Ceramic barbecue grills/smokers, also commonly referred to as “kamados”, are steadily gaining more and more popularity among professional (competition) and backyard grill enthusiasts. Ceramic smokers are based on a clay design that has been around for centuries, most prominently used in the Japanese culture as a rice steamer. Over the years, the structural design of the earlier kamados has been ceramic planter altered to incorporate a ceramic shell. Currently, there are close to a dozen companies that manufacture ceramic cookers, though new companies continue to show up on the horizon as the popularity of ceramic grilling continues to increase.
There are many reasons why ceramic grills are gaining popularity, but perhaps the most commonly referred to advantages of ceramic cookers over commercial metal charcoal grills or gas grills, is the efficiency of fuel usage and consistency of fire control. As an example, a typical pork shoulder (that’s slow cooked for football game day pulled pork feasting!) can be cooked at an exact temperature for 15-20 hours using only a small pile (1-2 lbs) of lump charcoal. Conversely, ceramic smokers also reach temperatures of 700 degrees or higher and can be used for safely searing a steak at incredibly hot temperatures. It’s also important to mention that ceramic grills are generally considered safer than typical large wood-burning smokers, in that the fire is small and contained in a ceramic grill and the ceramic material does not conduct heat as well as metal, resulting in a surface that is not as hot to the touch.
There are several fuel sources when using a ceramic smoker. The most common and recommended fuel is natural, or lump, charcoal. Lump charcoal consists of partially burned hardwoods, such as maple or hickory, and has an advantage over common charcoal briquettes in that it doesn’t give off a distasteful odor like the petroleum-containing briquettes often do. Additionally, hardwood chunks or chips are often added to the lump charcoal pile to add various smoked flavors. Most ceramic grill enthusiasts like to experiment with woods such as pecan, mesquite or hickory while grilling/smoking various foods. Next time you sit down at a popular barbeque restaurant or enjoy a meal with a friend who is an experienced cooker, try and place the different flavors in the food.
The price tag on ceramic cookers may shock the typical shopper, with a typical range of $500-$1,000. However, when the quality and versatility are compared to the common gas grill, they are well worth the investment. Ceramic cookers are a simple design and don’t need all of the typical component maintenance/replacement that most gas grills do. Additionally, most companies that manufacture ceramic grills offer a lifetime warranty.
Ceramic smokers not only grill and smoke foods, but you can also bake on them because of the low consistent cooking temperatures. Many outdoor cooking enthusiasts enjoy using ceramic grills to bake foods such as pizzas and desserts. Considering this versatility, along with the quality of the design of ceramic grills, if you are serious about outdoor grilling, I highly recommend you give ceramic grills a serious look for a future investment. It most likely will become your go-to outdoor grill/smoke