For many, grilling is a family tradition passed down by parents or grandparents. The tradition of kamado grilling, however, has been around for thousands of years. The history of ceramic kamados stretches back all the way to ancient China and Japan, yet these earthenware cooking stoves still exist today because of their longevity, extreme versatility, and the superior performance of ceramic construction (though some newer models are made with metal). Ceramics in particular are prized for their ability to absorb huge amounts of heat and radiate it with a great deal of evenness and control, which is crucial when grilling, baking, or BBQ smoking. No wonder kamado-style cooking is still popular to this day.
That being said, you may still be new to the world of kamados or just unsure where to start your search for one. That’s why our experts, who have more than 20 years of experience testing grills of all kinds, put their heads together to simplify the process as much as possible. Using their expertise as a guide, we’ll take a look at the 4 main points to consider when buying a kamado charcoal grill.
Where to Place Your Kamado Grill
Kamado Charcoal Grills on a Cart
Like any other kind of grill, freestanding kamados are all about mobility. They can be moved around the backyard as needed or placed beneath a protective kamado grill cover and stored in the garage to save space. Kamado carts are also designed to provide the maximum amount of access and airflow to the top and bottom grill vents, which are the only means of adjusting temperature on this type of grill. Additionally, the ability to move your kamado cooker makes it much easier to clean ash out of the grill with either a dust broom or shop vac. The carts themselves come in a handful of styles, like Primo cypress tables or BBQGuys stainless steel kamado carts that fit most standard sizes of round ceramic cookers. Spider carts provide heavy-duty capabilities, though they present a slightly greater risk of tipping over.
Built-In Kamado Charcoal Grills
We’ve begun seeing many people add charcoal kamados as a second cooking appliance in their outdoor kitchens, usually alongside a gas grill for versatility. Built-in kamado cookers can be installed 2 ways: drop base (our recommendation) and as a classic drop-in to a BBQ island cutout. The drop-base cabinet design keeps your grill at cooking height while leaving it open to full airflow, but metal models must have an insulated grill jacket when in a combustible island (always be sure to follow your manual’s directions for clearance from combustibles). Drop-in kamados, meanwhile, require access doors for cleaning, maintenance, and proper airflow, and they must be placed in non-combustible islands only. To extend the life of your built-in model, add feet to keep it stable and grab a cover to shield it from the elements.
Choose Your Kamado Grill Shape
Believe it or not, the shape of your kamado charcoal grill has a considerable effect on your cooking capabilities. Though all kamados strongly resemble each other, there’s an ever-so-slight difference between oval and round (or egg-shaped) models. Both kamado shapes have their own benefits that enhance certain types of cooking, so it’s a good idea to know the differences and use them to your advantage. So, which deserves to come first: the oval or the egg? The answer is up to you.
The most notable benefit of oval kamado cookers like those from Primo is the ability to harness the power of dual-zone cooking with the center divider in place. Simply put, that means you can grill burgers over the direct heat of charcoal while veggies or larger cuts of meat are coated with indirect heat on the other side of the kamado. Of course, you can dedicate this setup to just indirect cooking without using the direct-flame side, but it’s hard not to appreciate the versatility of oval kamado grills. This shape can also fit oddly sized food items like briskets and whole turkeys with ease, not to mention strangely configured cookware like long-handled pots and pans.
Thanks to their classic egg shape, round kamado cookers are known for radiating heat to a central point within the grill. The uniform heat produced by this shape is ideal for baking, smoking, and roasting, meaning you can cook a pizza just as well as you can slow-smoke a pork butt. Blaze and Kamado Joe are among the brands that make it possible to set up indirect heat in their grills by way of a multi-level cooking rack system with heat deflectors. Kamado Joe’s split-height racks and half-moon deflector plates come close to creating direct and indirect heat at the same time, but it’s still much harder to establish separate temperature zones in a round kamado than in an oval.
Ceramic Kamado Grills vs. Metal Kamado Grills
Ceramic is the classic material for kamado cookers. As stated above, it’s excellent at absorbing heat then evenly radiating it back within the cooking chamber. These properties make ceramic kamados extremely fuel efficient — a little charcoal can go a long way in a Primo kamado or Kamado Joe. Ceramic kamado grills also last decades if properly cared for, but the material is still fragile. The body can crack when dropped or if the lid is slammed, and repeated heating and cooling causes microfractures that make these grills more prone to cracking over time. To offset that likelihood, some brands have created hood-lift assist devices and segmented fireboxes that bear the brunt of heating stress. It’s also important to remember that while not all ceramic is the same, it’s all quite heavy. Don’t expect to load one of these grills into the bed of a truck for tailgating unless it’s a portable ceramic kamado. Note that ceramic absorbs liquids just as well as heat, so lighter fluid and cleaning chemicals should never be used in one of these grills.
