In most cases buying a versatile grill means you’re going to be giving up something.
Luckily this isn’t the case with Kamado grills.
These charcoal fueled grill / smoker hybrids go back over 3,000 years.
Usually made with ceramic, these grills offer superb insulation, which makes them highly efficient smokers. But unlike charcoal smokers, they also make excellent pizza ovens, roasters and grills.
While you’ve probably seen the famous Big Green Egg, there are a lot more Kamado brands to choose from. To make your job of choosing the best kamado grill easier, we’ve pulled together the 4 best kamado cookers across a variety of price points.
We’ll also guide you through all the pros and cons, and how to set up and start cooking on your new Kamado grill.
Best Affordable Kamado Grill
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Kamado grills are generally a lot more expensive than your standard charcoal grill.
The Char-Griller Akorn is a very affordable option, especially if this is your first kamado grill and you are not ready to fork out a significant amount of money without trying out a kamado first.
Char-Griller are focused on producing affordable barbecues for the budget conscious. As you would expect, their products may not be ‘top of the line’, but the goal of the company is to deliver grills that are reliable and get the job done, without busting the bank.
The body of Akorn is made of 22 gauge steel, and has cast iron grill grates. The outside of the unit is powder coated, and the inside is porcelain coated.
The shelves fold back, meaning adding charcoal throughout the cook is easy (although you rarely, if ever, have to add charcoal during a cook when using a kamado).
Although this is an entry level model, it still has some nice features such as an easy to empty ashtray and a temperature gauge.
The Akorn boasts double wall insulation. The lid also has a locking mechanism so that no heat escapes through the door seal.
Primary cooking space is 314 square inches, plus an additional warming rack of 133 square inches.
What We Like:
- This kamado is significantly cheaper than any other model you will come across. While this in itself is a plus, the grill is reliable and will give you a great idea of what it is like to cook with a kamado before you dive in and buy a more expensive model (if you chose to do so).
- Assembly is fairly straightforward, if you have a 7/16″ nut driver and follow the instructions you should be good to go.
- While traditional kamados are made of ceramic materials, this one is made of steel. This means that this unit will not shatter or crack when dropped. Granted, it is hard to ‘drop’ something that is too heavy to lift, but it is amazing what types of accidents can happen in the backyard.
- Despite being at a lower price point, this grill is still very efficient, so you will enjoy the additional savings associated with not having to buy so much fuel.
What We Don’t Like:
- The manufacturers quality control can be a little sketchy at times. If you have your Akorn delivered, check to make sure you have all the parts and they are not damaged before you start assembling. This will save you a lot of time taking the unit apart if you need to send anything back. When everything comes as promised in good condition, however, this is a great unit.
- Eventually, steel kamados will rust out. Make sure you care for your Akorn properly, season the grill grates and keep it dry and out of the elements to get the most out of it. Bear in mind, that the price of these units does reflect the fact that they won’t last as long as a ceramic kamado.
This is a great entry level kamado grill.
Sure, it may not last long enough to hand down to your kids like the more expensive ceramic options, but the manufacturers have reflected this in the affordable price point.
Having said that, this grill performs well, and will very likely get you hooked on kamado cooking.
Get the latest price on Amazon.
Best Overall Kamado Grill
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Kamado Joe have made a name for themselves as makers of innovative, high quality kamado grills.
Even though the kamado grill concept has been around for thousands of years, this company is still focused is on innovation and improvement.
For that reason, even some Big Green Egg fans (who are known to be fiercely loyal) have been won over by Kamado Joe’s recent offerings.
Aside from being a high quality ceramic kamado (as you would expect) the Kamado Joe Classic II, offers additional features such as the ‘air lift hinge’. This feature reduces the weight of the dome by around 96%.
The Joe classic also features a multilevel cooking system, which allows you to cook different foods on different surfaces. Not only does this make the unit more versatile, it also doubles the cooking area.
This video shows you what the Joe Classic looks like in aciton.
This grill will hold temperatures from 250-750°F. The top vent is responsible for the finer temperature adjustments, and is designed to be rust and rain proof.
Other features include an easy clean, slide out ash drawer, redesigned 6 piece firebox which has a reduced risk of breakage, and a double thick, wire mesh fibreglass gasket which promises to be longer lasting than its predecessors.
What We Like:
- The thought that has gone into the construction and design of this grill is something that cannot be overlooked and it has proved to be worth the higher price tag for many.
