THE FUNDAMENTALS OF FIRE
Fire is the single most important ingredient in successful kamado cooking—and it’s made from just three elements: oxygen, heat and fuel. Learn how to control them, and you’ll know how to control your fire.
Flavor comes from fuel.
Only use premium hardwood lump charcoal to fuel your fire. Briquette or “instant light” charcoal is manufactured with binders that will give your food a chemical flavor. Combustible liquids (starter fluid, etc.) will impart the same undesired flavors, damage your grill and create a fire hazard. Remember: flavor comes from your fuel. The taste you put in will eventually come out on your plate.
Good fire starts with good air flow.
If you pour charcoal directly into the firebox, you’ll cover the air holes and smother your fire. Instead, arrange your charcoal mound for maximum air flow: large chunks on the bottom, smaller pieces to fill in—until the mound reaches the fire ring. Now you’re ready to light your charcoal. Fire is a living thing. It needs to breathe a little while before you begin adjusting the temperature, so leave the dome open for about 15 minutes after lighting.
More air, more heat. Less air, less heat.
The Kamado Joe’s top and bottom vent system is like a volume dial for your fire. Air moves in the bottom vent and out through the top. Open them to accelerate air flow and ‘turn up’ the temperature; close them to lower it. If you want a hot fire for searing, you’ll need both vents to be mostly open. A low fire for smoking? They should be mostly closed.
Control from the top down.
The Kamado Joe can achieve temperatures ranging from 225°F to 750°F. It’s easiest to reach and maintain your target temp by setting the bottom vent and adjusting with the top vent. With the dome closed, keep the top vent all the way open until you are 25°F away from your target temp. Close the top vent down to about ¼ open, wait one minute and make necessary adjustments by closing or opening the top vent more. A quarter inch can change the temperature by as much as 25°F.
Give the fire time.
The biggest mistake you can make is shortchanging your Kamado Joe on time after lighting the charcoal. You get beautiful results from your grill because its ceramic walls absorb, retain and distribute heat like nothing else—but it takes time for those walls to evenly absorb heat. Give your grill 30 minutes to an hour after lighting to stabilize its temperature before starting your cook. And while you’re working to raise the grill’s temperature, go slowly. Because those ceramic walls retain heat so well, it’s much easier to increase the heat slightly than it is to bring the temperature down after overshooting your target.
THE FUNDAMENTALS OF SMOKE
Smoke is the taste that can’t be mimicked or faked. It transforms even the most lowly of meats, adds complexity, makes a meal worth remembering. Because the Kamado Joe is charcoal-fueled, everything you cook in it will come away subtly changed by smoke, no matter which technique you use. Smoke is the flavor that sets a kamado apart from other grills.
A little wood goes a long way.
The secret to successful smoking in your kamado is remembering that less is more. There’s no need to load up your firebox with smoking wood; it only takes a few chunks to impart flavor. You don’t need to see smoke coming from the grill to be confident that smoke is infusing your food. Using more wood than necessary is a common mistake, but too much smoking wood will give your food a bitter, acrid taste.
Leave liquids out.
The innovative shape and air-circulating design of the kamado creates a moist cooking environment that will produce tender, flavorful meats. There’s no need to add a pan of water or liquid during the smoking process as the Kamado Joe does not require extra humidity for temperature control.
Smoking is an art, not a science.
When it comes to smoking foods, there are no hard rules, only suggestions. Every decision you make—from the type of wood to the spice rub to the length of smoking time—is driven by your palate and preferences. Different types of wood produce different aromas and intensities. High-intensity woods, like hickory and mesquite, make a natural pairing for beef, while light-intensity fruitwoods bring out the sweetness of pork. Some people prefer a punch of powerful flavor and others prefer just a kiss of smoke—you will discover your own taste in time, but it’s best to start with less and add more.
FINDING THE SWEET SPOT
Perhaps your first lesson about fire, heat and distance came from the great childhood s’more. Maybe you were patient in the pursuit of the ideal golden glow and you held your marshmallow high over the fire, waiting. Maybe you craved the crispy char of a blackened outside so you zipped yours in and out of the flame. Whatever path you chose to marshmallow bliss, the lessons learned about proximity to flame apply for your kamado, too.
There are two ways to cook over a fire:
- Close and quick > direct heat
- Far and slow > indirect heat
Typically, when you’re looking for good color and char, you’ll cook your food close to direct heat. Think quick-cooking foods like burgers, steaks, pork chops and so on. When you’d rather let a steady fire and flavorful smoke work their magic on foods like brisket, breads or ribs, you will position your food farther away to take advantage of indirect heat.
TWO WAYS AT ONCE
Sometimes you’ll want to cook two different ways at the same time. That’s why we created the Divide & Conquer flexible cooking system. Its innovative design allows you to create multi-level heat zones—so you can sear a steak and slow-roast your vegetables simultaneously. The beauty of this system rests in our signature half-moon design. First, the halved heat deflectors
can either partially block heat to create two-temperature cooking zones, or completely cover the flame to produce the ideal indirect heat for baking, smoking and roasting. Using both heat deflectors effectively converts your kamado from a grill to a charcoal-fired oven—meaning that anything you cook in an indoor oven can also be cooked on your Kamado Joe. Installation is flexible, too, allowing you to move cooking grates and heat deflectors up and down for achieving different high and low temperatures.
Next, we’ve made our cooking surfaces half-moon shaped as well, giving you flexibility with what and when you cook. Use one surface for searing pork chops over open flame and another to roast sweet potatoes—at the same time.
MASTERING YOUR TOOLS
Think of Kamado Joe cooking surfaces like your kitchen’s pots and pans. Or like your most essential tools. Different materials (cast iron, stainless steel, ceramic stone) hold and transfer heat in unique ways. Finding the right heat transfer—from flame to surface to food—is the key to achieving a perfect finish, no matter what you’re cooking. The beauty of cooking over flame is that it’s not complicated. You’re well-equipped for success with just our standard stainless steel grate. But as you explore the kamado tradition and try new recipes or new techniques, you’ll find that certain surfaces make certain foods sing. They will earn a place in your kit—like every good tool does.
A GUIDE TO SURFACES
Standard Stainless Steel Grate
This highly versatile cooking grate comes standard with the Kamado Joe for a reason: it’s durable, easy to clean and well-suited for cooking a wide variety of foods. Stainless steel heats up very quickly and distributes heat very evenly. Many people use this as their all-purpose cooking surface.
Nearly indestructible, cast iron is one of the oldest cooking materials in the world. Designed to withstand high temperatures, cast iron absorbs, retains and conducts heat extremely well—making it the perfect surface for high-heat searing. Use the cast iron grate or griddle anytime you’re looking for a good sear, color and caramelization.
Laser-Cut Stainless Steel
Designed for even heat distribution and made double thick for durability, this smooth stainless steel surface protects fragile proteins, like fish, from falling apart while cooking. Its laser-cut design is also ideal for roasting vegetables, since its small slits allow heat to pass through without risking your veggies dropping through a grate into the flame.
Thanks to its supremely even heat distribution, this thick, bacteria-and-stain-resistant slab is ideal for keeping meat and fish moist as they cook in their own juices. Its slab-style construction absorbs and radiates indirect heat, preventing flare-ups along the way.
Ceramic Pizza Stone
Ideal for baking and browning, the ceramic stone offers superior heat retention and distribution. The ceramic draws moisture out of dough to create that perfect, slightly crunchy crust on pizzas and breads.