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Digital Thermometers:
Stop Guessing!

thermopop bbq thermometer

Gold BBQ AwardA good digital thermometer keeps me from serving dry overcooked food or dangerously undercooked food. You can get a professional grade, fast and precise splashproof thermometer like the Thermopop (above) for about $24. The Thermapen (below), the Ferrari of instant reads, is about $96. It's the one you see all the TV chefs and all the top competition pitmasters using. Click here to read more about types of thermometer and our ratings and reviews.

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GrillGrates Take You To
The Infrared Zone

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Gold BBQ AwardGrillGrates(TM) amplify heat, prevent flareups, make flipping foods easier, produce great grill marks, keep small foods from committing suicide, kill hotspots, are easier to clean, flip over to make a fine griddle, smolder wood right below the meat, and can be easily removed and moved from one grill to another. You can even throw wood chips or pellets or sawdust between the rails and deliver a quick burst of smoke to whatever is above. Every gas grill and pellet smoker needs them.

Click here to read more about what makes these grates so special and how they compare to other cooking surfaces.

The Smokenator:
A Necessity For All Weber Kettles

smokenator bbq system

Gold BBQ Award If you have a Weber Kettle, you need the amazing Smokenator and Hovergrill. The Smokenator turns your grill into a first class smoker, and the Hovergrill can add capacity or be used to create steakhouse steaks.

Click here to read more.

The Pit Barrel Cooker

pit barrel c ooker bbqAbsolutely positively without a doubt the best bargain on a smoker in the world.

This baby will cook circles around the cheap offset sideways barrel smokers in the hardware stores because temperature control is so much easier (and that's because smoke and heat go up, not sideways).

Gold BBQ AwardBest of all, it is only $289 delivered to your door!

Click here to read our detailed review and the raves from people who own them.

scissor tongs

Best. Tongs. Ever.

Gold BBQ AwardMade of rugged 1/8" thick aluminum, 20" long, with four serious rivets, mine show zero signs of weakness after years of abuse. I use them on meats, hot charcoal, burning logs, and with the mechanical advantage that the scissor design creates, I can easily pick up a whole packer brisket. Click here to read more.

Amp Up The Smoke

mo's smoking pouch

Gold BBQ AwardMo's Smoking Pouch is essential for gas grills. It is an envelope of mesh 304 stainless steel that holds wood chips or pellets. The airspaces in the mesh are small enough that they limit the amount of oxygen that gets in so the wood smokes and never bursts into flame. Put it on top of the cooking grate, on the burners, on the coals, or stand it on edge at the back of your grill. It holds enough wood for about 15 minutes for short cooks, so you need to refill it or buy a second pouch for long cooks like pork shoulder and brisket. Mine has survived more than 50 cooks. Click for more info.

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The Best Steakhouse Knives

Gold BBQ AwardThe same knives used at Peter Luger, Smith & Wollensky, and Morton's. Machine washable, high-carbon stainless steel, hardwood handle. And now they have the AmazingRibs.com imprimatur. Click for more info.


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Kamado, Ceramic, Egg Smokers And Grills: Buying Guide, Reviews, And Ratings

By Meathead Goldwyn

kamado komodo grill smokerThe kamado or ceramic grill/smoker/oven is a fast growing category with more and more choices every year. With good reason.

These charcoal fueled devices are modern versions of the Japanese kamado, an earthernware cooking urn whose original design is probably at least 3,000 years old. Indian tandoors are similar in concept.

They look a bit like an ancient burial urn or a giant egg, so it is not surprising that the most popular model is called the Big Green Egg.

Most are made of ceramics, terra cotta, cement, lava rock, and other refractory materials, the kind of stuff used to make kilns and crucibles, all extremely good insulators. If you don't drop them, they last a long time. As champion pitmaster Chris Lilly says of the Komodo Kamado says "Ask your children what color they want, because they will inherit it." Many offer a stand or table in which you can insert the device.

Some models are made of insulated steel which are lighter and less fragile, but the sides are not as good at retaining and radiating heat as the ceramics.

