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A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.
Doug is a hardcore barbeque enthusiast and connoisseur. While he spends most of his time on editing and research,
he sometimes moonlights as a product tester for particularly interesting things he comes across.
Kamado is the Japanese word for stove, although you might know these as egg-shaped grills. Kamado cookers have excellent insulation, allowing you to attain your target temperature and maintain it throughout the grilling process. These grills only use charcoal, so you get that delicious smoky taste that is not always attainable using a gas grill.
There is some skill involved when preparing food on a Kamado grill, so you need to know how to get the best results. However, it is fun to learn how to use your Kamado grill for an enjoyable cookout.
You can quickly pick up the right techniques by following some straightforward tips.
1. Start With a Clean Grill
The first step is to ensure your grill is clean. If there is debris on the grates, it can result in uneven heat distribution, whereas remaining ash can block the air vents. Ideally, you use a grill brush to scrape off food pieces while the grill was still warm after the last use.
If not, you can light some charcoal to heat the metals and scrape the grill now to take off any contaminants that may still be on the grates. Move the coals around to let loose ash fall into the ashtray. Empty the ashtray and old coals into a safe receptacle for disposal.
2. Arrange Your Charcoal
If you’re choosing premium charcoal, it’s best to opt for lump wood charcoal because it is purer than alternative options. There is only carbon in lump wood charcoal, whereas briquettes contain materials such as sawdust and peat.
These substances do not burn as hot as lump wood charcoal, and they also produce a lot of ash. If the ash blocks the air vents, it is more challenging for temperature control and could even extinguish your fire.
The charcoal arrangement is crucial when learning how to use a kamado grill. A classic pyramid shape is effective, starting with a broad base at the bottom that fills the firebox and finishing with a peaked top.
Use larger lump wood charcoal pieces at the bottom to allow for efficient air circulation. The peak of your charcoal pyramid should be level with the top of the firebox. The design is essential because it encourages airflow at the mound’s base to keep your fire burning for extended periods. If you lay the charcoal flat in your firebox, you may find some areas burn out faster than others.
It isn’t easy to add more charcoal to a Kamado grill during cooking, so it’s best to add plenty of fuel at the start. Don’t worry about wasting charcoal you don’t use during the cookout. You can close the air vents to quickly extinguish the flames to preserve unused fuel.
3. Light Your Charcoal
Before attempting to light the charcoal, you need to ensure all the vents are open to allow oxygen to reach the flames. The bottom vent should be fully open, and you should completely raise the lid.
One of the easiest ways to light your Kamado grill is to add one or two firelighters to your charcoal pyramid. The high level of oxygen in the exposed cooking chamber means the coals heat quickly.
Alternatively, you can use an electric starter that produces very hot air. An integrated fan blows the air onto the charcoal for another simple way to get your coals burning. The only downside is you need an electrical power source when using this device.
The final method is to place your charcoal in a chimney starter with newspaper at the bottom of the cylinder. You light the newspaper to start a fire under the coals. When the charcoal begins to burn, you pour the pieces into your Kamado grill.
This technique is effective, but because the coals are hot, you can’t form them into a pyramid shape when they are in the firebox. Allow your charcoal to burn for between 5-10 minutes before closing the lid. When the cover is down, open the top air vent to increase air circulation.
An important note is that there is no need to use lighter fluid. When spraying lighter fluid, you risk blocking the air vents and introducing an unpleasant chemical taste to your food. With proper air vent control, your charcoal will light without issue.
4. Temperature Control
Every outdoor cooking enthusiast knows the secret to achieving the best tasting results is temperature control. Because Kamado grills have excellent insulation, you don’t want to go beyond your target temperature as it can be hard to reduce the heat level.
If you’re slow cooking, a temperature of around 250°F is a good target, where faster grilling requires a heat level of around 500°F. When the internal temperature is 50°F below your target, close the top vent halfway, but leave the bottom vent open. The heat level may still rise as it takes around 15 minutes for the vent adjustments to take effect.
If the grilling heat is still too high, close the vent entirely and wait another 15 minutes. This process is not an exact science, and you’ll learn to make the most suitable adjustments as you gain experience on how to use a kamado grill.
If you plan to smoke on a Kamado grill, you want to keep the heat level low. In this scenario, it’s best to keep the top vent closed to reduce the firebox’s oxygen levels. You can also partially close the bottom vent if the temperature is too high.
Final Thoughts: Cooking on Your Kamado Grill
Because the walls have thick insulation, cooking on your Kamado grill is a straightforward experience. There are no wild temperature fluctuations, and there is no need to add additional charcoal if you stocked the firebox at the start. Grilling is as simple as placing your meats and vegetables on the cooking grates.
If you prefer to grill using indirect heat like in pellet grill, you can insert a heat deflector. Keep the charcoal in one half of the firebox, and place your food on the grate on the grill’s opposite side. As the charcoal burns, the indirect heat cooks your meal. This method is useful when preparing thicker meat cuts.
No matter which way you choose to use your Kamado grill, preparation is crucial to prevent grilling mistakes. If you follow these tips, your grill will be ready to use quickly, and you can relax while preparing a delicious grilled meal.