Eye-catching color and design
Incredible heat retention
Simple to operate
Heavy to move
Temperature reductions take time
Ceramic is breakable
Though the Kamado Joe company was founded in 2009, kamado cooking is more than 3,000 years old. Based on ancient clay-oven cooking, the concept originated in China and spread to Japan, where the ovens evolved to include dampers for better heat control. The Kamado Joe Classic II Charcoal Grill is built on these same ancient principles but uses modern materials and forward-thinking design to make the heavy ceramic grill a pleasure to use. Like most other modern-day kamado-style grills, the Kamado Joe Classic II is quite expensive, but its ability to effortlessly manage low-temperature smoking and high-heat grilling, coupled with its user-friendly features, make it one of the most versatile charcoal grills on the market. We put the popular product to the test to see if it held up to its reputation.
Performance: Impressive heat retention
The Kamado Joe Classic is made entirely of heavy ceramic, from the thick walls to the interior firebox that holds the coals. By adjusting the bottom and top vents, users can control the amount of air that flows into the firebox, and therefore how hot the grill gets. The bottom vent regulates the heat on a macro scale (think raising or lowering by 100-degree intervals) while the top vent is for fine-tuning the heat by 25-degree intervals. Because the heavy ceramic holds in the heat so well, you don’t need to burn as much charcoal to keep the grill at the right temperature.
We filled up the firebox with lump charcoal and smoked several racks of ribs at 250 degrees for four hours without having to use a messy pan of liquid to moderate the heat or replenish the coals even once. In fact, there was still plenty of fuel left to open the vents, bring the temp up, and get a good char on the outside of the meat when it was done. Even more surprising? It was 31 degrees outside with strong freezing winds and the temp in the grill stayed steady the whole time. When we’ve smoked ribs in the winter on a steel smoker, we’ve had to replenish with fresh coals several times over the course of the cook.
Because the heavy ceramic holds in the heat so well, you don’t need to burn as much charcoal to keep the grill at the right temperature.
The grill also performed stunningly well at high temperatures with the vents wide open. We grilled pizzas at 600 degrees and they were gorgeously crisp and blistered on the bottom and puffy on top with a kiss of charcoal smoke in just a few minutes. To cook steaks, we set the grill up for two-level heating: One side of the grill had no ceramic heat deflector above the fire—just a grill grate in the lowest position. The other side had the heat deflector in place and the grill grate on the top position. We seared the steaks over the coals on the hot side, then placed them the other side to finish cooking with indirect heat. Then we placed oiled radicchio on the hot side to char. Perfectly cooked pork tenderloin, grilled over moderate heat, was just as easy with the vents partially open and the heat deflectors in place.
The 18-inch diameter cooking surface of the Classic II was plenty big enough for all the things we wanted to grill, though we did cook the pizzas one at a time.
Design: Great-looking and user-friendly
Like other kamado-style grills, the Kamado Joe Classic II is egg-shaped, with a thermometer embedded in the domed lid. But unlike other brands, it comes in a bold and shiny brick-red color that gives it an eye-catching wow factor. Yes, it stands out, but it stands out like a sports car, not a sore thumb. It comes complete with a sturdy welded metal stand that has locking back wheels, and plastic side shelves that are easy to lock up in place or flap down when not in use. The shelves even include hooks for hanging barbecue tools.
The Kamado Joe features several design innovations that make it particularly easy to use. The thermometer gauge is very large and easy to read, with temperatures in Fahrenheit and Celsius. And the “Divide and Conquer” rack system is smartly designed to allow you to keep food close to the fire for searing, or place it several inches higher for more moderate heat. We simply placed the half-moon stainless steel grill grates higher or lower on the rack. Unlike with its competitors, there’s no need to remove the heat deflector or use spacers.
The ash collector, a drawer which slides in and out of the bottom vent, effortlessly catches all the ash from the firebox. Just pull it out, dump out the cold ash, and slide it back in. Other kamado grills require using a messy ash rake.
Finally, the rust-resistant aluminum top vent on the Kamado Joe Classic II won’t shift when you raise and lower the lid, which is a problem with some other kamado grills.
Setup Process: Easy but requires muscles
The Kamado Joe Classic II is available from online retailers such as Amazon and gets delivered by a third-party delivery company. It was packed on a sturdy wooden platform surrounded by thick, heavy-duty cardboard sides. Inside, all the pieces were nestled securely with cardboard and Styrofoam, and we were able to unpack each individual piece and carry it to the area where we planned to set up the grill. The hardest part was moving the kamado itself. Even empty it weighs a couple hundred pounds, and we had to carry it up a steep flight of stairs to get it on our back deck. Making things more tricky, the instructions say not to lift the kamado by its handle or the band that wraps around it. You can only grab it by the rear hinge and the open bottom vent. Luckily, we had furniture-moving straps that allowed us to (awkwardly) carry it from the bottom.
On the recommendation of several grilling forums, we placed a slab of fire- and water-resistant concrete backer board on the deck and set the Kamado Joe on top. Assembling the grill took less than 30 minutes. The only irritating part was getting the wedge-shaped ceramic pieces of the firebox to stay put while we set the stainless steel ring that holds them in place on top. There was no need for tools except for a screwdriver to tighten the screws on the rolling cart. Also, once the top vent went on the lid, it weighed it down enough that the lid didn’t want to remain upright. We followed the directions to adjust the hinge (using just two wrenches) so the lid could stay up on its own.
