As kamados become more and more popular, many grillers are hesitant to believe the hype. At a glance, kamados sound too good to be true. How can you use one grill to smoke meat low and slow and use it to cook a pizza? While you obviously can’t do these both at the same time, kamados are more than capable of almost any cooking task you put before them, even smoking.
Kamado grills are great for smoking because they’re made with ceramic which offers excellent heat insulation and they have top and bottom dampers that make it easy to regulate cooking temperatures. Because of these two features, kamado grills are some of the most versatile grills available.
A Brief Overview of Kamado Grills
If you’re not familiar, kamados are ceramic, egg-shaped grills that have been used in Japan and China for centuries. Over the years, the designs have been improved upon, but the concept remains the same.
Ceramic is excellent for insulation and heat-reflecting, making it an ideal material for a grill oven combination. That’s what kamados are: a grill and an oven. They can do pretty much everything your oven can do— and more. They’re great for baking, smoking, grilling, and even curing or cold-smoking!
Kamados are designed for use with natural wood lump charcoal or actual wood. You don’t want to use any chemicals because the porous ceramic will soak them up and make your food taste all chemical-ly. But the same goes for firestarters. Don’t use any with chemicals in them. Instead, get your hands on a chimney starter, if you need one.
Lump charcoal is very good for smoking purposes. For the best flavor, you’ll want to use only natural wood and coal, anyway. Plus, lump charcoal generates much less ash than briquettes, which is a definite plus when it comes to kamados. Too much ash can block up the airflow to the coals.
Why Kamados are Good for Smoking
As you probably know, smoking requires indirect heat at low temperatures and— you guessed it— smoke.
Ceramic Insert (AKA Smoke Stone)
To accomplish this, you’ll want to use a ceramic insert, also known as a smoking stone, that you can set between your coals and your meat. Now, be aware that not every kamado grill comes standard with one of these inserts. Sometimes you have to buy them separately.
Another reason kamados are good for smoking is their excellent temperature control. They have an intake damper on the bottom and an exhaust damper on the top. For smoking, you’ll want to keep both dampers pretty close to closed the entire time.
Since kamados have such a wide temperature range, even little movements on the dampers can cause a drastic change in temperature. For this reason, kamados do take a little getting used to.
However, once you learn the particular ins and outs of your grill (this usually takes no more than 2 or 3 sessions) you won’t have much trouble finding the sweet spot for smoking. Once you have it down, all you have to do is leave it to do its thing. You don’t really even have to worry about adding charcoal.
Since kamados have thick ceramic walls that insulate and reflect heat well, your average charcoal load will last you a long time. When done right, you can easily smoke for 12 hours on a single load. Some people have reported smoking for 18 hours or more without refueling. This is why you can set it and forget it. Or, you can once you know where your dampers need to be positioned for your desired heat.
Making a Long-Lasting Charcoal Fire in Your Kamado
Now that you know why kamados are great for smoking, let’s talk about how exactly to go about building your fire.
The best method for smoking is the top-down burn. To do this, build a mound of charcoal at the bottom of your kamado. Shaped like a pyramid, this mound can burn slowly down.
If you need to, you can use a natural starter or two covered with a couple of coal lumps to light the coals on top first. They’ll burn down over a long period. This keeps the temperature from getting too hot inside.
The coals at the top of the mound are the closest to the food, but there’s not a lot of them, so they’re not giving off a ton of heat. As the mound burns down, more charcoal starts to burn, but the heat is also getting further away from the food. This will allow you to cook up to 18 hours, depending on the size of your kamado.
If you want to add a little more smoke (lump charcoal usually generates a fair bit) you can always add natural wood chips of your choice to the charcoal at different levels throughout the mound.
Add Ceramic Insert (AKA Smoke Stone)
Once you have the top of your coal mound burning steadily, you can put the ceramic insert in, which will serve to separate your food from the heat. Give the coals a good 10 or 15 minutes to adapt to this change of environment, because the smoke stone will change the oxygen flow.
Sometimes the coals will look like they’re going out, but as long as you have some oxygen flowing through the grill, they shouldn’t go out fully. After the allotted time has passed, you can tell if they’re still lit by looking for thin smoke and checking the temperature of the grill. Once it looks good, you can put your meat on.
Adjust in the Beginning
Unless you know your grill well, you’ll want to check on it regularly to make sure everything looks good. If you need to make adjustments, start small. Open or close the vents one at a time and then give the grill 15 or 20 minutes to adjust before looking at the temperature and making another adjustment. Once you get it down, you’ll know all the smoking sweet spots on your kamado.
Kamado grills are absolutely great for smoking. They take a little bit of tinkering, but once you get it, you’ll be enjoying smoked meats that taste like nothing you’ve ever had before.
Just remember to get a ceramic insert for smoking if your kamado doesn’t come with one. Use natural lump charcoal arranged in a mound and natural fire starters. For an extra smokey flavor, add wood chips of your choice!
Thanks for reading and happy grilling!
P.S. Looking for a good kamado grill? We recommend the Kamado Joe Classic II. And don’t forget the lump charcoal!