Nearly 5 years ago, I wrote a post all about the details of owning a Big Green Egg. Quite popular, but it needs to be updated as I’ve learned much since then. This is the first in what’ll likely be a series of articles outlining some upgrades and details of Big Green Egg ownership.
There are two common complaints that I’ve heard from many Big Green Egg owners. The first is that, after years of ownership, it is harder and harder to get the egg past ~350 degrees or so (500 – 750 needed to do proper sears or cook a pizza). In particular, the fire grate included with the BGE is a big metal plate with a bunch of ~3/4″ holes drilled in it. It just doesn’t let a lot of air through to start with and, after years of use, any kind of ash build up and/or clogging of the holes in the ceramic firebox leads to even less air getting through.
Related, for those that do achieve high heat on a semi-regular basis, the factory installed woolen gasket quickly wears out.
Fortunately, there exists High-Que.com who specializes in upgraded components for the Big Green Egg. Pictured at left is their upgraded fire grate and their Nomex based high-heat replacement gasket.
For BGE owners, I cannot recommend these two products highly enough. Gasket upgrades have been around for quite a while, but most involved spray adhesive or fireplace-safe adhesive combined with a gasket that would often fray, leaving the risk of metal bits in your food (most of the gaskets were really re-purposed oven or kiln gaskets). High-Que’s gaskets are more like the original BGE gasket in physical design, but are much more durable and can withstand a higher heat. Like the original gasket, High-Que’s uses a high-heat adhesive backing that is exposed by removing a bit of paper; no toxic spray-on adhesives involved.
High-Que’s fire grate is equally as well considered & built. It is a very heavy gauge stainless steel grate that will not clog and allows for much greater air flow. As it comes with a 5 year warranty, clearly High-Que believes the product works.
And it does. The combination of the two products has vastly improved the cooking experience with my BGE; it is easier to light, achieves a higher temperature faster (literally, takes about 12-15 minutes to reach ~600 degrees whereas I had a hard time cracking 400 without a fan before the upgrade), and the gasket looks like it is going to last much longer than the BGE wool gaskets (I won’t know for sure for another ~6 months or so).
And there was a fringe benefit that was a nice surprise; every BGE owner who has cooked at high heat has learned through quite a bit of hair loss that you have to “burp” your egg when opening it at temperatures greater than ~500. If you don’t, this rather ominously beautiful cloud of flames (seriously — check out this set o’ photos!!) will burst out of the egg and take all your arm hair right off!
With the increased air flow of the High-Que grate, the Egg doesn’t exhibit anywhere near the same degree of flashback as long as the bottom vent is wide open. What a nice surprise! To be clear, the egg will still flashback if the bottom vent is closed or if you open too rapidly at high heat, but the problem is vastly reduced!
Replacing the gasket is a bit of a chore. Click through for full details. Since the Egg needs to come apart for this anyway, a full cleaning is in order, too.
This is pretty typical for an Egg after a few years and a couple of hundred pounds of pork butts.
The woolen gasket has both lost all of it’s “spring” due to a combination of being burned off by the occasional high-temperature cook and because it has happily sucked up about a gallon of meat juices. Think what happens to a wool sweater when it sucks up water. Now replace the water with fat. And compress it. And heat it up to ~400 degrees. Yeah — not so happy.
The fire box is caked with pork fat and meaty fallout. Note that the vent holes around the firebox are mostly to fully clogged. This both prevents achieving higher temperatures and is pretty much unavoidable.
At this point, you’ll really want to take the lid off the BGE. Which comes to a very critical safety not.
Make sure you tie your hinge shut!! When the weight of the lid comes off that hinge, those springs are going to pull the lid’s metal band violently apart. It will hurt you. It might break a bone.
That wire was not entirely sufficient. Enough to mute the effect of the springs, but not sufficient. Ideally, you still have the bits of plastic that were used to clamp the hinge shut during shipping. If not, you’ll want to wrap up the left and right hinges separately.
Do not skip this step. (Ow)
Next, you’ll want to remove the old gasket. It should peel up pretty easily using a putty knife or scraper. What is left behind, though, is not so easily removed.
To remove the layer of greasy adhesive and gasket remnants requires a combination of tools.
I started with a wire brush on an eletric drill. This got the largest chunks out of the way and generally reduced the problem to a bit of a greasy slurry.
To remove the grease, I used the soaped up steel wool pot scrubbers. From there, I used shop-towels (the disposable paper towels) that were soaked in cheap vodka (food safe).
Quite a bit of elbow grease later and the rim looked like this.
However, it also needs to be nice and dry.
The easiest way to do this is to re-assemble the top and bottom parts of the egg, reattaching the hinges, etc. Put the hinge back on and clamp it to the bottom gently (no need to crank it down yet. Put the top back on and then make sure that the top hinge is pushed up as high as possible against the rim of the egg (see photo below with the new gasket installed). Crank down the high clamp bolts and remove your hinge ties.
Because it was a bit of a cold day, I dropped a random Halogen work light into the BGE and let it sit for a few hours.
(Pictured at right with the gasket installed — more on that in a second).
This did a great job of drying out the interior of the BGE.
Once dry, installation of the new gasket is straightforward.
Simply cut it in half, then peel a bit of the paper off the back (no more than an inch).
Press the exposed adhesive onto the rim of the BGE and then slowly go around the entire rim, peeling off the paper as you go and aligning the gasket as you move around the edge.
I put the edge of the gasket at the back of the egg, out of the way. I also was sure to offset the edge of the gasket for the top vs. the bottom. There will be a bit of a gap or a bit of rise at the gap and you don’t want to compound the potential problems by stacking the gaps directly on top of each other. This is the one part of the upgrade that is a little bit fiddly; you need to make sure the gasket is fairly well aligned as you go and it really wants to go in a straight line. As long as you don’t press down on the gasket as you go, it is pretty easy to lift and re-align as needed.
Once the gasket is installed, close the lid and let it sit for at least 12 hours, ideally 24. Since it was still a bit cold and damp, I left the work lite in the egg for about six hours to help keep things dry and warm.
Note that the cord for the worklight was going through the vent at the bottom to prevent the cord from causing the lid to sit funny during the set-up process.
This is what the gasket looks like after 24 hours of curing. A nice air-tight, very clean, seal. Enjoy the newness of it all because it likely won’t stay that way for long!
The next step is to test it out. Since I had recently picked up a meat grinder, I threw some skirt steak and venison through the grinder and made some burgers (which really need a nice high heat to get a proper sear).
Up until very recently, I typically use a chimney starter on top of a turkey burner to start the coals which are then dumped into the BGE. As can be seen through the vent door, the High-Que grate allows for significantly greater air flow and will not become clogged with ash.
All in all, it took about 15 minutes to go from cold to 650 degrees; much faster than previously (if I could even get the egg past 400 without a fan!).
All in all, the High-Que products work really well! The company has been very responsive and, in talking with them, they have some other BGE upgrades in the works that I look forward to reviewing in the future. Clearly, High-Que has confidence in their products as evidenced by the 5 year warranty on the fire grate and that they sent me the gasket for free as a review knowing fully that I would be brutal if the product did not meet expectations.