The Kamado Joe grill is a well established brand within the growth market of ceramic barbecues and smokers.
I'm a big kamado fan. I've been cooking on one for many years now (all year round) and I still marvel at how easy it is to control the temperature when smoking, how fast it is to heat up ready for grilling and how versatile it is even as an oven. Not to mention that even with all this flexibility I still get the fun of playing with a traditional charcoal fire.
Being a big fan of Italian and Indian food I like to use my Kamado like a pizza oven or a tandoor and this means that I've got to be able to get it up to really high temperatures. Kamado Joe claim that in their tests they have outperformed their competitors in this area so maybe this is what I need to perfect the pizza?
Kamado Joe is an American brand that is manufactured in China but that doesn't make it a cheap Chinese import. Far from it, the quality of these ceramic grills is excellent and fully justifies it's brand position as one of the top four kamado brands globally (the others being Big Green Egg, Monolith & Primo).
The other kamado brands (with the exception of USA built Primo) are manufactured in low cost countries. Monolith also in China and Big Green Egg in Mexico.
Note:- There are sadly a lot of "cheap Chinese imports" of lower quality entering the market. These brands are mostly made in one factory in China and are easily recognized by a lid shock absorber at the front by the handle. My experience is that these generally tend to have weaker hinges (detectable by the amount of lateral travel) and are to be avoided.
Back to the Kamado Joe grill; from a ceramic perspective, the basic components are the same as any other recognized brand in that there is a base and a lid, internally there is a ceramic firebox and sitting on top of that is the ceramic fire ring. These internal components include a small expansion gap designed to prevent cracking during the heat up and cool down.
Internal cooking grates are top quality type 304 stainless steel yet the outer components are sadly just painted steel which eventually will rust.
Let's be clear, painted steel banding is fit for purpose, it certainly will meet the warranty claim but 10 years down the line it won't look so as good as it did on day one. When you think that a ceramic grill is a purchase for life then I'd prefer (more expensive) stainless steel. Admittedly, Kamado Joe do provide a more expensive option for stainless steel but why can't it be standard?
The Kamado Joe grill now comes in just the one brick red colour which you will either love of hate.
Since it's launch the Kamado Joe grill has changed significantly. Some great innovations have prevented Big Green Egg from resting on its laurels too much and caused them to wake up and smell the coffee.
The "divide and conquer" split heat deflector stone is a classic example as this gives you the ability to do 2 zone cooking (indirect on one side and direct on the other). In the past, this 2 half deflector stone system had been the preserve of the Primo oval and helped justify its hefty price tag but the Kamado Joe "divide and conquer" has brought 2 zone cooking to the mainstream kamado users.
Note:- Monolith now include a split deflector stone in their offering together with a charcoal basket and divider. Big Green Egg still have not made the change and I can't understand why.
The other thing that is unique to Kamado Joe is the ash pan. This is a neat idea, the firebox is tapered to channel ash into an ash pan in the bottom which you can easily remove and empty. You must however remember to empty it after each cook and note that it doesn't capture any ash that drops between the firebox and the base.
One innovation I don't like is the move away from wooden side shelves to HDPE, from a distance they look good but they don't feel the same. I guess it's been done to control cost and maintain the competitive price point and the same applies to the the stand which looks like a plant pot stand. There's no denying that the price point is competitive but is it a step too far?
There are two significant changes to the Kamado Joe grill for 2017 and the first of these is a move away from the cast iron daisy wheel to an aluminium rain cap.
The argument is that the old daisy wheel would allow moisture ingress if used when raining whereas the rain cap prevents this...well at least it will if the rain is vertical. It still has a graduated aperture so I'm sure it will work nicely and there's no doubt that it eliminates the Big Green Egg argument for a snuffer cap not to mention providing Kamado Joe with a great branding opportunity. On first sight it does look a bit ugly but I'm sure I'll get used to it.
The second innovation I'm less convinced about and that is the counterbalance hinge for the mid sized Classic and larger Big Joe. First impressions are WOW, you can lift the lid with your little finger! But then I took a closer look and I have to say that I'm not sure how this one is going to pan out.
Take the tried and tested approach that we've seen on many a kamado for years and we have a heavy lid with a felt gasket which creates a robust air seal. But the new Kamado Joe counterbalance hinge takes a different mechanical approach.
Because the counterbalance hinge takes little effort to lift and close, it doesn't have the weight of the lid behind it to create the necessary air seal between the lid and the base.
Kamado Joe have effectively reversed the mechanics by making the gasket thicker and giving it a more spongy texture.
You then seal the lid by pushing down and snapping a catch at the front of the kamado. It all sounds fine but I found an immediate problem.
The new thicker spongy gasket didn't have enough "give" in it and I couldn't close the front catch so I couldn't create an effective air seal between the base and the lid. If this had been a real fire situation there would no doubt have been smoke billowing through the gasket and I wouldn't have achieved that all important air seal that gives a kamado it's unique benefit of less evaporation of moisture from the food.
My immediate thought was that this would maybe ease in with a bit of use but that then made me wonder what happens as the gasket gradually softens and gets thinner (as they do with time), does that mean I'll have a gap all the time between the lid and the base because there's no mechanical weight in the lid?
Have Kamado Joe solved a problem that didn't really exist? I'm just not sure whether this innovation is a good thing and moreover a necessary thing.
One final point to make is that these innovations for 2017 aren't without cost and my understanding is that the KJ guys have been clear that the price tag will be higher although not specific about by how much.
The Kamado Joe grill isn't the cheapest on the market but it certainly isn't the most expensive.
Quality, innovation and a good range of accessories justifiably keeps this brand streets ahead of the low cost end of the market yet it still remains at a price point significantly below Big Green Egg and Primo. For me the only decision to make is between Kamado Joe and Monolith.
Certainly the old model performed extremely well versus the competition. The 2017 innovations still leave some unanswered questions in my mind so if I were choosing to buy a KJ I'd buy now whilst I can still get a 2016 model knowing that it already has a solid reputation. I hope that my 2017 concerns prove unfounded.
Note: The guys at Kamado Joe have been in touch and promised to send me a 2017 model to road test when available. Once I've put it through its paces I'll update this page again so make a note to visit my website soon.
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The European distributor for the Kamado Joe grill is Grakka Ltd. This company is based in the UK and you can find out more through the Kamado Joe UK website.
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