Kamado grills. They look cool, but, they’re really a smoking hot addition to your backyard barbecue scene that’ll let you serve up some delicious meals. From perfectly crisped pizza to seared skirt steak, smoked ribs, breads and even dessert, the kamado is so much more than just a big green egg. But, with their rising popularity, the market has been flooded with competitors that claim their kamado is better than the rest. When they all look rather similar, how do you know which is best for you? Read on to learn everything you need to know about buying a kamado grill and smoker and how to find the best 2021 kamado for your needs.
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What is a Kamado Grill?
Archaeologists have found versions of the kamado grill in many early civilizations. While popular in China 3,000 years ago, they were also used as tandoors in India and rice steamers in Japan. However, the kamado we know today descends from the Japanese ‘mushikamado’, which means ‘cooking range’ or ‘stove’.
During World War II, the Americans had to make do with using locally available resources. After being understandably impressed with these charcoal burners, the concept was brought back to the United States. There, entrepreneur Ed Fisher, began manufacturing and selling the modern-day kamado that he branded as the Big Green Egg.
Nowadays, kamado grills and smokers aren’t just a basic clay dome. Instead, they’re a circular or oval-shaped cooker that’s usually made from high-quality ceramic. Built-in thermometers, dampers and stands have been added to improve their efficiency and ease of use. Additionally, there are a whole host of optional accessories that broaden the kamado’s cooking ability so that you can grill, smoke and bake on the one apparatus.
How Do Kamado Grills and Smokers Work?
Inside a kamado, the bottom two-thirds are reserved for the fire. Here, coals sit on a small grate so that the ash can fall and collect below. Above that you’ll find a grill and cooking space that’s topped with what should be a tightly-sealed, heat-retaining lid. Coupled with thick ceramic-style walls, this creates a 360-degree cooking environment. It also holds any smoke close to the food for maximum penetration. To adjust the temperature, simply open or close the vents in the top and base of the kamado.
While there are a number of optional accessories when buying a kamado, the most basic (and necessary) is a thick, ceramic insert. This sits over the fire to absorb and deflect the direct heat and is used for smoking and baking. When you want to sear a steak, fire your kamado up without the insert and you’ll enjoy direct heat grilling. Additionally, there are a range of other accessories available that increase the versatility of this type of barbecue.
While it is a hotly-debated topic, kamado grills and smokers generally run best on lump wood charcoal. This is because lump wood charcoal burns more cleanly and produces less fire-smothering ash. It also has fewer additives than charcoal briquettes which can contaminate the flavor and set into the ceramic surrounds. For a smoky flavor, you can also add wood.
Different Types of Kamado Grills
If you’re buying a kamado, you’ve more than likely heard of the Big Green Egg. However, this is just one of the many kamado grills on the market today. While most are made from thick ceramic, they can also feature double-wall insulated steel, terracotta or Portland cement. The outer shell may be finished with a glossy ceramic glaze, high-heat paint or decorated with ceramic tiles to create a unique backyard feature.
What Can You Cook in a Kamado Grill?
With the right gear you can cook almost anything on a kamado grill!
From low-and-slow smoked meats to pizzas, seared skirt steak and even desserts. The versatility is one of the best things about using and buying a kamado.
Advantages of Using a Kamado Grill
- Versatile barbecue that can be used to grill, smoke and bake
- Relatively easy to use compared to some other types of barbecues
- Great heat dispersion for even cooking
- Offer excellent insulation to maximize heat absorption and radiation so maintaining the perfect temperature is relatively simple
- Generally use less fuel than other barbecue types due to efficiency of heat absorption
- Ideal for cooking in winter and/or colder climates because they retain heat well
- Made of high-quality, long-lasting materials that are less susceptible to rusting
- Easy to clean
- Minimal maintenance required
- Suitable for smaller outdoor spaces
- Can be built into outdoor kitchen setups
Disadvantages of Using a Kamado Grill
- Kamado grills don’t offer the same amount of cooking space as some larger barbecues like offset grills
- You’ll need at least 15 minutes for the thick ceramic walls to heat up which is longer than the wait time using a gas grill
- Kamado’s take a long time to cool down so it’s important not to overshoot your target temperature
- Even cooking temperature means that you can’t take advantage of different heat zones to slow-cook and sear meat simultaneously
- They’re heavy and difficult to move
- Ceramic can crack easily if dropped or knocked over
- Optional accessories add to the versatility of buying a kamado but do also add to the cost
- Can create dangerous flashbacks where an oxygen-starved fire can suddenly reignite when the lid is opened. Be careful to open vents and/or open the lid slowly to prevent this
Features to Look for When Buying a Kamado Grill
While most kamado grills look similar, there’s more to them than just a heavy, egg-shaped barbecue. So, here’s the features to look for when buying a the best kamado grill and smoker:
- Material – Ceramic is generally the gold standard when it comes to the top kamado grills and smokers for 2021. With excellent heat retention, durability and no chance of rust, they’re a sure option. However, if you’ll be moving it around a lot, you might prefer a metal one that’s lighter and less likely to crack if dropped.
- Quality construction – A kamado grill with thicker walls may be more expensive initially, but, they also offer better heat retention so will use less fuel and should be more durable to last longer. Also watch out for cheap metal fittings that might rust and joinery that doesn’t seal properly.
- Sturdiness – The best kamado grill and smokers are heavy so look for something that has a strong base, hinges, and latches so that your investment lasts.
- Quality temperature gauges – Poor quality thermometers can give inaccurate and inconsistent readings that make it difficult to understand why your low-and-slow meats aren’t cooking right or your pizza lacks that crispy crust.
- Ample cooking space – Not having enough room to cook a rack of ribs, tri-tip or brisket is a bit of a fail if you’ve already invested in buying the best kamado grill and smoker. So, have a good think about which cuts of meat you want to cook and how many people you’ll be cooking for.
- Work space – Are you planning to build your kamado into an outdoor kitchen? Or, will you be using it freestanding? Also consider how much room you need to leave utensils, sauces, seasonings, and a trusty beverage nearby while you’re cooking.
Other Considerations When Buying a Kamado Grill and Smoker
In addition to the kamado itself, you should also consider these things when shopping for the best kamado grill and smoker:
- Accessories – To truly maximize the versatility of your kamado grill and smoker, have a look at the range of add-ons that are available for it. From stacking grills to maximize space, to pizza stones, rotisseries, skillets and carts, these add-ons will let you do more with the one barbecue.
- Availability of covers – If your new kamado grill and smoker is going to be stored out in the elements, a cover is essential to prolong its life. It’ll stop water from getting into the top vent, keep the exterior surface in excellent condition and prevent any metallic add-ons from rusting.
- Warranty – A good warranty isn’t just indicative of quality, it also gives you peace of mind that your new investment is protected against manufacturer defects and the like.
- Budget – The price of kamado grills and smokers ranges from around $300 USD to thousands. When thinking about how much you need to spend to buy a top kamado grill and smoker for 2021, consider how long you want it to last, how often you’ll use it and the total cost of any optional accessories you’d like. It’s usually worth spending more now for a quality barbecue that won’t need fixing or replacing in the future. However, you can best judge the price point that best balances your needs.
Buying a Kamado
Ready to start shopping for a kamado?
You’ve got to check out our review of the best kamado grills and smokers. There’s something to suit every budget from entry-level models to high-end luxury kamados for your backyard.