Strengths

These are superb smokers and roasters, the best outdoor ovens going. They are 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 are also ideal for paella and tandoori cooking.

Easy to start in all wind and weather conditions, the insulation means that they need very little charcoal or oxygen, even in far northern winters. The thick sides retain and radiate heat very efficiently. That means less charcoal and oxygen are needed so there is not a lot of airflow out of the chimney. When meat heats up a lot of liquid evaporates from its surfaces, and the more airflow the more the meat dries out. Since ceramics have low airflow, meat remains juicier. Other smokers have thinner walls and many leak a lot so they require more charcoal and airflow, which means that airflow out the chimney and the leaky doors carries away more moisture than the ceramics. It is not unusual for a pork shoulder to lose 30% of its weight in an offset smoker. Water loss on a ceramic is often under 20%.

Ceramics are so well insulated that some can cook as low as 150°F and the interior absorbs and radiates heat so evenly that they are very good at holding steady temps. There are no flareups, and temperature control is easy once you get the hang of it with intake dampers down low and outflow dampers on the top (wear gloves). The design of these dampers is an important differentiator between models. Some work better than others. But get a kamado started, bring it to temp, and there's little need to touch it until the meat is ready.

When you are done cooking, close the dampers, and it is easy to starve the coals and you have leftover coals for the next cook. The interior is more or less self cleaning so it does not need to be scrubbed. In fact, wire brushes can damage the surface. The only cleanup is to brush the ash out the bottom, and scrape the cooking grates.

Some of them come from the factory with a deflector plate that sits between the coals and the food for indirect cooking. Some sell it as an option. You need it. A lot of the cooking you will do with it, especially smoking, needs this plate.

Advantages of the oval shaped kamado and the problems of round kamados

primo v egg

I am a very strong believer in the 2-zone system for grilling. The concept is to move the coals to one side 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 2-zones you can move food from very hot direct radiant infrared heat to mild indirect convection heat quickly and easily. This is rapid temperature control and temperature control is the secret to all cooking. Please click this link to see why 2-zones are so important.

Because of its oval shape, the Primo (left in the picture) can be easily set up for 2-zone cooking and the large diameter Komodo Kamado (at the top of the page) has an optional insert plate that covers the coals on one side creating a 2-zone system. For this reason, they are our favorites because they work very well as grills and as smoker/ovens. Alas, most of the kamados are narrow and round (like the popular Big Green Egg at right in the picture) and function better as smokers and ovens than as grills. The narrowround funnel shape puts the charcoal in the center. On an $89 Weber Kettle, for example, you can push coals to one side and cook hot with direct infrared heat on one side, and in an instant, move the food to a much cooler side where it cooks with convection heat and is unlikely to burn. You can cook some wonderful things on round kamados, but your flexibility and capability is severely limited.

Yes, you can use the deflector plate to cook indirect on a round kamado, but then you have to put on your gloves and remove it to switch to direct or visa versa. When the unit is hot, this maneuver can be tricky and it is not as quick and easy as sliding a steak or a piece of chicken or even a burger from side to side as you can on a conventional grill.

Yes, there are dividers that can confine the coals to one side, but they really don't do a good job of creating two zones with 100-200°F difference in temp or more. That's partially because the kamado is round and the cooking surface is narrow and partially due to the kamado's chief asset, the thick insulating walls. On a ceramic unit the walls abosorb so much heat it is pretty even all over. A great advantage when it comes to smoking, baking, pizza making, and roasting. A great disadvantage when it comes to 2-zone grilling.

Now a memo to Eggheads (the affectionate nickname for the devoted loving fanatical owners of Big Green Eggs, one of the first modern kamados and by far the most popular): Please do not take this criticism as a swipe at your good taste. Look at the top of this page to see how much I love kamados. I know you really love your Egg, and I love mine too (I have an XL). But I'm here to tell you, if you had a grill that could really do two zones, you would see why it is so important. So please try to read my criticism with some objectivity before you call me names. Keep in mind Max and I have cooked on scores of devices and we tested the Egg and the Primo side by side.

