Monolith Kamado Barbecue Smokers & Grills 2017 Review

Monolith kamado barbecue smokers and grills are now well established on the European scene but how well do they compare versus Kamado Joe, Big Green Egg or Primo?

Monolith kamado barbecue range of three sizesThe Monolith kamado grill range consists of 3 sizes

Background

The Monolith kamado barbecue is a German brand of a Chinese manufactured product and whilst I'd like to see a product manufactured closer to home, it's not going to happen. There are no ceramic manufacturers in Western Europe prepared to invest in tooling so going forward, low cost country sourcing is the only way to get ceramic kamados to the masses at reasonable cost.

And Monolith aren't the only ones doing this:

Big Green Egg is manufactured in Mexico and is available for sale in North America, UK & Europe.

Grill Dome is manufactured in India and is marketed only in America. (Their support for the UK & European market just isn't there).

Kamado Joe is made in China and is sold in USA & UK

Out of all of the well established brands only Primo is still made in a "developed" country (USA).

Monolith Features

There are small differences in the performance of ceramics but overall my conclusion is that whichever of the top brand kamado grills you buy, performance is similar.

You're still going to get everything that a kamado offers:-

  1. The quality of the cooking. Heat and moisture retention differentiate a kamado from any other type of barbecue. A kamado makes it difficult to cook anything other than a supremely succulent juicy food.
  2. Safety - The surface doesn’t get as hot as a traditional barbecue (but it does still get hot) and the fire contained in a small area.
  3. The exterior is treated with a baked on glaze and it looks good year in year out whatever the weather. Most kamados have long warranties on the ceramics.
  4. A 20 minute high temperature burn and your kamado is clear for food debris, no elbow grease required.
  5. When making pizza you get that “brick oven” flavour and crisp crust.

Your choice of which kamado to buy revolves around the features, innovation, the bundle of extras and of course the price. Monolith scores well in all of these areas.

I've long been a fan of the Primo XL oval grill because of it's shape and split heat deflector that means you can cook both directly and indirectly at the same time - a handy feature when grilling steaks and grilled hamburgers.

The Primo advantage has now definitely been lost as Monolith (and Kamado Joe) are now offering a split heat deflector stone but Monolith are the only brand to take this one step further by including a charcoal basket with divider in the standard offering. A lower price point versus Primo makes Monolith the winner.

The split heat deflector stone offers 2 zone cooking capability
  • 2nd level cooking grate
  • Cooking grate lifting tool
  • Split heat deflector stone (Classic & LeChef)
  • Charcoal basket (divider in Classic & LeChef)
  • Pizza stone (Classic & LeChef)
  • Unique smoking chips feeder system

You have to have the heat deflector stone otherwise you're buying a bloomin' expensive grill with only half the claimed versatility so why Big Green Egg still insist on pricing this separately I really don't know. Kamado Joe also include the split heat deflector stone in the base price but only Monolith offer the complete package with heat deflector stones and pizza stone as standard (Classic & LeChef).

The heat deflector stone and 2nd tier cooking rack are included with the Monolith Junior but not the pizza stoneThe heat deflector stone and 2nd tier cooking rack are included with the Monolith Junior but not the pizza stone

Innovation

The Monolith kamado barbecue is fantastic at retaining heat and supremely economical on fuel. Add to that the ease with which you can control temperature makes these dudes the perfect home smoker.

In the past when doing a long smoking session with my kamado, the one pain in the bum has been when I've needed to replenish the wood chips to get more smoke.

  • Lift the lid (and lose the heat)
  • Remove the cooking grate and food
  • Lift out the heat deflector and throw on the wood chips
  • Put everything back (with smoke in your eyes)
  • Reset the dampers to get the heat back and then adjust to stabilize

Overall it's quite a performance and the Monolith kamado barbecue guys have come up with their smoke chip feeder system innovation.

It's a hinged peephole in the side of the kamado, below the heat deflector and above the firebox. All you do is slide a metal chute into the peephole and pour smoke pellets onto the fire. It's simple and effective.

