We understand that the topic of cooking on and using a kamado might sound complicated to beginners. They can just relax, because the Kamado grill, contrary to a popular belief, is a very easy to use grill, it just requires a little practice.
Of course, some may get scared away by having to use air vents for temperature control, but we can assure that it works much better than you might think. All it takes is few weeks with a kamado and most people confirm that it’s a great grill that they cook on a lot.
How to Light a Kamado Grill
Let’s start right from the beginning, kamado is a grill that runs on charcoal. It means that you have to light the charcoal every time in order to get the grill hot and start cooking. It used to be a tedious task, dirty and time consuming, but today things are different. There are several ways to get the charcoal burning fast and easily without toxic tinders.
Which particular method will be the best for you is only up to you, we guarantee that each of them is effective and most important, free of toxic chemicals.
Never use lighter fluid to light charcoal in a ceramic grill. It has plenty of downsides which is why it’s better to use one of the selected methods that you will learn everything about below, so let’s go.
Which charcoal is better?
Before we get started, let us touch upon one more important issue. Lump Charcoal is more expensive, burns faster, but it reaches much higher temperatures and produces way less ash, which is the main reason why it is better to use 100% Hardwood lump charcoal in a grill.
Briquettes, on the other hand, are much cheaper, burn longer, reach slightly lower temperatures, but they leave much more ash which might get the holes clogged and lower the air flow which is important in case of long cooking.
Long story short, Lump charcoal is better because it reaches higher temperatures and produces much less ash than briquettes, the main downside of lump charcoal is only its higher price.
Method no. 1 – Charcoal Chimney
A chimney is a great way to light charcoal, it allows to get the charcoal burning fast and evenly in a short time. It is not an expensive investment, and it certainly serves its purpose well, which is why we believe that it’s worth buying. How does it work?
- Step 1 – Place some old newspapers on the bottom of the chimney, then put in as much charcoal as you need. Put another sheet of paper or lighter cubes under the chimney and set it on fire ( these are natural cubes with no toxic additives and burn for a long time ).
- Step 2 – Wait for a moment, usually 10-15 minutes, and once most of the charcoal gets covered with gray coating, it means the charcoal is now ready and you can move it to the fire box in the kamado.
- Step 3 – Then close the lid of the grill and manipulate the air vents accordingly to reach your desired temperature.
The chimney allows to get a large amount of charcoal burning evenly, if you want to reach a very high temperature fast, then it’s a great solution for you. Of course, newspapers can be substituted with a single lighter cube for example, which is very cheap and non-toxic ( it burns for a long time ).
Method no. 2 – Electric Starter
A little more expensive starting method, but a very effective one too, and it works great when lighting charcoal in a kamado grill. An electric starter is self-sufficient, you don’t need any extra tinder or paper. It might be a slight downside that an electric starter requires access to electricity in order to work and costs a little more, but you don’t have to keep buying new tinder once in a while.
- Step 1 – Open all the air vents all the way, leave the lid of the grill open and pour charcoal into the firebox. Then put the electric lighter on the charcoal and wait for smoke to appear and for the charcoal to get a gray layer on top – it usually takes about 10-15 minutes.
- Step 2 – Once you see that the charcoal is burning, take out the electric starter and put it away someplace safe to cool down. Now you can add some more new charcoal to the hot charcoal so that the grill warms up faster. You can close the lid of the grill now and close the upper air vent a little, leave the bottom one still opend all the way until you get your desired temperature.
The price is similar to that of a charcoal chimney starter but the downside here is safety. An electric starter warms up very hot, after getting the charcoal burning it has to be put away in a safe place without any other elements and away from children, animals etc.
Method no. 3 – Lighter Cubes
Another method consists of pouring the right amount of charcoal into the inside of a kamado grill, then just adding 1-2 lighter cubes on top of the charcoal and lighting it. It is also a quick way to get the grill burning cheap, fast and without chemical additives.
- Step 1 – Open the lid of the grill and all the air vents. Then pour in charcoal and if you want high temperature then add a lot of charcoal whereas if you want to cook at a lower temperature then obviously add less charcoal. Finally, add lighter cubes ( 2 cubes is enough ) and light them.
- Step 2 – Wait 10-15 minutes and once a significant part of the charcoal gets covered with a gray coating, you can add a little more charcoal and close the lid of the grill. Make sure that the bottom air vent is open as well as the top one, that way the charcoal will burn faster. Once you reach your desired temperature you can close the bottom air vent and start cooking.
