Paul is a barbecue enthusiast. He is currently grilling and smoking on a Komodo Kamado Ultimate 23.
What Is a Kamado-style Grill?
Kamado-style grills are dome-shaped or egg-shaped containers, made of ceramic or other heavy insulating material, designed to be heated with charcoal or wood. They were adapted from the traditional mushikamado clay rice steamer of Japan and are like the tandoor oven of India.
Advantages of Kamado-style Grills
- Even heating: Unlike traditional gas grills, Kamados have few hot spots because the fire seated low in the grill gradually heats up the ceramic materials, which distribute the heat through the domed architecture of the cooker. This combination creates the most evenly cooked meats I have seen.
- Flexible fuel requirements: Kamado-style grills can use different types of wood, wood chips, charcoal, or gas. Some allow you to add on a gas heater to get the grill started quickly (you can add a few wood chips for flavor). A gas option for lighting the wood or charcoal is easier and cleaner than newspaper or lighter fluid. When you have more time for grilling, you can use small oak logs, great for a Santa Maria style barbecue.
- Temperature range: Kamado-style barbecues cook at a wide range of temperatures. Brands differ, but the specs of different models say they can cook at temperatures as low as 140 degrees, for long slow cooking, or as high as 900 degrees, for searing meats (though I’m not sure it even makes sense to get your grill this hot, since searing only takes a few minutes at 700 degrees).
- Appearance: Grills of this type, sleek and massive, are almost like outdoor furniture; they can be the showpiece of the patio. At least two makers of Kamado-style grills let you customize the outer layer of tile.
- Versatility: A Kamado grill can be used as a traditional grill or as a smoker, so it's not necessary to have multiple grills.
Disadvantages of Kamado-Style Grills
- Cost: Kamado-style grills are on the expensive end of the grill spectrum. With options, the price is usually well over $1000. Unless you barbecue a lot, this can seem like a high price tag.
- Weight: Kamado-style grills, especially the ceramic ones covered in tile, are heavy--close to 500 pounds. While they have wheels, they are difficult to move upstairs. They take up a lot of space.
Learning to Use a Kamado-style Grill
The main skill you need to learn, when barbecuing or grilling with a Kamado, is how to control the heat. The temperature in the Kamado is a function of the amount of fuel (wood or charcoal); the airflow into the “draft door” in the bottom of the grill; and the airflow from the top through the damper. It takes a little practice to control the airflow. The more air that flows through the charcoal or wood, the hotter and faster it will burn. You can use a thermometer to gauge the temperature. Once the grill reaches the desired temperature, it takes very little tuning to maintain the temperature within a few degrees.
You have to keep in mind that quickly heating a Kamado-style grill to a high temperature can crack the ceramic; you need to raise the heat gradually. Follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding breaking-in and maintenance.
Which Kamado-style Grill Should I Buy?
Here are the results of my own research and experience, plus helpful forum responses from other authors/readers.
Komodo Kamado Grill
This is the highest-end make of Kamado-style grills, costing in the neighborhood of $4200-4500 for the medium size ("Ultimate," formerly "OTB"). All the reviews call it the highest quality grill. It uses two different layers of high-tech refractory cement, designed to withstand very high temperatures and retain heat. This combination is reported to last a long time and be much less prone to cracking and damage compared to other Kamado-style grills. The Komodo Kamado comes in tiled and coated versions. The tiled Kamados weighs nearly 500 pounds, but they look like works of art. Like most premium products, they come with few add-ons, although a gas starter is an attractive option, and I think a side-table option is coming soon. All in all, this is the top Kamado on the market and the most beautiful grill I've ever seen. If the price wasn't an issue, I'd go with the Komodo Kamado grill.
Big Green Egg
The Big Green Egg, or BGE as loyal fans call it, is perhaps the best known ceramic grill. Its options are limited: it doesn’t come in any color but green, and if you want the convenience of a gas starter, you will have to get an aftermarket starter and add it on. Big Green Egg Inc. appears to be the most professionally run of all the Kamado grill makers. Its website is informative, although you can't buy new Big Green Eggs there, or even price them; you have to buy them from other online dealers or go to a specialty barbecue store. As of 2013, the medium size was about $650. For a mass-produced Kamado-style grill, I think the Big Green Egg is a nice choice. During past summer grilling seasons, Costco has carried the medium-sized grill; it was tempting that it came with Costco's top-notch warranty, which easily beats any store warranty I've ever seen.
Vision Grill "Classic Kamado"
Until recently, at least, Costco Online was carrying one of Vision Grill’s “Classic” models for only a fraction of its price for the Big Green Egg. This grill comes with a two-tier cooking grate. While I've looked at this grill hands-on, I haven't had the opportunity to do significant cooking with it; nevertheless, with the Costco warranty, I would consider trying it out.
I'd consider this an entry-level Kamado-style grill for the casual barbecue fan. My biggest issue with this grill is that the stainless steel door feels flimsy. Also, it is for use with charcoal and wood chips only; the ideal Kamado grill, at least for me, would work with whole pieces of wood. In style, I find the Vision Grill, like the Big Green Egg, uninteresting.
But what it lacks in sizzle, it makes up for in extras. For the price, this is likely one of the better bargains for a Kamado-style grill.
Kamado Company K7 Grill
This is the original Kamado grill and a bit of a sad story. I purchased one in 2010. I've loved it, but it came broken and with missing parts, and I got very frustrated with the customer support. My neighbor also has a Kamado Company grill and loves it, but he too has had issues getting replacement parts.
I was very close to purchasing another Kamado Company grill, but as I did additional research, I became concerned. Early on, Kamado built a loyal following, but quality issues came up, manufacturing moved to different countries, and customers complained about long delivery times, tile falling off, and long waits for replacement parts.
For a while, the company answered its phone quickly and explained that many of the complaints were from people who didn't follow the break-in instructions. Still, it worried me that there was a dedicated forum purely for the purpose of complaining about the product. The final red flag for me was that when I went to place my order for a new grill, they would only take a check. If I couldn’t get the insurance provided by my credit card company, I was not going to risk buying a grill from a company with so many complaints.
By late 2011, the Kamado Company had been sold. The Kamado.com website is now just a forum, and kamadocompany.com doesn’t seem to have been updated since mid-2013.
Kamado-style Grills Compared
|Maker||Model||Price||Review Quality||Gas Option||Exterior|
About $4200-4500 fully loaded
Tiled or coated, custom options
Big Green Egg, Inc.
Big Green Egg, medium
About $650 (before options); over $1000 total
Was about $1500
Poor (for customer service), may be out of business
Tiled or coated, custom options
$1,200 + table
Alternatives to Kamado-style Grills
I’m still seeking the ideal grill to replace my old Kamado K7. I had a chance to play with a Primo Oval XL last year, but I am still looking.
My ideal grill needs to support both high-temperature cooking and low-and-slow smoking; it needs to be able to handle the heat of small oak logs, and it needs to look great.
If I didn’t get another Kamado-style grill, I’d consider the Engelbrecht 1000 Grill. On paper, this looks like a great grill for smoking and cooking with wood, and ought to last many years. But it’s homely, compared to the artistry of the Komodo.
My dream grill remains the Komodo Kamado, and I hope to have one someday.
Update: I purchased a Komodo Kamado Ultimate 23.