By Mario Fiorucci for  The Healthy Butcher, a ‘Certified Good Food Fighter

“Kamado” is a Japanese word for “oven” or “stove”, and essentially refers to a heavy clay cooking vessel that is round or oblong in shape.  In recent years, Kamado style cookers have become extremely popular amongst grilling and smoking aficionados, and for good reason.  No matter how high end your gas grill, fully loaded with all of todays BTUs and gadgets, it is next to impossible to win the battle of the steaks if you’re up against a Kamado cooker using good old fashioned  charcoal.  To boot, the Kamado cooker will out-slow-roast, out-smoke, out-bake and pretty much whoop a gas grill in every conceivable outdoor cooking category.

Circular clay cooking vessels have been discovered in China that are over 3000 years old.  It is believed that the earliest versions did not use fire at all, but were placed in the sun to cook food; the clay would heat up and retain the heat for long enough to cook.  The added benefit of heat retention is that the food is cooked from every conceivable angle, not just from below (who needs an added rotisserie?).   One of the biggest problems the original clay cookers had was cracking, so today thanks to modern ceramic and the newer glazed outer surfaces, that fault has been almost eliminated.

The most popular brands on the market are The Big Green Egg, Primo and Grill Dome but there are a few others that have a following as well.  The functioning of all of them is very similar.  Lump charcoal is placed in this “egg-shaped” vessel and lit.  Once the coals are hot in the centre (about 10 minutes), food is placed on the grates and cooked with the lid closed.  Cooking with the heavy lid closed is key for several reasons: First, the food naturally retains more moisture; Second, the heat radiates from every angle because the lid itself retains and gives off heat; Third, very little fuel (i.e. charcoal) is used; Fourth, you never get uncontrollable flare-ups because there isn’t enough oxygen in the vessel to feed extra flames; And finally, it is easy to convert the heat into an indirect source by placing a stone over the coals, allowing you to bake bread or pizza or really slow cook roasts.  Temperature is controlled by opening and closing one of two draft doors – the bottom where air is sucked in by the fire, and the top where air is blown out.  Keeping the draft doors virtually closed will allow you to keep the temperature as low as 150F, perfect for slow cooking.  Opening them right up will heat the vessel to a whopping 800F (when you’ve had steaks seared at 700F you’ll understand why these things rock).  And when you’re done cooking, simply close the dampers completely and the fire will suffocate almost instantaneously.  Honestly, it is so simple, yet ingenious. 

I’m not saying that Kamados replace modern gas barbeques.  There is certainly a place for the convenience afforded through being able to turn a knob, cook, and be left with next to zero clean up.  However, for those passionate about outdoor cooking, especially if you yearn for smokey flavoured meat, fish, vegetables, or stone baked bread and pizza, a Kamado cooker is an investment worth looking into.  Probably the tastiest investment you’ll ever make!

Mario Fiorucci is a co-founder of The Healthy Butcher.