Equipment – First impressions of my new Primo Oval XL

DSC_1642About a week ago, the Norwegian company Gastronaut gave me a good offer on a Primo Oval XL grill (this happened sort of by chance via my BBQviking Instagram account, btw!). I had been researching kamado style grills and other types of smokers for a long time already, thinking about upgrading from my two standard Weber kettles. I long considered Weber’s WSM, some insulated smokers like the Chubby from Backwoods Smoker, and other alternatives.

The more I researched and thought about it, the more a kamado style grill/smoker looked like the best alternative for me. It would allow me to get a better grill for hot and fast type cooking (especially for Norwegian winter conditions) and a smoker at the same time. Best of both worlds. The Oval shape of the Primo appealed to me, and seemed to give me the most cooking space for my buck -. Which is important, because I often cook for 8+

That one time the inside of a kamado was clean and bright. This can't last

That one time the inside of a kamado was clean and bright. This can’t last

people.  I had been eyeing the Big Green Egg too of course, but they seemed way overpriced, especially here in Norway

Last Monday, the magic happened – I could pick up my new Primo Oval XL from the dealer. It barely fit in my boxy, boring people mover, and it was heavy! Had to call a friend to help me come over and put it on a makeshift table/stand I had built for it! I opted for the model with no stand, because I have some plans for a simple outdoor kitchen/bench this spring on my deck anyway. More on that later!

I have had 4 cooks on the thing this week. A couple normal grilling sessions with direct and indirect cooking, and one long, low and slow cook last Saturday, with two big pork butts and some Norwegian beef ribs – aka “bibringe”. Two pork butts and four pieces of Norwegian bibringe on the smoker

So, what are the biggest differences between the Primo and my two Weber Performer grills? Let me give you a list of things I noticed using the Primo this first week:

  • First off – you don’t use a chimney starter on the primo. It only takes lump charcoal, no briquettes, and I have been using alcohol based tablets to fire it up. The old paper towel drenched in vegetable oil trick works well too. Never use starting fluid in a ceramic grill, says all the manufacturers.
  • The charcoal capacity of the thing is huge, and it seems to work best when it’s filled up – even if I’m doing a short cook. Once I’m done I just close the vents, and out the flame goes, leaving a ton of charcoal for next cook. Quite simple really.
  • The Primo Oval XL takes A LOT of charcoal in the fire boxIt was very easy getting used to the vents and managing temperature – but then I have practiced A LOT on the Weber kettles doing this. Having a remote two-probe type thermometer seems almost a necessity on this type of grill. I use the Maverick ET-732.
  • For me so far, it takes a bit longer to get the Primo up to temp then it takes on my standard kettles. This kind of makes sense, due to the sheer mass of the Primo. 90 kg or about 200 pounds of ceramic needs to get heated up. When adding the deflector plates, that adds more weight too. Also I think the different lighting technique makes it take a while longer
  • Once it’s up to temp however, it stays there very nicely. Patience is important, the amount of mass introduces a delay in temperature changes, so oversteering it could become an issue if you’re not patient enough. Monitoring temperature from my easy chair all thanks to the lovely Maverick ET-732
  • Smoke management is also quite different. Especially doing low and slow with the two deflector plates installed, I have no easy way of adding smoke during the cook. This means chunks spread out in the coal pile are a lot better than the chips I’m using on my standard kettles. If you’re grilling without deflector plates, direct/indirect for instance, adding chips is of course very easy
  • With a grill like this that is very airtight, it seems to keep the moisture content in the meat on slow cooks a lot higher. Holding my hand above the chimney (not recommended on hot cooks btw!) I can feel the moisture coming out of the thing. I have never noticed this on my standard kettles.
  • The ceramic makes it a lot less susceptible than the standard kettles to changes in weather. On those things I would notice if the sun came out, or if the wind direction changed, and had to adjust accordingly. Because of the huge mass, the Primo seems unaffected. Can’t wait to try it out in real winter conditions next winter!
  • The low and slow cook I did this weekend was quicker than my experiences with the Weber kettles, even though I had the same grate/dome temperature range as I normally have. I think this could be attributed to several things, but the higher mouisture content inside seems a likely contributor, as well as being able to keep the lid on for a lot longer than I do on the kettles. Running at a range mostly between 130-150 degrees C (265-320F) this weekend, one of the 12 pound pork butts I had was done after only 8 hours.
  • This stuff burns very steady and long in the Primo!

    This stuff burns very steady and long in the Primo!

