The secondhand propane grill at our tiny Athens apartment was fired up only one day a year, a Saturday in fall, when my wife and I would feed friends visiting to cheer on the Bulldogs. Nearly any other day of the year, the grill was used more to dry camping gear than put dinner on the table. We were not grill masters. Things changed when we got a Big Green Egg.
Our first recipe on “the Egg” was a winner. The ingredients: one whole organic chicken, a beer (preferably a hefeweizen), olive oil, a rub of choice and about three hours at 275 degrees.
You’ve probably seen a Big Green Egg before, but if you haven’t, it’s just what it sounds like: a big, green, egg-shaped cooker. Started in Atlanta in 1974, the Big Green Egg Company was founded by Ed Fisher, who brought the wisdom gleaned from his experience with clay kamado cookers back with him from Asia after a World War II tour of service. According to Big Green Egg, today’s design mirrors the ancient domed cookers used in both China and Japan.
The ancient design combined with decades of construction and material improvements have enabled Big Green Egg to develop an almost cult-like community of self-proclaimed “Eggheads” who swear by the cooker’s durability and versatility and the quality of the food it produces. It takes a little more skill and attention to operate the Big Green Egg compared to other conventional grills, and a few new tools, but proponents say it’s worth it.
“The heavy-duty ceramic holds the heat in [the Big Green Egg],” explains John Hall, longtime local egghead. “Very little airflow moves through the system … so very little moisture escapes. It’s very hard to dry something out.”
Maintaining heat isn’t only good for food on the Big Green Egg, it’s good for your wallet, too. Hall once cooked on the Egg for 27 hours, rotating in new food as other items finished. Not once, he says, did he have to add more natural charcoal.
The growth in the popularity of the Big Green Egg may be seen most easily in the number of “Eggfests” dotting the country each year. Eggfests got their start in 1998 when Big Green Egg started EGGtoberfest, a food-focused event to thank their customers. Today, local Eggfests re-create EGGtoberfest to continue sharing the good times and knowledge.
One of the largest Eggfests is the Georgia Mountain Eggfest (mountainegg.com), which will be celebrating its ninth year on May 17-18, 2019, at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds in Hiawassee. According to Hilda Thomason, general manager of the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds, the event got started when she “went to a Big Green Egg festival in Atlanta with some friends,” and got to thinking that “golly, if they can do it down here, we can do it here [Hiawassee].”
With the help of Hall, she did just that in 2011, hosting a crowd of about 800 people. Over the years, the crowd has grown to nearly 2,500 people from around the country.
Thomason says the Georgia Mountain Eggfest is the perfect way to experience the Egghead community. Hall has shaped the event to be as authentic to the original event as possible, enticing fellow Eggheads to travel in from around the country. That level of enthusiasm is likely to get a few more people hooked on the Big Green Egg and the wisdom that Ed Fisher brought home so many years ago.
Plus, “we have the perfect venue for it [the Georgia Mountain Eggfest] here,” exalts Thomason, citing the temperate mid-May temperatures, the mountain views, the wildflower blooms, the Lake Chatuge waterfront and the clean facilities.
“Taster” tickets for this year’s event are $30 per person (children 12 and under enter at no cost) and include access to the meet-and-greet potluck on Friday and the fairgrounds on Saturday, music from Bluegrass Alliance, cooking demonstrations and Big Green Egg-centric vendors as well as discounts at the Fairground-operated campground and local hotels. Most importantly, taster tickets to Georgia Mountain Eggfest include access to endless samples fresh off the Big Green Egg.
From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 18, attendees can wander the fairgrounds, sampling food from more than 100 cooks. The food options showcase the versatility of the Big Green Egg, with plenty of chicken, pork and beef alongside dishes like stuffed mushrooms, collard greens, Indian-stuffed masala peppers, French toast bake, peach cobbler and shrimp & grits. The recipes, which are made available on the Georgia Mountain Eggfest website each year, are enough to make your mouth water.
“You wouldn’t believe the things they cook on the Big Green Egg,” Hall says with a hint of disbelief. “I just let them do their thing, and there is amazing variety.”
The well-fed crowd creates a jovial atmosphere, so ask the chefs anything about their techniques, recipes, and of course, the Big Green Egg itself. At the end of the day, you may have caught the bug to purchase an Egg yourself. If you’re eyeing a purchase before Eggfest, contact Hiawassee Hardware (139 Main St. N, Hiawassee, GA 30546; www.hiawasseehardware.com; 706-896-3617) to get one of the demo eggs used by the Georgia Mountain Eggfest cooks. After only one day of cooking, the lightly-used demo eggs are sold at discount. As a bonus, you also get two tickets to the event with your purchase.
Between the budding Eggheads and local foodies, everyone at Georgia Mountain Eggfest is there for a good meal. Avoid the crowds at the first few booths near the entrance, advises Hall. You can always go back to see what’s cooking once the crowd thins out. Hall’s best piece of advice for attendees is simple: “Pace yourself. All those samples really add up.”
Whether you pace yourself or not, you’re likely to be full when the gates close and the demo eggs begin to cool down before being sent home with their new owners. Make your way back to the Georgia Mountain Fairground’s Anderson Music Hall on Saturday, May 18 at 7 p.m. for a night with the Renegades & Outlaws Tour, headlined by country star Travis Tritt and supported by the Cadillac Three and the Scooter Brown Band. Tickets for the concert cost $65 plus handling fees and can be purchased online, by phone or at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds (1311 Music Hall Road, Hiawassee, GA 30546; www.georgiamountainfairgrounds.com; 706-896-4191) starting on Feb. 22.
You probably can’t have this much fun every weekend, but you can always fire up your own Big Green Egg and turn up the music.