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Catch Up With the Kamado Grill

You may not have heard, but there’s a new secret weapon in the grilling world — an oval-shaped, ceramic-lined grill known as a Kamado — and it just might be the most versatile grill in the barbecue world. Whether you’re grilling, smoking, roasting, or even baking, you can’t go wrong with a Kamado grill. Below you’ll find everything you need to know when buying a Kamado, but don’t be surprised if the whole neighborhood shows up for dinner.

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The not so secret world of Kamado Grilling

Only recently the Kamado style grill started popping up in the outdoor cooks' lexicon, but they are anything but new. Kamado grills first came to attention of Americans stationed in Japan after World War 2. It only took a few crafty servicemen who loved the Kamado so much they shipped them back to the states in empty cargo planes, and a new grilling underground was born.

The Kamado is probably a descendent of large clay vessels used for cooking in China and India as long as 4000 years ago. These ancient oval-shaped ovens were similar in shape and prized for their ability to maintain heat, both high and low, for long periods of time. In India these clay ovens would evolve into Tandoor ovens, but in Japan they would evolve from a circular clay vessel known as a “mushikamado” (used to steam rice) into the oval-shaped Kamado. The word Kamado is actually Japanese for “stove” or “kiln” but has come to apply to the egg-shaped grills that are becoming more and more popular with grilling enthusiasts.

Today, Kamado grills are still oval-shaped, but typically made of high-fire ceramics covered with insulated steel and refractory materials, similar to those used on the Space Shuttle, and insulated with steel. The interior houses a ceramic or stainless steel bowl to holds the charcoal and wood. The bottom of the oval has a draft opening to feed oxygen to the coals and a small adjustable vent (sometimes called a “daisy wheel” because of the flower petal shape of the vents) to control air or smoke exiting the Kamado. It’s these two vents and the Kamado’s penchant for retaining heat that make it perfect for both charcoal grilling and smoking. Because of the superior heat retention the Kamado uses much less charcoal than a normal grill. Kamado experts recommend using only natural lump charcoal which is typically made from hardwood which holds a higher temperature than charcoal briquettes, burns cleaner, and gives food the natural wood fire flavor that charcoal grillers love. Also, natural lump charcoal can be extinguished and relit for future grilling.

The Kamado's oval shape guides heat in a circular motion, the same way a fan works in a convection oven, allowing for even heat distribution while the cast iron cooking grates retain the heat for caramelization (in other words, perfect grill marks). Because of the Kamado’s convection heating it can be used for both direct and indirect cooking. For instance, pile your hot coals on one side of the Kamado’s charcoal bowl to get that perfect sear on your steak while the other side of the grill is excellent for indirect cooking of your favorite grilled vegetables.

Unlike a regular charcoal or gas grill that radiates heat vertically, blasting heat from one direction only and drawing moisture out the food being cooked, the Kamado’s insulated ceramic build holds heat in the grill, resulting in a much more moist and tender final product. It’s this heat retention that allows for more control by the cook whether they’re putting a quick sear on an Ahi Tuna Steak over high heat or smoking a pork shoulder at low heat all day.

With the ever-growing amount of accessories for the Kamado, there’s almost nothing you can’t grill, smoke, bake, roast, or sauté to perfection. There’s pizza stones designed for the ultimate crisp-crust grilled pizza. Cast iron vegetable baskets perfect for thin veggies like asparagus or sliced zucchini that tend to slip between grill grates. The secondary cooking grids lift more delicate proteins like salmon and trout higher in the Kamado to keep the skin crispy but not burnt. Water pans are intended for wet smoking or even steaming. Rib racks help to ensure even heat and smoke on baby back or even gigantic spare ribs. Dividers for charcoal allow you to set up direct and indirect cooking. Cast iron griddles and even drip pans are ideal for roasting or smoking chickens, ducks, or turkeys.

The Kamado grill has a large, passionate cult following, and those who have cooked on them tend to swear off all other grills. Some say it’s the oval shape and the lack of maintenance required for cooking, for other’s the ventilation and ability to hold low temps necessary for smoking are what they love about the Kamado design. Regardless, it’s no longer a well-kept secret by the top grill masters. Whether you're looking for the perfect juicy burger, a delicious smoked Thanksgiving Turkey, or even baking a rosemary infused ciabatta (did I mention you can bake bread?), the Kamado is the ultimate in charcoal grilling. Is anyone else hungry?