Ceramic Kamado Joe Grill Review

The Kamado Joe grill is a well established brand within the growth market of ceramic barbecues and smokers.

Kamado Joe Grill

Star Rating

★★ - I'm a big ceramic barbecue 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 as an oven. Not to mention that even with all this flexibility I still get the fun of playing with a traditional charcoal fire.

In terms of cooking quality the Kamado Joe is right up there compared to the other top brands (Monolith, Primo & Big Green Egg). 

There's a lot to like about the Kamado Joe grill and I also regard Kamado Joe as the fastest innovator on the block but it has to be said that sometimes that push to be the first has led to some quality concerns.

Kamado Joe has also financially restructured with a cash injection from Dominus Capital which is also involved in the Masterbuilt brand.

The Basics

Kamado Joe is an American brand that since it's inception in 2009 has opened a can of whoopass over what was the market leader Big Green Egg. The Kamado Joe grill is manufactured in China but that doesn't make it a cheap Chinese import. Far from it, the quality of these ceramic grills is generally very good and it fully justifies it's brand position as one of the top four kamado brands globally.

The other ceramic grill 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 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), cheaper components, few accesories, short warranties and are to be avoided.

Note also:- Given the investment tie up with Masterbuilt you'll now find the first generation Kamado Joe Classic re-painted and badged up as a Masterbuilt. Do not however confuse this with the Wild Goose brand which is a generic clone made by Yixing MCD Oven Co Ltd. in China.

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. Recent innovations include the 5 piece firebox (also available with Monolith) which appears to have resolved the problem of the cracked firebox.

The Kamado Joe firebox is split into 5 segments

Splitting the firebox into five discrete pieces allows plenty of room for thermal expansion so minimising the risk of a crack forming. 

I was talking to a BBQ shop owner recently and he said that this new 5 segment design has completely eliminated any requests for replacement fireboxes.

Note:- Whilst Monolith also feature a 5 segment firebox but Primo and Big Green Egg do not.

Sizes

The Kamado Joe grill is available in three sizes and can be compared to the Monolith and Big Green Egg as follows:

  1. Junior - 13 inch cooking grate diameter, directly equivalent to the Monolith Junior and the mini Big Green Egg. Good for singles and couples.
  2. Classic - 18 inch cooking grate diameter, directly equivalent to the Monolith Classic and the large Big Green Egg. (The Primo kamado grill diameter is 18.5 inches). The family size with room to spare.
  3. Big Joe - 23 inch diameter cooking grate, directly equivalent to the Monolith LeChef and similar to the XL Big Green Egg. Ideal size for larger groups and those who love to entertain.

Kamado Joe don't offer an exuivalent to the Big Green Egg MiniMax or Monolith Icon.

The Junior is the most basic model and an excellent entry level into kamado cooking and you'll find many top chefs using this size in their laboratory kitchens. The Kamado Joe junior includes a neat stand (looks a bit like a plant pot stand) that just raises the grill high enough off your outdoor kitchen work surface. Big Green Egg Minimax offers a similar solution whereas Monolith give you 3 options:

  1. The Icon
  2. A Junior standalone on 3 ceramic feet
  3. A Junior in a full blown stand

Upon close scrutiny it's clear that the Kamado Joe Junior is basic and it also lacks accessories compared to both Big Geen Egg and Monolith. That said if you want the most basic of ceramic grills then financially speaking the Junior is worthy of consideration just being a few notes more expensive than the Monolith.

The Kamado Joe Grill Compared To Big Green Egg & Monolith

Since it's launch the Kamado Joe grill has changed significantly. Some great innovations should have prevented Big Green Egg from resting on its laurels but sadly for Big Green Egg, they appear to have rested on them all the same!

An important point to make is that the Kamado Joe grill includes the heat deflector stones in the basic price and these items are essential if you are going to make the most out of the versatility offered by any of the top branded ceramic grills. The heat deflector stone is what transforms your ceramic barbecue into a convection oven and therefore allows you to hot smoke, roast, bake and cook pizza.

It's a single heat deflector stone in the Junior and split into two half moon stones in the Classic and Big Joe which allows your the opportunity to cook with both direct heat and indirect (convection) heat at the same time. 

