The Best Kamado Smokers and Grills

Our top picks include the Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Grill and Big Green Egg Large Ceramic Cooker.

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Collage of assorted kamado-style cookers/smokers
Serious Eats / Manufacturers All photographs provided by manufacturers

Straight to the Point

Our budget-friendly recommendation is the Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Grill. If you're looking to upgrade, the Big Green Egg Large Ceramic Cooker is pricey, but delivers with its performance and has a lifetime warranty.

We think that kamados are the best residential outdoor ovens going. These charcoal-fueled devices are modern versions of the Chinese and Indian earthenware cooking ovens and urns that came into use several thousand years ago. Most look a bit like ancient burial urns or giant eggs. Some are made of ceramics or refractory materials, the same stuff used to make kilns, crucibles, and pizza ovens—all extremely good insulators that store and radiate heat effectively. They're superb smokers and roasters, and they're unmatched as backyard pizza and bread ovens, because the sides and domes absorb heat and radiate it back like a professional brick oven, so the pizza and bread can cook properly from above. They're also great for paella and tandoori cooking. So it's no wonder that ceramic grills/smokers/ovens is a fast-growing category, with more competitors throwing their hats into the ring every year.

Considering a kamado? We'll be your guide.

The Winners, at a Glance

The Best Entry-Level Kamado: Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Grill

Char-Griller E16620 Akorn Kamado Charcoal Grill

This cooker pairs excellent performance with a more budget-friendly price tag. If you're curious about kamados and want a great starter model, this is it.

The Best Mid-Priced Kamado: Char-Broil Kamander Charcoal Grill

Char-Broil Kamander Charcoal Grill

This cooker has some helpful, easy-to-use features (like a large, removable ash pan) and delivers excellent results, at price point far below other models.

The Kamado with the Coolest Features: Vision Professional S-Series Kamado

vision grills kamado

This kamado has some helpful, easy-to-use features, like a slide-out ash drawer, and can be converted to a gas grill for those that want that option.

The Best High-End Kamado: Big Green Egg Large Ceramic Cooker

Big Green Egg Large Kamado Grill

This is, no doubt, a pricey kamado, however, it's built to last and comes with a lifetime warranty. While Eggs are harder to source online, you can find them at dealers nationwide.

The Best Two-Zone Kamado: Primo Ceramic Charcoal Smoker Grill, Junior

Primo Ceramic Charcoal Smoker Grill, Junior

This model comes with split grates that can be used for high, indirect cooking or positioned lower to the fire for searing.

The Best Kamado for Tailgating: Broil King Keg 5000

broil-king-kamado

This lightweight kamado can be used with an optional trailer hitch, so it's about as portable as a large kamado cooker can be.

The Most Innovative Kamado: Kamado Joe Classic II 18"

This well-crated cooker comes from a company that's detail-oriented and consistently offers updates as standard features.

The Best Kamettle? Kettlelado? The Weber Summit Charcoal Grill

Weber 18201001 Summit Kamado E6 Charcoal Grill, Black

This dedicated charcoal smoker features an adjustable coal grate that allows for better searing.

The Best Residential Outdoor Tandoor Oven: Homdoor Charcoal Tandoor

homdoor tandoor oven

If you're looking for a tandoor, this model features a stainless steel outer shell, wheels, and a host of tools and accessories.

The Most Striking Kamado: Komodo Kamado Big Bad 32

komodo kamado grill

While this cooker is incredibly expensive, if it's in your budget, it's one of the most striking, highest-quality kamados we've ever seen.

Pros and Cons

Ceramics are so well insulated, and the interior absorbs and radiates heat so evenly, that they are very good at holding steady temps. Get a kamado started, bring it to temp, and there's little need to touch it until the meat is ready. Kamados can be especially handy if you live in a cold climate and want to cook outdoors all winter.

The downside is that those thick walls take longer to warm up than some other cookers, and once they get hot, they stay hot. They aren't as nimble as a charcoal kettle, which can switch gears from warm to hot if you control airflow. Whatever you do with your kamado, don't overshoot your target temperature, or you'll be cooling your heels while the fiery beast cools down.

