Ka•ma•do ka-MAH-do/ noun
You’ve probably seen them around the neighborhood: big (some would say eccentric) oval-shaped ceramic cookers, their dimpled domes a monument to savory smoke and stunning taste.
They’re known as Kamados, and their comeback proves that sometimes to progress in making better BBQ, it’s better not to reinvent fire. Let’s go back–oh–4,000 years or so to ancient India, where the earliest known cooking vessels (outside of open fire pits) came into play. Often made from clay, these simple devices trapped more heat with less effort, and similar versions soon sprang into ubiquity across Asia. When early culinarians in Japan added a lid, the Kamado cooker was born.
Eventually clay was traded for the even-more efficient ceramic, which trapped heat and recirculated it onto cooking food without outside airflow, keeping meals flavorful and juicy. Designs then evolved with deeper basins to incorporate charcoal and pellets in Kamado grill bellies to keep the fire burning and internal heat radiating. Dampers were installed to regulate temperature and smoke flavor customized to specific foods, making it a Utilitarian solution to evenly cook anything from a spread of vegetables to a sirloin steak.
So when American soldiers were stationed in Japan in the 1960s and 70s, it was only a matter of time before the local method of cooking caught a few of their senses: what is that intoxicating smell?… you mean I can touch the outside of this cooker without it burning my hand off?… how on earth can food taste this good?
Kamados flooded back to the states by the thousands, turning servicemen into salesmen and disseminating the cookers to fellow westerners back home. Since then, the market has only gotten hotter.
Kamados Rethink Metal
A 2013 Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association study found that 8 out of 10 American homes own a grill or smoker, and 60 percent of that group grills throughout the entire year: rain, snow or shine. It’s not surprising, despite the resurgence in ceramic alternatives, that metal grills account for the majority of these cookers.
Sure, there’s a place for metal grills and we don’t want to diss them. Typically they’re gas, electric, charcoal or pellet powered and made from cast iron, aluminum, stainless steel or porcelain enamel coated steel- all highly conductive surfaces dissipating large, continuous amounts of energy off their surfaces. In order to keep food cooking, this energy must be constantly replaced by drawing more air into the grill, rapidly heating it up, and sending it right back out. The passengers to this flow of air are, unfortunately, your food’s moisture and juice content. Add to this the temperature fluctuations from lifting the lid every now and then to check on your morsels (which can be up to 100 degrees at a time when it’s cold outside) and it can be quite tricky to nail down a consistently satisfactory work-of-art.
While they often feature increasingly impressive burners with high BTU’s (short for British Thermal Units- the amount of heat required to increase one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit with constant pressure) to offset the airflow, metal grills are overall inefficient, depleting your fuel of choice faster and necessitating more trips to the store to keep that beast burning.
Not only are ceramic cookers more efficient in trapping heat, many converts claim that they pump out perfectly cooked products without the tinge of metallic flavor that sometimes comes with the alternatives.
There may be no bigger cult following, in the grilling world at least, as the Big Green Egg line. Similar to the story of servicemen bringing back the Kamado cooking treasure they found abroad, an American pilot noticed the design while crating supplies back and forth to Japan. “I have a plane,” he remembered, and on his next flight he brought back a new piece of cargo.
With a few minor modifications, the Big Green Egg saga was born, recruiting a steady stream of lifetime members to its cooking club– if not for the device’s genius marketing strategy, then definitely for the quality taste that it produced. People loved that fact that Big Green Eggs used their own brand of relight-able charcoal that lasted twice as long as traditional briquettes, a fuel to which they could add various wood chunks to compliment their flavors of choice. Add to that one of the most encompassing lines of Big Green Egg accessories that make a Mother’s Day or Father’s Day present relevant for years–like grilling tools, gadgets, hats, bumper stickers, mugs– and you’re not just dealing with people that like good food, you’re dealing with a fervent fan club. To add to the theatrics, they even have Eggie, their own mascot.
Some of the seasoned (pun, anyone?) Green Vests who have been on the floor for decades never needed to put the Big Green Egg in an advertisement. All they needed to do was fire one up outside, get a grill master stationed on it, cook up some worthy samples and hand them out to eye-(and nose)- witnesses. In many cases, one taste is all it took to turn pedestrians into Big Green Egg disciples, but as the Green Vests say, there are certain items in this world that when bought, must be bragged about. That’s how one green Kamado cooker in action not only sells the guy who tastes what it can do, it often sells that guy’s brother, father, neighbor and in-laws as well.
The Black Olive
Another popular Kamado is the Black Olive. It may look similar to its green comrade, but this adaptation really focuses on ease of use, especially with its “Set-it & Forget-it” controls. It’s also one of the only Kamados featuring a wood pellet model, great for a grilling enthusiast that savors the variety in life. If you want to cook fish tonight, pull out the tray and use alder wood pellets. If the wife wants Cornish game hens tomorrow, pull out the tray, empty it and add cherry pellets. And because it has a self-feeding pellet hopper, you can literally walk away and get things done while your food is cooking. Bada-bing.
See and taste samples from a Black Olive Grill in action here in the store this Saturday, July 25th from 11am-2pm.
Sure, we know the Kamado design promotes moisture and taste with more efficiency and less effort, but what can it do, exactly? In the way these cookers have evolved, versatility is the name of the game. Grilling, smoking, searing, roasting? Absolutely. What about baking? You got it. Because you can dial these bad boys in at a consistent temperature, you can certainly try anything you would bake in the oven. What about pizza? Wait, stop. If you haven’t had a pizza off one, then we ask, what are you doing with your life?
Kamados are admittedly heavier than their metal competitors, but their heat holding capability makes up for the bulk. Besides, who wants to wake up after a windstorm find their gas grill sideways in the neighbor’s yard?
Let’s talk numbers for a moment.
A standard grill on the market today needs replacing every three to four years. Compare that to many Kamados, which are often a once-in-a-lifetime purchase. That means less hassle, less money wasted on “updated” versions not built to last and less hunks of metal in the landfills. Talk about a quid pro quo.
And there’s a Kamado for every size and function. The extra large model of the Big Green Egg, for instance, features 452 square inches of grill surface– in other words– it will happily hold two 20-pound birds, 24 burgers or 12 steaks. Chew on that, grill-meister.
From novices to experts, these ceramic cookers may just be the ticket to bringing your grilling game up a few notches.
Like gadgets, and want even easier grilling? Check out the Flame Boss Kamado Wifi controller kit, which lets you manipulate the smoker and control food temperature from a smartphone, tablet or computer!
For questions about Kamado grills, metal grills, or grill accessories, ask a Green Vest.