This half moon set up has been a key innovation and beautifully branded "Divide & Conquer" by Kamado Joe and continues to grow with a series of half moon accessories to buy into. That said, Monolith have caught up (and overtaken them) with their Pro Series 1.0 Smart Grid System.

Note: Big Green Egg don't have a name for this system because they don't do it. They have a single solid stone self proclaimed "convEGGtor" which gives all the same versatility in cooking styles but doesn't give you that flexibility to do both at the same time. Moreover the convEGGtor is available at extra cost whereas it's included with both the Monolith and Kamado Joe grills.

This split heat deflector stone used to be the exclusive feature of the Primo Oval and for me the single biggest reason why I've always been positive about Primo. Now that Monolith and Kamado Joe have innovated with the split heat deflector stones in a round kamado I have to say that it makes me question why I'd want to buy an oval given the significant extra expense.

Internal cooking grates are top quality type 304 stainless steel yet the outer components are just painted steel which eventually will rust.

Painted steel banding on a kamado grillThis kamado is 10 years old

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 use stainless steel banding on the Pro Joe but the £4000 price tage puts this model out of the reach of most.

The Kamado Joe grill comes in a very distinctive bright red colour which you will either love of hate.

Kamado Joe Ash Pan

The ash pan 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.

One innovation I don't like is the move away from wooden side shelves to HDPE and in tests I found that placing a hot wok caused marks to form yet there was no effect on the wooden shelves on either the Big Green Egg or the Monolith.

Kamado Joe versus Monolith ClassicKamado Joe and Monolith Classics side by side

Kamado Joe Classic II & III

Whilst the original Classic still remains on the market in Europe (and is also now re-branded as a Masterbuilt), the Classic Kamado Joe grill has spawned two premium priced siblings named the Classic II and Classic III.

There are two significant changes over the regular Kamado Joe grill and the first of these is a move away from the cast iron daisy wheel to an aluminium rain cap which they call the Kontrol Tower.

Kamado Joe Rain Cap

The argument is that the old daisy wheel could move when you open the lid so affecting air flow and certainly I found that I could lift the lid a number of times and the aperture didn't change.

The next point is that the new Kontrol Tower prevents vertical rain droping into the food chamber. This proved more difiicult to test because we don't get much vertical rain where I live. That said my tests did highlight moisture droplets condensing on the underside of the cap and dripping back down leaving black tarry deposits on my food... and this happens whatever the weather.  

The second innovation is an air hinge for the mid sized Classic and larger Big Joe. In theory you can leave the lid open at any number of positions which looks, feels and sounds great when you first experience it but (particularly with the Classic) I was left wondering whether it was a bit of a gimmick because whenever I use a ceramic grill it's either with the lid fully open or fully closed.

That said, I can see how it eases the lifting of the Big Joe lid but even spring hinge on the Big Joe is as light as a feather compared to the Primo Ceramic Grill where lifting the lid is close on a full upper body workout.

The Kamado Joe air hinge however takes a different mechanical approach which I think adds unnecessary complexity...

Kamado Joe Counterbalance Hinge

Because the air 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 then I wouldn't have temperature control of because I wouldn't have achieved that all important air seal.

Kamado Joe Front Catch

One last point to make is that you can't use the catch when using the rotisserie so you can't actually create a seal at all.

Note: Upon testing two Classic II Kamado Joe grills recently I found that the lid didn't stay in position on the first. Whilst annoying, it's a reasonably simple fix by opening the lid and looking at the hinge from inside. You'll see a screw thread centrally located and you just need to turn the nut to the right to give the hinge more tension. My understanding from other users is that this adjustment needs to be made on a reasonably regular basis.

Kamado Joe Counterbalance Hinge And New Gasket

The second Kamado Joe grill that I inspected suffered from the exact same problem that I mentioned earlier... which is worrying.

To be honest I think that Kamado Joe have solved a problem that doesn't exist but 10 out of 10 for marketing. 

Gasket

I remember when I bought my first ceramic grill (a Big Green Egg) that I replaced the gasket evey couple of years - no big deal but as you'll see in this article but clearly there is a replacement cost. So when I first saw the new gasket on the Kamado Joe grill I thought that this replacement cost had been minimised (by increased durability) or maybe even eliminated altogether.

