How to Use a Kamado Grill – Our Advice for Beginners

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A Kamado Grill is an extremely versatile cooker that makes it possible to grill, roast, smoke, and even bake food all on the same unit. If you’re new to grilling and just bought a new Kamado grill or are planning to and simply want to learn something about this style of cooking then we invite you to read on!

The Kamado cooking style carries plenty of benefits. We’d like to show you how a kamado grill works so that you can get the best results when cooking and use all of its potential. Simply put, nothing beats the flavor of food cooked with a kamado grill!

So with that in mind, let’s get right into our Kamado Grill guide!

Choosing the Right Kamado

The prices for a kamado grill can range from $200 up to few thousand. It all depends on what materials a kamado grill is made of and on its size. The most expensive and the best ones are ceramic kamado grills which are truly an investment for years.

For those with a lower budget, on the other hand, the manufacturers offer kamados made of stainless steel or part cast-iron aluminum. One upside of this solution is undoubtedly a much lower price but the downside is definitely the poorer insulation.

If a kamado is a complete novelty to you then you need to know that the best ones in terms of quality are undisputedly ceramic kamado grills.

They are characterized by better durability ( rust resistance ) and a definitely better temperature control. The downside is high price, a decent ceramic grill will usually cost over one thousand dollars. The price is definitely steep – but it could be worth it to you, especially if you fall in love with this cooking style.

Currently the best choice in my opinion is Kamado Joe Classic, which is big, made of ceramics and it comes with just about every extra feature you could want out of a grill.

How to Start a Kamado Grill

There are few different methods that you can use to get the charcoal burning. Before I share them with you, I’d like to remind you what charcoal is the best for kamado.

In order to get the most authentic and aromatic charcoal grill flavor I suggest only using the 100% Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal. Why?

Hardwood Lump Charcoal is characterized by burning faster while reaching much higher temperatures, it offers better temperature control, doesn’t contain chemical additives that impact the food’s flavor and it produces much less ash.

For comparison, charcoal briquettes are cheaper, but it contains chemical additives, burns longer, reaches much lower temperatures and produces more ash.  If you want to check out a deep dive on this topic, we’ve written a comparison of lump charcoal vs briquettes you can check out next.

So, can briquettes be used with kamado grill?

The answer is yes, but you have to remember about few things. There is a good reason why manufacturers suggest to only use Hardwood lump charcoal, it differs from briquettes significantly.

The main argument in favor of using lump charcoal instead of briquettes mixed with charcoal in a kamado grill is the amount of ash left after the charcoal burns down.

Briquettes definitely produce much more ash which is not good if you want to cook for many hours, large amount of ash can block the air vents which plays a key role when cooking on a kamado.

Let me start with an important note, don’t use Lighter Fluid to get charcoal burning.

According to the instruction, after using lighter fluid one has to wait some time for the chemicals to burn out before starting to cook. The truth is, even after some time one can feel the chemical flavor in the food and in the air from the burning of the lighter fluid.

Today I’d like to show you three methods of getting lump charcoal burning in a kamado that are free of chemicals and cheaper in a long run.

Method 1: Electric Starter

  1. Open all the air vents all the way
  2. Place few pieces of lump charcoal on the bottom of the grill, then place an electric starter on top of it.
  3. Wait for about 10-15 minutes before smoke shows up and the charcoal gets burning, then unplug it and remove the electric starter and put it away in a safe place to cool down ( remember that it’s hot so make sure it’s in a safe place ).
  4. Add some new charcoal, close the lid, adjust the air vents accordingly and wait 15-20 minutes for the grill to reach the right temperature for cooking.

It is not an expensive method, but it is certainly the best one when it comes to getting lump charcoal burning in a kamado.

No chemical additives, doesn’t require any tinder ( like paper ), doesn’t get your hands messy and is very easy for everyone. It might be a downside that you need to have a source of power nearby which might pose a problem to those staying outside.

Method 2: Charcoal Chimney

  1. Remember to open all air vents.
  2. Put 2 newspaper sheets on the bottom of the charcoal chimney, then fill up the chimney with lump charcoal. If you don’t have newspapers, you can put one of the paraffin cubes described above.
  3. Next set the newspapers or the cube on fire and wait for 10-15 minutes until all the charcoal gets covered with ash.
  4. Pour the hot charcoal into the kamado and fill up the remaining space with even more new charcoal.
  5. Close the lid, leave the air vents open and wait for about a dozen minutes until the kamado grill warms up and reaches the right cooking temperature.

What’s the advantage of this method? The charcoal chimney starter makes it possible to get the charcoal burning evenly in a short time without using chemical tinders.

All you need to get charcoal burning in a chimney is some newspaper or lighter cubes ( one is enough ). Charcoal chimney starter is something that I think every grilling enthusiast should have.

It’s an infallible method that allows to get charcoal burning fast and easily without using chemical agents.

Method 3: Charcoal Fire Starters

  1. Open all air vents.
  2. Place some lump charcoal on the bottom of the grill, then place the recommended amount of charcoal fire starters.
  3. Wait a moment for smoke to appear and 10-15 minutes for the charcoal to get hot.
  4. Once the charcoal is burning well already, add some new lump charcoal and close the lid of the grill. Leave the air vents open until you reach your desired cooking temperature.

Lighter Cubes are non-toxic and odor-free, the cubes are made of paraffin wax. When burning, they generate a huge flame which allows to get the charcoal burning fast and easily. ( The cubes burn for about 10 minutes ).