- The multilevel grilling system is a great innovation which provides a solution to the 2 zone grilling problem faced by those using a round shaped kamado. But we have a little tip for those of you who also own a Big Green Egg: The dimensions of these two grills are the same, so you are able to pop many accessories right in the Big Green Egg and use them without any issues.
- The easy clean ash system on this unit works as promised, which makes one of the most loathsome jobs associated with grilling a breeze.
- Unlike the Big Green Egg, everything you need comes with the unit without the need to pay extra for accessories.
As a testament to the quality of this product, there wasn’t anything to put in the “what we don’t like” section.
Even the warranty is great with different levels offered for different parts. You get a life time warranty on the ceramic, 5 years on metal parts, 3 years on heat deflector and 1 year on the thermometer and gaskets.
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Best Small Kamado Grill
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This little smoker addresses two issues commonly encountered by owners of kamado grills.
Affordability and mobility.
This Akorn Jr. is very competitively priced. Granted, it is teeny, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.
If you have limited space, tend to move around a bit, or want to take your kamado camping with you, then this little griller could be the perfect solution.
This unit is made by Char-Griller as well, just like the Akorn we reviewed above. Similarly, it is a basic model and the manufacturers aim to produce products that are sturdy and reliable while remaining affordable.
This unit is made of durable steel. This is important because if you plan on taking this little kamado on the road with you, there is a chance it could be dropped.
As we mentioned, this is a small grill. It has a 14” diameter grate, stands 25” tall and 21” wide. Therefore, if you are planning on cooking for a crowd, or want to use the two-zone cooking method, this is not the grill for you.
But it is just perfect if you want to cook for two.
Despite its size, however, the unit still has two vents for great temperature control and triple wall insulation to retain heat. This means that this little grill can still cook at temperatures ranging from 200-700°F, just like the big boys.
What We Like:
- Being smaller, this unit will also heat up really quickly, which is perfect for a quick midweek meal.
The Akorn Jr is very fuel efficient and you can still hope to reach temperatures similar to bigger units.
- For a portable unit, the steel construction is a wise move. A ceramic unit will crack and shatter easily, but the steel is far more durable for a grill that is likely to be carted around.
- Perfect for two people.
What We Don’t Like:
- As with the bigger Akorn, there can be some quality control issues. If you get your grill delivered, make sure you check that all the parts are present and in good condition before you start assembling.
- This unit will not last as long as a ceramic kamado.
Similar to the Akorn above, this is an affordably priced entry level kamado. This kamado is small in size and and lightweight, making it perfect for two people who have hit the open road.
The steel construction means you don’t need to fret if it takes a couple of hits when you take it along on your adventures.
Get the latest price on Amazon.
Best High-End Kamado Grill
Big Green Eggs are the “original” modern incarnation of kamado grills, if that makes sense. The first Big Green Egg store opened in Atlanta in 1974.
Since then the company has worked to create grills that are more efficient and more durable.
The insulative qualities of these grills are second to none. In part, this is due to the high tech materials they are made of.
The ceramics used in the manufacture of these products were initially developed by NASA for their space program.
Other design features that have been improved and perfected over the years include a patented vent system for superior temperature control, easy opening hinges and stainless steel cooking grates.
As a result, fans of this brand are fiercely loyal. Dubbed ‘eggheads’, these Big Green Egg loyalists will choke on the idea that there is a cooker out there that can rival the Big Green Egg.
We can understand why.
This company has been producing consistently high quality kamados for decades now.
The Big Green Egg comes in seven sizes. From mini, which is perfect for two people, all the way through to 2XL, which can cook a whole suckling pig, there is a size that caters to just about any situation.
Of course, the prices jump up in relation to size. And the price of these grills generally only includes the body of the unit itself. Any accessories (even ones you think would come standard) need to be added on at a cost. As a result, to get the most out of a Big Green Egg, you need to fork out a bit of cash.
The most popular egg is the large, which includes 262 square inches of cooking space. The large will also accommodate all of the accessories that the manufacturer offers, which allows you to use this grill to bake, roast and smoke.
What We Like:
- This company has stuck to producing a quality product over a gimmicky one.
The range of sizes is a real plus. If you are a fan, you can have one at home for big gatherings and one to take on the road camping.
- The Big Green Egg has been proven to have top notch insulative properties. Kamados are known for this. But this company has made an effort to ensure that they produce a product that really capitalizes on this feature.