Sadly this didn't prove to be the case because my gasket de-laminated after a couple of high temperature cooks. I've seen it happen to other Kamado Joe grills so whilst the gasket itself performs well, it's back to the drawing board as far as the adhesive is concerned.

The problem with the Kamado Joe gasket is that it comes unstuck at higher temperaturesThe gasket is pulls away from the ceramic base at high temperatures

You can see on the photograph above how the gasket has come away from the base and this was through a couple of  heat cycles.

Classic III

I have to confess that I've only seen it from afar and not yet been able to get my hands on one.

The key innovations are:

  • A new 3 tier Divide and Conquer system - a similar but contrasting approach to the Monolith 3 tier Smart Grid System
  • A deeper body
  • A new cart with handy under shelf - the kamado sits quite high in it so I hope its as good as the old cart for manouevrability.
  • Aluminium side shelves - YES! I really don't like the plastic shelves on the Classic I and Classic II
  • Hyperbolic insert to the smoke chamber - this remains a mystery to me. I've never had a problem getting enough smokey flavour into my food but then I don't like it too smokey so maybe I'm missing something?
  • Charcoal basket - another YES!

The 3 tier divide and conquer system seats each of the half moon grills at different height options on three support columns. On close inspection I found it a little fiddly and it was easy for a grill to come loose from one of the columns and then fall down into the kamado - not great if loaded with food.

And whilst I liked the detachable aluminium shelves they don't fold down which could be an issue if you're space limited for storage.

The Classic III costs a good chunk more than the Classic II (about £500 more) and for similar money but different funtionality it's worth check out the Monolith Classic Pro BBQ Guru Edition.

Pellet Joe

Kamado Joe have now introduced a pellet feed into the ceramic shell to create a "set and forget" kamado grill.

Kamado Joe Pellet Grill

You get all the defining features of a regular Kamado Joe grill such as the top vent cap, air hinge, front catch and plastic shelves but look closely at the front and you'll see a 3.6Kg capacity wood pellet hopper.

Look at the gasket and you'll also see that Kamado Joe have gone for a smooth surface to the rim of the base and a single mesh gasket to the lid - just like the Monolith Icon. Maybe a sign of things to come?

As you'd expect with a wood pellet grill, you get a dial control and the wifi capability so you can control your cook from a tablet or phone.

Inside the ceramic shell you'll find pretty standard wood pellet technology; hopper, auger and fire pot.

There's a circular baffle plate that sits between the fire pot and the cooking grate.

Cooking Area Inside The Pellet Joe

Overall it looks like a nice piece of kit but there's still one question for which I can't fathom the answer...why?

  • You're not getting improved functionality over a regular pellet grill so why spend a load more money for significantly less cooking space?
  • You can't interchange pellets for one cook and charcoal for the next, it's a pellet grill and that's all.

Maybe the excellent insulation properties of ceramics mean you burn less pellets but even so you're going to have to do an awful lot of cooking to recoup the signicantly higher initial purchase price of the Kamado Pellet Joe compared to a Traeger.

Or maybe the Kamado Joe marketing department believe we're dumb enough to think that we'll all become better BBQ chefs with more technology? C'mon guys...who are you trying to kid?

Is The Kamado Joe Grill Value For Money?

With so many different models and price brackets these days it's easy to get confused.

The table below compares the cost to buy the large / classic family sized ceramic grill from each of the top 3 brands which I think sends out a clear message in terms of value for money...it's a choice between the Kamado Joe grill and the Monolith Ceramic grill.

It also begs the question why any sane person would spend more money to buy a Big Green Egg that has less features and benefits.

