Fire. It changed how humans ate. Cooking with fire is an intrinsic part of human evolution. The taste of food cooked over an open fire feeds more than our bellies. It evokes emotion and tastes elemental. After humans tamed fire, their cooking evolved. Wood and charcoal-fueled clay ovens started to evolve, too, along with clay vessels and ceramics to cook food in. Traces of clay cooking pots are found at archeological sites around the world. From pottery yan (a ceremonial grain cooking dish in China) to mushikamado (a steamer for rice in Japan) to the kamado grills we now know, cooking with ceramics has come a long way. Present day kamado grills go beyond steaming rice. The innovative designs make them versatile and easy to use, but the elemental quality and connection of humans with fire stay intact.
I put some fire in the Kamado Joe Classic III Grill to test out what new things this grill was capable of. Is it worthy of its popularity? Will it burn a hole in the pocket for naught or will it ignite a spark for all things barbecue and grilling? Keep reading for my honest thoughts.
Setup Process: Mostly tool-free, but do bring a friend
Due to the weight of the grill, there was no way I could lift that big, beautiful egg-shaped thing by myself—not even after I gave it the widest possible hug. So, I called a neighbor to help. Since we could only use the open bottom face and front lower vent opening as lifting points, we used furniture moving straps to take it up a few steps into the house and then a few steps down into the backyard and placed it on its cart facing forward. It wasn’t the smoothest of operations, but it was manageable. The rest of the setup was easy. After opening the dome, I placed the slide-out ash drawer in the bottom of the grill and aligned it with the lower vent. Building the firebox inside the grill was simple. The pieces leaned against the inner walls of the grill, and then I just pulled them in to fit under the stainless steel ring, one by one.
With an eye-catching beautiful red-colored exterior and thoughtfully designed metal side shelves with hooks for tools, the Kamado Joe Classic III Grill is a joy to behold. The grill stand comes with two locking casters at the front. Once set up, I found the grill fairly easy to use.
The stainless steel charcoal basket with a divider allows you to fill only one side of the basket with charcoal or with more charcoal on one side and less on the other. This creates a dual-zone cooking area, using the “Divide and Conquer Cooking System.” With this, I was able to sear something closer to the heat for presentation and then move it over to the other side for it to finish cooking.
The SlōRoller hyperbolic chamber turns the grill into a very effective smoker. The design of the SlōRoller helps it circulate air back in a cyclonic smoke ring on the cooking grates. With more smoke circulating, there is an improved heat distribution without any hotspots. The food has a lingering aroma of fire and flavors of smoke.
The grill stand has space in the bottom for tucking away the SlōRoller, although it took some time to figure out how to fit it underneath. The small base and top portion of the SlōRoller go on the stand first. Then, I slid the large base ring (this is the one that needed figuring out) upwards on an angle and pushed it in. There were no instructions on how to do this, and if you are tight on space, storing the Slōroller this way frees up some room and keeps everything tidy.
Features: User friendly
The Air Lift Hinge helps reduce the weight of the dome. This makes it easy to lift the lid. The counterbalance in the hinge helps the lid stay open if you open it just halfway through. This feature alleviates the chances of the dome falling and cracking the grill, in addition to making it convenient to use.
The Kontrol Tower allows you to adjust the heat in the grill. It acts as a temperature dial on an electric grill. Once I learned how much to close or open the vents, I was able to adjust the temperature in increments of 25 degrees. The lid on top also keeps elements like rain and snow out.
The AMP (Advanced Multi-Panel) firebox is an intelligent design. The most common complaint about ceramic grills is cracking. The multi-panel design leaves room for the ceramic to expand and contract without breaking.
The Kamado Joe Classic III Grill also features a wire mesh fiberglass gasket. This provides a long-lasting seal to and helps retain heat and smoke inside the grill.
With an eye-catching beautiful red-colored exterior and thoughtfully designed metal side shelves with hooks for tools, the Kamado Joe Classic III Grill is a joy to behold.
Accessories: Everything you need to get going
Kamado Joe makes innovative accessories for all its grills, but that doesn’t mean you have to buy them right away. This grill comes with a three-tiered cooking rack, one accessory rack, two half-moon cooking grids, two half-moon heat deflector plates, a SlōRoller insert, and the slide-out ash drawer. I was able to smoke baby back ribs, salmon, and a pork shoulder soon after I did a couple of practice burns to learn the settings of the grill. I did buy the pizza stone soon after I got the grill because I wanted to really test out its pizza-making capability and try making naan and other flatbreads. If you have a pizza stone lying around, it will come in handy.
