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Kamado Cooking – The Complete Guide To The Ceramic BBQ

By UJJBARAN October 20, 2021

The complete guide to Kamado cooking. What to buy, how it works, set up tips and a stack of recipes so you can get the most out of your ceramic BBQ grill.

What Is A Kamado?

The distinguishing feature of a kamado grill is that it is manufactured from high performance ceramics. The ceramic shell acts as a "super insulant" which means that cooking temperatures can be easily maintained whatever the external weather conditions.

These insulation properties of the ceramic also mean that a little fire goes a long way so charcoal consumption is economic. Low and slow cooking can be done with just one fill of the charcoal basket or at the other extreme, the fire can deliver extra high temperatures making the perfect environment for baking bread and pizza.

What Makes Kamado Cooking So Good?

  1. First and foremost, the quality of the cooking. Even when experimenting with new recipes it's hard to really deliver anything other than a supremely succulent result.
  2. Safety - The surface doesn’t get as hot as a traditional barbecue and the fire is in a small area.
  3. The exterior is treated with a baked on glaze so these grills should last forever. 
  4. The heat on the interior burns off any grease (the same principle as an Aga) and this works fine so long as you don't get too much tar from cooking low and slow.
  5. When baking you’ll get that “brick oven” flavour and crust to the food

Moisture retention is a key feature, the kamado cooking process is different to a conventional smoker and the manufacturers state that there’s actually no need for a water pan at all.

It's air flow that dries things out; think of hanging the washing out of the line on a windy day and it dries really quickly. I mentioned before that a little fire goes a long way and a small fire can be maintained with the minimum of air flow. It's this reduced air flow through the kamado that has to opposite effect to the windy day and so food remains supremely moist.

Note: There are times when I still choose to put a water pan in a kamado. Pulled pork is a case in point because the steam from the water pan helps create a sauna effect that brings the meat up to the preferred internal temperature a little quicker quicker. 

So the key benefits of kamado cooking are that food cooks quicker, remains moist, there’s no need for constant tending of the charcoal and a ceramic grill is remarkably economical on charcoal consumption. It's this that differentiates a ceramic kamado from other kettle style smokers.

The kamado manufacturers claim that a ceramic grill is ready to cook on in 10 minutes (marginally optimistic) but certainly by 15 minutes I find that you can get up to the benchmark smoking temperature of 225°F or 110°C. That said it pays to make sure that the whole ceramic shell has absorbed heat because this makes temperature control that much easier 

The Important Features

Quality Ceramic

All ceramics are not the same and that applies both to the chemical content and the design mould. The bottom line is that you get what you pay for but there are a couple of features to look out for.

  1. Segmented firebox - this improvement to the firebox design minimises the possiblilty of cracks appearing during thermal expansion.
  2. Dimples / Craquelure - The external glaze on a ceramic grill has a different coefficient of expansion to the ceramic. The dimpled shell and craquelure (network of fine cracks in the glaze) should be designed in to prevent chipping or a crack to the ceramic.

Heat Deflector Stones

The heat deflector stones are critical to the verstility of kamado cooking. By inserting these stones you change the function from a direct heat grill to a convection style oven / smoker.

Some cheap kamado grills don't come with heat deflector stones so you're paying a good chunk of money and getting less than a quarter of the kamado cooking functionality.

Some brands feature two "half moon" heat deflector stones which creates the capability for 2 zone cooking - direct heat on one side and indirect heat of the other. This is all hooked up with a half moon grill grate system too,WE call it "Divide & Conquer", Monolith call it the "Pro Series Smart Grid System".

Half moon heat deflector stones essential for kamado cooking sit in the smart grid system
Kamado Cooking Set Up - Charcoal basket with divider, half moon heat deflector stone & half moon grill grate with variable height setting.

Keep your heat deflector stones clean. You can do this by wrapping then in foil (Monolith also provide you with a protective drip tray) and this stops fatty deposits from one cook interfering with the flavour that you want to achieve in your next cook.

Variable Height Set Up

It's not just about direct and indirect heat zones. You can also vary the height of your cooking grates to create subtle differences in cooking temperature within the kamado. Closer to the fire will be hotter than further away (higher up in the kamado).

Accessories & Brand Support

Kamado BBQ grills come in different shapes and sizes so it's important to understand that many accessories are brand specific. The rotisserie is a classic example.

Blaze 20″ Cast Aluminum Kamado BLZ-20-KAMADO

A kamado rotisserie is wedge shaped, thinner at the back and wider at the front so that you can close and cook with the lid closed.

It's not just the diameter and the shape, it's also about the angle of the wedge because different hinge mechanisms create different angles so you can't interchange as you might think.

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