Feature

Big Green Egg (large)

Monolith Classic Pro Series

Kamado Joe Classic II

Basic Price

£995

£1,245

£1,399

Stand

£250

Included

Included

Side Shelves

£150 (Mahogany)

  Included    (bamboo & stainless steel)

   Included    (HDPE plastic)

Heat Deflector Stone

£70 (one piece)

Included (2 pieces)

Included (2 pieces)

Total Cost



BGE

£1,530


Monolith

£1,245


Kamado Joe

£1,399


Grill Grate Gripper

Not Available

Included

Included

Charcoal Basket

Not Available

Included (with divider)

£75

Ash Pan

£30

Included

Included

Hinge

Traditional spring

Traditional spring stainless steel

Air lift with lid catch

Smoke Chip Feeder

Not Available

Included

Not Available

Stainless Steel Hinge And Banding

Not Available

Included

Not Available

Colour

Green

Black or Brick Red

Red

Warranty

Limited Lifetime

Limited Lifetime

Limited Lifetime

Prices will clearly differ store to store but I hope that gives a flavour. To break it out by budget (and in no particular order):-

£600 - £800

  • Kamado Joe Classic
  • Monolith Classic Basic
  • Primo Round
  • Masterbuilt Classic

£1,250 - £1,400

  • Kamado Joe Classic II
  • Monolith Classic Pro Series 1.0

£1,500 - £1,750

  • Kamado Joe Classic III
  • Monolith Classic Pro Series 1.0 BBQ Guru Edition with DigiQ DX2
  • Kamado Joe "Big Joe"
  • Monolith Classic Pro Series 1.0 BBQ Guru Edition with Cyber Q Cloud
  • Monolith Le Chef
  • Big Green Egg Large

Accessories

The Kamado Joe grill range of accessories covers what I would call the bare essentials but after that there are few extras to invest in.

Full credit in that they were first to market with a rotisserie (but again, the Monolith rotisserie with handle and multi-skewer option has overtaken it) and the core range is quite flexible in that everything is shaped "half moon" so that you can always have two different cooking surfaces simultaneously available (cast iron grill grate, plancha and soap stone).

There are other core basics like a pizza stone, 2nd tier cooking grate, dutch oven and wok but after that I find the range lacking compared with Monolith or Big Green Egg. There isn't a table or buggy option, you just have to go with the basic stand and the range of utensils is limited.

Innovation

As I said at the top, Kamado Joe has been first to the table with a lot of fantastic innovations, some however needing a little refinement. New for 2018 was the I-Kamand which fell flat on its face. It is best described as a KJ branded BBQ Guru specifically for the Kamado Joe grill but they were plagued with problems. We're now seeing the second generation release so I hope that they've got it right this time.

Whether it's a match for (or superior to) the BBQ Guru is probably open to argument and your brand loyalty but what it clearly does is continue to put a country mile between the Monolith BBQ Guru Edition and the Kamado Joe grill versus Big Green Egg and Primo

An interesting innovation is the DoJoe. New for 2019 this is a wedge shaped accessory similar to the rotisserie (although this time they have put a catch on the front to help you keep the lid down) which contains your heat deflector stones and pizza stone so that you can make pizza without having to lift the lid.

While ceramic grills can cook pizza admirably you have to accept that after the fifth consecutive pizza you may need to leave it 5 minutes to heat back up because you do indeed lose some heat every time that you lift the lid. The DoJoe claims to cook pizza after pizza without pause for breath but the £295 price tag (for the Classic) seems a little steep for what appears to be just a small improvement in performance.

Verdict

There's no doubt in my mind that the Kamado Joe grill is a cracking piece of kit and it's justifiably up there with the better brands in terms of ceramic quality, warranty and range of accessories. It also knocks Big Green Egg into a cocked hat in terms of value for money.

My question mark is over the latest innovations and whether they have been tested to destruction prior to launch and whether the Masterbuilt investment will be a help or hinderance to product development and quality.

Also look at: Monolith

Where To Buy A Kamado Joe Grill

Kamado Joe sell through a network of distributors and you can also buy now from Amazon - just click on the buttons below.

Note: If you buy a Kamado Joe grill using the buttons below then I get a commision. It makes no difference to the price you pay but it makes a welcome contribution to the running of this website and I thank you heartily.

Click here to buy a Kamado Joe Classic Grill

For international readers you too can buy direct from Kamado Joe through Amazon, use this link below:

Click here to buy a Kamado Joe from Amazon

Further Information:

You can get full up to date product specifications on the Kamado Joe website.

Related Pages:-

Kamado Cooking Recipes
Changing A Kamado Felt Gasket
Monolith Kamado Barbecues
Grill Dome Kamado
Primo Kamado
Dragon Fire Kamado
Big Green Egg
Bubba Keg Convection Grill
Write Your Own Equipment Review

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