You're not tied into using Monolith smoke pellets but that said the price and variety of Monolith pellets available is pretty good.

Note: The stopper on the Junior is still a friction fit (rather than hinged) which Monolith say is "for the time being".

The Charcoal Basket

Temperature stability in any charcoal grill or smoker (with a lid) is done by controlling the airflow. Older and cheaper kamados use either a cast iron fire grate or perforations in the ceramic firebox but the holes (inserted to allow airflow) are all too readily blocked up with ash and debris.

Monolith has overcome this problem by inserting a charcoal basket in the firebox that significantly improves airflow and therefore gives you complete thermal control.

Moreover, the basket comes with a divider giving you greater control over two zone cooking and supreme fuel economy if you are cooking for a small number and just want to use half the grill.

Note: The charcoal basket is not standard in the Junior but is available as an extra. Monolith tell me that this is to help maintain a competitive price point but having experienced how well the charcoal basket aids airflow I think I'd be prepared to pay extra and have it as standard.

Build Quality

I had seen an orange coloured junior kamado in a local department store branded "Berghoff" (made by the Auplex company in China) which had the most flimsy hinge mechanism for the lid. It wasn't supported by springs and I could foresee a broken lid in no time and it had occurred to me that the "Junior" Monolith might share this same hinge.

I'm pleased to say that my fears were unfounded. The Monolith "Junior" sets the standard and shares a stainless steel hinge mechanism the same as "Classic" & "Le Chef" units.

Monolith ceramic grill stainless steel hinge mechanism

I was impressed with the steel cart which was easy to assemble and provides a stable centre of gravity. Good quality locking casters made for easy manoeuvrability around the garden.

The quality of the ceramic and coating are up to the standard that you'd expect. The test unit was a black one and it looked "at home" in the garden (sorry Monolith, I don't like the red option).

I happy to report also that the top vent is a good heavy cast iron.

Stainless Steel Banding And Hinge

The Monolith kamado barbecue is the only one of the top 4 brands to use a stainless steel hinge and banding. Not only does it look better when new, it also looks great year in year out because stainless steel (unlike the painted steel banding on the other brands) does not rust.

I saw on the Big Green Egg website a piece about the lower thermal expansion of mild steel versus stainless - their argument being that when you heat up the kamado, stainless steel will expand more than mild steel and you risk the lid coming loose from the banding. Well when someone makes that claim, you have to work it out don't you?

Yes it's true that the thermal expansion coefficients of regular steel and stainless steel are different:

  • Regular steel = 0.000012 m/m°C
  • Type 304 stainless steel = 0.00173 m/m°C

I then calculated the circumference of the Classic (most popular size equivalent Big Green Egg large) to determine the length of banding used which is 1690mm

The next step was to measure the temperature of the banding, I cranked up both a Big Green Egg and a Monolith kamado barbecue to 400°C (750°F) internal temperature and found that the temperature of the banding stabilised at 90°C (194°F)

Finally I used a linear thermal expansion calculator to determine the change in length of both regular steel and mild steel through a temperature change from 15°C (59°F) to 90°C (194°F) and here's what I found:-

  • Mild steel expands from 1690mm to 1691.5mm
  • Type 304 stainless steel expands from 1690mm to 1692.2mm
  • Difference = 0.7mm (1/40 inch)

I fail to see how Big Green Egg can justify using this negligible difference to justify using cheaper components that will inevitably rust.

Big Green Egg versus Monolith kamado barbecueTaken from an 8 year old Big Green Egg

Note: Kamado Joe offer an option for stainless steel hinge and banding but this is an extra cost option.

Negatives To The Monolith Kamado Barbecue

There's no ceramic snuffer cap. It's a "nice to have" so consider this a gripe I have with all manufacturers with the exception of Big Green Egg. The snuffer cap immediately kills the fire when you've finished cooking and because it sits where the daisy wheel top damper is, you're forced to take the daisy wheel off and that protects it from the elements.

