What’s Your Disorder? (Can’t I Just Enjoy Mine In Peace?)

Will the labeling committee please stand up?

I mean, who gets to decide an action, a trait, or a preference, is ”pathological”, then create a pithy little acronym by tagging a ”D” on, and subjugate the behavior into a disorder? Who are these people?

Can somebody please tell me what is so wrong with being active and having a hard time paying attention to one thing at a time? So what your knee twitches up and down like the needle on a sewing machine; you wave your hands like a traffic-cop on speed when you talk; and you happen to notice and point out every cardinal that lands in the back yard during your wife’s attempt to tell you about her day with the kids? Is it really such a crime to be aware? (At least you choked down your suspected Aspergers and didn’t mock her for the hair you saw growing out of her left ear.)

Maybe a chart exists with the exact amount of attention every single topic deserves to have paid to it in milliseconds of unbroken focus. But who actually came up with the precise sum of Attention you have to pay not to be in a deficit state? Who are these attention auditors who determine what attention should be spent on?

I think what the attention police really have a problem with isn’t that you’re not paying attention. It’s that you’re paying attention to the WRONG DAMN THING! You should be aware that there may come a day in the not-too-distant-future, when you’re prevented from going to a movie, reading a novel, or stalking on Facebook because your attention credit score is blown from missed attention installments to the right things: like work meetings and class lectures.

You’d think that protecting your attention from boredom, and saving it for important stuff like the way dust mites sometimes sparkle like floating rainbow-prisms if you hold your head sideways near your desktop and the sunlight slants in the classroom window just so, would help you to jack up your Attention balance. That attention to detail ought to count for something! But your balance takes a beating because the pencil sharpener is diagonally opposite and across the room from you and you need the fine point of a very sharp pencil several times a class. Your deficit only decreases in a ratio proportionate both to how uninspiring the subject matter is, and how little temptation it holds for your innate curiosity (with extra-credit given if you sit ramrod straight with your hands folded in your lap, no matter how dull your pencil gets).

Look, just because when you’re at work, you don’t happen to notice and become distracted by the sound of your spinning hard drive, doesn’t prove that I’ve got a problem for ALWAYS NOTICING MINE! Maybe I’m just sensitive to my environment, like a finely-attuned, fully-functional, highly-trained member of the ecosystem, you ever think of that, you haters? (I bet you don’t even hear the audible frequency change when your DVR cycles on in the night! And yet, I’m the one with the disorder?)

Here’s my vote for the Attention-Deficit-Hyper-Active crowd. I propose we start calling ourselves Awareness Ninjas because we need love too! Reacting to being surrounded by sedentary people with Yawn-Inducing-Conversation-Topic-Disorder, shouldn’t result in all the negative publicity and prescriptions for adderall. Who but we will interrupt you in the middle of your rambling story to point out the cool way the tree branches bounce and sway in the breeze like they’re connected to invisible yo-yo bungees? Give credit where credit is due.

But let’s move on to my favorites, the Obsessive-Compulsives, of whom I admit I am a charter member. Everything is fine with scouring the Internet to accumulate every little nuanced scrap of minute data about waterfowl hunting and collecting items for said pursuit until somebody has to go and call it “Obsessive!” Yes, I remember owning the chest high waders and tying my chocolate Labrador in the trunk of the Buick to go duck hunting with forty-five dollar boxes of copper-pelleted shotgun shells and three different types of handmade duck calls after spending hours practicing in front of VHS duck-calling videos and almost got my shotgun thrown into the lake by the irate, duck-loving landowner whose permission I forgot to seek before putting my two-dozen plastic decoys into his favorite bass pond without tethering them to anything more substantial than his wife’s rose trellis. (A man’s got to hunt!) Plus, I told you that yes, all three calls were necessary because they represented the three different stages of successfully convincing the little gourmet-meals-on-the-wing to apply their air brakes and alight in your spread within shotgun range, and they’re expensive because you have to pay for quality with ducks being smart enough to discern the difference between plastic and handmade as anyone who’s researched the matter knows.

Of course, since you’ve watched me grok out on (and later graduate from) duck hunting…and mountain bike riding…and drawing…and Battlefield 3, I don’t expect you to understand that in fact it does require a bare minimum of two subscriptions to different golf magazines, and an hour a day watching “Golf Fix” plus several times a week hitting buckets of balls in order to be moderately successful on the course. I’m sure you don’t realize that most serious golfers own three or four putters and three or four drivers like I do, and that the quest for the perfect driver/putter is a serious one with no discernible end in sight and, I am not the one who sets the prices on this stuff.

