Years ago, I ditched my charcoal grill for an easier-to-use, more convenient gas grill. As a professional chef, I knew that charcoal grills create superior flavor, but I couldn’t be bothered to spend the time to ignite the coals and fiddle around with the vents.
Over the last few years, I’ve tested more than 30 gas, charcoal, and electric grills and smokers. None of them convinced me to buy a new grill until I started working with quality kamado grills.
The recommendations in this guide are based on thorough product and market research by our team of expert product reviewers. The picks are based on examining user reviews, product specifications, and, in some limited cases, our experience with the specific products named.
Big Green Egg Large
Before trying the Big Green Egg, I thought kamado grills were way too pricey. Now, I understand why people are willing to pay a premium for them. Kamado grills light almost as quickly as a gas grill, are easy to use, and can be transformed into a smoker or an oven. I liked the Big Green Egg so much that we not only named it the best kamado grill to buy, but I saved up and bought the XL model for my own home.
Cooking on the Egg is an absolute pleasure. Like the other kamado grills in this guide, it’s large and heavy, but its cart’s wheels easily glide while moving it around and lock firmly into place, once it reaches its destination. The Large model has an 18-inch grill space that's large enough to fit a dozen burgers, up to six chickens (cooked vertically), a large turkey, or a few whole pork shoulders. Add in the optional EGGspander tiered cooking system, and you can cook even more. When cooking over high heat, the Egg reaches temperatures over 700°F, creating beautiful grill marks on steaks and burgers and becoming hot enough to create a restaurant-quality wood-fired pizza. Using the grill with indirect heat was just as successful, resulting in deeply smoky chicken drumsticks and super juicy, tender pulled pork and ribs.
Temperature control is one of my favorite features of the Egg, and this is where it excels more than the other kamado grills. After a few sessions, I got the hang of adjusting the top vent and bottom draft door to create precise temperatures. Slide the lower vent so it’s barely open, and you can achieve low, 200°F temps without worrying about extinguishing the coals. Open it up, and you’ll ignite the coal bed, burning them red-hot to reach the grill’s maximum temperature. I also like that the rEGGulator top vent cap opened all the way, letting in more air than other kamado grills. Both vents were cool to the touch, even while cooking over high heat. As a bonus, when the vents are closed after cooking, the Big Green Egg extinguishes coals faster than other grills—and outperforms both charcoal grills and kamado grills by preserving more charcoal for the next grilling and smoking session. After cooking on the Big Green Egg for a full week, spending hours cooking burgers, chicken, pork shoulder, ribs, and multiple pizzas, I only used somewhere between 10 to 15 pounds of charcoal.
Of course, the biggest drawback to the Big Green Egg is its price. The $899 large grill might not seem too expensive until you consider that it's price doesn’t include the cost of accessories. The stand, side tables, and other accessories (like the ConvEGGtor deflector plate, an absolutely essential accessory that turns the grill into a smoker or outdoor oven) add to the total cost of owning this grill. Before you know it, you could easily spend over a thousand dollars on your initial purchase.
If I have one complaint about the grill itself, it's the lack of an ash bucket. Cleaning out the spent ashes from the bottom of the Big Green Egg can be a bit of a chore and requires a proprietary ash tool (an additional purchase) to work the coals around the firebox, pushing the dust and ash through the holes at the bottom. Then, to remove them, you have to open the screen on the bottom vent and use the tool to rake the ashes into a bowl or bucket. It would have been nice if they automatically fell into a removable bucket.
For residential (non-commercial) use, the Egg comes with a limited lifetime warranty for materials and workmanship on all of its ceramic components, including the dome, base, damper top, firebox, and fire ring. The warranty on Eggcessories varies from one to five years. Keep in mind you have to be the original owner and register each product.
The Char-Griller E16620 Akorn Kamado Kooker Charcoal Barbecue Grill and Smoker might be a good alternative for those looking to save on a great kamado grill. It The Akorn’s design is similar to other kamado grills and is set into a rolling cart equipped with two folding side tables. With grates are made from cast iron instead of stainless steel, the Akorn provides nice sear marks when using the grill over direct heat. I love that this grill comes with a removable warming rack, which adds an additional 133 square inches to the grill’s 314-square-inche primary cooking surface. Cleaning the grill is another top feature. The entire bottom of the grill unhooks, making it a breeze to dump out spent ashes.
While the Akorn has a similar cooking area to other grills in this guide, I noticed that the Smokin’ Stone deflector plate (the accessory that turns the grill into a smoker or oven) was smaller than the grill grate. When the grill is packed full of food, the pieces of food on the outside edges of the grill are easily exposed to direct heat, causing them to get more char than you may anticipate.
