Kamado Joe Grills: An Expert Guide to a 2,000-Year-Old Grill

Kamado-style ceramic grills were invented in ancient China 2000 years ago, and Kamado Joe's has perfected fun and user-friendly versions for your backyard!

Meat and potatoes and asparagus on a grill.

Photo courtesy of Kamado Joe Grills

Kamado Style Grills: A Brief History

Today's modern Kamado Grill looks completely different from its ancient ancestor developed in China over 2,000 years ago. The Chinese originally created these cooking vessels out of clay and bronze to help quickly steam rice. The first iteration of a Kamado Grill was called a Yan Steamer.

A yan steamer.

A Yan Steamer. Photo by Peng Yanan

The Qin Dynasty is mostly recognized as being the first imperialistic dynasty of China and famously created the Terracotta warriors to honor their ruler Qin Shi Huang. Consistent with the materials used to craft the Terracotta warriors, the Qin Dynasty shifted the original clay and bronze materials of the Yan Steamer to ceramics. They chose this material because of its great heat retention properties. Eventually, this ceramic cooking device would make its way across the East China Sea to Japan.

As time went on, the Japanese would add a dome lid on a hinge to help control the heat more efficiently on this cooking device. Additional vents and a fuel damper would be added to help control the heat and change the airflow—these small changes allow the chef to dial in the flavor using different fuels and smoke techniques.

The Japanese called this device "Mushikamado" for centuries until it was eventually introduced to American soldiers in World War II and the name of the device was shortened to Kamado which literally means "place for the cauldron" in Japanese. American soldiers quickly realized that because of the seal of the ceramic domed lid and the unique design of the top vent, this device was ideal for grilling meats, not just steaming rice and vegetables. One particular soldier named Ed Fisher was fascinated with the cooking devices and began selling them in the 70s after leaving the military. Mr. Fisher would later strike a deal with a factory in Monterrey, Mexico and started his own company in 1995 called The Big Green Egg! This new company with a commercially viable manufacturing and distribution means is what helped propel the Kamado grill to the cult popularity it enjoys today!

Kamado Joe Grills: An Atlanta Smoker Company

Bobby Brennan and Kerry Coker were huge fans of the Big Green Egg and the Kamado style grill but wanted to expand the offering and give other backyard chefs additional flexibility and simplicity. They started Kamado Joe Grills in 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia with a focus on providing several different ranges of Kamado Grills for a variety of chefs. Today, Kamado Joe provides three distinct series of grills and two entry-level options. Each of the primary ceramic series has two separate sizes: the traditional 18" Joe Series and the larger 24" Big Joe Series.

The Kamado Joe brand is most famous for its Divide and Conquer Grilling System. This flexible cooking system is a two-tier and three-tier divided grate that allows you to grill multiple items at two different levels inside the grill at the same time. This innovation provides plenty of cooking space for you and your family and you can easily cook your favorite steak, pork, or chicken dish while searing a nice piece of salmon or even smoking a pizza!

Kamado Joe’s Classic Joe and Big Joe

Two grills stand side by side. One is the classic Kamadoe Joe Grill and one is the large Kamado Joe Grill.

Series 1

The Series 1 is a great introductory range for someone that is looking to get into charcoal grilling with a Kamado grill. This Kamado Joe may seem simple, but it comes out of the box packaged with awesome features! The patented 2-Tier Divide & Conquer Cooking System allows you to cook different foods at different temperatures easily and effectively. This setup is perfect for those looking for a simple, easy-to-use grill to get started!

The Classic Joe has an 18-inch grilling surface and delivers 250 square inches of cooking space. The Daisy Wheel Top Vent allows for easy control of temperatures and smoke throughout your cook! The Kamado Joe Classic Series 1 also comes with a built-in thermometer for pinpoint temperature control. Folding HDPE (high-density polyethylene plastic) side shelves on the cart are very sturdy and will give you plenty of preparation area, as well as being extremely easy to clean! Finally, the Patented Ash Drawer makes for easy clean-up after your cook—no need to open the bottom and scrape out leftover ash. Simply slide open the door and pull out the ash box to empty!

The Big Joe Series 1 edition comes with all the same great features as the Classic Series 1 grill, but the stainless-steel grill racks come in a 24-inch diameter. This nearly doubles the grilling space, giving you 450 square inches of cooking space. The unique inner shape of the lid provides a consistent slow-rolling flavorful smoke throughout your cook!

An open Kamado grill. on one side is potatoes and asparagus. On the other is some chicken.