Don’t even get me started on the number of guns one must own, and the accessories one must acquire, and time one must devote, in order to be a responsibly armed citizen with the requisite knowledge and skill to secure his domicile, and to protect your right to label people like me if and when the SHTF. Truly, I should be praised for being intense and thorough and practical, not degraded with a label like OCD. I guess some people are just content to be passive and mediocre.

And does it really bother you so much that all of my picture frames hang straight and that the items on my desk are lined up into neat little, geometrically symmetrical piles? At least all of the golf tees emptied on to it from my pocket (even the broken ones) all point in the same direction like they should. Who else would be devoted to precision like that? Just because I feel nauseous and get vertigo when I walk in your house with its tilted pictures, and I freak out when I open the silverware drawer to discover that the spoons have hopped the barrier and nestled in with your forks, you have to judge me and say I’m the one with a disorder? Ever hear of a thing called a level? I mean, please! Why do you even bother with a divider tray? And you should just confess you were being a little devious to stack the tee shirts in groups of mixed colors on the closet shelf.

And while I’m on it: just how do you go about making coffee if you think your way is better than mine? Do you really think yours tastes better just because you can make it at any old haphazard time of morning with any old kind of coffee you happen to have on hand and you don’t count the exact same number of scoops aloud to yourself? How are you supposed to achieve CONSISTENCY that way? I know you’ve even committed the sacrilege of microwaving yesterday’s coffee…heaven forfend!

And I guarantee you my system of organizing the bills in my wallet by denomination in ascending order with all of the faces and numbers pointing in the same direction, is better than yours. I bet you don’t even know where to find a fiver when you need to. I, on the other hand, know that Abe is always tucked right behind George and in front of Alexander. I know it can be embarrassing when I hold up the cafeteria line to get them all in place before moving on, but hey, do you really expect me to be able to feel okay to “keep the line moving sir” with them just crammed in there all willy-nilly? Oh, hell no!

I will admit that getting up at four a.m. to watch foreigners play tennis seven time zones away is a little compulsive, but hey, like Grandaddy Leo used to say, ”sleep is for the birds.” Maybe I just happen to feel guilty knowing someone is over there sweating, while back here in America we’re all asleep. How are they supposed to play to their full potential if I don’t get up and watch?

Also, for the record, there are plenty of other people who become excessively angry when provoked. Been to a Little League game lately? Do we all have Borderline Personalities because we aren’t afraid to display negative emotions and show how much we care? How about your mild-mannered girlfriend who can’t drive to the grocery store without breaking out with traffic Tourette’s? Does she have BPD too?

While we’re on it, I can handle being “bi-polar” a hell of a lot better than being, what? Mono-polar?, uni-polar?, what? Have you looked at a globe recently? How many poles do you see? What’s the big problem with having two of them? How would we know North if not for South, or Hot if not for Cold, or Happy if not for Sad? Just seems well-rounded to me, but I digress…

Look, I don’t go around campaigning that you have RMD (Random Money Disorder) or CNFCKIYPD (Can Never Find Car Keys In Your Pocketbook Disorder), so stop hating on me, alright?

Anyway, I’d like to meet these people with all the spare “D’s” to throw around? I bet they are some real calm, focused, middle-of-the-road, milquetoast dudes and dudettes.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ…

I’d buy them a beer at Hinson’s, and try to liven them up a little bit, except anyone who shows up at Hinson’s more than once (and likes it) obviously has some kind of greasy food and alcohol disorder.

There Is No Good Filter For My Eclectic Reading List

It’s Saturday morning and therefore one of the most luxurious days of the week for me. I woke up sans alarm at 7:15, fell back asleep for fifteen more minutes, then motored off to Starbuck’s to replenish my bean supply and get a ready-made cup of wake-up fuel.

Back home, I began trying to catch up on all of the auto-collected stories and articles that had been accumulating during the week. For the next hour and a half, I sat on the deck and read articles on making war movies, germ theory, the arc of innovation, a story about a reporter’s Bernese Mountain Dog, and how the British now can make brewed tea with a specially designed gadget in their armoured vehicles because the Germans in WWII kept killing them when they’d stop and get out of their tanks to brew tea on the roadside, etc.

