Unless you’ve used one before, kamado grills can be a little intimidating at first. These heavy ceramic grills are just a little different than kettle grills. The basic concepts remain the same: ensure there is sufficient oxygen flow, light and arrange the coals, wait until it gets to the desired temperature, and then put the food in.
But, the little differences can cause big changes if you don’t know what you’re doing. We’ll give you the rundown in this article: how to use a kamado grill: a simple guide for beginners.
We’ll go over how to prevent the dreaded flashback fireball, the best way to get to know your new kamado, basic kamado cooking techniques, and much more. Let’s start from the beginning with the kamado grill setup.
Most kamado grills need to be pieced together before use. The instructions that come with your grill should be followed exactly. The ceramic versions are very heavy, so you will probably need more than one person to get the shell into the stand.
Keep in mind that not all kamados come with a stand included or are designed to sit on stone or rock. If you do have a standalone, don’t put it on wood, plastic, or anything that will become damaged with heat. Kamados get really hot!
Register Your Kamado
Once you’ve followed the assembly instructions, don’t forget to register your grill. Not all companies require this, but many do. It should say clearly in the warranty section of your owner’s manual whether you’re required to register it.
If so, do it immediately so you’ll be covered in the unlikely event something happens to your grill. It’s easy to forget to do this, so we advise that you do it immediately after setup while it’s fresh in your mind.
Safety and Burping Your Grill
Before we go any further, let’s talk safety. Kamado grills get extremely hot. When you’re cooking at high temperatures, opening your grill without burping it first can cause a flashback. A flashback happens when too much oxygen rushes in to meet the coals, causing heat (and sometimes fire) to jump out at you. Burping is the remedy for this, and we suggest doing it every time you open the grill— no matter what temperature your thermometer shows.
Burping Your Kamado
Burping your kamado is simple and doesn’t take long at all. Any time you go to open the lid, lift it a few inches first. Hold it there for a few seconds to let a little oxygen inside. Then you can open it all the way without the danger of a flashback.
Some kamado owners like to do this two or three times. Open the lid slightly for a few seconds, close it, open it again for a few seconds, and then open it all the way. Your owners manual should say which is best for your particular kamado. No matter what method it says to use, doing it every time can seat burping into your muscle memory which will keep you and your eyebrows safe while grilling.
Heres what can happen if you dont burp your kamado properly:
Other Safety Tips
- Make sure your kids know to stay away from the grill. Or, if they’re helping you cook, that they know to burp the grill every time they open it.
- Keep pets away from your grill, as it can get very hot to the touch.
- Don’t try to move your kamado while it’s in-use or cooling down. And remember that kamados take a long time to cool down since they’re so well insulated.
- Don’t use your kamado inside or directly on any surface that’s not fire-proof.
- We suggest getting some heavy-duty grilling gloves. You’ll definitely need them if you ever need to move ceramic plates or grill grates while the kamado is still hot.
Now that we have the safety stuff covered, let’s talk about the first time you use your kamado.
First Use and Breaking-In Your Kamado
Many charcoal and gas grill manufacturers suggest doing a first initial burn without cooking anything in the grill. This can help clear out any smells that may be remaining from the factory or the shipping materials. Some kamado manufacturers suggest that you do this, but others, like Kamado Joe, say it’s not necessary.
However, we suggest that you break your kamado in— particularly if you haven’t used one before. Your first burn is a great way to get to know your grill. You can experiment with temperatures and burping (which we’ll cover below) to get a feel for how it operates. Not having any food on the grill makes for low-stakes, so you can really relax and start your long and promising relationship with your kamado on the right foot.
Low to High
We suggest that you start with low temperatures for an hour or so and then gradually increase them by opening the dampers slightly. It’s fun to end the break-in session by opening the dampers completely and seeing how hot it gets inside. You’ll probably be looking at a thermometer reading 700+ degrees!
Setting Your Adhesive
Some companies do suggest doing an initial low burn to set the adhesive between the lid gasket and the ceramic. You can still use it as an opportunity to get to know your grill, but you won’t want to jump to high temperatures if the owner’s manual advises against it for the first burn.
Lighting Your Kamado
There are several different ways to light your charcoal. If you’ve done charcoal grilling before you’re probably familiar with some of all of them. But before we jump into that, a quick word about charcoal and lighter fluid.
