Having a reliable grill is the key to taking your barbecue game to the next level. Practice makes perfect, sure, and you can work on your skills on any grill. But having one that’s durable, easy-to-use, and dependable goes a long way toward building your confidence in outdoor cookery. After testing dozens of gas, charcoal, and portable grills, I can tell you with 100-percent confidence that not all grills are built equally, and you often get what you pay for.
You’ll need to choose between charcoal and gas, a complicated debate that mostly comes down to ease of use or smoke-infused flavor. We’re not here to change your mind if you’re a die-hard gas grill enthusiast, but I have to say I’ll likely be trading in my gas grill for a Big Green Egg in the near future. It can do just about everything—in addition to grilling burgers and hot dogs, you can use the Egg to smoke brisket and ribs, cook a whole turkey, or turn it into an outdoor oven for pizza and bread. There’s a reason it won our award for most versatile charcoal grill, but its hefty price tag may have you wondering if it’s really worth the hype.
What makes a Big Green Egg different?
The Big Green Egg is a charcoal grill, but unlike kettle and barrel-style grills, the Egg is what’s known as a kamado-style grill, an oval cooking vessel made from ceramic. The thick walls of this grill store more heat than regular charcoal grills, allowing it to radiate around the food as it cooks. While you can use it as a regular grill for high-temperature cooking, you can also lower the temperature and use all that stored heat to turn the grill into a smoker or an oven. As an added bonus, those thick walls also make the Egg more efficient; during our tests, it always had more leftover charcoal as compared to other charcoal grills, ready to relight for the next grilling session.
Unlike most of the grills we tested, the Big Green Egg isn’t available at national chain stores. It’s available at most Ace Hardware stores, but other individual dealers also sell the Egg. The prices tend to vary by dealer, who may sell it as part of a package deal or a special. You can find a Big Green Egg dealer near you to get the price (the Large model we tested was available at my local store for $850).
How we tested
How did we assess the Big Green Egg? We put it through hours of comprehensive grilling tests, cooking burgers over high temperatures before lowering the heat to cook chicken drumsticks. Then, we added the grill’s ConvEGGtor—a ceramic plate that facilitates indirect heat cooking—and turned the unit into a smoker, cooking a rack of ribs and a 4-pound bone-in pork shoulder until it was shreddable and tender. To round out the tests, we added a pizza stone to the mix and cooked flatbread and pizza on the grill.
In addition to determining if the grill could cook tasty food (spoiler alert: it did), we also wanted to test the grill’s design. The look and feel of a grill is just as important as its ability to cook great food, so we looked at factors like the location of the vents, the weight of the grill, whether it was maneuverable on a patio or driveway, the material of the cooking grate, ease of cleaning, ease of adding and moving coals, and the overall aesthetic and build quality.
How does it perform?
Overall, we had no complaints about the Egg’s ability to cook everything we threw at it. The Large model had an 18-inch grill space that was large enough to fit a dozen burgers, up to six chickens (cooked vertically), a few whole pork shoulders, or a large turkey. Our burgers had perfect grill marks, the chicken drumsticks were infused with a deeply smoky flavor, and our pulled pork turned out super juicy and tender.
Temperature control was one of our favorite features of the Egg. By sliding the lower vent closed, we were able to get the temps as low as 150°F without worrying about extinguishing the coals. Opening up the vent ignited the coal bed, burning them red-hot and building to temperatures as hot as 700°F.
Our model featured a rEGGulator top vent cap that opened all the way, letting in more air than most charcoal grills allow. Fully opened, it helped us achieve maximum airflow to boost the temps, and it trapped all that tasty smoke inside when we slid it halfway or almost all the way closed. Both vents were cool to the touch, even while cooking over high heat.
When it came to indirect heating, the Egg’s oval design makes it nearly impossible to set up a two-zone fire, where coals are physically moved to one side of the grill. This type of cooking is required for bone-in chicken and any other foods that take longer than 30 minutes to cook. On the Egg, you’ll have to purchase a convEGGtor, a ceramic plate that separates the food from the coals. It worked well and we didn’t have any complaints about its function, but it's an additional cost on top of an already expensive grill.