It’s a collection of reading material that is nothing if not eclectic. And therein lies the problem. I read for the pure pleasure of it. It ranks 2nd or 3rd in my top most enjoyable activities in life. And yet, it’s a little depressing too. There’s so much out there to read, so much to learn, to know, to be exposed to…

A few weeks ago, I discovered and began using a combination of web-services and connected apps to crawl through various sites that generate content I might wish to consume, and collect it for me into one place to peruse at my leisure. I read a lot! I mean a hell of a lot! But I cannot keep up. Having read six or seven articles this morning, there are eighty-eight…EIGHTY-EIGHT…88…still to read. Damn! I feel guilty as hell to delete even one of them without at least a quick, speed-reading glance, but at a rate of one article read every fifteen or twenty minutes, it will take me twenty-nine and one-third hours to read the ones still left.

That realization makes me yearn for a better system to gather the material, but maybe with a little more ”filtering”, kind of like when I’m looking at an item on Amazon, the site is kind enough to inform me, ”customers who looked at the item you’re looking at ultimately bought X…” or, similar to the way Netflix makes suggestions about movies I might want to watch based on my previous selections and ratings. That would be cool…

Or would it? What kind of filter could ever have put together my reading list this morning? What kind of relationship is there between tea brewed by soldiers in a tank, and the 2,4-D herbicide that started the Green Revolution among Iowa corn farmers that has led to the most plenteous and cheap food production of all time and has contributed to this country’s obesity epidemic?

I guess I’ll have to keep using the one filter that can amalgamate and make sense out of all this motley collection, my own brain. How do you decide what to read? What to follow? What to pay attention to?

Hey, one of my apps just signaled on my iPhone that another article just arrived, number 89, titled, Breaking up with Facebook. That sounds interesting. Let’s see, that’ll push me to twenty-nine and a half hours…

Get In Touch With Your Inner Geek

I love technology that works and fulfills the promise of either higher efficiency in terms of productivity, or saved time, or both. I’ve just finished reading the book Less Doing = More Living by Ari Meisel. It is one of those books that has re-awakened the dormant geek in me that has lain fallow for several months. As a result, I have subscribed to several web services in order to adopt some of the principles of efficiency and automation espoused by Meisel.

Here are some of the ones I’m currently using in no particular order.

I will probably write more about these over the next few months as I either adopt and use them or abandon and jettison them.

Unroll.me at http://www.unroll.me is a great service that will search your email account for all ”subscriptions” and then give you the option of unsubscribing all at once or one at a time from the ones you no longer wish to receive, or if you’re like me, ones you cannot remember ever signing up for to begin with. On first run, it found an amazing 240 subscriptions in my account! I unsubscribed from 160 of them! That will equal real time saved on a daily and weekly basis not having to deal with unwanted emails, even if just to delete them.

Box is a very robust service with a free plan that allows storage and access of up to 10GB of all kinds of data. There are several other paid plans allowing more storage and more administrative control. Use Box to upload a folder full of photos and then send a link to anyone you wish to be able to view them in a very cool format that even allows downloading if you enable that feature. It is most commonly used for group or team collaboration on projects that require multiple documents or document types. An admin can assign levels of access to the files in a project folder and each team member can contribute and collaborate on the project files without those files having to be stored on one of the team member’s local, personal devices. There is a web-based service and also apps for your mobile devices. There are even dedicated applications to use while working with files hosted on Box. For PC users, this means the full suite of Microsoft Office apps. Find out more and set up your account at http://www.box.com

Followup.cc is a web service that allows you defer reading or acting on received emails by employing follow-up triggers that will basically send the email back to you at a specified time or interval. For an email you want to read or act on tomorrow, you just forward the email to: 1day@followup.cc and send it. The original email will arrive 24 hours later. It can be used for a group or team to improve collaborative efforts. I plan to use it in lieu of ”flagging” so many emails for later reading. I have a ”Smart Mailbox” that collects all my flagged emails and I have gotten into a habit of flagging and archiving emails that I want to read at some time in the future, then never making time to actually revisit them to read and process. Followup.cc is a paid service with a modest monthly subscription fee of around $10 for 250 reminders. Check it out at http://www.followup.cc.

Pocket is both a web service and iOS/Android app that acts like a storage ”pocket” for anything from emails to videos, websites to images. I think it will be a nice tool for saving items that I want to explore further when I am in a web-browsing mood and serendipitously stumble upon something I want to spend more time reading or exploring. I have installed the Safari extension on my MacBook Pro and a bookmarklet on my iOS devices. It also integrates with Evernote and Dropbox so that anything I save to Pocket also gets saved as its own note in both of those apps. The difference between Pocket and Evernote is the difference between the pocket of my jeans and the change dish near my desk. I carry the change in my pocket just long enough to either spend it or stash it in the dish. Evernote is where I stash stuff I want to keep longer term. Pocket is a short-term place to put stuff to check out later. You can learn more at http://www.getpocket.com.