Lump Charcoal— No Lighter Fluid
Ceramic is a fairly porous material, especially when compared to other grill materials like steel. For this reason, you’ll want to stay away from using lighter fluid to light your kamado. The chemicals will be absorbed by the ceramic and impart a strange taste into the food you cook in the grill. The same goes for using anything but natural fire starters and charcoal briquettes. Stick with the all-natural stuff.
In addition, charcoal briquettes— even if they say ‘all-natural’– tend to produce a lot of ash, which can block up the airflow at the bottom of your kamado. This is another reason to use only lump charcoal. Luckily, kamados are very efficient so one load of expensive lump charcoal will last you a very long time.
Charcoal chimney starters are a great way to get your lump charcoal lit. If you don’t already have one, they’re very cheap and will last almost as long as your kamado will. They’re easy to light with newspaper or a natural fire starter. We recommend this Rapid Chimney Starter.
Another good option for starting your kamado grill is an electric starter. You plug the cord into a wall outlet and then stick the element into your coals. Then you wait a few minutes for the surrounding coals to start burning. Pretty easy!
Natural Fire Starters
If you’re used to using starters with chemicals in them, you can easily make the switch to natural fire starters for your kamado grill. They won’t leave a funny taste on your food and they work just as well as the artificial ones. We recommend these Grill Trade Tumbleweeds Starters.
Starting Vent Positions
When starting your charcoal, you’ll want to leave both the top and bottom vents open pretty wide until the grill gets near the desired temperature. Closing the vents too soon can stifle airflow, causing your grill to take longer than needed to get to temperature.
Once you get within 15 to 20 degrees of your desired temperature you can adjust the vents. Like other charcoal grills, the more airflow you allow in, the higher the temperature will get. And kamados can get really hot. More on that below.
Let the Grilling Begin
Now that you know all about safety, charcoal, and starters, it’s time to get grilling. Things are a little different with kamados. We’ll briefly talk about the best ways to do the most common types of cooking so you can come away with delicious food the first time around.
Direct Heat Grilling
This one’s pretty straightforward when it comes to kamados. How much and how long you plan to cook will determine how much charcoal you put in the grill. Just keep in mind that there’s a wide temperature range on kamados. Wide-open vents will allow the inside to climb toward the 700-degree mark. Half-open vents should get your grill around the 300 to 350-degree range.
The two-zone method can be difficult on smaller kamado grills, but there are accessories that make it easier. If your grill doesn’t come with one, you can purchase a ceramic heat deflection plate that will sit across half of your grill. This will allow you to do the two-zone method without messing with your charcoal.
Smoking and Low & Slow Cooking
Kamados make great smokers and slow cookers. You can start with a small amount of charcoal and add more as time goes on. Or you can use the top-down method by building a mound of charcoal that will burn slowly down.
For each of these methods you’ll want to close both your vents almost all the way. The first few times you try for low temperatures, keep an eye on your thermometer, and make adjustments as necessary. Pretty soon you’ll know the sweet spots on your kamado.
You’ll want to get a smoking stone that you can place over your coals to deflect heat. And don’t forget to put wood chips in with your coals to get that nice smoky flavor. The nice thing about kamados is that, if you do it right, you can cook low and slow for a long time— over 12 hours in some cases— without adding more charcoal.
High Temp Cooking
At high temperatures, you can cook pizza (you may need to buy a pizza stone), use it as a dutch oven, and bake bread. Each of these methods requires different techniques and sometimes accessories that may or may not come with your grill. For high-temperature cooking you’ll usually want to use lots of charcoal, leave the vents wide open, and wait 60 to 90 minutes for the grill to heat up.
Putting Out The Coals
When you’re done cooking, it’s time to put out the coals. To do this, close both air vents to starve the coals of oxygen. Then wait. One of the few drawbacks of a kamado grill is that it takes a long time to cool off. You never want to use water to put out the coals, as the sudden change in temperature can cause the ceramic to crack or break. The best thing to do is just wait 24 to 48 hours for the coals to die down and the grill to cool off.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our simple guide on how to use a kamado grill. You now have the basics to go forth and make excellent food. Take the time to get to know your grill, as no two models are exactly the same. Little adjustments on the air vents can go a long way. And cooling down a kamado takes longer than other grills because they’re so well insulated. But it’s a small price to pay for such an efficient and versatile grill.
Have fun grilling and don’t forget to burp your kamado whenever you open the lid!