These Robust Grills Will Enhance Your Outdoor Cooking Adventures
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A kamado grill is simply an outdoor oven you haven’t met yet. These egg-shaped grills are styled and named after the traditional Japanese method of cooking in a domed clay plot with a lid over a charcoal or wood-fueled fire. They’re ideal for grilling, roasting, and baking (smoked cheesecake, anyone?).
When you think of a kamado grill, what immediately comes to mind might be the well-known Big Green Egg—an ovular, insulated grill with dimples like a golf ball. The brand, which launched 50 years ago in the U.S., helped popularize these ceramic grills which have become known for retaining heat.
Kamado grills, like the Big Green Egg or Kamado Joe, are made of ceramic and tend to be heavier and more expensive; but a number of porcelain-plated metal options (typically double-walled steel) have been introduced in the past five decades, as they tend to be less expensive and weigh less than the ceramic models.
The shape of the charcoal grills lets warm air circulate around the grill grates at the center of the rounded top and bottom, where a pair of dampers can be opened or closed to regulate the temperature. The well-insulated interior combined with your ability to adjust the heat means that kamado grills are great for slowly braising pork shoulders and developing a flavorful crust on pork chops.
Best Kamado Grills
The Expert: I’m a food writer from Kansas City, Missouri, who regularly interviews pitmasters and tells stories about barbecue. As a result of where I live, I eat more grilled meat than I should, have served as a certified barbecue judge, and co-created a barbecue documentary. I am also the author of two cookbooks: Cookies & Beer and Stock, Broth & Bowl. I regularly test appliances for national publications and have owned a host of different smokers and grills over the past two decades.
What to Consider in a Kamado Grill
Kamado grills are available in a wide variety of configurations and sizes, including ones that offer multi-level racks for more cooking space. Be sure to check how ash is emptied. Slide-out ash drawers at the bottom are preferable; otherwise, you need to remove the grates and scoop out the ash. To choose the right kamado grill for you, think about your budget and how many people you’re typically going to be feeding.
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Kamado grills range widely in size, so it might be simpler to think of what you need in terms of how many burgers a given grill can hold. A Kamado Joe Junior (148-square-inches) can fit a half-dozen burgers. The Kamado Joe Kettle Joe (363-square-inches) has room for roughly twice as many burgers, and the Kamado Joe Big Joe II (604-square-inches) is able to handle four times as many as the Joe Junior. Think about how often you’re cooking for a crowd when you’re trying to decide which grill to get.
Oval-shaped kamado grills are great for two-zone cooking where you’re grilling steaks over direct heat while letting smoke gently infuse chicken breasts on grates that are further away from the charcoal. Round kamado grills are good for the even heat distribution you need for smoking or baking.
Best known for their insulating properties, kamado grills often have wide temperature ranges that can be used for lots of different cooking methods. Keep an eye on the lowest range if, for instance, you’re thinking about smoking brisket, or check the max temperature if you’re hoping to fire a pizza.
Typically kamado grills are made from ceramic, which tends to be heavy but can crack over time. The ovular grills may also be porcelain-coated metal (often steel), which is lighter and often less expensive; but may not retain heat as effectively.
Entry-level models tend to be smaller and lighter without as many accessories. Mid-range and premium models often feature built-in stands or carts with lockable wheels. Luxury models are ceramic grills with wide cooking surfaces and lots of customization options.
How We Selected Kamado Grills
I compared a wide range of options at different price points and sizes available to put together my recommendations. I also read user reviews to understand the benefits or drawbacks of each kamado grill and watched videos of the grills in action.
Fans of the Big Green Egg are known as Eggheads, and these enthusiasts gather at EGGfests held all across the country. Not surprisingly, more than 1,800 restaurants use The Big Green Egg as one of their cooking appliances.
The Big Green Egg’s temperature gauge maxes out at 750 degrees Fahrenheit (perfect for quick-firing pizzas) and the ceramic body is effective at maintaining low temperatures (think brisket, slowly smoking overnight).
This grill is large enough to feed a crowd—we’re talking about smoking a 20-pound turkey for Thanksgiving—or leave beautiful grill marks on the half dozen burgers you’ve seared over charcoal on a weekday night.
Classic II 18-Inch Grill
Kamado Joe is a well-regarded brand that’s become a frontrunner in the world of kamados. All of the brand's ceramic grills are a distinctive fire engine red, and the full-sized models have a versatile cooking system with racks that can be used in multiple configurations, including a two-zone setup.
The Classic II is the most popular grill in the lineup. It features an air-lift hinge top with a vent that’s water- and mold-resistant, a fiberglass mesh steel gasket, and a slide-out ash drawer.
There's also a multi-panel firebox designed to prevent breaks and cracks. The grill is set on a cast-iron cart with locking wheels and comes with a grill gripper and ash tool.
This Kamado Joe Kettle Joe (it’s a mouthful) has a 22-inch grate, which is 4-inches larger than that of the Classic model. The ceramic grill comes with a rolling cart (front wheels lock) and foldable metal side shelves, so you can start cooking once it’s assembled.
Split grill grates let you brown sausages over the charcoal (via direct heat) or cook them through on the raised grate (via indirect heat). The charcoal basket and fire box are built-in, so they can be removed in one piece for easier cleaning or maintenance.
