These versatile grills are jacks of all trades, making grilling easy.
By Hannah Howard | Published Sep 27, 2022 1:00 AM
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Meet the versatile, durable, and incredibly useful kamado: an insulated, thick-sided egg-shaped grill, usually made of ceramic. Inspired by ancient earthenware cooking pots, modern kamado grills are a relatively new innovation. You can cook steaks, burgers, or veggies on your kamado grill or use it as a smoker for racks of ribs or pulled pork. You can also make excellent pizzas on a kamado, or even use it for baking.
“The brilliance of the Big Green Egg/Kamado design is that it can be adjusted from surface-of-the-sun hot for searing steaks to a low rumble for gently cooking sausages (so they don’t blow up) with just a few small turns of the cast-iron flue and firebox intake slider,” says Tom Mylan, butcher, author, and owner of the former Meat Hook in Brooklyn. “All without using up a ton of wood or charcoal, because their highly insulative ceramic bodies keep in the heat.” Here’s where to start with the very best kamado grills.
Material: Ceramic, stainless steel | Weight: 286 lbs | Cooking surface width: 18 inches
Why we chose it: Tiered grates offer cooks the option to grill three different foods at three different temperatures—you can fit the whole barbecue menu in here at once.
Kamado Joe grills are high-quality ceramic cookers with a cheerful signature red hue. The brand keeps innovating with new design elements, although most include their proprietary Divide & Conquer tiered grates, which allow the cook to elevate half of the grill grate to control the cooking temperature more precisely. This has three, which lets you cook different foods in different styles at different temps, true barbecue ninja style.
Its SlōRoller leverages Harvard science for optimal smoking power. By distributing smoke and heat in rolling, recirculating waves, the SlōRoller surrounds food in clouds of smoke while evenly distributing heat, for meat that cooks consistently and gorgeously. Swap it out for heat deflector plates to get a perfect sear on a steak or a crispy pizza crust with heat up to 750 degrees.
It has an integrated thermometer for monitoring temperature and its top vent makes it easy to control the smoke and heat. This is a seriously heavy-duty piece of equipment, but it comes with a handy galvanized steel wheeled cart which makes it easy to move into the perfect place for grilling. When cooking is finished, an ash pan makes clean-up painless.
I’m planning a backyard bash and plan to smoke a leg of lamb ahead of time, then grill up burgers, hot dogs, and pizzas for my guests. I trust my beloved Kamado Joe III to deliver in a big way on all fronts, so I can give my charcoal grill a rest.
Material: Ceramic, stainless steel | Weight: 217 lbs | Cooking surface width: 24 inches
Why we chose it: The ceramic construction of this egg-shaped grill makes for perfect heat retention, so you get hours of quality low and slow cooking.
“Big Green Egg was the original kamado grill and it’s still one of the best,” says Steven Raichlen, author of the Barbecue Bible cookbook series and host of Project Fire and Project Smoke on PBS. The brand is responsible for starting the modern kamado grill trend and they deserve all the hype and fandom. Fans of the brand even call themselves “eggheads.” Raichlen owns four Big Green Eggs and loves them for a multitude of reasons: “Thick walls hold in the heat. An ingenious venting system controls the temperature. Its innovative manufacturer keeps coming out with useful new accessories. And its endearing shape and color will make you think of Dr. Seuss.” (Legend has it that the grill was inspired by Green Eggs and Ham.)
The XLarge Big Green Egg makes it easy to maintain low temperatures for smoking for hours, thanks to its easily adjustable air vents and accurate temperature gauge. It also has great heat retention—a must for low and slow cooking. With 452 square inches of cooking surface, a pork shoulder or turkey for your whole Thanksgiving crew are no problem. This is quite an investment, but Big Green Eggs come with lifetime warranties and are built to last.
Material: Alloy steel | Weight: 97 lbs | Cooking surface: 20 inches
Why we chose it: This steel grill performs remarkably well given the low price point—it’s great for beginners and those who want to improve their grill skills before making a big investment.
Why it made the cut: At less than half the price of the Kamado Joe III and the Big Green Egg, the Akorn Char-Griller is a double-walled, insulated steel egg that is much lighter and excels at its main task—cooking delicious food. Great for both high heat grilling and low and slow cooking, the Akorn unlike has a porcelain-coated steel body rather than a ceramic one, making it lighter (and less pricey, too.)