One more thing to think about: Kamado cookers are very heavy and can easily crack if dropped or knocked over. But when taken care of, they'll last forever. Some newer designs utilize modern fiber insulation clad in a steel casing. Each material has its strengths and weaknesses. Some cooks prefer the heat retention of ceramic over the steel models, but, on the other hand, steel doesn't crack. Then again, ceramic doesn't rust...

History of the Kamado

Early clay ovens appeared in China about 3,000 years ago. (The Chinese, as you may recall, also developed the fire-hardened clay we now call ceramics, as well as porcelain coatings.) Around 300 BC, this technology was exported to Japan, and the ceramic ovens were dubbed kamados, or "stoves."

How did the kamado come to the States? After World War II, thousands of Westerners stationed in Japan saw these wonderful cookers for the first time. Returning home, many brought kamados back, and some even started importing and selling them. One such entrepreneur was Ed Fisher, who sensed there might be an interest in these ceramic charcoal burners back in the USA. In 1974, he opened a store in Atlanta, and the Big Green Egg was born. Big Green Egg is now the most popular brand of kamado in the world, with legions of devotees who affectionately call themselves Eggheads.

But the Big Green Egg isn't the only kamado out there. You now have a wide range of choices in all different sizes, shapes, and colors.

Advantages of Oval-Shaped Kamados and Problems of Round Kamados

We are strong believers in the two-zone system for grilling. The concept is to place the coals on one side of the grill and leave the other side without coals. On a gas grill, you turn on the burners on one side, but not on the other. With two zones, you can move food from very hot, direct radiant infrared heat to mild, indirect convection heat, quickly and easily.

Oval-shaped kamados, like those made by Primo and Komodo Kamado, can easily be set up for two-zone cooking, but round kamados cannot. The oval shape enables more separation from side to side, while heat in the round models tends to even out rather quickly. Most round-kamado aficionados concede that their best way of creating different heat zones is by moving foods closer to or farther from the fire. This is done with various deflectors and rack systems that can be costly and awkward to manipulate.

Can You Grill on a Kamado?

Kamados can get mighty hot. We cranked a Big Green Egg until a column of fire shot out the top, and it was like a blast furnace inside. That's great for searing the snot out of thin meats, like skirt steak, that you just want to cook hot and fast, but (as mentioned above) once kamados get hot, they take forever to cool down. Along with the difficulty of creating a two-zone setup, this is why we believe most kamados function better as smokers and ovens than as grills.

If you really want to take your grilling skills to the highest level, then you need to master two-zone cooking and get a charcoal grill in addition to the kamado, or select a kamado that can do two-zone cooking.

Is It Okay to Use Regular Charcoal Briquettes?

Many kamado manufacturers recommend or even dictate that you use more expensive lump charcoal rather than briquettes. They argue that briquettes produce more ash than lump, and the ash can block airflow as it builds up over long cooks. Most kamado manufacturers also sell private-label lump charcoal, so they just might have a conflict of interest.

Generally, we recommend using Kingsford Original Briquets in charcoal burners, because they're affordable, consistent, and readily available. Lump charcoal, especially the bargain-basement varieties, can be inconsistent. We've seen bags that were half pulverized charcoal dust and half large chunks of construction material. It's not unusual to find metal and plastic debris mixed in. Nonetheless, we personally prefer high-quality lump in a kamado over briquettes, because it's lighter and easier to stir around at the bottom of the deep firebox, while briquettes tend to get compacted.

Firing Up a Kamado

Do not use lighter fluid to start your charcoal in any ceramic cooker; that stuff can get into the porous interior, which is bad news. Instead, it's best to always use a chimney, electric starter, or firestarter.

Here's a trick we learned from Dennis Linkletter of Komodo Kamado: Fill the charcoal basket, bury one Weber paraffin firestarter cube in the pile of charcoal, and light it. It will ignite about five briquettes immediately around it. They will burn slowly, producing very little heat, and the combustion will spread gradually to unlit coals. When shooting for low-and-slow smoking temps of 225 F (105 C), once you get a fist-sized cluster of briquettes glowing, it's already time to shut down both the lower intake damper and upper exhaust damper to let just a small amount of air in and out. The smart move is to let your kamado slowly come up to the desired temp and stabilize, rather than risk overshooting your mark.