Much care has been put into ensuring that the signature green color of these grills will not fade after being subjected to intense heat or the elements. While this may seem like a small thing, if you have forked out a lot of cash for a great looking kamado, it is nice to know that it will stay that way.
What We Don’t Like:
- The only thing that can be said about these units is that they are expensive. While anyone looking to buy one of these will be well and truly aware of this in advance, it can’t be denied that the cost is prohibitive and does turn some customers away.
A handy tip regarding customer support: The manufacturer does provide great support should you need it, but they work through the dealer from which you purchased the product.
Some have found that contacting the company directly via their website does not yield any results. However, if you go through your dealer, you will find that any issues are dealt with fairly and promptly.
You can’t order the Big Green Eggs online, but you can find a dealer on their website.
What Is a Kamado grill?
While they have gained popularity in recent years, Kamado grills are far from new. In fact, they are probably around 3000 years old.
The original concept of the Kamado hails from China or Japan. A similar idea can be seen in the the Indian tandoor oven.
It was around the end of the second world war that Americans noticed these grills. After some were shipped over to the US, the concept started to take off.
We were selling something called a kamado from a place named after a pachinko,” recalled Mr. Fisher, who first saw the charcoal-fueled cookers in the 1950s as a Navy lieutenant in Japan. “That didn’t sound American, and that wasn’t easy. But once I got people to try one, once they tasted the chicken we cooked on them, they were hooked.
Kamados are made from refractory materials, such as ceramics, terracotta, cement or lava rock. As such they have amazing insulative properties.
For that reason, these grills really perform when used as ovens or smokers. Their inherent insulative properties means that the temperature inside them is kept constant and even.
Meathead Goldwyn of Amazingribs.com has plenty of praise to heap on these grills:
These are fine smokers and superb roasters. They are fine pizza and bread ovens because the sides and domes absorb heat and radiate it back like a professional brick oven so the pizza and bread can cook properly from above. They are also great for paella and tandoori cooking.
Because of their reputation you may also hear people referring to this type of grill as a Kamado Smokers. But it means the same thing.
Let’s break it down further and have a look at the pros and cons specific to these grills.
Pros of Kamado grills
- When treated properly, ceramic kamados will last a very, very long time. So think hard about the model you purchase, as it might even be passed on to your kids. Make it a good one!
- The top-notch insulation of these units means that they are easy to start even in inclement weather. If you live in a cold climate, and want to smoke through the winter, Kamados are a great option.
- Kamado grills are very efficient. You will find that you will chew through a relatively small amount of charcoal for the length of time you can smoke.
- Flare ups are rare in ceramic cookers as the meat sits further away from the coals.
- Your meat will remain moist and juicy when using a ceramic cooker. This is because less moisture is able to evaporate out of the meat due to decreased airflow.
- Firing up a kamado requires a different technique than other charcoal grills. Once you have mastered this technique, however, they are very easy to get going.
- You are able to cook at a wide variety of temperatures with these units. From cold smoking jerky to cooking a pizza, once you have mastered the temperature control on these, you are able to do a lot.
Cons of Kamado grills
Kamado grills certainly aren’t for everyone though. Here are a few reasons why this type of cooker might not be right for you:
- You can’t be tight when buying a kamado, as these units are costly.
- Make sure you are clear on what you are getting when you purchase your smoker, and do some research into what additions you need to get the most out of the smoker. Be prepared to pay for these.
- If you overshoot your target temperature in a kamado, it will take a while to get it back down. It might take some practice to master temperature control, but once you have it under control, these units will keep a nice constant temperature throughout your cook.
- In order to keep the heat down, you have to restrict airflow. This means that the coals tend to smoulder. The smoke you get as a result is white and billowy, not the thin blue smokethat produces the best results.
- Kamado’s are amazing smokers but smaller models don’t lend themselves to a two-zone cooking (Although the bigger, oval shaped models can be set up for this). You can see how this is done in bigger models in the video below.
- The bigger variations of these grills are not portable. They are heavy, and awkwardly shaped for carting around. The ceramic models will also crack easily if dropped. So find the best spot in your yard to pop your kamado before installation, and make sure it stays there.
- Smaller, camping friendly versions are available but they really only cater to cooking for two people.
- Check the design in regards to topping up coals and ash collection. Many models require you to take everything out in order to top up the coals. While this rarely needs to be done due to their efficiency, it sure will be a pain if you do a have to.