6-In-1 Kamado Grill
The Lifesmart 6-in-1 grill looks sharp and offers all the features you'd expect from a kamado-style grill—and at a lower price than you'll find on other models. It has the same innovative cooking system found in more expensive models, and offers a wide variety of functions such as smoking, roasting, searing, braising, and even baking.
The top and bottom vents allow you to adjust the airflow to control the temperature so that nothing is over- or undercooked. This model also comes with a grill cover, pizza stone, and an electric starter. The only drawback is that the cooking surface and 13-inch grill grate are a bit smaller than those in comparable models.
Ceramic Kamado Grill
This sharp looking kamado grill from Pit Boss offers a generous amount of space and rivals other brands in its price range for desirable features.
The grill’s ceramic body has 662-square-inches of space, with a 24-inch grate, dual-tier stainless steel cooking grates, and a spring-loaded hinge top, plus laminated bamboo fold-down side shelves.
There’s also a cast-iron damper on top that’s easy to adjust, and the unit is set on a base with wheeled casters, two of which lock. One of the drawbacks: you have to remove the grates to clean the ash pan through the bottom damper using a steel brush, which is included.
Big Joe II 24-Inch Grill
If you’re a Kamado Joe fan and want to upgrade, consider the Big Joe II. It has 604-square-inches of cooking space with the included grill expander, plus the brand’s standard package of fantastic features.
Expect two-tier stainless steel grates, an air lift hinge top, and a wire mesh fiberglass gasket, along with a six-panel firebox designed to prevent cracks, a slide-out ash drawer, and folding side shelves.
Heads-up: This grill’s price tag isn’t the only thing that’s a bit hefty. It weighs more than 375 pounds!
Junior 13.5-Inch Grill
The Kamado Joe Jr. is one of the brand’s portable models, though at 70 pounds it isn't what would typically be considered lightweight. But if you want a small kamado with many of the same features as the brand's larger grills, this one won’t disappoint.
It’s ideal for cooking up meals for two to four people, and its cast-iron stand makes it safe to set on a wood deck or tabletop.
The grill has 148-square-inches of grill space on its stainless steel grates, a felt gasket to trap heat, and a cast-iron vent to control the temperature. There’s no ash pan like in Kamado Joe's full-size grill, but cleaning it out isn’t too much of a hassle because of its size.
Kamander Kamado Grill
This kamado-style grill from Char-Broil is a standout for clever features across the board. Among its highlights is its airflow system, which improves upon typical kamado grill design. The intake vent is within easy reach on the right side rather than on the bottom so you don’t have to bend down to make adjustments.
A section of the cast-iron grate is removable for replenishing charcoal while grilling, plus there’s a chrome swing-out grate attachment that adds a raised cooking surface. The grill has double-walled steel construction, with removable ash and drip pans, a fold-down side shelf, and a bottom shelf for storage.
Akorn Jr. Kamado Grill
This kamado-style grill is a mini version of the full-size Char-Griller Akorn model. The smaller size offers an 8-burger or 14-hot-dog capacity so it can handle a meal for the family, but at 33 pounds, it’s relatively lightweight making it ideal for camping, tailgating, or backyard barbecuing if you don’t have a lot of outdoor space and need to store it.
The grill’s construction is solid despite its lower weight, with the same triple-wall steel construction, porcelain-coated interior, and powder-coated steel finish as the larger model.
It has cast-iron grates that give you 155-square-inches of cooking space (versus the full-size Akorn's 314-square-inches), with a 14-inch grate. The design also includes, top and bottom air dampers for temperature control, plus a hinged lid, side handles, and ash-dump pan that’s easy to empty.
Large Ceramic Kamado
There’s a lot to like about this ceramic kamado grill, with its attractive design and excellent lineup of features. For starters, the front panel has two dials to separately control temperatures for grilling and smoking like you would on a range top.
There are 604-square-inches of cooking space with dual-level stainless steel grates that are hinged, making two-zone cooking a snap. An electric starter is included, which slides directly into the ProZone starter port for effortless charcoal lighting.
There’s a cast-iron vent on top, two fold-down wood shelves on each side, a flexible LED grill light, and the powder-coated stand has two heavy-duty locking castors, plus the grill comes with a vinyl protective cover.
Planning a Pizza Night? Expert Jonathan Bender Shares Why a Kamado Grill Is a Great Go-to Option.
PM: What’s the difference between a kamado grill and a charcoal grill?
JB: The obvious part is the distinctive egg-like shape. But kamado grills also often have a ceramic body as opposed to the cast iron or porcelain-coated steel often used for conventional grills. Ceramic is effective at trapping heat, moisture, and smoke, which means you get to enjoy juicier kebabs.
PM: Can I leave my kamado grill outside year-round?
JB: Yes. And you should use it every season as well. If you keep your grill outdoors, consider a grill cover. This accessory helps prevent water from getting inside, which can freeze and potentially lead to cracks in the ceramic. Likewise, you’ll want to open the vent on your grill after it’s cooled to keep moisture from being trapped and mold forming.
PM: For making pizza, is a kamado a good choice?
JB: Cooking pizza on a kamado is a great way to get a little bit of char that will remind you of a Neapolitan-style pizza. The key is to preheat a pizza stone (if you have one) and the grill before cooking your pie at a high temperature.
If you find yourself having pizza night once a week, you might want to look into accessories like this Kamado Joe DoJoe Pizza Oven Grill Accessory.
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