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 year, I’ve tested over 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. Specifically, cooking on our top pick—the Big Green Egg(available at Big Green Egg)—changed my mind. It’s big, heavy, and expensive, but it aced all my tests with flying colors and was a genuine joy to use. The fact that it can be used as a grill, a smoker, and an outdoor oven helps ease the sticker shock, too.
If your budget can't take the dent that buying a Big Green Egg will put in it, the Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Kooker Charcoal Barbecue Grill and Smoker (available at Amazon for $322.67), is a fine, far less expensive option.
These are the best kamado grills we tested ranked, in order:
Big Green Egg Large
Char-Griller E16620 Akorn Kamado Kooker Charcoal Barbecue Grill and Smoker
Vision Grills Kamado Professional Ceramic Charcoal Grill
Kamado Joe Classic III Charcoal Grill
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Before testing 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 this 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 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 glid while moving it around and lock firmly into place, once it reaches its destination. The Large model had an 18-inch grill space that was 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 reached 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 the area where it excelled 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 liked that the rEGGulator top vent cap opened all the way, letting in more air than the other kamado grills I tested. Both vents were cool to the touch, even while cooking over high heat. As a bonus, when I closed down the vents once I finished cooking, the Big Green Egg extinguished the coals faster than the other grills—outperforming both charcoal grills and kamado grills by preserving more charcoal for the next grilling session. I cooked on the Big Green Egg for a full week, spending hours cooking burgers, chicken, pork shoulder, ribs, and multiple pizzas. Even after all that cooking, 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 had 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 was a bit of a chore and required 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.
Unlike most of the grills we tested, the Big Green Egg isn’t available at national chain stores. It’s available at most Ace Hardware stores, but other individual dealers also sell the Egg. Prices tend to vary by dealer, who may sell it as part of a package deal or a special. You can find a Big Green Egg dealer near you to get the price.
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.
If the Big Green Egg is out of your price range, the Char-Griller E16620 Akorn Kamado Kooker Charcoal Barbecue Grill and Smoker might be a good alternative. It was the least expensive kamado grill I tested, and while it didn’t perform as well as our top pick, it came in a close second. The Akorn’s design is similar to the other kamado grills and is set into a rolling cart equipped with two folding side tables. The Akorn’s grates are made from cast iron instead of stainless steel, which provide better 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 was another top feature. The entire bottom of the grill unhooks, making it a breeze to dump out spent ashes.
I was pleased with the results of the Akorn’s cooking tests. My pulled pork turned out tender and shreddable. Ribs were packed with smoky flavor, and the pizza I cooked looked good enough to serve at a restaurant. While the Akorn has a similar cooking area to the rest of the 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 I packed the grill full of food, the pieces of food on the outside edges of the grill was exposed to direct heat, causing them to get more char than I anticipated.
Like the Big Green Egg, the Akorn was 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. The first time I tried smoking on the Akorn, I accidentally closed the door too far and extinguished the coals inside of the grill. After a few uses, however, I got the hang of it and was able to achieve temperatures around 275°F.
Despite this grill’s performance, I’m not sure it’ll last as long as a Big Green Egg. The Akorn isn’t built with the same level of attention and care. One example of this is that the lid and ash bucket didn’t quite line up perfectly. They both held their seal during testing, but 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 I tested, speaking to its build quality.
During testing, I had the opportunity to test Char-Griller’s customer service. I can tell you their responsiveness is top-notch. My original shipment came without a few necessary screws for building the grill. Char-Griller not only expedited the shipment of the pieces we needed, but they also told me how to find them at the local hardware store if I couldn’t wait for the shipment to arrive.
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
Hi, I’m Lindsay Mattison, a trained professional chef and outdoor enthusiast. During the summertime, you’ll find me outside grilling burgers on the patio, cooking a pork shoulder on the smoker, or building a yakitori grill on my fire pit. If I can cook it outside, I will!
One thing I’ve learned over the years is the importance of having a reliable grill; it’s absolutely key to building confidence in your grilling game. I’d love to help you find the right one for you!
Using my training and years of grilling experience as a starting point, I spent hours researching the latest, greatest, and most popular kamado grills. Using price, quality, and brand reputation to narrow the field, I chose four highly-rated kamado grills available from popular shopping outlets like Amazon, Home Depot, and Lowes to call in for testing. After receiving the test candidates, I built each one.
