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.
The Kamado Joe grill is available in three sizes:
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 all or nothing, a standalone system on 3 ceramic feet or a full blown stand so that you don't need to place your Junior on a work top.
When it comes to the Classic and Big Joe then there are some significant changes to the Kamado Joe grill this year. I'll cover these later but first let's walk through those features that are standard to all Joes.
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.
Most importantly, the Kamado Joe Grill includes the heat deflector stones in the basic price which 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. Kamado Joe have coined the phrase "divide and conquer" for this split deflector stone whereas the pragmatic German Monolith describe it as a split heat deflector stone (yawn).
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.
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 so 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 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.
Back to the good things unique to Kamado Joe and here 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?
In addition, when the rotisserie is inserted, how do you create a mechanical seal between the lid and the base?
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. It would appear that KJ aren't convinced either because they've now announced the continuation of the old Classic to run alongside this new one.
One final point to make is that these innovations for 2017 aren't without cost and it's now clear that the KJ guys have put the price up much closer to the Big Green Egg.
The Kamado Joe grill has always been price pointed competitively. Quality, innovation and a good range of accessories justifiably keeps this brand up in the top 4 and streets ahead of the low cost end of the market. Certainly the old model performed extremely well versus the competition.
The 2017 innovations still leave some unanswered questions in my mind but the big shock is the increase in RRP which is now £1,250 making it a "premium priced" brand but can it compete head on with the Big Green Egg marketing machine?
Based on the solid quality and value bundle my 2017 best kamado grill of the year is the Monolith but if you do want to buy a Kamado Joe grill then don't hang around, you can still pick up the (discounted) old design on Amazon.
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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Changing A Kamado Felt Gasket
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Big Green Egg
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