Easy as it is to maintain temps over a long period in these stable cookers, some like to go a step further and use thermostatic temperature controllers, like the popular BBQ Guru, which controls cooking temperature by regulating a small fan affixed to the air intake damper. These gizmos enable you to run a kamado for days at low-and-slow smoking temps, with no babysitting.

The Criteria: What We Look for in a Kamado

There are more than a few kamado smokers on the market these days. So, how to pick the best one? A lot of it really comes down to personal preference and what sort of construction and features you're looking for. Do you want a ceramic cooker (retains heat beautifully, but is more breakable) or one with fiber insulation and a steel casing (which won't retail heat as well, but is, possibly, more durable)? Do you want a kamado with split racks and and an oval shape for easier zone cooking? Will you be moving your kamado around frequently, and therefore need it to be on wheels? Do you need a gas igniter?

Here are our top kamado cookers for your consideration.

The Best Entry-Level Kamado: Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Grill

Char-Griller E16620 Akorn Kamado Charcoal Grill

The Akorn is a double-walled, insulated steel egg that is much lighter and in some ways more durable than the popular Big Green Egg—and it's less than half the price. Char-Griller has mostly been known over the years for inexpensive grills, and, until now, you pretty much got what you paid for. But this design and Char-Griller's manufacturing process may be a match made in heaven. This cooker performs fairly close to traditional kamados at a fraction of the cost. Don't expect the Akorn to last forever, but if you're curious about kamados and you've been waiting for the right time and price, this could be it.

Price at time of publish: $330.

Key Specs

  • Cooking Area: 302 square inches (about 14 burgers)
  • Fuel: Charcoal
The Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Grill, a small, low-priced kamado-style cooker

The Best Mid-Priced Kamado: Char-Broil Kamander Charcoal Grill

Char-Broil Kamander Charcoal Grill

Char-Broil’s Kamander Charcoal Grill, despite the name, is actually a kamado (the Kamander is a kamado—get it?). In keeping with Char-Broil’s aim of removing consumer pain points, the Kamander has a list price of just $349.99—far less than a basic Big Green Egg with a stand, which runs about $1,000. That makes it one of the lowest-cost kamados on the market, potentially lifting the biggest barrier many consumers have to buying one of these cookers. The Kamander is heavier and sturdier than the cheaper Akorn and features a unique airflow design, with the air intake vent at cooking-grate level rather than on the bottom of the cooker (saving you the annoyance of having to bend over to adjust the intake damper). The large removable ash pan makes dumping ashes easy, and the ring of air intake holes around it aids in uniform air circulation.

Of course, a few corners have been cut to achieve the Kamander’s wallet-friendliness, but it delivers a solid kamado cooking experience at a price point way below that of most other brands.

Price at time of publish: $814.

Read more about the Char-Broil Kamander Charcoal Grill on AmazingRibs.com.

Key Specs

  • Cooking Area: 327 square inches (about 16 burgers)
  • Fuel: Charcoal
The Char-Broil Kamander Charcoal Grill, a medium-sized, low-priced kamado cooker

The Kamado With The Coolest Features: Vision Professional S-Series Kamado

vision grills kamado

Vision's Professional S-Series Kamado has some unique and interesting features not found on other ceramic cookers. The bottom dampers are part of a slide-out ash drawer, which also has a slot for the included electric starter. And you gotta love the stainless steel two-level grates: The top grate is hinged for easy access to the lower level, which is also hinged for adding wood and tending to charcoal. This nice package deal includes a solid, powder-coated stand on four casters, with fold-down wood side shelves and a cover.

Vision's goal is to make use easier—easier start-up, easier ash removal. To this end, Vision created an optional Quickchange Gas Insert that may be swapped in for the slide-out ash drawer, turning the S-Series from a kamado to a gas grill when you want to grill up a quick weeknight dinner. Quickchange is a slide-out, 25,000-BTU stainless steel burner that includes a heat exchanger and Vision’s round Lava Stone diffuser and stainless steel bracket.