Both the Series 1 Classic Joe and Big Joe come with a standard hinge. These are a great way to get started with Kamado-style charcoal grilling!

Series 2

The Series 2 Classic Joe and Big Joe come with all the same great features as the Series 1 but include a few extra features that can really elevate your cooking game, not to mention improve your comforts as a chef!

There are three main features that elevate the Series 2 over the Series 1. The cast iron Kontrol Tower Top Vent allows any level of BBQ chef to easily maintain consistent temperatures, no matter how long your cook is! There are four separate airflow settings on the top vent—slide the vent all the way to the right for the highest temps, perfect for grilling steaks and chops, or dial the vent all the way back to the left and turn the Kamado into a low and slow smoker. Brisket anyone?! This Kontrol Tower Top Vent can be purchased as a separate accessory and will fit all Classic Joe and Big Joe grills (the only Kamado Grill that the Kontrol Tower Top Vent does not fit is the Joe Jr.).

The top vent on a Kamado Joe grill. There is steam coming out of it.

The second awesome feature of the Series 2 line is the Air Lift lid. This counterbalance hinge makes opening the heavy ceramic dome extremely easy. You can literally open the lid with one finger! It will also stop the lid from closing so you can easily manipulate the lid position.

Close up of some chicken being cooked on a Kamado grill.

Finally, the Series 2 also comes with Kamado Joe's exclusive Wire Mesh Fireglass Gasket which offers a complete airtight seal when the lid is closed. This locks in the moisture of your meats and keeps the flavor of the smoke rolling over the grill grates continuously!

Series 3

Finally, we arrive at the King of Komado's with the Series 3. The Series 3 is designed for the ultimate cooking experience and will deliver a huge feast if you like to entertain or have a big family to cook for!

Again, the Series 3 builds on all of the same great features and benefits of the Series 2 with some additional features and cooking enhancements. Both the Classic Joe and the Big Joe Series 3 options come with Kamado Joe's patented SlōRoller hyperbolic insert technology. Originally designed by a Harvard Scientist, the SlōRoller distributes the smoke and internal heat over the food rack in a constant rolling motion like a convection oven. This means more evenly distributed flavor and heat, no matter what type of cook you are attempting!

The Series 3 also steps up the Divide & Conquer Cooking System by adding a three-tier divide. This tiered system enhances the convenience of the Kamado Joe Classic or the Kamado Big Joe Series 3 by giving you even more cooking options for larger parties! Additional heat deflectors are placed inside the cooking chamber to help provide more precise heat across all 3-tiers of cooking grates.

A mans arm is putting some tiles in a charcoal grill.

Finally, the Series 3 comes with a nice quick cleanup feature as it includes the Kamado Joe Charcoal Basket. This basket quickly separates leftover charcoal from the ash after your cook is complete so you can quickly utilize the leftover grill fuel for your next cook! Another added benefit of the charcoal basket is this quickly removes spent particles of charcoal to enhance airflow and keep the coals consistently hot throughout your grilling experience! If you are looking for the ultimate cooking experience or frequently host large parties, this should be your Kamado Grill of choice!

Joe Jr. and Kettle Joe

Two men carry a grill together.

Kamado Joe also provides two smaller and more budget-friendly options if you are looking to dip your toe in the Kamado grill waters before making the full plunge! The Joe Jr. has the same design and technology as the Series 1, 2, and 3 but in a 13.5-inch body, making this grill perfect to take with you for tailgating, camping, or down to the beach! The Joe Jr. is a great way to try things out and see if grilling with a Kamado is something that you enjoy.

Close up of some chicken being cooked on a charcoal grill. Some tongs are flipping the chicken.

The Kettle Joe is a traditional American-style kettle grill with 350 square inches of cooking space but incorporates some of the same technologies as the Series 1, 2, and 3 Classic and Big Joe Kamado Grills. Technological items such as the SlōRoller hyperbolic insert and two Divide & Conquer cooking systems deliver the same great heat retention and flavor as the larger Kamado style charcoal grilling experiences!

I know once you take the jump to try a Kamado Joe, you won't be disappointed! Stay tuned for additional articles regarding my favorite Kamado Joe's grill accessories and some awesome recipes to try out on these fantastic grills!

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Written By
I grew up as a kid in the Pacific Northwest. Family was always grilling salmon, halibut, shrimp and oysters - fresh from the Hood Canal. As I got older eventually that focus would shift to steak and ribs and the rest was history. I've always enjoyed the slower cook times of a smoker and the flavor p...

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