The Akorn is easy to ignite and just as easy to use. Its temperature control uses the same draft door system as our main pick, although it was difficult to reach the low temperatures we could achieve with the Egg. Strangely, the draft door had a stainless steel plate on the left side, keeping the door from fully opening all of the way to the edge. This makes it easy to accidentally close the door too far and extinguish the coals inside of the grill, if you aren't careful. It may take a few uses to get the hang of but the Akorn is able to achieve temperatures around 275°F.
Despite this grill’s performance, I’m not sure it's as durable as more expensive options. Despite the triple-walled steel-insulated design, the Akorn isn’t built with the same level of attention and care. One example of this is that the lid and ash drawer don't quite line up perfectly. I wonder if the seal might loosen over time, introducing extra oxygen into the grill, preventing the Akorn from reaching low, smoking temperatures. Additionally, the Akorn’s much lighter than the other kamado grills, speaking to its build quality.
Char-Griller’s customer service is top notch when it comes to responsiveness and if you run into issues with your Akorn, which is always a plus when it comes to purchases.
It’s worth noting that Char-Griller’s warranty is nowhere near as robust as the rest of the grills on in this guide. Its grill hood and firebox have a five-year warranty, and the ash pan, accessories, grill covers and any other parts come with a one-year warranty.
Easy to clean
Small deflector plate
May not last as long as other kamado grills
Five-year warranty instead of limited-lifetime warranty
Vision Grills S-4C1D1 Kamado Professional Ceramic Charcoal Grill
There are a lot of things to like about the Vision Grills Kamado Professional Ceramic Charcoal Grill, and a few things that keep it from being our top pick. I certainly prefer the price tag as compared to some of the more expensive grills on this list, especially considering that the Vision comes with a stand, two drop-down side tables, and a grill cover. I like that it has an ash drawer that makes removing ashes much easier, although it only caught ashes that fell within the rectangular area. And I certainly like some of the optional accessories, including an electric starter and a gas conversion kit that allows you to use the grill with natural gas or propane.
Unfortunately, the ash drawer doesn't sit inside the firebox like the other kamado grill buckets, and it doesn't allow you to remove the entire bottom of the grill. Instead, the grill has a large, removable rectangular area near the bottom of the grill. This quadrant contains the bottom vents used to control airflow as well as the ash bucket. Another negative is that it's hard to get the mechanism back in place after dumping the spent ashes. This makes it hard to create a seal, which then allows air to get into the firebox, making it difficult to maintain low, smoking temperatures below 300°F. It also means that the coals continue to burn even after closing down all the vents. We don't the temperature control system, either. Instead of the typical draft door slide system, the Vision has two dials with numbers ranging from 1 to 10. It isn't any easier to use than the slide, and it makes things more complicated than it’s worth.
I also had trouble with the heat deflector plate (the lava stone) used to create indirect heat. In our experience, it created an immense amount of acrid-tasting smoke at high, pizza-cooking temperatures, and it added an unpleasant flavor to our low-temperature smoked food. Many reviewers complain that the stone cracks after several uses, so longevity might not be great.
Vision Grills come with a limited lifetime warranty for all ceramic parts, a five-year warranty for metal parts, and a one-year warranty for the temperature gauge, gasket, and cover. Accessories like side shelves, the electric starter, and lava stone are warrantied for 90 days. Products must be registered to be covered under warranty, which extends to the original owner only.
Many people look to the Kamado Joe Classic III Charcoal Grill as an alternative to the Big Green Egg, but we weren’t too impressed with this kamado grill. I do appreciate that the purchase price includes several accessories, including a stand, drop-down shelves, and a two-tier flexible cooking system complete with half-moon cooking grates and deflector plates for indirect heat cooking. The deflector plates double as a pizza stone, so it’s really a great price for a kamado grill. We also like that the grill has an easy-to-remove ash drawer that sits inside the firebox, making it much easier to clean out most of the ashes.
This grill's lid locks in place when closed and had an easy release button, making it simple to “burp” the grill upon opening. But the heavy lid just doesn't stay open. The grill comes with instructions for adjusting its air lift hinge, but this isn't very intuitive and you may run into problems. What's concerning about this grill is that the draft door doesn’t have a screen, which could create a potentially dangerous situation that could allow live coals to make their way out of the grill. Additionally, the drop-down shelves don’t sit flat, resting at an upward angle.
Kamado Joe's customer service doesn't make up for the grill's lack of usability and when contacted takes quite a long time to garner a response, despite their promised five business day response time. And when necessary items weren't in stock the company failed to offer an alternative solution in order to use the grill in the meantime.