Usually one such cube or alternatively two is enough to get a grill burning, a package containing 24 cubes costs about 4 dollars so I think that it’s a pretty cheap and effective solution compared to toxic chemical tinders.

It is also great when combined with the chimney starter method described below.

How to Control Temperature In a Kamado Grill

For those just beginning their journey with Kamado or grilling as a whole, it might look like a difficult and complicated task. The reality is that there’s nothing difficult about it, with a little practice you can easily achieve and maintain the desired temperature.

The only thing you have to keep in mind is that increasing the temperature in a kamado is always easier than decreasing it.

That’s why you have to plan ahead what you want to cook, if your plan is to cook ribs at low temperature, then get the grill burning with a small amount of  charcoal and don’t add any more. If you want to cook food in a higher temperature, however, like steaks, then feel free to add a large amount of charcoal in order to reach the highest temperature possible.

High Temperatures

  • Start by closing the lid and opening all air vents all the way.
  • Get the charcoal burning using one of the methods described in detail above. Then wait for your Kamado to warm up, soon before it reaches the desired temperature ( preferably about 20-25 degrees before the target temperature ) partially close the top air vent ( leave about ¼ of the air vent open ).
  • Next wait for a while and see again if the temperature is right.
  • If the temperature inside the grill is too high then close the top air vent in order to lower the temperature, if the temperature is too high, however, then open the top air vent accordingly to increase the temperature fast.

Low Temperatures

  • If you’re planning to sear meat at low temperatures, you have to get your kamado grill burning a little differently. Start by getting a small amount of charcoal burning, why? Too much charcoal will cause the grill to warm up too much and it will be difficult to get the temperature down.
  • Then open the top air vent halfway and open the draft door halfway. Close the lid and wait for at least half an hour. In the meanwhile, the grill should warm up to a low enough temperature, don’t add any more charcoal or else you’ll get the temperature much higher.

Cooking on a Kamado Grill

When looking at the structure of a kamado, it looks like a regular charcoal grill. However, one big bonus here is the thick walls that are great for holding heat inside the grill. I love Kamado for being both a grill and a smoker. It is perfect for both, it makes it possible to sear meat at low temperatures ( about 225 degrees ) for many hours and can reach high temperatures ( about 900 degrees F ) to sear for tasty steaks or hamburgers.

The key to achieving it all is control of the air vents that air flows through.

Let me also touch the subject of cooking techniques, a traditional charcoal grill makes it possible to cook using the direct or indirect method. When it comes to Kamado, the default method is direct heat radiating from the charcoal directly into the food.

If you wish to cook on a kamado using the indirect method, on the other hand, you need heat deflectors. These are special ceramic plates that allow to split the cooking area into different parts. That way you split the space into a two-area cooking space fast and easily or get the charcoal entirely separated from the food which makes perfect conditions for slow meat searing. Depending on what kamado grill you have, you need to look for accessories that match your model.

How to Sear on a Kamado

Let’s start by getting the charcoal burning, use one of the methods described above to do that. The best way to get charcoal burning for meat searing at low temperature is the charcoal burning from above method. It consists of pouring charcoal on the grill and then setting it on fire using lighter cubes ( it’s the best to use one ). That way the charcoal will be burning from above, which results in the charcoal burning longer.

Remember not to use too much charcoal, the best will be hardwood lump charcoal.  After getting the charcoal burning, allow the hot charcoal to warm up your grill, which should take 15-30 minutes.

In the last stage, once the temperature inside the grill is right, put a smoking stone inside the kamado, which is there to separate hot charcoal from the food, thus creating conditions for indirect cooking. Then you can put the cooking grates on and wait for 5-10 minutes until the temperature stabilizes. Putting a smoking stone in for a short while will cause the temperature to shift. After few minutes, make sure that the temperature is right, if it isn’t then wait few more minutes, if it is then you can place meat on the grates.

This method is a pretty precise one because getting the right temperature is crucial for being able to sear meat for many hours. The structure of a Kamado is brilliant when it comes to meat searing possibilities. It might look like something complicated, but once you get a little experience it will come to you easily.

Safety Tips for Kamado Grills

To most people, the basic safety rules for cooking on a grill are obvious, but each of us has met someone to whom obvious things tend to be complicated. That’s why it is better to recall the basic safety rules when cooking on a kamado grill.

This article might be read by someone who is just starting on their journey with kamado and is completely confused, which is why my each remark might be valuable for someone like this.

The first important thing is not to open the kamado lid rapidly. Why? Opening the lid rapidly might result in a huge wave of fire or a huge amount of smoke coming out. It is dangerous, which is why the lid should be properly opened in order to avoid this, how to do it?

Before opening the lid, make sure that the air vents are open. Then open the lid just a little and for few seconds until a large amount of oxygen reaches the grill. Now you can open the kamado lid completely without worrying about a sudden wave of fire, remember not to open the lid too rapidly.

Here are a few more quick pointers on using your cooker:

  • Weather conditions such as rain or snow are no threat to a kamado. If you’re not using the kamado, however, I recommend buying a grill cover that will allow you to keep your kamado clean and extend its lifespan.
  • Before cleaning a kamado grill, make sure it has cooled down completely. Ash removal should be done after it cools down as well.
  • Don’t put hot ceramic stones or grates on flammable surfaces. It is the best to put them on grass or stones.
  • Don’t put ceramic elements in water, it often results in the ceramics cracking in the future.

Final Thoughts

That’s it when it comes to the safety rules when cooking on a kamado grill. If you have any suggestions or feedback, I invite you to discuss it below the post, you can leave your comment and share your thoughts with us. I wish you safe grilling and great food!