “snuff out” the Egg by totally sealing off the air flow and if not completely burned out, the coals can be lit again another day. In fact, I managed to roast a chicken on Monday with the leftover coals from my Sunday cook.
Photo: Piet Warink of Florian Restaurant, Quinta do Lago – one the Algarve’s true Big Green “Eggsperts” (by Hélio Ramos)
By By PATRICK STUART [email protected]