What we like
The bottom vent control made it really easy to set a precise temperature inside the grill, while the top vent let us control how much smoke stayed inside as we cooked. With a little practice, changing temperatures in the Egg was almost as easy as turning a knob a gas grill (although, it’s worth noting that it does take a while to cool back down if you accidentally overshoot your temperature).
It was easy to turn “off.” On most charcoal grills, you can close the vents to extinguish the coals. Because the Egg is more insulated than most grills, closing the vents removed all air inside the unit, extinguishing the coals very quickly. These extra coals are preserved and ready to use for your next grilling session.
The lid hinges about halfway open, a feature we originally thought would be a pain. As we used the grill, we came to understand its purpose. Like the rest of the grill, the lid is heavy, so the hinges make the lid easier to open and close. As an added bonus, the design prevents smoke from funneling into your face, a feature we always appreciate.
The coals seem to last forever. At first, we were worried about cooking items with a long smoke time, like our pork shoulder. Once the ConvEGGtor plate was in place, it’s difficult to add extra coals to the grill. Luckily, that wasn’t a problem; we filled the grill to the top of the fire ring and still had plenty of leftover coals after a 6-hour smoke time.
It doesn’t use much charcoal. We cooked on the Big Green Egg for a full week, spending hours cooking burgers, chicken, pork shoulder, ribs, and multiple pizzas. Even after all that cooking, we only used somewhere between 10 to 15 pounds of charcoal.
What we don’t like
This grill is large, heavy, and takes a while to cool down. Although it’s easy to move with locking wheels, we wouldn’t recommend buying an Egg if you’re planning to store it in a shed or a garage. It stays hot to the touch long after the coals are extinguished and it shouldn’t be moved while it’s hot.
Cleaning out the ashes was a bit of a pain. The coals are stored in the bottom half of the oval-shaped grills, and they sit on top of a plate with perforated holes. Those little holes let air in and allow the ashes to fall through when they’re spent, but they need a little coaxing with the Egg’s proprietary ash tool. To remove them from the bottom of the grill, you have to open the bottom vent and use the tool to rake the ashes into a bowl or bucket. It would have been nice if they automatically fell into a removable bucket, speeding up the cleaning process quite a bit.
Buying one can get a bit pricey. The grill itself is significantly more expensive than your standard charcoal grill. In fact, it costs more than most gas grills. On top of that, there are a ton of optional Big Green Egg accessories (we’ll talk about a few of them in a minute). It would be really easy to rack up a hefty bill to customize the Egg to your liking.
The grill itself may be heavy-duty, but the interior components are a little fragile. If you’re taking the Egg apart for cleaning, you’ll need to be very careful with the firebox and fire ring nestled inside the grill. These pieces are all made from unglazed ceramic, and they can easily chip. Luckily, you can buy replacements if they do break, but that’s an unnecessary expense.
How are the accessories?
We only tested a few EGGcessories, but there are hundreds to choose from. Take your pick from cast-iron cooking grates, side tables, custom cooking islands, covers, pizza stones, grill racks, woks, and more. Big Green Egg also has its own brand of oak and hickory lump charcoal and charcoal starters. They even sell a wireless temperature control unit that allows you to set the grill’s temperature from your smartphone. All of these items come at a price, and customizing your Egg can add up pretty quickly.
Where can I find recipes?
One thing you’ll definitely receive with the purchase of an Egg is an entrance into a community that calls themselves Eggheads. Big Green Egg’s website has hundreds of recipes to help you get started using your Egg, and there’s even a culinary center with classes. If you really get into it, you can attend Eggfests in cities across the country or participate in the online forum to get (and share) advice with your fellow grillers.
For residential (non-commercial) use, the Egg comes with a limited lifetime warranty for materials and workmanship on all ceramic components, including the dome, base, damper top, firebox and fire ring. The warranty on Eggcessories varies from one to five years. Keep in mind you have to be the original owner and register each product.
Is the Big Green Egg worth it?
Before testing the Big Green Egg, I thought it was just an expensive charcoal grill. Now, I know why it has a loyal following of Eggheads. The versatility of the Big Green Egg really sets it apart from other gas and charcoal grills. Turn it into a smoker, use it as an oven, or fire up some really tasty burgers. I would be lying if I said this grill isn’t on my Christmas list this year.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.