From there, I put the grills through hours of comprehensive grilling tests, cooking burgers and vegetables over high temperatures before lowering the heat to cook chicken drumsticks. Then, I added a ceramic plate called the deflector plate that facilitates indirect heat cooking to turn each grill into a smoker. I slow cooked a rack of ribs and a four-pound boneless pork shoulder until it was shreddable and tender. To round out the tests, I added a pizza stone to the mix and cooked pizza on the grill.
It’s not all about cooking tasty food, though. I also wanted to test the grill’s design, aesthetics, and build quality. The look and feel of a grill is just as important as its ability to cook great food. So I looked at factors like the functionality of the vents, the weight of the grill, whether it was maneuverable on a patio or driveway, the cooking grate’s material, ease of cleaning, ease of adding and moving coals, and the overall aesthetic and build quality. I also assessed whether the grill had side tables that were sturdy enough to hold heavy food items, if there was a place to hang your grilling tools, and if the ash pan was accessible (and, more importantly, easy to clean). After compiling the scores, some of these design choices made a huge difference in the grill’s overall ranking.
Why Invest in a Kamado Grill?
While charcoal-fueled kamado grills are significantly more expensive than a regular charcoal grill, these ceramic grills are 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, 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.
Other Kamado Grills We Tested
Vision Grills S-4C1D1 Kamado Professional Ceramic Charcoal Grill
There were a lot of things to like about the Vision Grills Kamado Professional Ceramic Charcoal Grill, and a few things that kept it from being our top pick. I certainly preferred the price tag as compared to some of the more expensive grills on this list, especially considering that the Vision came with a stand, two drop-down side tables, and a grill cover. I liked that it had an ash catcher bucket that made removing the ashes much easier, although it only caught the ashes that fell within the rectangular area. And I certainly liked some of the optional accessories, including an electric starter and a gas conversion kit that would allow you to use the grill with natural gas or propane.
Unfortunately, the ash catcher bucket created problems with this grill. It didn’t sit inside the firebox like the Kamado Joe’s bucket, and it didn’t remove the entire bottom of the grill like the Akorn. Instead, the grill had a large, removable rectangular area near the bottom of the grill. This quadrant contained the bottom vents used to control airflow as well as the ash bucket. After I dumped the spent ashes, I had trouble putting the mechanism back in place. It didn’t create a seal, which allowed air to get into the firebox, making it difficult to maintain low, smoking temperatures below 300°F. It also meant that the coals continued to burn even after I closed down all the vents. I wasn’t a big fan of the temperature control system, either. Instead of the typical draft door slide system, the Vision had two dials with numbers ranging from 1 to 10. I didn’t find it any easier to use than the slide, and it made things more complicated than it’s worth.
I also had trouble with one of their accessories—the heat deflector plate (the lava stone) used to create indirect heat. It created an immense amount of acrid-tasting smoke when we tested it at high, pizza-cooking temperatures, and it added an unpleasant flavor to our low-temperature smoked food. I not sure about the longevity of this stone, either, as many reviewers complain that it cracks after several uses.
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 appreciated that the purchase price included several accessories you’d have to buy piecemeal with the Egg, 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 appreciated that the grill has an easy-to-remove ash catcher bucket that sat inside the firebox, making it much easier to clean out most of the ashes.
It performed well during my cooking tests, but there were some design features I didn’t love.
I liked that the lid locked in place when it closed and had an easy release button, making it simple to “burp” the grill upon opening. But the heavy lid just didn’t stay open. The grill came with instructions for adjusting its air lift hinge, but I couldn’t get it to stay no matter what I did. I was concerned that the draft door doesn’t have a screen, a potentially dangerous situation that could allow live coals to make their way out of the grill. Finally, the drop-down shelves don’t sit flat, resting at an upward angle.
I had the opportunity to test Kamado Joe’s customer service department, and wasn’t thrilled. The grill came without a necessary piece—the cast-iron grate that sits at the bottom of its firebox. This grate elevates the coals from the bottom of the grill, allowing oxygen to flow around them, and the grill can’t be used without it. The thermometer on the grill’s lid was broken as well. It took almost two weeks to hear back from customer service (nearly double their promised five business day response), and an additional ten days to receive the replacement thermometer. The cast-iron grate was on backorder, and it wasn’t delivered for a full eight weeks after I contacted customer service. That’s a long time to wait for an essential piece, especially considering Kamado Joe couldn’t provide an alternate solution for using the grill without the grate.
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.
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