That said, it's cheaper to by the cover for the Monolith ceramic grill than spend hundreds more on a Big Green Egg just for the snuffer cap.

In addition, having done a number of cooks on the Monolith, once the dampers are closed at the end of the cookout, the fire extinguishes swiftly and leftover charcoal can be left for another day.

The Monolith teakwood table has a galvanised steel frame.

My other gripe is that I don't like the galvanised steel frame of the table for the Classic. I accept that galvanized steel doesn't rust but stainless steel just looks so much better.

In addition there are two wheels at one end rather than a full set of casters which although being well built and practical it fails to differentiate itself  from the standard "wheelbarrow style" of cheap barbecue grill carts.

Yes the cost is £250 lower than the equivalent Big Green Egg but when you're spending over £1,250 on a barbecue you want it to look the part. Thankfully Monolith also offer the buggy which does have a stainless steel frame and this makes much more sense.

The Monolith ceramic grill in the stainless steel framed buggy with folding side shelfThe Monolith kamado barbecue & stainless steel framed buggy with folding side shelf

The New 2017 Monolith Kamado Barbecue

You can tell that the Monolith kamado barbecue grill is a serious competitor in the ceramic market by the commitment to continuous improvement and and new accessories.

Key upgrades for 2017 include:-

  • A new thicker gasket making it significantly more durable than the existing one
  • A revised material design for the firebox for improved thermal integrity
  • Upgraded covers to UVP50 rating

In addition the range of accessories has increased:

Rotisserie (Classic)

Monolith rotisserie with large spit roast
Monolith rotisserie with 7 rotating kebab skewers
Monolith rotisserie skewers are available at extra cost

The Monolith rotisserie sits on the ceramic wall of the base and thanks to it's angled profile allows for the lid to snugly close on top of it. Furthermore there are options for one single large spit (included with the kit) or seven individual kebab skewers (extra) which all turn at the same time.

The Monolith rotisserie is available only for the Classic at present.

Note: Kamado Joe is the only other kamado brand to offer a rotisserie. On a positive note the "Joetisserie" is available for both the Classic and Big Joe however there's no option to use kebab skewers.

There is no rotisserie option offered either by Big Green Egg or Primo.

Wok Stand (Classic & LeChef)

New Monolith stainless steel wok stand

Place the stainless steel wok stand directly on top of the fire ring. The design of the wok stand directs the concentrated heat to where it is needed, directly to the base of the wok.

The wok fits securely inside the stand, and the shield provides added
protection against flames and heat.

When you consider the range of accessories that add versatility to your outdoor cooking experience I think this puts Monolith and Kamado Joe into a league of their own, but which is best?

Accessories Rack (Classic With Cart Only)

Monolith Accessories FrameThe Monolith accessories rack sits neatly under the Classic cart providing a neat storage solution for your utensils and more.
Demonstrating how the Monolith accessories rack is placed under the Classic cart

The new stainless steel accessories rack is simply attached to the Monolith cart giving you ample storage space for your grids, deflector & pizza stones, as well as cast iron grid or wok stand.

Your accessories can be stowed away quickly and easily yet there is still enough space to fold away the side tables.

Suitable for the Monolith Classic with black cart and side shelves. This accessory is exclusive to Monolith.

Cooking Grate Lift (Classic)

Monolith grill grate lift is only available for the Classic

With the stainless steel grid lift you can elevate your grill grid another
12 cm so that it will align with the top edge of the ceramic unit making handling the food more convenient.

This set up gives you more space between the hot charcoal and grilling grid and can be used for both direct and indirect grilling. Also giving you the option of using a larger dripping pan. The grid lift and the 2nd level grid cannot be used simultaneously.

Only available for the Classic.

Drinks Coolers

17 litre portable Monolith cool box17 litre portable Monolith cool box
50 litre Monolith cool box50 litre Monolith cool box

There are two cooler boxes to choose from and whilst neither add technical merit to the Monolith ceramic grill, I'm not going to deny that a cold beer doesn't help a little!

