Photo: Tony Carrick for Bob Vila
Patterned after a traditional method of Japanese cooking, ceramic kamado grills are popping up in backyards everywhere. Home chefs revere these charcoal-fueled cookers for their ability to smoke meat slowly until it’s so tender that it falls off the bone. But versatile kamados aren’t one-trick wonders: They can get blazing hot enough to put the perfect sear on a steak and can even create crispy-crusted pizzas.
The best kamado grill for a backyard BBQ lover can be a basic no-frills model or a high-end ceramic grill, sporting features like split grates, oversize locking wheels, and a multipanel firebox. We tested the most popular models to find out firsthand how each one performs, which models live up to their reputations, and which stand out most alongside similarly designed or similarly priced competition.
Read on for our shopping tips, reviews, and recommendations.
- BEST OVERALL: Kamado Joe Classic II Charcoal Grill
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Char-Griller E16620 Akorn Kamado Grill
- BEST UPGRADE: Big Green Egg
- BEST FOR ENTERTAINING: VISION Grills Ceramic Kamado XL Plus
- BEST CART-STYLE: Char-Griller E6520 Akorn Kamado Cart Charcoal Grill
- BEST TABLETOP: Kamado Joe Jr. KJ13RH Charcoal Grill 13.5 inch
- BEST PORTABLE: VISION Grills Ceramic Kamado Compact
- ALSO CONSIDER: Primo Grills and Smokers 773 Kamado Round Grill
Photo: Tony Carrick for Bob Vila
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Kamado Grill
Take some time to learn about the different types of kamado grills, as today’s option run the gamut in terms of weight, heat output, material construction and portability.
Kamado grills are differentiated primarily in core design (style and size). The most commonly available types include freestanding, built-in, tabletop, and portable units.
- Freestanding or cart-style kamado grills usually have a set of sturdy legs to support the egg-shaped grill. The main cooking area is typically split into two half-circle grates that sit at different heights. Cart-style kamado grills come with locking wheels, making it easier to move and reposition the grill on a flat surface. The original Kamado Joe Classic is a prime example of a freestanding kamado grill.
- Built-in kamado grills are semipermanent fixtures typically integrated into an outdoor kitchen. These high-end premium grills for backyard cookouts are constructed and installed with long-lasting materials like brick, concrete, cast iron, tile, and steel.
- Tabletop kamado grills are a good choice for entertaining small groups. Thanks to a heat-resistant base or a set of short legs, a tabletop kamado can sit right at the outdoor dining table or any similar surface, the only drawback being a relatively compact grilling surface.
- Portable kamado grills can range in size from small tabletop options to large freestanding units. In our estimation, in order to be considered portable, a grill must be easy to carry or otherwise offer features that make it simple to move around (locking wheels, for example, or a detachable base).
The classic hallmark of a kamado grill is a ceramic interior that maximizes heat retention, but other materials are involved in kamado construction as well, most commonly plastic and steel.
- Ceramic exteriors are great for high-humidity and rain-prone locations simply because ceramic doesn’t rust. Ceramic also has the benefit of heating up gradually and holding on to heat for a long time. The downside is that ceramic isn’t as durable as stainless steel, and it is susceptible to chipping.
- Steel is a high-durability material typically used on the exterior of a grill, but it may also be used for the grill grates in a kamado. It’s a lightweight and resistant to water, UV radiation, and impact damage. Many higher-quality kamado grills combine stainless steel grates with powdered or painted steel exteriors to help protect the grill from corrosion.
- Plastic, an excellent insulating material and a poor heat conductor, is regularly used to make the parts of the kamado grill that must be cool to the touch—handles and side shelves, for example.
In choosing the best kamado grill for your needs, cooking surface size is one of the most important factors. A smaller grill suitable for cooking 10 to 12 hamburger patties needs at least 250 square inches of cooking surface. A medium to large kamado grill may have 450 to 500 square inches of cooking surface and will hold up to 24 hamburger patties.
Also, note that some kamado grills come with adjustable grates that make it possible to cook a variety of different foods at the same time, simply by lowering or raising the level of the grate.
