The earliest residential charcoal grills were little more than a stack of surplus bricks that a developer put together as an added selling feature for the new construction homes. This was often the sort of thing that people looked for while finding a place to settle down and raise kids during the “Baby Boom” of the 1950s.
In time these grills gave way to kettle and barrel style grills. Today you still find a lot of these grills living on people’s decks and patios. While a few do have some special features like an adjustable grate height or an offset smoker box, they have evolved very little over the last two decades. The differences in thermal efficiency from one traditional charcoal grill to the next is minimal. The versatility of them is based largely on the ingenuity of the outdoor chef.
What Is A Kamado Grill?
Here in the West kamado grills appear to be the next sophisticated step in the evolution of charcoal grills. Yet in the East, they are in fact a very old idea with roots stretching back thousands of years. In China, Korea, and Japan. Back then they were made almost entirely from clay or some type of ceramic material. A small wood fire in the bottom heated up the side walls which refracted that heat back to be used very much like an oven.
In Japan, these ceramic wood-fired ovens were made portable, which eventually lead to a series of names that evolved into “Kamado.” Always on the lookout for new products to bring to a hungry marketplace, Western grill manufacturers were quick to offer their own take on this very old idea.
How Does A Kamado Grill Work?
At first glance, a kamado grill is very much a charcoal grill, that can arguably double as a smoker. Nearly all of them run on charcoal, though there is a handful out there that have optional electric or propane elements. With proper air control, you can adjust the heat high for things like steaks, and hamburgers, or even for baking pizza. Dial the airflow down low by nearly closing off the dampers and you can smoke barbecue, or even braise meat.
You start a standard charcoal fire. It’s better to do this in a charcoal chimney or some other secondary vessel. You could perhaps place an electric charcoal starter in the bottom. It’s just a bad idea to use lighter fluid. Most kamado grills have ceramic walls that absorb trace flavors, which can take multiple sessions to remove.
For a high heat application, like grilling a steak, you might want to lean toward jumbo lump charcoal which has a reputation for burning hot and fast. If you wanted to smoke meat for the classic barbecue, charcoal briquettes tend to burn for longer. You could then add chunks of smoking woods or wood chips that have been soaked overnight in water.
Once the charcoal is added to the bottom fire chamber, you adjust the external dampers to the level you want. Some kamado grills even come with numerated dampers that help you set things up consistently. If you want a high temperature for grilling a steak or baking a pizza, you would then open the lower dampers wide. If you want to smoke and maintain a low temperature for a long period of time, you would nearly close the dampers all the way to let just a small amount of air get to the fire.
For a smoking application, the upper damper or flue would be closed down all the way. This traps the smoke and heat. With a high heat application, you might only set the damper halfway.
Regardless of high, medium or low heat, you still want to give the kamado grill a solid 10 to 15 minutes to preheat. This lets thermal energy absorbed into the ceramic walls, which is refracted back to the food being cooked. Tight seals between the lid and the grill body then trap that heat for maximum thermal efficiency.
Some kamado grills also include accessories like a water/drip pan for steamy barbecue, or a cordite stone for baking things like pizza.
Are Kamado Grills Easy To Clean?
You’re going to have to accept that over time the ceramic side walls are going to become stained with ambient soot and smoke particles. This is natural, and depending on how porous the ceramic walls are, and the wood or charcoal you use, it could impart a gentle accent to the smoky flavor it produces in the long-term.
When it comes to general cleaning after a grilling session, kamado grills aren’t any more difficult to clean than a traditional charcoal grill. Most have some type of pull out ash pan that makes it easy to remove spent embers and ash. At that point, it’s just a matter of scraping down the grill grates or cleaning an accessory stone. Cast iron grill grates that have been coated with a special nonstick porcelain layer tend to be especially easy to scrape clean.
Are Kamado Grills Large?
There are some kamado grills that take up some serious square footage. However, most are relatively smaller than their traditional charcoal grill cousins, in fact, many people with limited space on their deck or patio will start out looking at a kamado grill simply because it has such a nice compact footprint.
External Features To Look For In A Kamado Grill
The interior design of most kamado grills is largely the same. Yet it’s often the exterior features that ironically sets one apart from the competition.
Right off the bat, you need to keep in mind that not all kamado grills come with a cart base attached to them. There are some people who prefer it this way, for installing into an outdoor kitchen. If you want a kamado grill that you can just wheel around your deck, you might want to take a close look at the pictures to make sure there is one included in the initial purchase. Some kamado grill manufacturers will sell you the complete grill body, then offer a convenient cart as a secondary purchase.
Side tables are also an optional feature that you don’t always find included in the purchase. If you have a small deck or patio side tables can be inconvenient. Just make sure that you have someplace to set prep and serving platters. A kamado grill isn’t really the sort of thing you are meant to operate one-handed.