Kamado Joe offers a limited lifetime warranty for material and workmanship on all ceramic parts, a five-year warranty on metal and cast-iron parts, a three-year warranty on the heat deflector and ceramic plate (as well as the pizza stone), and a one-year warranty on the thermometer and gaskets. The warranty only extends for registered products and the original owner.
While we tested the largest model in the brand's Classic lineup, the Kamado Joe Classic II, is available at a slightly lower price with less cooking space and a few less bells and whistles.
Primo Grills All-in-One Oval XL 400 Ceramic Kamado Grill
Proudly made in the U.S. since 1996, the Primo Grills All-In-One Oval XL is one of the biggest ceramic cookers on the market. This all-in-one grill includes a cradle, grid lifter, ash tool, and side shelves for a complete grilling package. But you’ll want to be sure you have the room for it before you order, as this thing weighs in at a whopping 305 pounds. Made of premium-grade ceramic that offers superior heat, moisture, and flavor retention, this grill features an oval design that allows for dual zone cooking—meaning you can cook meat and veggies at different temperatures without compromising on the perfect cooking temp.
What people really like about this grill is that it offers a high-sitting lid that allows you to cook whole chickens and turkeys vertically with ease. Even if it didn’t have an awesomely high lid, this kamado grill is still big enough to cook anywhere from 15 to 25 steaks at a time, or even a massive 30-pound turkey—if you’re that patient.
A cast iron chimney cap and heavy-duty double-felt gasket protect the lid from damage while opening and closing and provide a great seal to help maintain temperature. It’s also easy to control the flow of smoke out of the grill without hitting any real learning curves. While the handle is said to be made of a “cool touch” material, a couple user reviews mention that it does indeed get hot. It’s always a good idea to have a pot-holder or heat-resistant gloves on hand when using grills of any kind.
One downside to this grill is that the lid is said to be heavy and can be hard to lift. But once it’s up, it does stay in position without any issues. Additionally, this is a bare-bones unit; any sort of cart or table would have to be purchased separately, so you’ll want to factor that in when you’re thinking about cost.
The Primo XL comes with a limited lifetime warranty, plus a 20-year guarantee on the ceramics, a 5-year warranty on the metal, and 1-year on the cast iron parts. The thermometer and felt gaskets are guaranteed for 30 days.
While charcoal-fueled kamado grills are significantly more expensive than a regular charcoal grill, a ceramic cooker is totally worth it.
A kamado grill has thick, insulated ceramic sides that can retain heat more than a regular grill. You can use it to cook steaks or burgers over direct heat, or you can add a deflector plate and use it to smoke meat or cook a whole turkey. Play around with the vents, and you’ll turn the kamado into an outdoor convection oven, allowing you to bake bread or make wood-fired pizza. Using one is slightly more complicated than a regular grill, but once you get the hang of using the vent system, you’ll find it’s almost as easy to use as a set-it-and-forget-it gas grill.
Additionally, kamado grills also have a reputation for being super durable. Many people say you should ask your grandkids what color they want because it will last that long! So if you’re tired of buying a new grill every few years, a kamado grill might be the way to go.
How Kamado Grills Work
While gas grills have a BTU—British Thermal Units—rating to measure the amount of heat each grill can produce, with a kamado grill, you get full control of how much heat your charcoal grill produces. It takes a little practice to get the hang of it, but it’s all about controlling the airflow, the coal patterns, and the food’s proximity to the hot coals. You’ll learn to allow oxygen into your grill by opening up the bottom vents, fueling the coals and creating intense heat. Close ‘em up to choke off the oxygen and lower the temps. The top vents give you some control of the heat, too, but they also change the flavor of the food by venting the hot exhaust or keeping the smoke inside the dome. You can also control the heat by managing your coal bed and rearranging the coal’s placement inside the grill. Some kamado grills allow you to create a two-zone fire, but you may have to buy an additional accessory to do so. The firebox's oval shape doesn’t allow much room to separate the coals, so creating indirect heat is usually done by adding a deflector plate.
The other thing you’ll notice about kamado grills is that most of them have stainless steel grates as opposed to gas grill’s heavy cast-iron grates. Before you bemoan the loss of grill marks, know that they’re entirely overrated. Sure, they look great, but stainless steel grates give your food better overall browning, crusting your burgers and steaks with extra caramelized flavor. Plus, the stainless steel grates are lightweight and easier to clean.
