The perfect birthday present for a guy who loves to grill

By Daniel Neman
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you, if you get old enough. Also, if a couple of planned trips get canceled because of the whole pandemic thing and you find yourself with a little extra money under the mattress.

I recently celebrated a significant birthday, and by “significant” I mean “terrifying.” I had recently been sucker-punched by intimations of my own mortality, anyway, so the birthday had acquired a certain additional sense of helplessness and despair.

A Kamado Joe grill. (Daniel Neman/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

Any plans of going out of town to celebrate flew out the window when COVID-19 flew in. So did any hope of going out for a fancy — which is to say expensive — meal.

And that is when my wife had a brilliant idea. To my mind, it was the best idea of her life.

“Why don’t we get you a Big Green Egg for your birthday?” she said.

I have written before of my infatuation with Big Green Eggs. They are the Cadillac of backyard grills, or, more to the point, the Ferrari of grills. They can do everything, from long, slow smoking at 200 degrees to searing meat at a blazing hot 700 degrees or more.

They are also ludicrously expensive when you realize that you are shelling out vast sums and all you are getting is a grill.

But I wanted one. I’d wanted one for years. And as the calendar cruelly reminded me, I am not getting any younger. So we decided to take the plunge and buy one.

But first came the research. The glory of the internet, as well as the horror, is that you can do research on literally anything, and it will be endless. I spent days looking up different kinds of kamado cookers — that’s what a Big Green Egg is, a kamado cooker — and I wound up with a tremendous amount of information and opinion, but nothing definitive.

I settled on a Kamado Joe, despite the name reminding me of Bazooka Joe, a tragically unfunny comic strip that used to come with perilously inedible bubble gum, and apparently still does.

The grill is a lovely blaze red in color, which I guess means it can go out hunting and not get accidentally shot by another grill. I think of it as a Big Red Egg, and I think it is beautiful. Just beautiful.

Although I have only had it a couple of weeks, I have already used it five times — and would have used it a sixth but it was pouring and I didn’t want to stand out in the rain. So far, the results have been mixed, but I am still skating up the learning curve. I have nothing but optimism for the future.

First, I made the Pakistani yogurt-marinated chicken recipe that I wrote about recently; I had enjoyed it so much I decided to make it again. And it was spectacular: moist, tender and juicy, everything a chicken usually isn’t when it is cooked on the grill. But I did not know whether that was the result of the kamado grill, which is reputed to make meat more moist, or just because it had been marinated in yogurt, which does the same thing.

Next, I tried cooking a loaf of no-knead bread in the grill. My anticipation for this loaf was matched only by my disappointment, as it turned out badly scorched on the bottom. It tasted great when I cut off the burned part, though, so I tried again.

This time, I raised the grill so it cooked farther away from the fire, thus making the bread less hot on the bottom. So the scorching wasn’t as bad, but it was still scorched. I cooked both loaves in a cast-iron skillet, because I did not have a pizza stone. I have now ordered a pizza stone.

For my actual birthday, I grilled myself a steak and grilled some oysters for my wife. The oysters turned out fine; excellent, actually. I seared my ribeye at 750 degrees, because I was a little scared to try it any hotter, and quickly pulled it off the grill at a perfect medium rare.

The meat was tough. I don’t know if that is because I cooked it at too high a temperature or if the steak was tough to begin with, but it was beautifully marbled so it should have been a fine piece of meat.

Last night I made another chicken with no marinade this time, just a whole chicken with salt and pepper. It was sheer perfection, with a crispy skin and tender, moist meat.

I’m going to try a barbecue next, with fingers crossed. Maybe the only thing I can successfully cook on my big red egg is chicken, and the occasional oysters. Who cares?

I’m in love.