- Similarly, ash production can be an issue for these smokers, so you want to make sure that and ash produced is not going to mess with the airflow.
How Kamado Grills Work
The design of the kamado is ancient and quite simple.
The thick walls and egg shape aid in retaining heat and moisture.
There is an air intake in the bottom, and a vent in the top. By adjusting these two vents, you can control the temperature. Once you have found the temperature you are after, the kamado will sit at that temperature with little, if any, fluctuations.
Fuel is placed in the cooking chamber. Once the fuel is lit, all the cooking racks and other equipment is put in place. Food sits on a cast iron grate. The food sits further away from the coals than in other units.
We’ll go through how to setup and operate a Kamado grill in a second.
For indirect cooking and smoking, there is plate, often called a ‘heat deflector’ or ‘plate setter’ which is placed under the grate, and sits on three legs.
This heat deflector might not come standard with all models, but it is really worth paying the extra for as it will mean you can do so much more with your kamado.
Of course there are plenty more accessories that you can purchase, such as stands, grid lifters and pizza stones.
Who Should Buy A Kamado Grill?
Fans of the kamado are very loyal, which attests to the quality of this type of grill. There is no doubt that these cookers are versatile, reliable, long lasting, efficient and easy to use (once you have learnt the particular way of handling them).
If you live in a cold climate, these are an excellent option. They will keep in the heat even in the most bitter and cold weather, so you can smoke right on through the winter.
So while it would seem they are a great choice for just about anyone, there are a couple of things to weigh up before you dive in. Think portability and cost.
One last thing, if you are an aficionado of the two-zone cooking method, do your research before you buy. Smaller, narrower models do not really allow for two-zone cooking. But the wider, oval shaped models do. It is not a deal breaker, but it is worth thinking about it.
How To Use A Kamado Grill
You can find a great video which explains how to start up your kamado and get it to temperature below. If you like things broken down into a step by step procedure, we have done that for you below.
1) Adding charcoal to your Kamado
- Start with a clean, empty firebox.
- Stack lumps of charcoal into the firebox. To stop any smaller pieces falling down and obstructing the airflow, make sure you stack them right on the fire grate, ensuring that the larger pieces are on the bottom.
- Put the smaller lump pieces on top. You can use leftover lumps from a previous smoke if you have some.
- There is no need to fill up the entire firebox. How much you put in will depend on the length of the cook. Finding how long your charcoal will last will take some experimenting.
2) Firing up your Kamado
- Fully open both the top and bottom vent.
- Make a small “well” in the middle of the pile of coals. Place your fire starter in the well, and light it. Leave it to light up fully.
- Once the fire starter is burning well, place some of the larger lumps of charcoal on top of the fire starter. Wait for some of the lumps to light up.
- Once the fire is established, add in any accessories and racks that you will need for your cook.
3) Adjusting the Vents
- Close the lid, leaving the vents fully open.
- Watch your thermometer. Once the temperature has reached about 100°F below your target temperature, start shutting the vents. You will need to experiment a little, but generally leaving the top vent open a crack, and shutting the bottom vent to around 50% will slow the fire enough.
- Keep monitoring the temperature. As you get closer to the target, shut the vents down some more.
- As you get closer to the target temperature, you will find it easier to make final adjustments by using the top vent only.
4) Reaching Your Target Temperature
- At this point it might also be a good idea to start monitoring the temperature using a digital thermometer, as they are more accurate. If you have reached temperature, but it is still rising, then you will need to shut the top vent down some more.
- Once the temperature has stopped at your desired temperature, you have no need to touch your vents. The temperature will remain stable over the duration of the cook.
What to Look for in a Good Kamado Grill
When you are making a big purchase such as a kamado grill, not only should you be looking at build quality, but you should also be clear on what your needs and preferences are.
We have listed some things to think about and look out for if you are on the hunt for a kamado grill.
How many people do you plan to cook for? If you cook for 6-10 people regularly, or you want to utilize the two-zone cooking method, you should be aiming for a large size kamado to meet your needs.
Accessories: If you like to get creative with your cooking, then a model that offers more accessories is what you are after. These accessories might cost a bit more, but they will allow you to cook a wider variety of dishes.
Don’t get caught up looking at features and forget to ask about the warranty. Some brands will offer a lifetime (or a very very long) warranty on these grills. Make sure you ask the question, as kamados really should last you a lifetime.
