Ceramic Kamado Joe Grill Review 2018

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 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.

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

The Basics

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 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) 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. Recent innovations include the 5 piece 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. 

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.

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.

Upon close scrutiny it's clear that the Kamado Joe Junior is basic, it doesn't come with any of the Monolith refinements (charcoal basket and smoke pellet feed) 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.

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.

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 they've rested on them all the same!.

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. 

This half moon set up has been beautifully branded "Divide & Conquer" by Kamado Joe and continues to grow with a series of half moon accessories to buy into.

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!

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.

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 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.

Kamado Joe Ash Pan

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 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?

The image below helps make the Kamado Joe / Monolith comparison.

Kamado Joe versus Monolith Classic

Kamado Joe Classic II

Whilst the original Classic still remains on the market, the Classic Kamado Joe grill has spawned a premium priced brother named the Classic II and frankly I remain to be convinced why I'd want to part with the extra £300 and buy this second generation model.

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.

Kamado Joe Rain Cap

The argument is that the old daisy wheel would allow moisture ingress if used when raining whereas the rain cap prevents this, my tests however show that whilst it does keep vertically falling rain out, it's also allows moisture droplets to condense on the underside of the cap and drip back down leaving black tarry deposits on your food... and this happens whatever the weather.  

The second innovation (and where most of the extra cost lies) is in 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 (and sounds) great when in store, the bottom line however is that fully open or fully closed is were your lid is when cooking. I think that you're paying an extra £250 for no real benefit and you could spend that money on accessories or a BBQ Guru.

Moreover the Kamado Joe air hinge however takes a different mechanical approach which adds further 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 there would no doubt have been smoke billowing through the gasket, I'd have no control of my fire 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.

Kamado Joe Front Catch

My immediate thought was that this would maybe ease in with a bit of use but what actually happened was that the gasket de-laminated at 350°C when I went to sear my steaks!

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 just one heat cycle.

Going back to this silly catch for a minute, one last point to make is that you can't use it when using the rotisserie, in fact the last time I saw a Joetisserie in action it was on a Monolith!

Note: Upon testing two Classic II Kamado Joe grills recently (November 2017) 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 centrally located and you just need to turn the screw 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 didn't exist and are charging us an inflated price to boot. The Kamado Joe price is now up much closer to the Big Green Egg

Value For Money

This table compares the cost to buy the large / classic family sized ceramic grill from each of the top 3 brands. Clearly the Monolith comes out best value for the complete bundle and amazingly still just a shade under £1,000.

So that puts two questions in your mind:

  1. Are you prepared to pay an extra £300 for an air hinge that serves no purpose?
  2. Why would any sane person buy a Big Green Egg?

Feature

Big Green Egg (large)

Monolith Classic

Kamado Joe Classic II

Basic Price

£995

£995

£1,245

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)

2nd tier cooking grate

£25

Included

£48

Total Cost



BGE

£1,530


Monolith

£995


Kamado Joe

£1,293


Grill Grate Gripper

Not Available

Included

Included

Charcoal Basket

Not Available

Included (with divider)

£75

Ash Pan

£30

Not Available

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

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 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.

Innovations For 2018

New for 2018 is the I-Kamand which is best described as a KJ branded BBQ Guru specifically for the Kamado Joe grill. The claim is that these units are more powerful than any other temperature controller on the market, I haven't yet tested one so we'll have to wait and see.

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 put a country mile between the Monolith BBQ Guru Edition and the Kamado Joe grill versus Big Green Egg and Primo

Verdict

The Kamado Joe grill has been price pointed competitively in the past with quality, innovation and a good range of accessories justifiably keeping this brand up in the top 4 and streets ahead of the low cost end of the market but to my mind, the latest innovations don't represent good value for money and only serve to complicate what used to be a very simple mechanical gasket seal.

Based on the solid quality and better value for money, the new BBQ Guru edition and a wider range of accessories my 2018 best kamado grill of the year is the MonolithThe bottom line for me is that the Monolith offers tremendous value for money at £995 for the standard unit and if I did want to spend more then I'd spend it on something that was genuinely going to help me improve the consistency and quality of my cooking and that would be the Monolith BBQ Guru Edition

Where To Buy A Kamado Joe Grill

The European distributor for the Kamado Joe grill is Grakka Ltd and they sell direct to the public on Amazon. Use this link:

Click here to buy a Kamado Joe Classic Grill

Grakka is based in the UK and you can find out more through the Kamado Joe UK website

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

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
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