For starters, metal tends to be lighter than ceramic, giving you a bit more mobility around the backyard and on potential camping trips. Steel and aluminum kamado cookers also aren’t nearly as fragile as ceramic grills, but steel will eventually rust before a well-maintained kamado breaks down. However, cast aluminum models like the Blaze kamado are made from material that will never rust. The Blaze kamado in particular can even survive saltwater corrosion and withstand explosive blasts, feats of durability backed by a lifetime warranty. Because of their construction, metal kamado cookers also reach extremely hot temperatures. In fact, they tend to run hotter than ceramics because steel and aluminum are better at channeling thermal energy, meaning you should always wear insulated grill gloves when handling one. Metal charcoal kamados generally use slightly more fuel over a long period of time, and while metal is not quite as good as ceramic at retaining heat, you can still maintain stable temperatures over fairly long cooks with these models.
Choose Your Kamado Grill Class
Still having trouble figuring out which kamado charcoal grill is best for you? Don’t worry, we’re about to really help you narrow down your choices. We’ve sorted our selection of kamado cookers into 3 classifications — Luxury, Premium, and Entry-Level — as a way to guide your search toward the specific models that speak to you as an outdoor cook. These divisions are based on quality, performance, and features as determined by our team of experts with more than 20 years of experience testing grills. Our experts may not have been around when the first earthenware stove was made all those centuries ago, but they know a thing or two about modern charcoal kamados.
Luxury Kamado Cookers
Cast-aluminum construction means these grills will never rust
Highest degree of quality and longevity backed by lifetime warranties
Sleek design matches stainless steel for a cohesive outdoor kitchen aesthetic
Can sustain high heat for searing on extra-thick cooking grates
Premium Kamado Cookers
Thick ceramic insulates for stable temperatures and can withstand high heat
Grill bodies come with lifetime warranties, including a 20-year guarantee from Primo
Only class with oval-shaped kamados that allow for 2-zone cooking
Widest range of accessories on the market lead to greater cooking versatility
Entry-Level Kamado Cookers
Budget-friendly with thin ceramic or painted steel bodies that don’t retain heat well
Generally slim warranties on both external and internal parts reflect short lifespans
Limited heat range and lack of 2-zone cooking means they’re best for BBQ smoking
Very few accessories come included, which restricts cooking versatility
Other Kamado Grill Considerations
If you’ve already got a kamado charcoal cooker in mind, congrats! We’re thrilled to have helped you on this journey, but we wouldn’t be doing our due diligence if we didn’t leave you with a few final considerations about kamado grills. These grills provide a truly one-of-a-kind cooking experience for decades when properly supported and maintained, so we want to make sure you’ve given thought to every single factor that can influence the longevity and capabilities of your kamado.
The number of accessories available varies greatly and is dependent on the manufacturer. This is important to keep in mind because accessories have a huge influence on the versatility of kamado charcoal grills. Dividers and heat deflector plates, for instance, open up new worlds of indirect cooking for the griller who loves to try new things. Kamado Joe takes the cake in terms of accessories: The brand offers multi-tier racks, the SloRoller hyperbolic smoking chamber, the DoJoe pizza oven kit, and much more.
When considering accessories, don’t just think about what you cook now — plan for the future and any cooking experiments you might want to try. Make sure the kamado you plan on purchasing has the accessories you want, either included or available after purchase. For more suggestions, check out our guide to the essential kamado grill accessories.
Hood-Lift Assist for Kamados
Remember our discussion about ceramics? It’s a super heavy material despite its fragility, which means shutting the grill lid should be done with the utmost care. A slammed lid is at a risk of cracking part of the grill body, which is why we recommend ceramic kamados with some sort of lift-assist function to lighten the load each time you close the grill lid. Not only will your kamado cooker be easier to use, but it will also last longer than one not properly cared for.
Because the exhaust vent (or chimney) at the top of your kamado is often directly exposed to the elements when cooking, we advise you to look for a grill with sturdy fittings and a chimney that won’t rust. Tight vent settings are also important — who wants to lift the lid, adjust the coals and food, then close the lid, only to find their vent settings have changed? It’s also a good idea to make sure the chimney is water-resistant in the event your grill is left out in the rain … or you could just get a grill cover and never worry about rain at all!
Kamado Vent Hoods
There are several safety considerations that come with built-in charcoal kamados, but your outdoor kitchen vent hood will also come into play. Many vent hood manufacturers don’t allow any kind of charcoal grill to be placed below their vents because these cookers lack a definable maximum heat setting. If you want to build in a kamado grill, you must be certain your vent hood brand permits this or you could void the warranty on your hood. You’ve been warned, first-time builders.
Big Green Egg Kamados
We know what many of you are thinking right now: “I just feasted my eyes on several gorgeous images and hundreds of brilliantly crafted words about kamado grills, but I didn’t see a single Big Green Egg anywhere!” Unfortunately, Big Green Egg doesn’t allow online sales of its grills. Though Big Green Egg is undoubtedly the most popular name in the charcoal kamado industry, we’re proud to carry dozens of models that give it a run for its money.
Ready to chat with one of our BBQ experts about the kamado grill you want? Or do you need more guidance on the subject? Either way, our experts are standing by at 1-877-743-2269 to answer any questions you have about kamados. We also encourage you to visit our Free Outdoor Living Design Service, which has helped thousands of customers across the country create their dream outdoor space.