This grill includes a cast iron grate with a removable center and a detachable warming rack. It can take some time and finesse to get the temperature just right, but once you nail it, it stays remarkably consistent throughout the entire cooking process. Bonus: the double-walled construction kept the exterior cool enough to touch so the grill is safe for pets, kids, or oblivious adults. It won’t last forever like some of the more expensive ceramic options, but this is a wonderful place to start if you’re ready to buy a kamado grill, but not ready to take a four-figure price tag plunge.
Material: Stainless steel | Weight: 126 lbs | Cooking surface width: 19 inches
Why we chose it: Attention campers and tailgaters: this grill offers all the bells and whistles of a quality kamado in a portable package, with extra cooking racks and a trailer hitch for easy transport.
With a classic kamado design, the Keg 5000 retains heat and moisture, ensuring super-flavorful food. This is another non-ceramic option, with a lightweight steel body (it is coated with ceramic inside). It can be used with a trailer hitch, making it about as portable as a hefty kamado grill can be.
It features Roto-Draft dampers—cast iron on the top and aluminum on the bottom—to precisely control airflow through the grill, allowing cooks to get to the perfect smoking or grilling temperature. A cast iron primary cooking grid and a swing-out chrome secondary rack make for plenty of cooking space. There are handy extra accessories like removable side shelves, a versatile multi-tool to help you adjust and clean your grill, twin bottle openers on the lid handle (cheers!), and a removable wheeled base that is trailer hitch-adaptable to make tail-gating or camping as delicious as possible.
Material: Ceramic | Weight: 97 lbs | Cooking surface width: 16 inches
Why we chose it: This grill’s unique oval shape is ideal for two-zone cooking—offering ample space to move food toward or away from the flame.
Oval-shaped kamados like the Primo Oval Junior are ideal for two zone cooking. The long shape allows more separation from side to side to maintain separate temperatures, while heat in the round models tends to even out quickly. Most round kamado aficionados concede that their best way of creating different heat zones is by moving foods closer to or farther from the fire. This is done with various deflectors and rack systems, or with this simple yet effective oval shape. The Primo’s split cooking grates can be set up high for indirect cooking or flipped over to position foods near the fire for searing.
Proudly made in the USA since 1996, Primo grills crafts their products in Tucker, GA. And the quality company equipped this model with an extra high-positioned lid, which makes it excellent for cooking whole chickens and ducks. And if you prefer a grill that’s not in a super loud color, you might appreciate Primo’s subtler matte black finish.
Material: Ceramic, stainless steel | Weight: 1688 lbs | Cooking surface width: 42 inches
Why we chose it: Custom design features and three levels of cooking make this grill the creme de la creme of kamados. Plus, it’s durable enough to last a lifetime.
Designer Dennis Linkletter lived and worked in Indonesia for decades where he built teak furniture, flooring, and doors. He became enamored by kamado cooking and started to use his facility to create high-end cookers with stunning design. After years tinkering, Linkletter introduced Komodo Kamado to the market.
If you have plenty of room in your budget, the Komodo Kamado has the quality and style to justify its impressive price. It’s a true joy to behold (check out those custom inlaid tiles) and even better to cook with, with every detail considered, from its 304 stainless steel grates and hinges to the heavy-duty casters. It also comes fully assembled, which is great because it weighs almost a ton.
With 360 square inches of cooking space spread over three levels, this rust-free, cast aluminum charcoal grill is durable, easy to use, and big enough to invite the whole neighborhood along for your next cookout. Want to spruce it up even more? Plenty of options are available, including teakwood carts and gas ignition.
This is obviously a big one. A grill’s price tag usually reflects materials, craftsmanship, and size. Smaller models start at a few hundred dollars, and you can splurge for models at multiple thousands of dollars from designer models. You’ll find a price point you feel comfortable with based on your grilling experience and frequency of use.
While the standard Weber kettle grill weighs 32 pounds, kamado grills weigh in at several hundred. They’re certainly not designed to travel with, and make sure your grill comes with a cart (or you invest in one) if you plan to move it from one side of your yard to another.
When it comes to construction, the material matters immensely in how your grill heats, grills, smokes, and cooks. They are often made of ceramic (or sometimes steel), with cast iron or stainless steel cooking grates. We love ceramic: a sturdy and incredibly heat-insulating material (it’s also used to make kilns and pizza ovens)—but all materials used in kamado construction are seriously good insulators that store and radiate heat effectively.
Some accessories are nonnegotiable, like legs and a thermometer. Others will make your grilling life easier, like a table and a ceramic heat deflector. Some brands sell their grills equipped with bells and whistles, while others include only the basic grill body and leave you to add on (and pay for) extras. The cost of the accessories can add up quickly, so that’s another consideration as you investigate cost.