Feedly is a great RSS reader. It can be customized for the categories and subject matter that is particularly interesting to you. Using IFTTT (which you can read about below) Anything I tag for reading later saves automatically to Pocket, and anything I mark as a ”favorite” saves to Evernote. Create your own account on the web at cloud.feedly.com. There are also iOS and Android apps for Feedly.

IFTTTIf This Then That – is another cool web service that utilizes ”channels” to trigger actions. For instance, when I tag an article in Feedly to read later, it sends that article to Pocket and to Evernote. I am using 15 or 16 ”recipes” like this. I will spend more time with this service to create my own custom recipes. I want to create one that will recognize all emails from Apple iTunes and forward and file them in the appropriate folder in my Evernote account. You can look for recipes that will work for you at https://ifttt.com

Penultimate is an app by the developers of Evernote that will allow for writing, drawing, sketching, and doodling on an iPad. Every ”note” created in a Penultimate notebook gets synced to Evernote. I ordered a bluetooth enable stylus specifically designed to work with Penultimate. Unfortunately, when the stylus arrived I attempted to use it with no joy at all. My handwriting is remarkably poor. I have not written in cursive since high school, choosing instead to print, usually in all caps. The stylus doesn’t exactly make ”marks” where I touch it to the screen, but rather, somewhere very close by. It also doesn’t stop marking when I lift it off the screen, but if still in near proximity, it will continue to mark almost like an etch-a-sketch would. Printing, rather than cursive script, requires much more “touch and lift” technique. The JotScript stylus made my normal chicken scratch look like chicken sh*t! Frustrating! Oh well. You may have better handwriting, more patience, and therefore better success with both this app and the tool mentioned. I really wanted this to work for me. If you want to give Penultimate a try, it can be downloaded for free at the iTunes App Store.

Back on a positive note,  HelloFax is terrific, inexpensive, paid subscription service that allows both sending and receiving paperless faxes as PDF documents via a web-interface and email. I had previously been using Free Fax which has worked just fine for sending invoices to my customers by fax, but it does not offer receive capability, and the faxes look cheap and clunky. HelloFax has several cool features:

1 – Although the entire service is web based, you are assigned and actual telephone number. This way, it looks like the faxes are coming from and being sent to an honest to God fax machine.

2- It also integrates with Evernote. Every fax that is either sent or received gets filed in its own notebook as an individual, searchable, tagged note in Evernote. It also integrates with Dropbox where all faxes are stored in separate folders. Very cool! The faxes look great too! They also offer a service called HelloSign for signing documents and receiving signed documents from others. I plan to check it out soon. You can get a free HelloFax account at:https://www.hellofax.com?ref=32cdc1ed&s=F. Using this link will get both you and I five free pages in the first month of service.

FileThis, found at http://www.filethis.com is another very handy web service that will automatically pull statements from any account you specify and file those statements to their own categories and folders in Evernote or Dropbox. The ”forever free” version allows connection for up to 5 accounts and will poll those accounts monthly to download and file statements. There are several paid plans allowing connection of more accounts and more frequent downloading and filing. I love the idea that my statements for AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Piedmont Natural Gas and a couple of credit cards get automatically pulled and filed for me without me having to look them up, download them, or print them. Very cool.

I have written assuming that you already use either Evernote, or Dropbox, or both, to store files like documents (everything from receipts to tax returns), photos, and music and then synchronize and access those files across all your devices. If not, you owe it to yourself to check out what they can do for you

Point your browser to http://evernote.com , for Evernote, which uses the phrase “Remember Everything” as it’s raison d’être. I use this app everyday on my MacBook, my iPhone, and my iPad. It is one of the coolest, most useful apps I’ve found. One of the things that differentiates it from Dropbox is how conveniently you can search for anything that you’ve filed there. The contents of each “note” in Evernote is searchable, even hand written ones that have been created in Penultimate. The use of descriptive tags makes this process even easier and allows you to search for all the related notes that you’ve filed.

Dropbox is equally as useful and can be found at: https://www.dropbox.com. It is an online storage service that synchronizes files and folders from your computer and all your mobile devices. It is astonishingly simple in concept, but is unlimited in execution. I use it to store items that I may need to access from anywhere on any device. It is not as easy to search as Evernote, but I use it for larger, more “static” files for which it is perfect. It provides some redundant backup security too, since anything stored there is “offsite” and immune to theft, fire, loss, or accident.