As we have mentioned earlier in this article, ash buildup can be an issue in kamado grills. Checking out where the ash goes, and how easy it is to clean out is an important step. It will make you life a lot easier in the long run.
Due to aesthetics and/or durability, you may have a preference for either stainless steel or powder coated hinges and lid bands. Generally, the hinges and the bands will be uniform, so if you have a preference for one material over the other, make sure you check it out before you make the purchase. Some models will just come standard with only one material, others might allow you to choose which you prefer.
Most kamados are made of ceramic with a porcelain glaze, but more recently there have been offerings in steel as well. This may be worth some consideration, as steel units won’t crack if dropped, and can be little lighter than their more traditional counterparts.
However, they have a shorter lifespan than ceramic kamados as they will eventually rust out. The good news is their price tag reflects this, making them a great entry level option.
The grate at the bottom of the fire pit usually comes in one of three materials: ceramic, powder coated steel or cast iron. Generally all of these materials will do the job just fine, but make sure you check it out if you have a particular preference.
The two main things you want to check out when looking at the cooking grates are the materials they are made of and if they have hinged access.
Generally they are available in enamelled steel, although some models offer 304 stainless steel.
Check if the cooking grates have hinges. Hinges allow access to the area under the cooking grate (so you can add more smoking wood as you cook, for instance) without needing to take the whole grate out while you are cooking.
You might want to check if the vent has a single or double wheel. While both will do the job fine, double wheels might offer you a little more precision when it comes to temperature control.
Other than these more technical aspects of the kamado, all that is left is to choose the color that you like! Although, the choice does tend to be limited, with manufacturers often only offering models in one color.
Sadly, you will most likely be forced to make a choice between a kamado that works and is practical for you, and one that has got the looks! I’d say the the former is more important, right?
Kamado Grills vs Charcoal Grills
Although built for a similar purpose, these two types of grill are vastly different. Comparing them can be tricky, but using the following categories, let’s look at the two side by side.
Efficiency – Being so heavily insulated, kamado grills are very efficient. Your lump charcoal will go a long way, and you can expect to pull off a 6+ hour cook without having to top up the coals.
Temperature Control – The beauty of kamado grills is the the absolute ease with which they hold their temperature.
While temperature control is certainly achievable with a charcoal grill, they burn through the fuel and you throw more on. You will have to make adjustments to the vents to keep the temperature constant. Similarly, if it is cold, windy or wet out you will have to make adjustments to keep the fire burning hot.
There are no such adjustments needed when you are using a kamado. While it may take some practice to hit your target temperature in the first place (it is easy to overshoot the mark), once you have reached it, the grill will sit at that temperature for around 6 hours with no adjustments or refueling needed.
A kamado will perform just the same in any weather too, thanks to those thick heavy walls.
Portability – While there is a lot to like about kamado grills, portability is not one of their selling points. They are big, heavy and cumbersome. Once you have found a good spot for your kamado, you want a pretty good reason to move it.
Generally, large versions of kamados will weigh in at over 150 pounds. A typical charcoal grill, on the other hand, weighs about 23 pounds.
There are stainless steel kamados on the market these days which are lighter than ceramic versions, but they are still significantly heavier than a charcoal grill.
There really is no competition here. If you want a grill you can move around or even take on a camping trip, a charcoal grill is hard to beat.
Cost – No two ways about it, kamado grills are costly.. If you are looking at something a little bit special, such as a high end stainless steel kamado, you can expect an even heftier price tag.
In comparison, charcoal grills are budget friendly.
Keep in mind, however, that if this is a long term investment, you will need to replace a charcoal grill after some time. A kamado will last long enough to be passed on to your kids.
Wrapping It Up
We hope you have enjoyed our roundup of the best kamado grills. While there are options out there to suit all sorts of people, and at lower and higher price points, the Kamado Joe Classic II represents the best all round kamado you can get right now.
With great accessories included in the price, high quality workmanship, innovative design features and a price tag that is not face melting, this will be a grill that you will have for a long time, and could potentially pass on to loved ones once you’re done with it.
Those who love cooking with kamados appreciate their efficiency, ease of use and the deliciously juicy results. The Kamado Joe Classic ll has taken these natural attributes of the kamado grills and capitalized on them, making an already appealing barbecue option the only option for some.
Do you have a kamado grill? What are your thoughts? Or do you have any other questions that were not answered in this article? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below. And if you found this article helpful, please be sure to share.