A kamado’s shape creates plenty of space above and below the grates for optimal airflow. Stellar insulation, carefully calibrated efficiency, and the ability to hold very high and very low temperatures means they are the rare tool ideal for both grilling and smoking.
Raichlen says kamados have “two supreme virtues: substance and versatility. Substance, because most kamado grills weigh a ton, which makes them impervious to bad weather. They have thick walls to hold in the heat. The versatility part comes from the venting, both at the top and bottom, which allows you to smoke low and slow (at 225 degrees), hot and fast (at 700 degrees), and everywhere in between.” This enables them to do all sorts of live fire cooking: smoking, direct grilling, indirect grilling, and even “caveman” grilling (cooking directly in the embers). “Many models, like the Primo, come with a rotisserie attachment for spit-roasting,” Raichlen adds.
Mylan knows that he can always trust his Big Green Egg to deliver top-notch meat: “Whether it is just a get together where we would bring freshly stuffed sausages from the shop and a car service load of Martins Rolls, or a special occasion where I might grill a dry aged, 4 -inch thick, 11-pound pin-bone sirloin steak from my favorite grass-fed cattle farmer, I knew they will turn out perfect.”
“Read the instruction manual,” Raichlen advises, as operation varies from model to model. He also suggests reading books like Project Fire and Project Smoke, which he penned himself. Another pro tip from Raichlen: when using a Big Green Egg, “remember to ‘burp’ it, that is open the lid just a crack a few times to release the superheated air before opening it all the way.” This will prevent an uncomfortable rush of heat. There is a learning curve to master smoking meat and learning to control temperature through vents and gauges, but a little bit of time and effort will be rewarded with highly delicious food.
A kamado grill will last almost forever. “My Big Green Egg is 20 years old and still cooks like the day I bought it,” Raichlen says. “But do keep it covered when you’re not using it—especially in regions where water freezes in the winter.”
Absolutely, and you can do so using two very different methods, each with equally delectable results. “For the first, heat a pizza stone in the kamado. Slide the pizza on it and cook as you would in the oven,” explains Raichlen. “More interesting to my thinking is to drape the pizza dough (rolled or stretched into a circle) right on the grill grate and direct grill it over a medium-high fire. This gives you a softly crisp dough with delectable smoky blisters.” Add the toppings after inverting the crust once it’s browned on the bottom. It’s crispier than a conventional pizza, and highly delicious.
Don’t let rain stop your cooking plans. “Just hold a large umbrella,” Raichlen says.
Mylan believes that kamado grills are not for newbie grillers. “If you have no idea how to cook on a charcoal or gas grill, you will hurt yourself, burn the hair off your arms and completely destroy a lot of meat until you learn to tame this cooking device,” he warns. “It does not suffer fools.” But once you learn your way around a kamado, your chances of ending up with stellar food are quite high. “Once you learn how to use it, it’s easy and virtually foolproof,” Raichlen believes.
A kamado grill is a brilliant cooking invention. There’s really nothing else that performs as a top-notch smoker and roaster, an awesome backyard pizza and bread oven, and an ideal cooker for paellas and tandoori dishes. Our best overall pick, the Kamado Jo Classic Jo III, does just that, plus packs in extras like technology designed to distribute smoke and heat evenly. It’s no wonder the kamado category is growing in popularity. These grills can be significant investments, but those who want to cook outdoors won’t regret it.
I’m a veteran food writer and author, but my husband was even more excited about our kamado grill adventures—he’s a Kansas City Barbecue Society certified barbecue judge who is never happier than hanging out with a smoker, coaxing meat to tender, flavorful perfection. We cooked on as many kamados as we could get our hands on, trying them out at both high heat for tandoori chicken and smashburgers and as smokers for lamb shoulders and racks of ribs. We’ll pretty much cook anything outside, from pizzas to brisket to turkeys for a Thanksgiving feast. I also read everything I could get my hands on about the nuances that set different kamados apart and consulted more Amazon reviews than I care to admit to see what qualities can make or break the grilling experiences for others.
Choosing the perfect kamado grill for you ultimately comes down to personal preference. What features do you love, and how do you want it to look? Do you want a kamado with split racks and an oval shape for easier zone cooking? Will you be moving your kamado around frequently? Do you want to dip your toe in or splurge for a grill that you can pass down to your kids? Whatever you decide, happy grilling, smoking, and feasting!
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These versatile grills are jacks of all trades, making grilling easy.