Heat Output and Control
Heat output is a function of the burning charcoal at the base of the kamado. That means controlling the heat isn’t as simple as turning a knob or pushing a button. Instead, like any charcoal grill, a kamado grills requires the chef to manually control the flow of air. Vents in the hood and chamber can be manually adjusted to allow increased oxygen and airflow into or out of the grill. You can also control the heat by altering the distance between the food and the flames by raising or lowering the charcoal and cooking grates.
Weight and Portability
Kamado grills range from 10-pound portables to extra-large units weighing more than 200 pounds. If mobility around a patio or deck area is desired, all that’s usually needed is a set of wheels.
Some have two stationary feet and two wheels, allowing users to lift one end and move the grill freely. Other products have four locking wheels—no lifting is required. The smallest, lightest-weight grills typically have folding or removable legs, allowing the unit to be picked up and packed for road trips, tailgate parties, and camping.
Manufacturers are increasingly incorporating bells and whistles like the following:
- Built-in thermostats display the current temperature inside the grill. Using this simple reading, grill chefs can raise or lower the heat output so that food is prepared at the desired temperature.
- Warming racks increase the total cooking surface and offer a place to prepare foods that don’t need as much heat, such as buns. The racks also keep cooked food warm until plating and serving.
- Side shelves are an excellent addition to any kamado grill because they provide handy places to put food, grill tools, plates, sauces, and other accessories.
Our Top Picks
The important shopping tips and considerations noted above, including the type, material, heat output, control, and portability, will help determine which of these top models is right for your backyard.
The Kamado Joe Classic II charcoal grill offers 254 inches of cooking area on an 18-inch split grate. This allows users to adjust both sides of the grate to sit higher or lower in the smoker body, to simultaneously prepare foods that cook best at different temps. There’s a helpful temperature gauge, and vents at the bottom and the top of the unit are used to manage airflow and heat. The firebox features a six-panel design to increase cooking efficiency.
The body of the Kamado Joe is made from powder-coated cast aluminum, and the interior is ceramic. It comes with a rolling cast-iron cart that has locking casters and wheels. This 250-pound kamado grill also includes a grill cover and two side shelves with hooks to hang accessories.
Read our full review: Kamado Joe Classic II Charcoal Grill
With the Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Grill, users get 314 square inches of cast-iron cooking grate at a budget-friendly price, plus an extra 133 square inches on the warming rack. The Char-Griller’s egg-shaped body is constructed from 22-gauge, double-wall insulated steel with a powder-coated exterior and a porcelain-coated steel interior.
Near the top of the grill’s hinged lid sits a handy temperature gauge and a vent. A tubular steel cart supports the unit, and rubber wheels and locking casters make it mobile. The cart and grill together weigh in at 90 pounds.
Made of porcelain-glazed ceramic for exceptional durability, the Big Green Egg is air-tight, holding heat for several hours. It includes a stainless steel cooking grate and a built-in temperature gauge that provides precise readings up to 750 degrees. The Big Green Egg comes in seven sizes, from mini to extra, extra-large.
We cooked on the large Big Green Egg, which boasts a cooking area of 262 square inches and weighs in at a whopping 162 pounds. In our testing, we found that this efficient and versatile cooking vessel doesn’t use much charcoal and cooks a variety of foods, from pork ribs to chicken wings, to perfection. Its high price tag, though not ideal, is offset by low, long-term maintenance costs, durable design, and a limited lifetime warranty.
A 724.5-square-inch grilling surface on this VISION model provides ample room to cook for a crowd. The built-in thermometer displays the grill’s internal temperature without needing to lift the lid. This kamado grill weighs 265 pounds, but it sits in a stainless steel cart with four locking wheels to move—and then stay—around the deck or patio.
The VISION kamado grill features two simple, clearly labeled vent controls at the base to make it easier for grilling greenhorns to accurately control the temperature. A top vent is also labeled so that users can adjust the flow of heat accordingly. Shelves on either side add space for tools, cutlery, plates, rubs, and spices.
This standard cart-style grill features two sturdy legs with padded feet and two legs with wheels: Just tip the grill up toward the wheeled end and move it around the patio or deck. With its dual adjustable dampers, this grill provides even heat output and optimal user control over the internal temperature, including labeled settings to help newbies determine ideal vent position for heat output.