Price at time of publish: $850.

Key Specs

  • Cooking Area: 302 square inches (about 14 burgers)
  • Fuel: Charcoal
The Vision Professional S-Series Kamado, a small, mid-range kamado-style cooker

The Best High-End Kamado: Big Green Egg Large Ceramic Cooker

Big Green Egg Large Kamado Grill

Many view the Big Green Egg as the Weber of kamados. Big Green Egg popularized kamado cookers in the US, and it's often viewed as the industry standard. In fact, some competitors design their kamados to work with Big Green Egg accessories. Big Green Eggs are available in seven models in progressively larger diameters, from 10 inches to 29 inches, but this "Large Egg" (18 inches in diameter) is the most popular size—big enough for a 20-pound turkey. The BGE design is simple and built to last, with a limited lifetime warranty. They're manufactured in Mexico.

When you buy an Egg, you start with just the ceramic oven, and everything else is à la carte. By the time you add a few basics, like a stand and diffuser plate, the cost has gone up significantly. Eggs are not sold on the internet, but they have a lot of dealers coast to coast, so you shouldn't have much trouble getting your hands on one.

Price at time of publish: $1000.

Key Specs

  • Cooking Area: 262 square inches (about 12 burgers)
  • Fuel: Charcoal
The Big Green Egg Large Ceramic Cooker, a green, egg-shaped, ceramic kamado-style cooker

The Best Two-Zone Kamado: Primo Oval JR

Primo Ceramic Charcoal Smoker Grill, Junior

As mentioned above, kamados can also be used as grills for cooking hot and fast, but the cone shape of most of them doesn't make them ideal for two-zone cooking. There are a few exceptions, however, including the cookers from Primo, which are oval-shaped. They come with two-position split cooking grates that can be set up high for indirect cooking or flipped over to position foods down low to the fire for searing. The split, half-moon-shaped grates allow you to accentuate the difference between a direct and an indirect zone by piling charcoal on one side and positioning one grate over it down low for a direct zone, with the other grate up high and away from the fire for an indirect zone.

Price at time of publish: $889.

Key Specs

  • Cooking Area: 210 square inches (about 10 burgers)
  • Fuel: Charcoal
The Primo Oval JR, a small, oval-shaped kamado-style cooker with two side shelves

The Best Kamado for Tailgating: Broil King Keg 5000

broil-king-kamado

Since the heavy ceramic most kamados are made of can crack if dropped or knocked over, they're not the kind of thing you tend to bring to a tailgate. Unless, of course, you have a Broil King Keg. It's made with lightweight fiberglass encased in powder-coated steel, and, while it's not light enough to pick up and carry around, it's easy to lift off the base and pop onto the optional trailer hitch. And if it does get dropped, this baby won't crack like Humpty Dumpty.

Broil King put together a nice package deal for the 5000 that includes a sturdy stand with big wheels and removable side tables, a multifunction tool for handling the grate and removing ash, and a secondary extender rack that hovers above the primary grate to provide extra cook surface. The side tables have handy tool hooks, and there's even a couple of bottle openers built into the handle.

Price at time of publish: $1050.

Key Specs

  • Cooking Area: 280 square inches (about 13 burgers)
  • Fuel: Charcoal
The Broil King Keg 5000, a small, lightweight kamado-style cooker

The Most Innovative Kamado: Kamado Joe Classic II 18"

The Kamado Joe Classic II 18" is an elegant, well-crafted ceramic cooker that presents strong competition to other 18-inch models in the premium-priced market. This company pays attention to detail and offers upgrades, like top-quality 304 stainless steel cooking grates, as standard features. In 2014, Kamado Joe introduced a unique multilevel grate and heat-deflection system called "Divide and Conquer," which comes standard with this model at no extra charge. The system is a grouping of multilevel racks and deflectors that relieves some of the pain and cost of creating different cooking zones in a round kamado. Kamado Joe is always on the move, innovating and offering unique features not found on other kamados.

Price at time of publish: $1300.

Read more about the Kamado Joe Classic II 18" on AmazingRibs.com.

