OK, first off, I must warn everyone that you may find some of the photos below a little bit disturbing.
To kick off the BBQ Brethren "Eggs" Throwdown, I really wanted to try something really different than just your plain old regular egg. I mean, there are lots of recipes using eggs that are fantastic, but they are still just "eggs". Boring old "eggs". I wanted "Eggciting Eggs"!
Where they weren't even regular old boring eggs to begin with!
I also wanted to ensure that whatever I did with my eggs that they were BBQ'ed, meaning food cooked using a wood based fire and taking on smoke. So far, the only "smoked eggs" I am aware of are hard-boiled eggs that are then put on the smoker to absorb some smoke flavor. That's not really the same because the eggs aren't getting cooked while being caressed by smoke. Instead they are pre-cooked and smoked to add some smokey flavor to it. Heck, if I wanted to do that I could just boil them in liquid smoke the way you make ribs!
This presented a problem though. If I simply put an egg in the cooker, it will explode as the water in the egg converts to steam and builds enough pressure to crack the shell, resulting in either a big explosion spraying egg and shell bits all over my cooker, or just making a crack in the egg allowing the pressure to escape, but would result in egg spewing out from that crack and making an unsightly looking egg and yet another mess.
To avoid this sort of problem, the logical thing to do would be to crack the egg, but then you have the obvious problem of the egg falling through the grates. Not even a frogmat would probably prevent this from happening. I could just crack them into a pan and put the pan in the smoker, but that's just not "eggciting" enough.
Then I recalled an old experiment I did long ago where I made "Naked Eggs". If you're not familiar with making naked eggs it is simple really. You cover eggs with vinegar for 24 hours, then drain and replace with fresh vinegar for another 24 hours.
The vinegar's acetic acid reacts with the calcium carbonate (which is the eggshell) and they produce carbon dioxide that bubbles up and out of the solution. This is similar to the reaction of vinegar's acetic acid with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) only much, much slower and therefore much less aggressive.
At the end of this 48 hours (with the vinegar refresh halfway through) the hard shell of the egg will have simply dissolved away leaving the outer egg membrane and everything inside of that. You can actually see into the egg and see the yolk. Here are 3 eggs that have just come out after a 48 hour vinegar soak.
Please note that I did all of this in the refrigerator with pre-chilled liquids, thus ensuring the eggs stayed at a safe temperature throughout the entire process.
Now, this outer egg membrane is semi-permeable, meaning certain items can pass through the membrane as long as the molecular size of the substance is small enough to permeate through the membrane. This can go either way, in or out of the egg membrane. Water molecules are small enough to pass through, as is acetic acid (vinegar). Salt and sugar molecules (even monosaccharides like fructose nd glucose) are too large to permeate the membrane.
So you're probably asking, "So the fark what"? Well, what this means to me is that I can extract water from the egg and then replace it with another substance, maybe one more flavorful than water!
Now, since those eggs above were soaked in vinegar, and the vinegar is 5% acetic acid and 95% water, both of which will permeate the egg membrane, and because the concentration of water in the egg is less than 95%, the simple act of removing the shell using the vinegar causes the eggs to expand because they absorb some of the water and acetic acid from the vinegar until their concentration inside the egg matches that outside the egg. So if you were wondering why the yolks in the photo above seemed kind of hard to see, it is because they are deep inside of a swollen egg. When I first put those eggs in their container, they just fit. By the time they were done, it was a bit tricky getting them out because they had swollen and wedged themselves into the container.
What I first want to do to add flavor (other than the vinegar flavor that has been added to get to this point) is extract water from the egg, thereby shrinking it basically. Since sugar and salt can not permeate the membrane, and you can make solutions containing water and either salt or sugar, if you make a solution that is a low concentration of water then what will happen is the water from inside the egg will exit through the membrane and into the solution outside to try and balance out. Since it is easy to make a sugar syrup that has a very low concentration of water, that is what I did. I made an invert sugar syrup with as little water as possible to make it a syrup. I chilled this syrup in the refrigerator and added the naked eggs.
The next day the eggs had shrunk quite a bit. Instead of being firm and swollen, they were now rather soft and could be squeezed (not too hard though). The yolk was also much more noticeable since there was less "white" around it.
My options for adding flavor are not limitless, because first of all I already know that Salt and Sugar can not go through the membrane and into the egg, which are two rather common flavors. However, since I knew water and vinegar could go through, I decided to experiment with a few things to see how effectively the flavors of these things made it into the eggs.
I soaked one in a Hot Sauce (Valentina) that has water and peppers as the primary ingredients, along with salt and some vinegar. I diluted this a bit actually (by abouot half) just too make sure the concentration of water would be high and therefore cause things to go into the egg.
I soaked another in BigButz Carolina Magic Sauce, which was made several weeks ago using only his dry ingredients and Apple Cider Vinegar. I figured after soaking that long as much flavor as possible had gone into the solution as possible, and since vinegar will go into the egg maybe some of the flavor will too!
I soaked the 3rd egg in Balsamic Vinegar, a good kind actually, which I picked up from a local place that specializes in Olive Oil and Vinegars (they have great Balsamic Vinegar IMHO). I figured this one might add the most flavor since the vinegar should pass through, and Balsamic Vinegar sure is flavorful.
After these eggs soaked for a day in their respective solutions they looked like this.
From left to right they are: Hot Sauce, Carolina Magic Sauce, Balsamic Vinegar.
The Carolina Magic Sauce one swelled up the largest. The Hot Sauce and the Balsamic Vinegar eggs were a similar size, and both were larger than before so they definitely took something in. The Balsamic Vinegar egg clearly appears to have taken in the Balsamic Vinegar just by the appearance of it. The Hot Sauce egg did not take on much red coloration so I was not sure if that meant the flavor made it in or not. I would have to cook them to find out what flavors they took on!