This kamado grill has a 314-square-inch cooking surface and weighs 106 pounds. There are two side shelves plus a large under-cart shelf that’s ideal for bags of charcoal or even a small trash receptacle for convenience while grilling.
Made of heavy ceramic, the Kamado Joe Jr. is pretty weighty for a tabletop model at 76 pounds, but it includes a stainless steel stand with carrying handles for easier lifting. It features a circular stainless steel grate with a 143-square-inch grilling surface.
The grill is controlled with a bottom vent for oxygen flow and a top vent to release smoke and heat. It also includes a temperature gauge built into the lid for effective, accurate heat management. Ceramic isn’t susceptible to rusting or water damage, making this tabletop grill a good choice for humid environments, from poolside parties to beach barbecues.
Why give up charcoal grilling when away from home? This VISION kamado grill is compact and easy to transport to sporting events, campsites, and wherever the open road leads, though users must be careful when lifting the 95-pound unit.
Built from powder-coated 22-gauge steel with a ceramic interior, this portable kamado grill offers 214 square inches of grilling surface with two-tier stainless steel cooking grates. The grill comes with carrying handles and built-in steel legs for stability. It can hold in heat as well as larger, heavier kamado grills and features a temperature gauge on the lid.
The Primo Grills and Smokers kamado grill has a 280-square-inch grilling surface of porcelain-coated cast-iron cooking grates. A thick ceramic interior is responsible for the unit’s high level of heat retention.
This model has two adjustable vents for heat and airflow control; the top vent has six different positions, while the bottom vent moves between five positions. Two side shelves hold food, condiments, and other essentials while grilling.
The grill and stand combined weigh 150 pounds, but four lockable wheels on the base of the stand allow the grill to be moved over flat surfaces with ease and then stay in place for cooking.
FAQs About Kamado Grills
Kamado grills offer an excellent way to upgrade your barbecue skills and enhance your outdoor hosting. But if you’re still uncertain about various benefits of these products or how to maintain them, continue reading for answers to some of the most commonly asked questions.
Q. Is a kamado grill a smoker?
Yes, a kamado grill can be used effectively for smoking foods because its thick, insulated body has excellent heat retention. This allows large roasts or cuts of brisket to slow cook over several hours as smoke fills the chamber giving the food that distinctive smoky flavor.
Q. What are the advantages of a kamado grill?
These grills are typically made with ceramic, which has high heat retention. Though ceramic takes a while to heat up, given how charcoal-based grills start, they will hold and radiate heat longer than a standard grill. What’s more, the narrow egg shape reduces airflow on food so that steaks, roasts, and ribs stay moist. Due to the thick, insulated ceramic body, a kamado grill can also be used for smoking food over low temperatures for a long period of time.
Q. What size kamado grill should I buy?
The size and shape of a kamado grill and smoker differ between products, so it’s advised to choose a grill that fits comfortably in your outdoor space and that has a suitable cooking surface to prepare food for your family. For the average user, a kamado grill and smoker with about 250 to 500 square inches of cooking space is ideal.
Q. How do you clean a kamado grill?
Users should perform basic cleaning before and after every use to keep the food tasting great and the grill and smoker working properly. Use a grill brush to remove stuck-on food, sauce, spices, and other burned food items.
Built-up grease and grime can clog air vents, affecting the temperature control of the grill, so it may occasionally be necessary to use grill cleaner and an abrasive scrubbing pad.
Remove each piece from the interior of the grill, including grates, burner protectors, and the entire catch basin at the bottom, and carefully clean it with a grill cleaner before rinsing, drying, and returning it to its position inside the grill.
Q. How long will a kamado grill last?
The average kamado grill will last about 10 years, provided it’s maintained properly and protected with a grill cover when not in use.
Grilling is a great way to enjoy the outdoors while preparing delicious food for family and friends. With several different grill sizes, as well as a variety of grill type choices, there is a kamado grill to suit almost anyone’s lifestyle. They range from simple tabletop grills that can be set up at home or packed up to take camping, to large kamado grills that are great to prepare meals for a crowd.
The best kamado grills may also come with a range of features, like height-adjustable grates, grill covers, and side tables for convenient access to plates, sauces, and grill tools. When shopping, keep in mind such key product factors as portability, heat output, heat control, and cooking surface size to help you find the best kamado grill to enjoy barbecued food at home.