    Another big thing with Primo – it burns really clean. I filled up the chamber with coal for the above cook, and cooked for about 12 hours total, closed the vents – and more than 1/3 of the charcoal (Wicked Good Weekend Warrior type) I put in was still there the next day. That’s pretty impressive. Scraping the ashes out of it there was not a whole lot of those either.

  • I learned something else too on one of these first cooks. Make sure the two deflector plates make contact in the middle, even a small gap here will burn your food where the gap is!
  • Lastly, the beef ribs I made on the Primo this weekend came out WAY better than my 7-8 previous attempts at those on standard kettles. More testing will be needed but it seems attributable to the grill that I would nail it on the first try when I have had so many tries before. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve been good before too, but nothing like what came out of this thing in terms of tenderness+juicyness.

All in all, I am very pleased with my newest grill so far. The only downside I see is that it takes a little while to get it up to temp, but I will be working on testing different methods and ways, some of that could be my lack of experience with kamado style grills too.

Full disclosure: I got a good price on this grill+accessories to have it appear on my blog at times in photos etc (which it would’ve without the discount too, to be honest). But then I figured it would be fun to write some about my experiences with it too as I know a lot of people are looking at kamado style cookers these days.

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Whole, smokegrilled trout

There’s nothing that spells summer to me like grilling a whole salmon or trout. Grilling it whole also makes it juicier and more forgiving in terms of temperature. One small note on this, I see a lot of people “grilling” whole fish completely wrapped in aluminium foil. Now I don’t mean to be a BBQ snob, but I am, so here goes. When you do that, you’re basically steaming the fish, not grilling it. There’s also no way for smoke and other flavours of the grill to get into the fish. So, you might as well go inside and steam it in your kitchen, much easier. There.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s look at a good way of getting that delicious smokegrilled flavour on a big piece of whole fish. Trout or salmon can be used here, that’s up to you.

Total time: 2-3 hours
Skill level: Easy/intermediate
Grilling method: Indirect, two-zoned (some coals on each side, none in the middle)
Grill temperature: About 175 degrees centigrade (350F)

You’re going to need:
A medium-large whole trout (or salmon)
2 lemons
Some butter
Fresh dill
A clove of garlic
Salt and pepper
Oak wood chips (alternatively alder or fruit wood)
(Optional) A long fish basket for large fish
If no fish basket, some cardboard and heavy-duty aluminium foil

Serving suggestions:
Mustard-dill sauce
New potatoes (boiled or baked on the grill)
Butter-steamed spring cabbage
Grilled spring onions

How you do it:

  • Get the grill started as instructed above
  • Clean the fish if it hasn’t been done for you. Remove the head, tail, use kitchen shears to cut off any fins. Rinse it off in ice-cold water and dry with paper towels
  • Cut some diagonal slashes on both side of the fish, quite deep. We do this to allow the smoke and flavours to penetrate the meat properly when grilling.
  • Put thinly sliced lemon and some dill sprigs in each slash
  • Season the inside of the fish with salt and pepper, put some more lemon slices and dill sprigs in there too
  • Make a herb butter by melting a cup of butter, then chucking in a minced garlic clove and a handful or two of chopped dill. I also put some pepper in there, but that’s optional
  • If you  have a fish basket, good. If not,cut out two pieces of cardboard slightly larger than your fish. Wrap them in two layers of heavy-duty aluminium foil
  • Brush one of your new cardboard “planks” with butter
  • Brush the fish on both sides with herb butter and put it in your fish basket or on your cardboard plank
  • Put some water-soaked smoke wood chips on the coals. I like to get a good smoke level started before I put on meat or fish, because raw meat seems to take up smoke flavour more readily. This goes for all meats. Always get the smoke going good first, then put the food in.
  • Once the smoke gets going, put the fish in the middle of the grill, on its plank/basket
  • Baste the fish with herb butter every ten minutes
  • When the fish has been on the grill for 30-40 minutes, depending on size and temperature, it’s time to flip it. If you have a fish basket, that’s easy. If you have cardboard planks, butter up the second plank, and use your grilling gloves to flip the fish over on plank #2. It can be a bit tricky, so be careful
  • Grill the fish another 30-40 minutes until ready. If you have a Thermapen or other instant-read thermometer, look for the fish to be 55 degrees centigrade (about 130F). If you don’t have an instant read thermometer, make a small incision on the widest section of the fish near the backbone. The meat should be pale pink and opaque, not translucent and pink/orange.
  • Serve!