I hope some of these services and apps will be helpful to you. Ari Meisel’s philosophy is that you shouldn’t spend time on things that can be automated and/or done by someone else cheap enough to allow you to focus on those things that can only be done by you. I agree. Some of these apps and services allow me to offload stuff out of my mind into a secure place that lets me get back to dealing with life at hand. Some of them just give me more time to chill in the real, er, non-digital world…

If you are using an app or service I haven’t mentioned that provides real value to your life, please add a comment to let me know. I love trying out apps and services that come already endorsed. Thanks!

Big Green Egg

with side tables - 1

 

This past Friday, I purchased a Big Green Egg. It was a decision nearly a year in the making, and I thought I’d share my experience of the purchase, assembly, set-up, and initial cooking results with you.

For anyone who doesn’t know, the Big Green Egg is an oval-shaped Kamado style, ceramic/stoneware cooking system that uses charcoal as fuel and is designed to work as a grill, a smoker, and an oven. Unlike conventional charcoal or gas grills which are typically constructed of thin metal which are therefore not able to retain heat nor maintain a steady temperature very well, the BGE uses thick ceramic in the construction of it’s walls and domed lid for excellent heat retention and temperature stability. Used properly, these properties make the egg suitable for a wide variety of uses from grilled or smoked meats and veggies to brick oven pizza.

I have been toying with the idea of a ”BGE” since last May when I moved into the home I currently occupy and left my old, worn-out Weber propane grill behind. Two things made this a difficult decision for me.

First: Charcoal vs. Gas (Propane); I loved my Weber grill! It was a four-burner model with individual controls for each burner. The gas jets ran from front to back so it was easy to create an indirect cooking space of up to half the grilling area by simply turning off any two adjacent burners and leaving the other two ignited. My experience grilling everything from hot dogs to pizza has taught me that indirect cooking is essential to successfully cooking anything on a grill, and, while I was intrigued by the BGE, I was very skeptical about achieving this with charcoal, which obviously doesn’t respond to a ”control dial”. Gas is also very fast from on to done. It certainly wins in the speed category. With these two advantages, you may be asking why I’d even consider a charcoal grill at all. One word, ”FLAVOR!” I will discuss this more in-depth later on. My philosophy about the role of cooking and food is changing at this stage in my life, and I’ll discuss that as well.

Second: Expense; either choice was going to be costly! I mean well north of a grand, costly! Having been used to (and spoiled by) the four-burner Weber, I couldn’t force myself to downgrade to a different brand or a three-burner model. While a smaller cooking surface and fewer burners would certainly meet my needs (the BGE has a significantly smaller cooking area than my Weber had), I wasn’t willing to compromise on quality construction and a name I knew I could trust. I owned my Weber for 15 years! It gave me outstanding performance and I consider their products to be the highest quality. Big Green Egg won’t even advertise their prices online, so I had to go to an authorized dealer to find out that the model I wanted was going to cost $999.99 just for the egg. This didn’t include a stand or any accouterments. All told, the package I ended up with cost me $1295.36 out-the-door, including tax. The weber model I considered was pushing $1500, so, yeah, I needed to wait until I could justify (rationalize) the outlay on what is essentially a splurge.

Once I crossed the bridge mentally about spending the money, I really wanted to make sure that I was going to get value equal to my expectations. To me, this is the critical idea with any expenditure of any resource. Ultimately, as Thoreau says, “the true cost of an item is how much of your life you’re willing to exchange for it”. I believe that maxim is true with the caveat that while it is certain that one can never retrieve the quantity of life traded for any purchase, one can receive quality in exchange, thus achieving “value”. I want all of my trades of time to produce value. If I’m going to end up with less of quantity, I want to also end up with more of quality.

Having never used a Big Green Egg, and having no personal friends or acquaintances from whom I could receive first hand testimony, I relied upon my research on the internet and at a couple of resellers. This is an important step for me because I wanted to make sure my expectations were realistic. Resentment and frustration result when unreasonable expectations are allowed to take root. As I mentioned earlier, I had first hand experience with a Weber propane grill and I knew pretty much exactly what to expect. Do you wonder why I chose not to replace my worn-out Weber with another one? There are a couple of reasons:

First, I don’t have as much space for a grill as I used to have. My deck out back measures eleven feet by twelve feet. The deck I previously had for use with my Weber was at least sixteen by twenty. The Weber’s footprint is one and a half times as large as the Big Green Egg and a Weber cannot be placed diagonally into a corner without taking up significantly more space. I wanted to preserve as much seating and standing area on the deck as possible. The large model BGE I purchased tucks right into a corner and even with the optional side tables I purchased, takes up only forty-two inches of space in each direction. This leaves plenty of room to walk around the deck, access the grill, and have a couple of Adirondack chairs and side tables set up without feeling too cramped.