Here is a video from Primo showing how they use a 2-zone setup to do reverse searing on a steak, a method that delivers the best even interior color. Read more on the method here. And no, this is not a paid ad.

Other caveats

Another thing to keep in mind before you buy: Because they are expensive many manufacturers sell bare bones kamados. A lot of the necessary tools, like the absolutely necessary deflector plate for indirect cooking and smoking, cost extra on some models. So when shopping, make sure you are clear on exactly what is included and what is not.

Do not use lighter fluid to start your charcoal in ceramics. It can get into the porous interior and damage it. But you would never use a petrochemical to light your grill would you? You are always use a chimney or electric starter, right? Click here to read about how to best start a charcoal fire. Dennis Linkletter of Komodo Kamado showed me a trick: Fill the charcoal basket, and bury one Weber paraffin firestarter cube in the pile of charcoal and light it. It will ignite about five briquets immediately around it. They will burn slowly producing very little heat, and the combustion will spread to unlit coals slowly.

Keeping the temp down on these babies can also be tricky. Kamados can soak up a lot of heat, and once they are hot they are very slow to cool because they hold so much heat, so if you overshoot your target temp, it takes a while to get back to where you want it. Sterling Ball of BigPoppaSmokers.com says "It's like stopping a semi. You've got to brake early."

If you need to add coals while it is cooking, on some models you need to remove the food, the cooking grates, and the deflector plate, a bit of a pain, but you may not need to add coals for most cooks.

Some kamado manufacturers recommend you use more expensive lump charcoal not briquets. They argue that briquets produce more ash than lump and the ash can block airflow as it builds up over long cooks. On the other hand, there can be a lot of dust in the bags of lump that can also hamper airflow. Some briquets, like Kingsford Competition Charcoal, produce less ash than others. It may be a coincidence, but some kamado manufacturers also sell private label lump charcoal so they just might have a conflict of interest.

Some manufacturers claim their cookers are huggable when hot. Don't you believe it. Maybe at low temps, but crank 'em up and you dasn't put your hand on the surface. Yes it is cooler than a steel grill, but most certainly not huggable.

Because they are fragile you probably don't want to take them to tailgate parties. Besides, they are pretty darn heavy so they are not very portable.

Some have vents in the top that will let in rain, so owners fashion little covers or umbrellas for them.

Did I mention that the ceramic models can be very expensive?

Warning!!!

This design is susceptible to a very dangerous phenomenon: Flashover. Kamados are nearly airtight except at the intake and exhaust, and the coals can get starved for oxygen at low temps or during shutdown. Open the lid, oxygen rushes in, and poof, a serious fireball. No more eyebrows. Or worse.

You should always wear fire resistant gloves, the longer the better, when opening a kamado. To prevent flashover fireballs, slowly open the top damper a bit and wait a minute. Open the lid slowly and stand to the side rather than the front. Linkletter says "It is safest for a new user to always assume that flashover conditions are present and to use the utmost care whenever opening their cooker."

Bottom line

I consider round kamados to be darn good smokers and ovens, especially if you live in a cold climate and want to cook all winter. Open the bottom and top dampers all the way and they can get blazing hot for searing steaks. But if you really want to take your grilling skills to the highest level, then you need to master 2-zone cooking and get a Primo Oval or budget for a charcoal grill in addition to the round kamado.

Click here to see all the kamado, ceramic, and egg style smokers and grills currently in our database.

This page was revised 11/20/2013

 


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About this website. AmazingRibs.com is all about the science of barbecue, grilling, and outdoor cooking, with great BBQ recipes, tips on technique, and unbiased equipment reviews. Learn how to set up your grills and smokers properly, the thermodynamics of what happens when heat hits meat, as well as hundreds of excellent tested recipes including all the classics: Baby back ribs, spareribs, pulled pork, beef brisket, burgers, chicken, smoked turkey, lamb, steaks, barbecue sauces, spice rubs, and side dishes, with the world's best buying guide to barbecue smokers, grills, accessories, and thermometers, edited by Meathead.

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