Lighter Cubes are a great thing in the grilling world, they are very cheap and effective. One cube burns for about 10 minutes which is enough to get the charcoal burning. On top of that, they are not toxic and don’t have any undesired chemical additives.
In conclusion, the best solution in our view is combining lighter cubes and a charcoal chimney starter. The chimney allows to light the charcoal evenly, fast and most of all, safely, it doesn’t warm up as much as an electric starter so you don’t have to be so careful when you put it away after lighting the charcoal. On top of that, you can light charcoal in the chimney using cheap lighter cubes or any paper ( there is always some paper around which also makes it an emergency method if you suddenly run out of lighter cubes ). It is also a huge advantage that it doesn’t require electricity and doesn’t have any elements that can break down, it can be brought along anywhere (to a camping ground or a park or a beach).
Temperature Control in Kamado
So the charcoal is burning already and the temperature in the grill keeps getting hotter by the minute. What to do now in order to keep the selected temperature fixed? It might seem like a difficult task, but the truth is, it just requires a little practice and intuition, you have to remember about few rules.
When cooking, you should always close the lid of the grill, only open it if you really have to. Avoid opening it every few seconds, it results in losing the heat fast and makes it impossible to maintain a fixed temperature.
Temperature control in a Kamado depends on two main factors – the amount of charcoal and the amount of oxygen that reaches the grill through the air vents. Which means you should choose the right amount of charcoal and properly control the air vents in order to have a good control of the air flow.
The more charcoal in the grill, the higher temperature you will get, so if you’re planning to cook for few hours at a low temperature then it’s a good idea to light a small amount of charcoal at first, and then add new charcoal when needed.
If you want a higher temperature then you have to add a lot more charcoal ( lump charcoal burns much hotter than briquettes ).
How is it with the air vents?
Remember one thing, getting charcoal burning requires oxygen. The more oxygen, the faster and hotter the charcoal burns, and it goes the same the other way, the less oxygen the longer the charcoal burns and the lower temperatures the grill reaches ( of course the temperature also directly depends on the amount of charcoal as specified above ).
So once again, how to maintain a fixed temperature
- Step 1 – Let’s assume that you picked the right amount of charcoal, which is already burning. Now you have to close the lid of the grill and open all the air vents until the Kamado gets close to the desired temperature ( about 20-30 degrees away from the desired temperature ).
- Step 2 – Is the temperature inside the grill close to the desired one? If yes then close the bottom air vent and leave the top air vent slightly open and keep checking if the temperature has stabilized for some time.
- Step 3 – If the temperature is too hot then open the top air vent some more, but close the bottom one. If the temperature is too low then close ¾ of the upper air vent and open the bottom air vent a little to increase the temperature.
- Step 4 – Depending on whether you cook in a high temperature or a low one, monitor the charcoal condition inside the grill.
Are you planning to smoking meat ?
In that case, you should start cooking a little differently than usual. First of all, you have to start with a definitely smaller amount of charcoal. The grill will be warming up much longer this way, but once it gets hot, it will easily hold a fixed low temperature for many hours. Kamado grills are great at holding temperature ( especially the ceramic ones ) which means they don’t need much charcoal.
You should also control the air vents accordingly so that you don’t provide too much oxygen and not make the charcoal burn faster. It is very important to choose the right amount of charcoal, too much of it will cause the temperature to be high and the only way to get it lower will be to wait for some of the charcoal to burn down so that the temperature drops on its own. It is better to start with less charcoal because when the need arises, you can gradually add more charcoal in order to increase the temperature.
Cooking on a Kamado Grill
You know how to light charcoal, you also know the basics of temperature control and air vent control. Now all that is left is to put all that knowledge into practical use, light the charcoal, preheat the grill and start cooking. There is nothing better when it comes to learning how to cook on a kamado than to simply experiment on your own and gradually learn how your grill works.
We don’t think we have to explain here how to cook, just put the food on the grates and cook with all our tips taken into account. If you often have doubts whether the food is ready, we recommend buying a meat thermometer with a probe. It’s a great invention that allows to constantly monitor the temperature inside meat. It lets you know that if you’re cooking thicker meat then it won’t be raw.
Kamado Grill Parts – The manual
We understand that many people might find the kamado construction to be a little mysterious. It is obviously a charcoal grill but it differs significantly from a traditional charcoal grill that you know in form of Kettle for example. That’s why we decided that we will describe the most important elements of the Kamado Grill so that you know what everything is for.
Let’s take our favorite kamado joe classic II grill as an example, other models might slightly differ but everything always looks similar in all kamados so if you have a different grill than joe classic II then it’s not a problem, the below picture should be very close to any other kamado.