Second, I became enamored with the idea of charcoal, generally, and the versatility of using charcoal in a BGE, specifically. There is no doubt that propane is fast. It is relatively inexpensive to use also. A refill on a propane tank is around twenty to twenty-five bucks. I never kept an accurate count, but I imagine I could get a minimum of ten to twelve grilling sessions per tank. A twenty-pound bag of the recommended premium chunk charcoal (not briquettes) for the BGE is almost thirty bucks, $28.99 to be exact. I expect to get only eight to ten uses out of each bag. I’m sure that running out of charcoal will be just as much of a hassle as running out of propane, though finding premium charcoal at some odd hour of the night will undoubtedly be more difficult than finding a propane refill. But there is virtually universal agreement that food cooked over charcoal just tastes better.

Consider this: for my fortieth birthday, my ex-wife and I went to Chicago to celebrate. We ended up dining at the Weber restaurant just off of Michigan Avenue, where all of the meat is cooked on Weber grill. When I ordered steak, the waiter asked me if I wanted it prepared over charcoal or gas. He suggested charcoal, and said ninety-per cent of the patrons chose charcoal because of the superior flavor. ‘Nuff said!

Aside from the expectation of more flavorful cooking, I also was ready to experiment with different cooking techniques and cuts of meat. I wanted to try some things I’d never been able to do on a conventional grill. The BGE is an excellent smoker and slow cooker. It can be used for Boston butts, ribs, beef brisket, roasts, turkey, chicken, seafood, etc. as a low-temperature smoker. These were things I’d never been able to cook on my Weber, and I wanted to try something new.

The BGE also is apparently an excellent brick oven for pizza and other baked goods. I am familiar with grilled pizza on my old Weber. There’s no other pizza quite like it, so the BGE will have to be pretty damn spectacular to top that, but I know it’s an option. I used to be able to cook pizza crust directly on the grid on my Weber, then flip it, turn off the heat under the dough, add toppings and close the lid. The indirect side burners finished off the pizza and melted the toppings together. That method will be very hard to beat. With the BGE, since it is charcoal, I’ll have to purchase a pizza stone and use it with an add-on called the “plate setter”, and cook the pizza similarly to how it would be done in an oven, but with the added bonus of the charcoal smokiness.

I’m at a point in my life where convenience is not the most important thing anymore. When there were seven kids around, convenience and speed were non-negotiable essentials, now, I have time to savor some things in life. Food preparation and enjoyment is one of the things I plan to slow down enough to really savor. Toward that end, I hope I’m through with eating fast food in a car anymore. I’m not saying I won’t still succumb to fast food, but I’m either going to sit down inside or bring it home to eat it.

At any rate, my decision turned on the belief that the food I cook on the BGE will taste better than what I could cook on a gas-type grill, and that although it’s going to take more prep time to achieve that result, I’m ready and willing to be conscious and conscientious about that time. I also swallowed the idea that there was going to be a learning curve for me to successfully retrain my grilling habits and practices from gas to charcoal.

I made the decision to purchase the Big Green Egg, but I still wanted to get the best deal possible. Big Green Egg is a US company, headquartered in Atlanta, but I believe most of the construction of the units is done in Mexico. The proprietary design, quality materials, and fanatical following allow BGE to charge a premium for its products. They do not advertise pricing online, nor do they allow resellers to do so on the reseller’s own websites. I wanted to get the best deal possible and I was still trying to decide between a large or medium Egg.

Ultimately, I stumbled upon my decision about where to purchase by going into my local “Ace Hardware” store in Indian Trail, NC. I went in to buy some small washers for my oldest son’s longboard assembly. I noticed the Big Green Egg placards and advertising and asked one of the store personnel if they were, in fact, an authorized dealer. She assured me that they were and that they gave customers “excellent deals” on BGE purchases.

A couple of weeks later, which turned out to be last Friday (March 21st), I called and spoke to one of the employees at Indian Trail Hardware who told me that they do in fact offer package deals on purchases and told me about their current available promotion. I could purchase a large Egg at $749 (which is $250 off the retail) if I also purchased the “Nest” (a rolling stand), and the “Plate Setter” at full price. I knew that I wanted both of these items anyway so that was a deal to me. The same offer was made for a medium egg, but I was only going to less than $200 on the purchase and the large allows for cooking roughly double the amount of most items (eight steaks as compared to four, etc.). A large it was!