The hardest part was moving the kamado itself. Even empty it weighs a couple hundred pounds, and we had to carry it up a steep flight of stairs to get it on our back deck.
Features: Spring-loaded hinge is a game-changer
The one thing that really sets the Kamado Joe Classic apart from other kamado-style grills is the easy-to-lift lid. The innovative spring-loaded and counterbalanced hinge supports most of the weight of the heavy ceramic lid, so it’s as easy to lift up and down as the lightweight lid of a gas grill. You can even take your hand off the lid; it will either stay up (usually with a minor adjustment) or come down very slowly. In fact, it won’t even close all the way unless you push down on the lid and latch it. When using other brands, the lid can fall down hard, potentially even cracking the grill.
Included Accessories: All the essentials
Everything you need to start grilling or smoking is included with the Kamado Joe. That includes the cart, shelves, stainless steel cooking grates, and ceramic heat deflector, which helps moderate the heat and create indirect heat zones. There’s even an accessory rack so you can customize the placement of the grates even more, and a grabber tool for moving the cooking grates around.
We were able to cook pizzas on the grill grates no problem, but if you’re a serious pizza enthusiast, investing in the pizza stone is a good idea. Other optional accessories available for purchase are a perforated steel pan for grilling small delicate things like vegetables or fish and a cast iron grill grate for getting great grill marks.
Heating and Cooling: Go slow and get to know your vents
Since the Kamado Joe Classic II is so good at retaining heat, we learned quickly that it’s easier to heat the grill up than it is to cool it down. If you want to cook at moderate or low heat, don’t keep the vents wide open when preheating. Shut them a bit so the heat can rise a little slower, giving you time start closing the vents before the heat gets past your target temp. The more you use the Kamado Joe, the better you’ll get at predicting where to set the vents for the temp you want. If you do go past your target, closing the bottom vent and keeping the top open just a crack will get it lowered, but it’ll take a while—it took us 30 minutes to decrease by 50 degrees. If you want to cook at high temps, a full firebox of fresh coals and wide open vents will get you to the searingly hot range in about 15 minutes.
Cleaning: Just let it burn
The best way to clean the Kamado Joe, its stainless steel grill grates, and ceramic heat deflector is to just let it all get good and hot. It’s kind of like a self-cleaning oven. Let them cook in the grill at 600 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, then close the vents and allow to cool. Any burnt on food will turn to ash and is easy to brush off.
Unlike other brands, this grill comes in a bold and shiny brick-red color that gives it an eye-catching wow factor. Yes, it stands out, but it stands out like a sports car, not a sore thumb.
Price: Expensive, but worth it
At over $1,000, the Kamado Joe Classic II is definitely a big investment—and kind of a nail-biter at that since it is, by its very ceramic nature, breakable. Its biggest competitor, the Big Green Egg Large, costs around $859, making the Kamado Joe seem extravagant. However, the BGE doesn’t come with any of the accessories that are standard on the Joe: no stand, no shelves, no grates, no heat diffuser. Once you add in the prices of those necessary items the BGE actually costs more.
Competition: Still stands out
Kamado Joe Classic III: The next level up from the brand’s popular Classic II costs about $400 more and includes several upgrades. The biggest is the “SloRoller Hyperbolic Smoke Chamber,” which sits where the heat deflector plates do on the Classic II. Its design purports to increase air circulation, eliminating hot spots and distributing the smoke from the charcoal. It can be added to the Classic II, but “may not perform as well.” The Classic III also has a three-tiered cooking system, heavy-duty galvanized steel cart, aluminum rather than plastic shelves, and a charcoal basket to make it easier to sift the lump charcoal from the ash.
Big Green Egg Large: The Kamado Joe’s biggest competition comes from the Big Green Egg, which enjoys the brand recognition of a company that’s been around since the 1970s. Some BGE enthusiasts see the Kamado Joe as a knock-off, but even though it looks similar, it has several important features that truly set it above. The spring-loaded hinge on the lid makes the Kamado Joe far easier to use. The top vent is rust-resistant and won’t shift out of place when the lid is lifted. The gasket that seals the grill closed is made of wire-mesh fiberglass, which is more durable and said to last 10 times longer. The ceramic firebox is in wedge-shaped pieces instead of a one-piece bowl, which prevents cracking and is more economical to replace if one piece breaks. And the slide-out ash box makes removing ashes a much cleaner experience. The stand is heavier duty and welded together rather than screwed, and it comes with the grill, along with other essentials like the grill grates.
Take a look at other product reviews and shop for the best kamado grills available online.
A worthy investment.
The Kamado Joe Classic II offers enough cooking area to grill just about anything a typical family of four needs. Its incredible heat retention means you can cook low and slow for hours, even in frigid temperatures, without having to replenish the coals. This ceramic grill is just as capable at attaining extremely high temps over 600 degrees, making it ideal for searing meats and making pizza.
- Product Name Classic II Charcoal Grill
- Product Brand Kamado Joe
- Price $1199
- Weight 250 lbs.
- Product Dimensions 24.6 x 24.26 x 36 in.
- Color Blaze Red
- Material Ceramic and steel
- Included Metal cart, grill grates, built-in thermometer, ceramic heat deflectors, slide-out ash drawer, accessory rack, locking wheels, grabber tool
- Warranty Limited lifetime on ceramic parts, 5-year on metal parts, 3-year on heat deflector, 1-year on thermometer and gasket
- Model Number KJ23RHC