Kamado style grills and smokers are being found in more and more backyards these days and for good
reason. The versatile ovals and eggs are capable of smoking true slow and low BBQ, grilling and searing, baking for pizza and bread, and roasting. Designed for the outdoor chef, explore an overview of what makes these cookers worth their fairly hefty price tag.
If you are in the market for a kamado style grill this article dives into what these ovens are all about and the advantages and disadvantages of ceramic cookers.
The Kamado design originated in Japan thousands of years ago and the word its self is the Japanese word for stove or cooking range. A cousin of the Indian Tandoor the general premise of these cookers is that the sides and domes absorb heat and radiate it back. Originally made of clay, the modern Kamado’s are ceramic, a material that retains heat as well as a brick oven and doesn’t add a metallic taste to food like some say a metal kettle charcoal grill can.
How they work
Fueled by charcoal or lump wood charcoal the oval body has two dampers for airflow. One towards the base of the body and the other at the top of the dome like a chimney. The ceramic construction absorbs and retains heat incredibly well and the domed shape provides a convection type cooking process. Adjusting the airflow via the dampers determines the cooking temperature and because of the ceramic heat retention very little airflow is needed to maintain the cooking temperature. This means one load of charcoal can last for a day’s worth of cooking. Airflow is also what dries meat out making it over cooked. With less airflow meats stay juicier.
We touched on this but what we like best about these cookers is their versatility. We’ve written about combo pizza / smoker ovens in the past, but they don’t cover all of the functions of Kamado style cookers. With a little creativity and the right accessories, the backyard chef can get creative with 2-zone cooking, preparing the coals on one side of the cooker leaving the other side cooler. Moving the cooking grates closer or further from the fire for searing or slow cooking.
Add a deflector plate (included in some models) to place a barrier between the grates and coals for smoking and roasting. Lastly, due to incredible insulation and heat retention these cookers can reach temps of 700 degrees + for baking pizzas or maintain temps as low as 150 degrees for smoking.
A ceramic grills’ precise temperature control is a product of their construction. Made of porcelain glazed ceramic the material is extremely efficient at retaining both moisture and heat. For this reason, temperature control is accurate and easy. Because of the efficiency the temps can be dialed up and down almost as easily as a kitchen stove!
Adjusting the dampers open and closed alters the amount of airflow through the cooker. The more airflow the more the coals will burn creating higher temperatures. Reduce the airflow by closing the damper which in turn will reduce the temp. Temperatures can range from 200 – 700+ degrees.
One noticeable difference between ceramic grills and traditional kettle charcoal models is that the charcoal is used much more efficiently. One batch of charcoal will smolder for hours due to reduced air intake and heat retention. Slow cook a brisket for 12 hours without having to add charcoal. Another nice feature of these grills is at the end of a cook just close all of the dampers, starve the charcoal, and use the leftover for next time.
Hold More Moisture
As we’ve touched on ceramics require less airflow to maintain heat. Less airflow equals more moisture so meats don’t dry out and retain their juices! The thick wall construction is beefier than a lot of traditional smokers and the heavy lid means no leaking all adding to moisture retention.
Year Round Ease Of Use
Ceramics are known for easy starting even in windy conditions and the bulky construction and insulation will hold heat even in northern winters making them a good year round grilling solution. That same construction makes them safer than traditional kettle grills. While still hot to the touch the ceramic exterior are much cooler than a metal model would be.
Ceramic Kamado Style Grills aren’t cheap. Ranging from about $700 to well into the $1000’s these are an investment. Because the basic units come with a hefty price tag a lot of the accessories, most of which are essential to make the grill more versatile, come at an additional cost which is a bummer. Make sure to know exactly what’s included when investigating as you could be spending a lot more money on add-ons which you need to be aware of.
That said you probably aren’t going to be replacing one…..EVER. Much like high-end cookware they are heirloom pieces that will get better with age if well maintained.
The biggest downside for us at the Urban Backyard is the weight. Sure, a cooker this beefy is going to be heavy but moving it from a patio in the summer to a deck in the winter is no easy task with the lightest models coming in around 200lbs. We always look for a flexible set-up in a small outdoor space and ceramics are likely going to be in a fixed position. There are carts with casters available or included in most models but getting up stairs is not a one man job.
Watch the bbqguys.com give an overview
These are the most versatile smokers / grills out there especially if you are cooking year round in cold weather. Achieve 700 degrees for searing and baking pizza’s or go low and slow for hours and hours without needing to add charcoal.
What’s your favorite Kamado Style brand? Let us know leave a comment below!