The 17  litre double-walled, painted steel / aluminium cooler box is designed for portability. Add ice and your ingredients and drinks remain chilled for hours. The carry handle secures the lid.

The larger 50 litre cool box is made of hardwood and has insulated plastic internal walls. By adding ice, Monolith claim that meat, ingredients and drinks remain chilled for up to 48 hours! There are carry handles to aid moving it around and a fold away side table to land stuff on when you take it out of the box. For easy cleaning there's a drain plug too.

Delivery & Unpacking

I was pleased when my Monolith Junior arrived for testing. It was well packaged on a small pallet with good padding to minimise the risk of damage.

The driver of the vehicle used a pump truck to deposit it in my driveway but from there it was up to me.

Monolith deliver your ceramic grill on a pallet

Cut the banding and you're in. You can lift the sides of the box to reveal the Monolith kamado barbecue in situ and I was pleased to note that the lid was already attached so immediately I knew that this assembly was going to take significantly less time than the Big Green Egg.

The Monolith kamado stand ready for unpackingThe stand for the Monolith kamado barbecue is easy to erect.

Even the stand is well designed and easy to set up. The complete set up took me about 45 minutes and frankly that could have been significantly less if I could have got the protective film off the cradle above!

The legs simply screw into position, just remember to put these decorative caps onto the top ends of the leg before attaching the legs to the cradle.

Fixings for the Monolith kamado stand

Instructions? Well not much to go on really but then it was pretty intuitive.

Verdict

There are a number of kamado brands on the market which is good for raising the profile of kamado cooking in the UK. Only the German Monolith kamado barbecue brand however has taken this traditional 3000 year old design to the highest level.

1.   Value for money

So versatile is the kamado that it’s probably the only piece of outdoor cooking equipment that you will ever need to buy…and it will last a lifetime! But in order to grill, smoke & bake you need the complete set of components.

Other brands offer just the basic shell and then charge extra for the cart and internal components. Monolith however offer the complete bundle including the heat deflector stone, 2nd tier cooking grate, smoke chip feeder system, grill grate lifter, charcoal basket and pizza stone.

With the Classic RRP at £995 you can buy Monolith safe in the knowledge that you are going to get maximum BBQ & smoker enjoyment from day one.

2.   German quality design

Hat's off to them and it’s not just the ceramic. All aspects of the Monolith kamado barbecue speak "quality":

  • All internal and external metalwork on the Monolith kamado is stainless steel – it will look good year after year.
  • The wide range of accessories has been designed for longevity using stainless steel and teak wood.
  • The painted steel cart is robust and stable thanks to the three legged design. Locking casters to two of the three legs offers greater security over uneven terrain.

 3.   Technical innovation

  • Monolith’s unique smoke chip feeder system not only makes topping up on smoke flavour a breeze during a long cookout, it also makes for precise & consistent flavour control every time you repeat a recipe.
  • The split heat deflector stone and charcoal basket divider (Classic & LeChef) deliver true 2 zone cooking capability and supreme temperature control. Grill on one half and bake on the other.
  • The stainless steel framed buggy (Classic & LeChef) delivers ultimate all terrain capability so you really can move your barbecue wherever you like. 
  • The new wok stand and rotisserie units add even more versatility to kamado cooking. 

Pound for pound, the Monolith ceramic grill delivers greater creative outdoor cooking options for less money versus Kamado Joe, Big Green Egg or Primo. Now that the "essential extras" such as the pizza stone are included in the basic price it makes it easier to see a clear difference in value for money.

So long as the price remains competitive it would appear that the Monolith kamado barbecue grill will be the 2017 ceramic grill of choice.

Where Can You Buy A Monolith Kamado Barbecue?

Type your post code into the dealer locator page on the Monolith website and the retailer nearest you will appear!

You can also get hold of the UK importer via the Facebook page.

North America

2017 sees the launch of Monolith in the USA and the bundle on offer comes complete with BBQ Guru automated temperature control. For more information go to the USA Monolith website.

See Also:-

Primo Kamado UK
Big Green Egg
Kamado Joe
Grill Dome

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