Dome & Hinge – The dome of a kamado grill plays a very important role, it keeps smoke and heat inside the grill. That way the grill can reach much higher temperatures and it’s easier to control and maintain a fixed temperature. A smoke contained inside the grill has much more impact on the flavor of the food, when cooking long and slow it’s a great advantage. When the dome of the grill is open, the heat escapes very fast and the grill is at risk of high temperature fluctuations.
In more expensive kamados, there’s a special gasket between the dome and the bottom of the grill that can withstand high temperatures and allows to keep most of the smoke and heat inside. The dome is usually heavy and most kamados come with a simple hinge that allows to open the dome. One great innovative option is the air lift hinge in kamado joe classic II, which reduces the dome’s weight by about 95%~ ( one can even open the dome with a single finger ). Which is what makes us glad that there are several manufacturers of kamados because competition always pushes technology forward.
Upper air vent – A very important element in a kamado, it is responsible for controlling the air flow and makes it possible to precisely control the temperature inside the grill. Most of the time it’s made of cast iron or stainless steel but due to cast iron being prone to corrosion, some manufacturers make it of aluminum, which is lighter and immune to corrosion.
The upper air vent is really a great tool for temperature control. You can open it to several different degrees or even take the cap off in order to open the big hole that a lot of air comes out of.
Grill grates, pizza-stone, heat deflector and other accessories – Inside a kamado, right below the dome is the cooking area. The main area is filled with the grill grates which are usually made of steel ( they are easy to clean with a metal brush ). Beside the main grill grates, there’s also place for plenty of different accessories that can offer plenty of combinations. Among the things at your disposals are, for example, different grill grates that can significantly increase the cooking area inside the grill by adding things like a standing rib rack, a V-rack or an upper cooking grate.
There’s also place for such interesting accessories as a pizza-stone, a deflector stone or a rotisserie. All of that gives so many opportunities that one could easily say that kamado is a versatile grill.
Fire Box – It’s the place where charcoal burns, the fire box also includes a fire grate and a fire ring discussed below. A fire box consists of ceramic elements with a hole in the middle for oxygen to get through. When you’re assembling your grill, don’t worry if there are tiny gaps between the elements. It was made that way on purpose because high temperatures cause materials to contract or expand which in case of ceramics could cause it to crack, which is why there are tiny little gaps to prevent this.
Fire Ring – The main purpose of it is to provide free space between the firebox and the grill grates.
Fire Grate – The key element of a kamado, which makes cleaning much easier. It is located on the bottom of the firebox, is made of cast iron and has plenty of tiny holes on the inside. What are they for? The tiny holes let the ash fall through, which is produced by burning charcoal. The ash gets through the holes in the fire grate to a special drawer that can be removed to throw away the accumulated ash.
On top of that, the holes let oxygen through, which is needed for the charcoal to burn. The bottom air vent, which has the ash drawer behind it, can be used to adjust the amount of oxygen getting inside the grill. One should often check if the drawer is full or if the holes didn’t get clogged as it might cause problems with air flow which has a negative impact on burning the charcoal and temperature control.
Draft Door & Ash Drawer – Also called the bottom air vent and the place behind which is the ash drawer. This door serves a very important role in a kamado, it is responsible for how much air gets inside the kamado. The draft door together with the upper air vent constitute the two most important elements of a kamado because it is those two elements that allow for air flow control which is crucial when it comes to burning charcoal and temperature control inside the grill. More on how to control the temperature in a kamado grill can be read in the beginning of this post.
Ash Drawer – It is located right behind the draft door, the drawer is there to collect ash which falls through the holes in the fire grate. One should often check the amount of ash, as too much of it clogs the holes in the fire grate which causes problems with a proper air flow and burning. Just make sure to empty the drawer of ash once in a while and that’s it. It is this drawer that makes removing ash from a kamado after cooking a very easy task.
Lid thermometer – We would just like to remind that the thermometer located on the top of the lid shows a slightly different temperature from the actual one right next to the grill grates. Such situation is also present in every other type of grill which is why I don’t think it’s a shock to anyone. The reason is simply the location of the thermometer, if you want to know the real temperature right above the grill grates then you should plug a temperature sensor right above the grill grates. You just need a little time with the kamado and you will learn how to properly tell the right temperature for cooking.
If you often cook thicker slabs of meat then we really recommend digital thermometers which are equipped with meat probes that allow for a constant temperature control inside the meat. It is truly a useful gadget not only when cooking on a grill. That way you will know that the meat isn’t raw on the inside.