I’ve always been a grill enthusiast, but my passion for outdoor cookery was reignited as I spent the last few months testing grills. Before cooking on dozens of different gas, charcoal, and portable models, I might have told you that an expensive kamado grill isn’t worth its hefty price tag. After all, most charcoal grills cost less than $200, and our winning gas grill will set you back $450. So why in the world should you pay $700 and up for a kamado grill?
It turns out that, while these grills are charcoal-powered, they’re really in a league of their own. They feature thick, insulated sides that absorb more heat than a regular grill. Not only that, but the vents allow these grills to work like a convection oven, surrounding the food with hot air to cook it quickly and evenly. Using one is slightly more complicated than a regular grill, but once you get the hang of it, you might become hooked (I know I have!).
What is a kamado grill?
Clay and earthenware cooking pots have been used for thousands of years in China, Japan, and India, but the modern-day kamado grill has only been around for a few decades. As ancient cooking methods evolved, they found 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. You can use a kamado grill to cook steaks and burgers, or transform it into an outdoor oven or smoker. The possibilities are endless!
Choosing a kamado grill
Although the Big Green Egg is the most popular type of kamado grill, it’s by no means the only option. In looking at kamado grill reviews, there’s a lot of debate between Kamado Joe vs. Big Green Egg. Some kamado grills are even designed to work with Big Green Egg accessories. So how do you know which model to choose? It comes down to a few factors: shape, price, and what’s included with the grill.
Most kamado grills have a similar shape, but a few have oval cooking surfaces—like the Extra Large model of the Primo grill. These oval-shaped kamados give you enough space to move the coals around and create a two-zone fire (the traditional way to cook over indirect heat for smoking or foods that take longer than 30 minutes to cook). With round kamado grills, you’ll need a ceramic deflector plate—like the ConvEGGtor for the Big Green Egg—to cook over indirect heat, which may or may not be included in the price of the grill.
Speaking of price: None of these grills come cheap. You can find a few models at the $300 range, but most start at $700. Looking at Big Green Egg reviews, 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. Luckily, the more expensive kamado grills are built to last a long time with proper care and maintenance, and many of them have fantastic warranties. But, there’s no denying that buying one certainly requires an up-front investment.
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 it won’t void the warranty of your very expensive grill. You’ll also want to skip the instant-light varieties and never use lighter fluid. It can absorb into the uncoated ceramics in the firebox, and no one wants their food to taste like fuel.
OK, I’m sold. How do I use a kamado grill?
Kamado grills can be used as regular charcoal grills, but you can also turn them into smokers or outdoor convection ovens. If that feels overwhelming, don’t worry; we put a Big Green Egg to the test and found that it’s super easy to use, no matter how you choose to use it.
First, let’s start with how to light a Big Green Egg. There are multiple ways to start a charcoal grill, but the easiest way takes advantage of the kamado’s insulated 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.
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.
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 have 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 a good idea to wear fire-resistant gloves with these grills, too.
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!
What can I make in a kamado grill?
Versatility is the kamado grill’s biggest selling point! There are hundreds of Big Green Egg recipes available online, including brisket, pizza, ribs, turkey, pulled pork, chicken, and more. If you can make it on a grill or cook it inside in an oven, chances are good that you can make it happen on a kamado grill.
If you’re looking for some simple recipes to get started, try grilling steak tacos or whip up a batch of veggie kebabs. If you’re ready to take your skills to the next level, lower that heat and make pulled pork sandwiches or a Texas-style brisket. If you have a pizza stone, don’t forget to try making pizza or use a Dutch oven to make homemade bread.
How do you clean a kamado grill?
Cleaning the grill grates is easy—every time you use it, brush the grates with a wire brush while they’re still hot. The residual heat helps remove any nasty, burnt-on bits. You should clean the grates every time you grill, but you’ll also want to clean out the inside of the grill from time to time. It’s important to keep the dust and spent ashes from plugging up the air intake holes.
Unfortunately, this process is a bit of a pain. Ash catcher buckets are standard on most charcoal grills, but few kamado grills have this feature. To clean the Big Green Egg, you have to use an ash tool to work the coals around the firebox, pushing the dust and ash through the holes at the bottom. Using the same tool, you can scrape the ashes into a bucket or bowl. If the coals are cool enough, you could also use a shop vaccuum, but don’t throw away the whole pieces of lump charcoal; they’re still good for your next cooking session!
Depending on how often you use your grill, you’ll also want to deep clean your kamado grill once or twice a year. The high heat of the grill will burn off any grease build-up, so you don’t need to use any chemical cleaners (those are a bad idea anyway since they can seep into the porous ceramic). But, you do want to remove any built-on dirt or grime. The ceramic fire ring and firebox are easily removable, but they are fragile, so take care to remove these pieces carefully. Then, a quick brush with a stiff, dry brush or a plastic scraper should be all you need to clean the interior pieces.