Simple mustard-dill sauce

Here in Scandinavia, trout and salmon is very often served with dill and mustard. So why not make a sauce of it? This goes well with any salmon or trout dish.

Time: 10 minutes
Skill level: Easy

You’re going to need:
1.5 cups of mayo (homemade is best of course!)
0.75 cup sour cream
0.5 cup of dijon mustard, honey mustard or sweet Swedish mustard, depending on what your preference is
Handful of chopped fresh dill
Some lemon juice
Salt and pepper

How you do it:

  • Put everything except lemon juice and salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk it all together
  • Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper
  • Serve!

Did I mention this sauce goes well with for instance smokegrilled trout

Butter-steamed spring cabbage

Spring cabbage is one of the tastiest vegetables out there. It goes well with grilled fish, especially salmon or trout. In Norway we call it summer cabbage, because that’s when you can get it here. This is the easiest and best way to prepare it if you ask me, and it’s super fast.

Time: 10 minutes
Skill level: Easy
Grilling method: Steaming over direct heat
Grill temperature: Doesn’t really matter

You’re going to need:
A head of spring cabbage
4 tablespoons of butter
Salt and pepper
Aluminium foil

How you do it:

  • Slice the cabbage in longish strips about a half-inch wide
  • Make a big sheet of aluminium foil, put 4 tablespoons of butter on it
  • Put the cabbage on top of the butter
  • Season with salt and pepper
  • Make it into a bowl shape, that you half close on top
  • Put it over direct heat on the grill, and let the butter steam the cabbage for about 5-10 minutes depending on heat level
  • Serve!

This goes well with for instance a whole grilled trout or smokegrilled mackerel

Smokegrilled mackerel

Mackerel is one of my favorite fish to eat. It brings back memories of summers spent fishing in my little dingy outside Bergen on the west coast of Norway. A feisty fish that was fun to fish for as a kid growing up. It’s nice and juicy thanks to very high-fat content, and that also makes it very healthy, full of omega-3 and other good stuff. I think mackerel tastes fantastic, and I like to keep it really simple. Salt and pepper for seasoning, new potatoes on the side, with a sour cream sauce and some good butter. One thing that makes mackerel perfect for the grill, is the fact that it can smell quite strong. Fun when you’re making it and eating it, not so fun three days later in your kitchen. So, let’s take the mackerel outside!

In this recipe I combine smoking with high temperature grilling. Mackerel being a fatty fish, it takes up smoke flavour quite readily, so you don’t need a lot of time to get the right amount of smoke flavour into the meat.

Time: 45 minutes total
Skill level: Easy
Grilling method: Direct
Grill temperature: About 200-250 degrees centigrade  (390-480F)
Equipment: Fish basket, cherry wood chips for smoke

You’ll need to get hold of:
Fresh, raw mackerel (1 large per person)
New potatoes
Butter
Sour cream
Lemon
Fresh Dill

How you do it:

  • Have a hot grill waiting, with the 50/50 setup (coals on one side)
  • If you’re baking the new potatoes, prick them with a fork all around so smoke can get in, throw some wood chips on the coals and leave these on the indirect side of the grill. They will need 45-60 minutes depending on size
  • Prep and clean the mackerel unless you had the fish shop do it for you, remove all guts and blood, rinse and dry off with paper towels. I like to leave the tails and heads on, but you can remove these if you’re wimpy about it or if your kids have watched Finding Nemo too many times…
  • Liberally season the fish inside and outside with Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper (I use Tellicherry)
  • Put the mackerel in your fish basket (oil it if it’s not a non-stick one). A fish basket is really necessary here, because mackerel will stick to your grill grate like crazy and it will be extremely difficult to flip the fish without it falling apart
  • Make a very simple sour cream sauce. I mix sour cream with some lemon juice, salt and pepper, and some freshly chopped dill
  • Grill the mackerel over direct heat, until the skin is nicely crispy and the meat falls of the bone easily (use a fork to test). If you’re using a thermometer, mackerel is a cold water fish and as such it should be ready when the meat is about 55 degrees centigrade (131F), but it’s so fatty it will stay nice and juicy way above that temperature too.
  • Serve with the baked new potatoes, sour cream sauce and some butter for those who want it. Easy living!

Some older BBQ shots

Some fun pictures here from 2011/2012. My favorite session of all of 2011 was grilling a leg of Scottish row deer down by the banks of the world-famous salmon fishing river Orkla in Trøndelag. It’s amazing how much better food tastes when you’ve been out in the fresh air all day fishing for salmon…