Ditching the Gas – Going to Charcoal

Ever since I bought my first “place,” a condo in south San José, I have been using a gas fired Webber for my grilling needs. First a small Spirit I bought in 1999, and later a Genesis Series (model 310) that I bought in 2009. Both served me well, and made multiple moves.

However, even after several attempts, they have one major shortcoming. They suck for smoking food. I tries all the tricks, mostly in the era of the Spirit, but all the attempts were sorry failures.

I did consider a wood pellet sidecar smoker (ala Traeger), but lately I had discovered the lore of the Kamado. A Kamado is a tall, thick ceramic oven that grills, bakes, and yes, smokes. I recall my father having a kamado when I was growing up over 50 years ago, so you can say that this was more than a bit of nostalgia on my part.

My first sighting of a Kamado in a commercial environment was in a visit to Lowes. They are a reseller, and they had a classic on display. Intrigued, I decided to do a lot of research.

There are several brands, the most known being The Big Green Egg, and the brand I saw at Lowes, the Kamado Joe, and many other variants. But they are all similar. Constructed of thick wall ceramics, with a fire box in the bottom, and several options for cooking surfaces, as well as direct and indirect cooking options, and the ability to reliably control heat from less than 200F up to a steakhouse searing 800F+, these are serious barbecues.

I opted for the Kamado Joe Classic III, as it has all the bells and whistles (direct, indirect, split cooking, the new SloRoller, and the more stout cart.) It was not cheap, at about $1,600 (still about $2K less than the wood fired pizza oven I was considering – wink wink) it is a pretty significant investment. I looked at the local authorized dealers, and Lowes only had the Classic II (as well as the Classic) available, and the other BBQ specialty store would have to order it.

So, off to Amazon, and they had it, would deliver it. So I clicked and ordered. As this is larger than the typical parcel that Amazon delivers to my door (and heavier at almost 300#’s) it was my first experience with the Amazon Delivery system. On ordering, I could have it in 2 days, or any time that I would be available. I picked the following Saturday to ensure that I would be at home. There was a choice of delivery times, and I selected noon to 3 PM on Saturday the 21st of September.

At about 11:45AM I got a text from the driver saying they were about 30 minutes away. They showed up at about 12:20, 5 minutes late (you’re slipping Amazon – J/K). They got it down, and with the help of my furniture dolly, got it into my garage.

There were two boxes, one was strapped, and packed in heavy cardboard. The second box had seen some abuse in transit. It also said “Fragile” so I was worried that it was damaged. Alas it was the cart, and it was fine.

Unpacking was event free, after having watched the unpacking and initial set up video, there were no surprises. Fortunately the neighbor was having some work done in his garage, so some friendly chatter with the amigos working on finishing his garage and they helped lift the ceramic, 150# main cooker onto the cart. They waved away the $20 I was handing them for their assistance, but I insisted that they take it. Worth every penny!

I made quick work of assembly, and rolled it out to the back yard.

What to use for the first cook? I found this recipe from the Kamado Joe website on what their ace grill master used to break in his new Classic III, a simple roasted chicken, using the SloRoller.

The instructions were bonehead simple, and I fired the beast up. Loaded it with lump charcoal, inserted a starter, and got it going. Installed the SLoROLLER accessory, and got it set for 450F cooking. As I was waiting for the temperature to stablize, I prepared the chicken. I used a Penzeys’s rub that I had on hand, and put a generous amount of minced garlic inside the body cavity of the chicken (because you really can’t get enough garlic…). It went on the grill and about an hour and fifteen minutes later it came off and smelled wonderful. Dinner was a hit.

The second cook was the next day, some low and slow smoked pork spare ribs. This one required cooking at 2225 – 250F and unfortunately, it did climb to over 275 at some point Need to practice on getting better stability of temperature. The ribs did get over cooked, but were still delicious. I guess that means I need more practice!

Conclusions

Did I need a charcoal Kamado? No. But I wanted one, and I wanted to up my game. The Webber still works great, but it has limitations for some of the more esoteric cooking styles. It will always be a compromise. The Kamado will be a veritable engine of discovery and I will endeavor to find new and interesting ways to use it going forward.

My ultimate goal is to cook a kick ass brisket. Let the games begin!

I do have a shitload of cardboard, wooden palette and styrofoam to recycle and dispose of.

Product Manager in Tech. Guitar player. Bicycle Rider. Dog rescuer. Techie.