Performance: Searing heat, stable temperatures, even smoking
Kamado grills, with their heavy and thick ceramic walls, are excellent at heat retention. The Kamado Classic Joe III Grill was great at keeping in the radiant heat. After the grill started to heat up and reached the desired temperature, I gave it about 30 minutes to stabilize the temperature and soak up all that heat. I loaded up a couple of baby back ribs and set them on low with the SlōRoller for smoking. I didn’t have to keep checking my grill often to see if the temperature had dropped. The temperature stayed steady throughout the long cook. Because of the convection airflow, the ribs formed a good bark and were juicy with smoke rings all around.
I also smoked pork shoulder without a watering pan, and the resulting pulled pork was tender and juicy. Best of all, I didn’t have to add more charcoal. A fully loaded charcoal basket lasted through the nine-hour cook while maintaining a consistent temperature. The Kamado Joe Classic III Grill excelled at retaining heat and moisture.
The high searing heat was great for conduction while cooking lamb chops and kebabs. Both of these were fast cooks, and the heat from the grill helped them stay juicy and tender. With fully open top and bottom vents, I had no problem cooking pizzas that had perfectly cooked bottoms and a blistery top with melty cheese.
I thought the marks from the half-dome grill grates for smaller cuts of meat were too wide. Although Kamado Joe sells the cast iron sear plates as an additional accessory, it would have been nice to have them as part of the package.
Good to Know
It’s a good practice to “burp the grill” when cooking above 350 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid a flashback (a gush of super-hot heat caused by a rush of oxygen). Partially opening the lid a couple of inches for a few seconds before completely opening the dome will prevent this.
Cleaning and Maintenance: Easy, just burn it hot
I only needed to add some charcoal and light it, and then install the stainless steel cooking rack and put the heat deflectors on. Then, I simply let the temperature rise to about 600 degrees Fahrenheit and held it for 20 minutes. Once done, I closed the bottom vent first, then the top vents after about 20 minutes. The grill and heat deflectors were free from grease and residue. All I needed to do was to brush it all off with a grill brush, and once everything was completely cool, take out the ash using the slide-out box. Easy peasy.
Price: Very expensive, but worth it
Retailing for this grill feels so extra, especially when you can buy other smokers and grills for a lot cheaper—but that’s the thing. This grill does the job of two specialized units. It is great for smoking, searing, grilling, baking, and roasting. It comes equipped with everything you need to get started on the grilling and smoking process, and when you are ready to explore more, specialized accessories like the JoeTisserie or half-moon soapstone make it more fun to use.
Competition: A class of its own
Kamado Joe Classic II Grill: The Kamado Joe Classic II Grill has a two-tiered Divide and Conquer Cooking System, which in comparison to the three-tiered one in the Classic III, amounts to a lesser cooking area. The Classic III with its SlōRoller is built for better smoking in addition to grilling. Although the SlōRoller accessory can be purchased separately for a Classic II, the smoke distribution may not be as efficient. The Classic III has a deeper base and more elongated shape compared to the Classic II. This creates a higher clearance above the charcoal for accessories like the SlōRoller and Joetisserie. The Classic III also has an updated heavy-duty cart and stainless-steel charcoal basket with a divider for dual-zone cooking.
For smoking as well as grilling and to feed a larger crowd, the Kamado Joe Classic III Grill outperforms the Kamado Joe Classic II Grill, but for a smaller family or gathering, the Classic II Grill will work just as well. It also retails for slightly less at around $1,299.
Big Green Egg Large Big Green Egg Grill: First came the Big Green Egg, and then came Kamado Joe. They both have their respective fan following. While Kamado Joe is a comparatively newer entry to the market, it came in with more innovation and better user-friendly features. From a price point, the Big Green Egg is about half the price (it retails for around $948) with an equal cooking surface, but when you buy the extra accessories, the price gap closes in. The Big Green Egg is an excellent kamado grill in its own right, but a few key features in the Kamado Joe Classic III Grill make it worthy of the price tag it claims.
While the Air Lift Hinge makes it smoother and safer to lift the dome up and down while using, the AMP firebox extends the life of the main grill because it is less prone to cracking, and the Kamado Joe excels at reaching higher temps than the Big Green Egg. The Cast Aluminum Kontrol Tower Top vent provides consistent airflow and prevents rain from entering the grill, whereas the rain shield is sold separately for the Big Green Egg. With the Kamado Joe being much more user-friendly with superior results, it stays in a class of its own.