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Kamado Joe: barbecue done right

Kamado Joe: barbecue done right

by Great British Chefs 01 April 2019

Tired of being let down by mediocre equipment, barbecue fanatics Bobby Brennan and Kerry Coker set up Kamado Joe in 2009, determined to create the best ceramic barbecue in the world. In less than a decade they have done just that, ushering in a new era for home cooks drawn to the primal art of cooking with fire.


What do you think of when we mention the word ‘barbecue’? If you’re British, there’s a good chance you think about sausages and chicken breasts searing on an open-topped grill – but in reality, barbecue is so much more than that. The discovery that food could be cooked over fire remains a defining moment for our species, and barbecue today harks back to that primal art. In that sense, it is a representation of the origins of humanity.

Look around the world and you’ll see that ancient barbecue techniques are still a part of daily life for many cultures. In the USA, pitmasters smoke pork shoulder and beef brisket long and slow over gentle wood fires. Street food stalls across Thailand, Japan, China and the rest of Asia employ a similar tactic to the UK, cooking skewers of glazed meat over raging hot coals. South American cooks build huge bonfires and cook whole animals parilla style, moving them in and out of the fire on huge iron frames.

Second perhaps to the discovery of fire itself was the discovery that heat from a fire could be stored in other materials. A fire can be maintained perpetually with enough fuel, but the ability to retain heat opened the door to a revolution in cooking. In Egypt, they built masonry ovens out of bricks. In Mexico and Pacific Islands like Samoa and Fiji, they used superheated rocks to cook food in underground earth ovens. In ancient China some 3,000 years ago, they discovered that baked clay was an incredibly effective way to retain heat. They sculpted ceramic ovens, which became common all across Asia in the coming years – particularly in India where they evolved to become tandoors, and in Japan where they came to be called kamados, or mushikamados, and were used to steam rice.

At the end of the Second World War, lots of American troops returning home from Japan brought kamados with them as souvenirs, introducing the ceramic oven to American barbecue culture for the first time. The original Japanese kamados were versatile, but they were also prone to cracking under high temperatures. Most wrote off ceramic barbecues as fatally flawed, but two barbecue fanatics saw a diamond in the rough. Bobby Brennan and Kerry Coker saw incredible potential in the heat-retentive qualities of the kamado, but they found themselves repeatedly frustrated by its shortcomings. Undeterred, they resolved to bring kamado design into the twenty-first century, taking the best qualities of those ceramic ovens and combining them with precision engineering and modern technology to create the best ceramic cooker in the world.

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Heavy duty construction – the bottom cradle and top air vent are both made from powder-coated cast iron
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Kamado Joe is so confident in the advancements it has made to the ceramic shell and firebox, it offers a lifetime warranty on all the ceramic components

Kamado Joe was born in 2009, and the company has been red hot ever since, introducing innovative new technologies to take the ancient kamado to uncharted new heights. That striking ceramic shell, for example, is made with a combination of high fire ceramics, refractory materials, traditional terracotta, portland cement and crushed lava rock, and easily maintains temperatures well above 400ºC. The problem with old-style kamados was that the ceramic expanded and contracted when heated and cooled, eventually causing the shell to crack. Kamado Joe solved that problem by constructing their ‘fireboxes’ with five individual pieces, allowing breathing room for the ceramic as it changes temperature.

These are the sorts of small, careful innovations that have pushed Kamado Joe closer and closer to barbecue perfection. Gone are the days of lighting a fire and seeing how many sausages you can grill before it goes out – a Kamado Joe will easily go for a whole day on a single firebox of charcoal. Not only that, it gives you incredibly precise control over temperature. The air vents at the top and bottom act as a temperature dial – open them up and the Kamado Joe will soar to the lofty heights of 400ºC, well beyond the capabilities of any conventional oven. Close them down and you can hold a temperature under 100ºC.

Having that sort of precise control over the temperature of a live fire cooker is a game-changer – the Kamado Joe becomes an oven, grill and smoker all in one. Now you can grill all the sausages you want, but you can also roast big joints of meat – first searing them over red-hot coals, then slow-cook them with the lid down at a more moderate temperature until meltingly tender. You can hot-smoke by lowering the temperature right down and throwing on a few chunks of wood to fill the chamber with smoke. You can even roast things in the embers themselves, imparting some of that essential smoky flavour into aubergine for baba ganoush, or taking your baked potato game to the next level.

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The brand new five-piece firebox design allows the ceramic to expand as it heats, eliminating any risk of cracks as it cools down again
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The thermometer on the front of the lid provides an accurate picture of how hot your barbecue is running, along with helpful guidance on cooking temperatures

Inside that ground-breaking firebox sits one of Kamado Joe’s most defining features – the Divide & Conquer Flexible Cooking System. When it comes to mastering the art of cooking over fire, temperature is just one piece of the puzzle – you have to consider direct and indirect heat, how close your food is to the heat source and a host of other factors. Divide & Conquer splits your cooking space into two halves and multiple levels, giving you unparalleled flexibility over your cooking.

Say you’re cooking a steak – use Kamado Joe’s cast-iron grate and set it up close to your coals for a really good sear and those all-important bar marks. Meanwhile, you can be gently roasting some vegetables on the other half of your grill, setting the grate in the higher position and slotting in the ceramic heat deflector plate underneath it, protecting those vegetables from aggressive direct heat.

The Kamado Joe comes with stainless steel grates and heat deflector plates as standard, but there’s a host of other cooking surfaces to choose from, including a soapstone slab, a laser-cut stainless steel surface that’s perfect for delicate fish and veggies, and a huge pizza stone that creates beautiful charred crusts for flatbreads and pizzas.

Not content with building the most versatile, efficient barbecue on the planet, Bobby and Kerry have also created accessories for almost every use you can imagine. The DōJoe, for example, slots between the firebox and lid to convert the Kamado Joe into a roaring wood-fired pizza oven, giving your pizzas that gorgeous charred finish. The JoeTisserie is an electric rotisserie that makes easy work of chickens, roasting joints and even vegetables. If you want all the enjoyment of barbecue food but none of the hassle, you can even have complete control of your Kamado Joe via your phone and the iKamand – a tiny electronic dongle that attaches to the lower air vent and automatically adjusts the air flow for you.

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The JoeTisserie will happily rotate a roasting joint for hours whilst you entertain your guests
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Kamado Joe's incredible big block charcoal is made using a blend of three Argentinian hardwoods, and is roasted in huge ovens before being bagged and shipped

Every potential problem has been carefully considered and solved, right down to the fuel for your fire. Unsatisfied with charcoal made using mediocre wood and briquettes that often come loaded with other unwanted chemicals, Bobby and Kerry ventured to Argentina to develop their own charcoal. The indigenous hardwood trees here are so dense they’re called ‘axe-breakers’ by the locals – the team at Kamado Joe takes that wood and roasts it in huge outdoor ovens, then bags it up ready for use. Open up a pack and you’ll find enormous lumps of dense, heavy charcoal – a sure sign that you’re dealing with a serious product.

That unwillingness to compromise is what defines Kamado Joe. Bobby and Kerry set out on this journey with the idea that everything should be the best it can be, and the result is an experience where everything works as it should, with no unexpected hiccups or dramas. As you become au fait with the capabilities of a Kamado Joe, you realise there are very few limits to what this barbecue can do. It’ll change the way you cook.

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