How to Start a Kamado Grill
There are multiple ways to start a charcoal grill, but the easiest way takes advantage of the kamado’s insulated firebox. No matter how you start your charcoal, always avoid using lighter fluid or any easy-light lump charcoal soaked in lighter fluid. You can not only taste the lighter fluid in the food but it also seeps into the unglazed ceramic firebox, permanently contaminating the kamado grill with petrochemicals.
You could use a chimney starter like you would on a regular charcoal grill, but I find it’s easier to light the coals directly inside the firebox. The vents on a kamado grill allow you to regulate the amount of airflow inside the unit, giving you absolute control of the grill’s temperature. That means you don’t really need to worry about how much charcoal to add at once, so go ahead and fill the firebox to the top line. Once you’ve added your charcoal, bury one or two fire starter cubes in the pile. After 10 to 15 minutes, the coals around the cube will be red-hot and ready to go. Spread out the coals and close the lid. From here on out, you can use the vents to control the heat. The trick is not letting the coals get too hot. It’s easier to increase the oxygen flow and heat up the coals, but it’s much harder to cool down the thick, ceramic walls.
For high-temperature searing (like cooking steaks and burgers), open the top and bottom vents as wide as they go. This allows maximum airflow into the grill, boosting the temperatures as high as 700°F. For lower temperature cooking (like smoking a pork shoulder or cooking bone-in chicken), close the vents to reduce the amount of air allowed into the grill. It only took us one or two sessions with the Big Green Egg to get the hang of this. Positioning the bottom vent halfway open seemed to achieve temperatures around 400°F, and reducing it to a half-inch maintained 275°F the entire time we smoked the pork shoulder.
Can you use regular charcoal on a kamado grill?
Almost every kamado grill manufacturer recommends using lump charcoal over charcoal briquettes. Many of them even sell expensive private-label charcoal. In our experience, briquettes may cost less, but lump charcoal is better suited for a kamado grill. It can reach higher temperatures and it tends to smell better as you cook it, too.
If you do want to use briquettes, read all the fine print to make sure it won’t void the warranty of your very expensive grill. As we mentioned earlier, you’ll definitely want to skip the instant-light varieties that contain lighter fluid. Check out our comprehensive charcoal review to learn more than you ever wanted to know about these lumps and bricks. (Spoiler alert: Royal Oak Lump Charcoal is our favorite overall.)
What Makes a Kamado Grill Different?
Regular charcoal grills come in two shapes: round or oval kettle-style grills and barrel-shaped grills. They’re usually made from steel coated with porcelain-enamel or cast aluminum. Kamado-style grills are in a league of their own. They’re based on the clay and earthenware cooking pots that have been used for thousands of years in China, Japan, and India. These ancient cooking methods evolved over time, finding their way into Japanese households as mushikamado rice cookers, charcoal-fired cooking devices with a damper and draft door to control the heat. Americans stationed in Japan during World War II brought these devices home, and entrepreneurs like Ed Fisher transformed the domed, clay cookers into the original kamado grill: the Big Green Egg.
Over time, the clay was replaced with more durable porcelain glazes and ceramics, making them sturdy enough to last almost a lifetime. These grills function a lot like wood-fired ovens because the thick sides can absorb a ton of heat. They also tend to be more efficient with their use of charcoal and cook food more evenly than grills made with plated steel.
Keep in mind that, unlike regular charcoal grills, you’ll want to use a kamado grill with the lid closed—even if you’re cooking something like burgers. Unrestricted air access can cause the coals to overheat and damage the ceramics. And, because the design is airtight, you’ll want to “burp” the grill before opening it to prevent fireballs (seriously). It sounds scarier than it really is, but always open the lid slowly while standing to the side. It’s always a good idea to wear fire-resistant gloves with these grills. Then, when you’re done, close the vents fully to cut off the airflow. It takes a while for the grill to cool down, but the coals will extinguish very quickly. Any excess coals will be preserved for the next time you grill. No waste here!
When it comes to price points, you’ll find that kamado grills are significantly more expensive than charcoal or gas grills. You can find a few models at the $300 range, but most start at $700. You may notice that some kamado grills arrive barebones: grill only. If you want a side table or a stand, that’s extra. Adding these types of accessories can add up pretty quickly. However, you'll see a return on your investment: more expensive kamado grills are built to last a long time with proper care and maintenance, and many of them have fantastic warranties.
It’s worth noting that, while the firebox and lid of a kamado grill are heavy-duty, their interior components are made from unglazed ceramic and are more fragile. If you’re taking a kamado grill apart for cleaning, be careful when working with the firebox and fire ring nestled inside the grill. Luckily, you can buy replacements if they do chip or crack.
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