I put the eggs in an oiled aluminum pan (to prevent sticking) and put them on my Weber Kettle offset from about 1/3 chimney full of lump and some Peach Wood for smoke. They were cooking at around 350 degrees, but I figured they would take on smoke flavor pretty easily so I thought a hot and fast type smoke would be good for them.
From left to right they are: Hot Sauce, Balsamic Vinegar, Carolina Magic Sauce.
Ten minutes later they didn't appear to have cooked, they were still very soft and I could not see any white from any cooked egg white.
After 20 minutes, I noticed that on the bottom they were starting to turn white, so I turned them halfway for this photo to show this, and then flipped them the rest of the way so the white was on top to get the other side cooked.
After they had been cooking for 30 minutes the egg on the left (Hot Sauce) still looked like it was not quite white on the other side, but it felt firm all over. I figured it was time to probe for temp, and that it was (hopefully) firm enough to not come spilling out of the hole in the membrane. I stuck in the probe on the side tht looked uncooked but felt firm and the reading in the center (where the yolk should be) was 157 which was good enough (the yolk will be done by 159 degrees). However, when I put the probe in the membrane split open like a popped balloon and, well, the egg had an unusual appearance that was unexpected. I took this photo of the other two eggs before going inside to evaluate the finished "Hot Sauce" egg.
Now, before I show the photo of the finished "Hot Sauce" Egg, I want to discuss some of the things I wondered about while undertaking this experiment. I knew that vinegar can begin to denature proteins ahead of cooking and I wondered what effect this might have on the egg white, if any. Since vinegar was being added into the eggs from the start (possibly denaturing some of the proteins), and then extracted along with some of the water, and then replaced with something else, I honestly was not sure what to expect from the egg white.
Now I also would like to describe an Egg White. There are two parts of an Egg White; an Outer Albumen and an Inner Albumen. The Inner Albumen surrounds the Egg Yolk, and the Outer Albumen surrounds that and is just inside of the Egg Membrane.
Having said all that, I will show you the picture of the egg (as it looked after splitting) and then describe what you are looking at (sensitive eyes should look away now).
Looking at this you might think the egg was not done, and my Thermapen is simply wrong about the temp it had been cooked to. However that is not the case.
The liquid you are seeing is just water and vinegar, and that the flavor. It is thin and has the consistency of water. I think it is water that was released during cooking because it was not entangled in any of the proteins (the juices that get cooked out of meats for example). The membrane is the thin smoky brown layer, and inside of it is what looks like a weird gooey mess which is the Outer Albumen. Then the normal looking cooked "Egg White" inside of that is the Inner Albumen with the yolk inside of that.
My first thought was that the stuff that was the Outer Albumen was not done because it was, well, here, look at these next two pics and you'll understand why I thought that at first.
That Outer Albumen is indeed fully cooked, otherwise the Inner Albumen and Yolk would not be done of course. It had a spreadable texture though, which I believe was caused by the denaturing of the proteins from the vinegar prior to cooking. So instead of the proteins coiling together to make a firm egg yolk, they starting coiling early on independent of each other so they never "bound together" and made this "pasty egg white" stuff. It tasted fine actually, but tasted mostly of vinegar. The inner egg white and the yolk also tasted just fine, with the inner egg white also having a bit of a vinegar taste, but much less than the outer egg white. The yolk tasted like an egg yolk, no different.
I went to check the other two eggs and they looked about ready. They too had a firm side and a soft side, and I realized that the firm side was where the yolk had settled, and the soft side was where all that Inner Albumen was. I figured since I stuck the probe in the soft side on the last egg and the membrane split, this time I would probe the firm side where the yolk was to see if that kept the membrane from splitting. It worked. The inner temps read 162, so they were a little overdone. Here is what they looked like after cooking.
I first cut into the BigButz Carolina Magic Sauce egg, attempting to cut it in half. The Outer Albumen was so soft but fully cooked) that it sort of fell and spread out, this outer egg white was even more soft than the previous egg. This was probably because the Hot Sauce was water based while the Carolina Magic was vinegar based, meaning this egg had been exposed to vinegar longer than the previous egg.
The inner egg white had taken on most of the flavors of the sauce, which I was actually quite pleased about. The yolk still tasted like just an egg yolk, no flavor penetration there. The outer egg white also had taken on the flavor of the sauce, but had a heavy vinegar taste.
Honestly by this point, the whole texture of the outer egg white along with the somewhat strong vinegar flavor that was throughout them, I was glad that the next egg was a Balsamic Egg, because I like Balsamic Vinegar, and was looking forward to something that was going to taste vinegary, but possibly in a good way.
The Balsamic Egg cut in half very well.
It didn't look so appetizing, but it cut well. The outer egg white was more firm, when I poked it my finger did not just sink into it like it was some sort of dip, but instead it felt a bit more like an egg white, although softer. I think the brown color came from the Balsamic Vinegar. The inner egg white tasted like vinegar and only vinegar, while the yolk just tasted like a yolk. I ate a little bit of the outer albumen and at that point could not stand to eat any more. It did not taste yummy like I normally associate with the particular Balsamic Vinegar I used, it just tasted vinegary and I had apparently had my fill of vinegar at that point.
This concludes the first "Naked Egg Smoking" Experiement at the Baker Research Facility.
I say first because I have naked eggs soaking in Chicken Broth, another in Salsa and another in a blend of onion, bell pepper, garlic and water that was liquified in a blender. I also have 6 eggs currently being made "naked" which are soaking in vinegar. Hopefully one of these turns out OK so I have the proper enthusiasm to continue this experimentation.