When I arrived at Indian Trail Hardware, I went to the display area and saw Eggs set up both in large wooden tables (a $500 purchase) and in the Nest ($164). I opted for the Nest as it was less expensive, provided mobility, and preserved the compact footprint that was important to me for conserving deck space. Most of the display models also had small side tables added on which were valuable as prep areas and also provided some hooks for hanging grill tools underneath. I purchased a set of them, called Table Mates, for an additional $105.

The only other purchase I made for my initial set up was of a cast iron grid for searing and grilling steaks. The BGE comes with a stainless steel grid that is well made and fine as far as it goes, but having cooked with cast iron skillets for many years, I was familiar with the excellent heat retention properties and I thought the wider spacing would provide better searing and more aesthetically pleasing “grill marks”. So, I shelled out another $65 for that. A very nice, knowledgeable young man named Matthew helped with my questions. He explained that he’d owned an Egg for two years. He eased my mind about the need for a cover, (you don’t need one), the cast iron grid (makes better steaks), and offered advice about smoking Boston Butts and Baby Back Ribs. He was extremely low-key and very helpful.

Matthew gave me the option of taking home a pre-assemble BGE right from the display area. I asked him how long it would take to assemble my own and he told me that he assembles them in 45 minutes, but that it usually takes over an hour for most people. He said that the assembled ones are cumbersome and asked if I had a way to roll it from my driveway to the back deck. When I told I did not, he said I’d definitely need help getting it out of the car, walked to the back and lifted onto the deck. I opted to assemble my own. I have a large kitchen floor that opens directly through double French doors to the deck so I figured I could take my time, watch some NCAA basketball in the process and roll the completed Egg out into position when I finished. Before leaving, I purchased a bag of Big Green Egg brand chunk charcoal and some starter blocks. BGE grills do not use briquettes, nor do you ever use lighter fluid with them.

My total purchase including the large model BGE, the nest, the “table mate” side tables, the plate setter, the cast iron grid, a twenty pound bag of charcoal, a box of starters, and a couple of box end wrenches I would need for assembly ran me exactly $1295.36. I know, I know. That’s a ton, but with a lifetime warranty, I figure to get my money’s worth.

Matthew and I loaded everything into the back of my Element and I headed home with my new Big Green Egg for an afternoon project, visions of ribeyes dancing in my head.

The load

Once home, I carefully unpacked the Element and the various boxes being careful to leave myself enough space to sprawl and spread out as I completed the assembly. I visited the Big Green Egg website at: http://www.biggreenegg.com for some excellent videos on assembly. The site is awesome! It provides video and written instruction on everything from assembly to cooking techniques and recipes.

unpacked in the kitchen

I have provided photos of the routine for each step of the process. I didn’t set a stopwatch, but I wasn’t in a race and it probably took me about 2 hours from start to final set up out on the deck.

nest -1nest - 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

The photos above show the nest assembled without the casters and then fully assembled with casters in place. The casters have lock down brakes to keep the Egg from rolling once it’s in proper position. The assembly was very straightforward and easy, Very detailed and illustrated instructions are provided. This part took maybe 15 minutes.

banding strapsStraps with handle and hingehandle, hinge, table brackets assembly

The part of the assembly shown by the photo above was perhaps the most “challenging”. A separate box contains the banding straps that are attached to the Egg and which serve to hold the upper dome to the lower half of the unit. The instructions were fine and precise and the website video for this part of the assembly is great, but I constantly needed to refer to the diagrams to make certain that the various pieces were facing the correct way and not upside down. Also, my choice to install the optional side tables had to be kept in mind. The instructions don’t mention side tables and it would be possible to construct the entire Egg, cinch down the banding straps and then realize there is no way to attach the table support brackets without disassembling the whole damn thing.

Fortunately, I took enough time to think through how the table brackets needed to fasten. The mounting studs for the brackets have to be pushed through the “egg side” of the strap out through the pre-drilled holes in the bands and brackets, then fasted with the provided acorn locknuts. One has to be careful to put the brackets right side up as well and this took some careful study of the illustrations because there is not a lot of immediate distinction and no markings on the brackets themselves for “L”, “R” or ⬆︎,⬇︎.