Key Specs

  • Cooking Area: 256 square inches (about 12 burgers)
  • Fuel: Charcoal
The Kamado Joe Classic II 18-Inch, a small, red, ceramic kamado-style cooker

The Best Kamettle? Kettlelado? The Weber Summit Charcoal Grill

Weber 18201001 Summit Kamado E6 Charcoal Grill, Black

The Weber Summit Charcoal Grill is a radical departure from George Stephen's original Weber Kettle. It's Weber's first major upgrade to the Kettle in decades. Sure, the prices are in line with Summit gas grills and premium-quality kamados on carts, but they're a big leap up from the Kettles we know and love. It's true that a regular classic Weber Kettle can grill and smoke, but the new Summits are just plain bigger and better in every way. You get more capacity, ease of use, and more versatility. It actually is an excellent dedicated charcoal smoker by design, and the adjustable coal grate that burns directly under the cook surface for better searing also makes the Summit an even better grill than the classic Weber Kettles.

Price at time of publish: $1250.

Read more about the Weber Summit Charcoal Grill on AmazingRibs.com.

Key Specs

  • Cooking Area: 452 square inches (about 22 burgers)
  • Fuel: Charcoal
The Weber Summit Charcoal Grill, a kettle-style kamado cooker

The Best Residential Outdoor Tandoor Oven: Homdoor Charcoal Tandoor

homdoor tandoor oven

The Homdoor Charcoal Tandoor is a traditional Indian clay oven with a stainless steel outer shell. It has no cooking grate. Put meat or vegetables (sweet peppers are especially good) on skewers, saving an onion or potato chunk for last to keep the meat from sliding off into the red-hot coals; lower the skewers into the open, upright cylindrical oven; and you can get tender, juicy seared meat and veggies in four to eight minutes.

Price at time of publish: $1500.

Key Specs

  • Cooking Area: 144 square inches
  • Fuel: Charcoal
The Homdoor Charcoal Tandoor, a home tandoor-style oven with a stainless steel shell

The Most Striking Kamado: Komodo Kamado Big Bad 32

komodo kamado grill

Komodo Kamado makes some of the highest-quality, most striking cookers we've seen. Stunning assortments of inlaid tile finishes are available, but these cookers aren't just another pretty face. Attention to detail is evident in everything you see and touch, from the 304 stainless steel grates and hinges to the heavy-duty casters. And the casters have to be powerful to support this bad boy—it comes fully assembled and weighs in at almost half a ton. At 32 inches wide, this is the biggest kamado on the market. Want to make it even fancier? Plenty of options are available, including teakwood carts and gas ignition.

Price at time of publish: $6962.

Key Specs

  • Cooking Area: 576 square inches (about 28 burgers)
  • Fuel: Charcoal; Gas-optional
The Komodo Kamado Big Bad 32, a large kamado-style cooker with an inlaid-tile finish

FAQs

Can I use lighter fluid in kamado smoker or grill?

As noted, you should avoid using lighter fluid, as it can soak into the kamado's porous ceramic interior. If you need your grill hot in a hurry, you can use a chimney starter or a fire starter (some brands, like Kamado Joe, sell their own).

What's the best way to clean a kamado smoker or grill?

Kamados are notoriously tricky to clean because of their unique size and shape. The most important maintenance tip is to make sure to completely empty the smoker of ash after every use. If the interior of your grill has a build-up of food residue, heat the grill to the highest possible temperature to burn it off, then let cool for 30 minutes. Brush the sides with a grill brush and remove any ash or particles that remain. For cleaning the exterior, simply use a mild detergent diluted with water or a glass cleaner and wipe with a clean cloth. 

What's the best way to store a kamado smoker or grill?

Store a kamado in cool, dry place, like a shed with doors or garage. You should also invest in a good grill cover to protect the smoker from the elements.

Additional research by
Taylor Murray
Taylor Murray
Taylor is a chef, recipe tester and developer, photographer from Southern California. She has been working in food and food media for over 10 years, including some of the best restaurants in the world before becoming a freelancer for Food52, Hearst Magazines, Serious Eats and more. 
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