The photo above shows the bracket completed with the table mounts, hardwood handle, and hinge all attached and finger tightened, ready to be place on the corresponding halves of the Egg. I probably spent at least forty-five minutes on this part alone.

unboxing - 1 unboxing - 2 unboxing - 3unboxing - 4unboxing - 8unboxing - 5

unboxing - 6

 

 unboxing - 7

 

After completing the bands, it was time to unpack the egg from the main box. As the photos above illustrate, the components are nested inside one another and are well cushioned with cardboard and packing materials. I just set the smaller pieces like the fire grate and stainless steel grid aside to get to the larger halves. Getting the halves out of the box is a two-person job unless you are much stronger than I. Unboxing the pieces and setting them aside for the next step(s) of assemble was relatively quick. I spent another five to ten minutes on this stage.

 

lower half in nest - 1lower half in nest - 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next step required lifting the lower half of the egg into the nest. I locked the brakes on the casters and lifted the lower piece into place. At around fifty pounds, it is rather heavy, but it slid into place easily enough. The ends of the nest “arms” have rubberized end covers that serve to both stabilize the egg by gripping the dimpled outer texture and also prevent marring the finish by the action of metal on ceramic. Once in place, I affixed the lower band onto the lower half and roughly centered the handle on the base of the unit. I then rolled the assemble outside for the final assembly to cut down on the weight I’d have to roll and lift over the transom of the door and down the few inches to the deck level.

Once outside, I lifted the domed upper half of the Egg into place making sure that the upper band with the handle on it fit around the outer circumference of the upper half. My OCD kicked in here and I spent quite a few minutes jiggling and moving the pieces in small increments to line everything up just so prior to tightening the bands on with a wrench. All together, these steps took about twenty to thirty more minutes.

 

hinged - 1

 

 

 

Here, you can see the hinged halves. Each bands (both upper and lower) is held tight by a single threaded bolt near the rear hinge of the unit. The directions call for the nut to be threaded on to this bolt so tight that as the ends of the band are pulled together, the bolt actually bends. The instructions amplify how important it is for all of the hardware to be securely tightened prior to releasing the spring guards on the hinge to prevent injury or damage to the unit. I took my time and went around each acorn nut and hinge nut making sure everything was good and snug. It was sweet to lift the lid for the first time.

with side tables - 2

with side tables - 1

I finished the side tables by mounting them onto the brackets that were already in place. I also secured the cast iron chimney vent to the vent stack with the supplied gasket tape. This piece is only used while cooking and works in conjunction with the sliding stainless steel door you can see at the bottom front of the unit to achieve the desired cooking temperature. At this point I was ready to put charcoal in the firebox and light this bad boy up! I had steaks ready to go!

firebox - 2first firefire with cast iron grid

It was nice to get the charcoal lit and to start to enjoy that unique aroma. The Big Green Egg charcoal is 100 per cent carbonized oak and hickory and made my deck smell like I was camping! I absolutely love that smell. That, gunpowder, and leather, and my nose is in heaven!

I was a little apprehensive about grilling the first steaks because I had become accustomed to a gas grill and by all accounts of those to whom I served steak, I was pretty darn good at it. I followed the lighting instructions and waited patiently for about twenty minutes for the charcoal to be lit for full coverage of the cast iron grid. The temperature had climbed to 600 degrees on the thermometer mounted on the front (which is higher than recommended for the first couple of uses to prevent damage to the gaskets that “seal and separate” the upper and lower halves), but I knew this would be the perfect searing temperature. When I placed the meat onto the iron grid, they sizzled in protest as I quickly shut the lid to retain the heat. I knew my first attempts would be trial and error by necessity but, I knew the maxim, “If you’re looking, you’re not cooking!” so I trusted that keeping the lid down would work best to retain moisture, get that good charcoal smokiness, and prevent flare ups from too much oxygen getting to the charcoal flame.

first steaks on the grill

I ended up cooking the thickest cuts about four minutes per side to get a good, barmy, charred sear on the outside, and then another two to three minutes per side to get to medium rare. These were thick steaks; about two inches for a great ribeye and an inch and three-quarters for a beautiful new york strip. They were just a touch on the rare side when I first pulled them off, but another minute or two on the still hot coals and they were absolutely perfect! In fact, they were the best steaks I’ve ever eaten anywhere in my life! (And that includes Ruth’s Chris and the Capital Grille).

ribeye and new york stripfirst new york stripsthe whole point

Not too shabby! I will be posting again about my first experience with smoking a Boston Butt and my first chicken grilling experience. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading this and that it’s answered any questions you may have about purchasing and setting up a Big Green Egg.