Char-Broil Kamander – Review by ArtustBBQ

Kamado style barbecues are having a bit of a boom in the UK at the moment. In a market that has always been a choice between green or red (Big Green Egg or Kamado Joe), there now seems to be a new option wherever you look. Even the supermarkets are getting in on the action this year selling unbranded and unknown brand kamado style grills at seemingly very competitive prices. There must be over 15 different brands and models available now in the UK market, most of which seem to be coming from imported brands with no presence behind them. So whilst paying sometimes less than a quarter of the cost of the main two players for what looks like a similar grill may seem like a good deal, is it really? One thing we have learnt over the years about ceramic is that it is delicate, and heavy. Very very heavy. So you pretty much need to pick a spot for your ceramic grill and not consider moving it for a while, and of you do decide on a change of spot then proceed with caution as knocking that grill over is not an option.
But what are your other options? Well, in the last few years an alternative to ceraminc kamado’s has also stepped forward in the form of the double walled steel versions with insulation in-between. So is this a good alternative? We were very kindly sent the Charbroil Kamander to test out and see if it stands up to the test.

It’s always a good day when a new grill arrives and when this bright yellow Charbroil box arrived on a pallet it was smiles all round. There were two of us unpacking and building the Kamander and it took us around 45 minutes to put together and was pretty straightforward as we actually followed the instructions for once. I know the usual process is bin the instructions and see what happens and keep them for fire starters later, but we wanted to do this by the book. There is still a little weight to the unit so definitely worth having that second pair of hands available. The pay off was the first feast off the grill for helping out which was deemed to be more than a fair trade.

    So let’s start with the weight. The Kamander comes in at around 52kg which is about a two thirds of the weight of its equivalent in a ceramic kamado grill. So a fairly hefty chunk lighter but don’t forget the Kamander also comes set into it’s own wheeled cart with folding side shelf. Figure that into the equation and you start to see this is a fair whack lighter than similarly sized ceramics. But does lighter mean a drop off in performance? We have put the Kamader through a whole host of different cooks to see. The cart the Kamander is set in is pretty sturdy, if you clip the lid shut then then large handle acts as a grip to lift and roll the whole unit around with on its back wheels. The Kamader grill has been stored a few meters away from the cooking area and moving it across the patio and grass was easy thanks to the large rubberized wheels. The side table on the cart pulls out and drops to the side whilst remaining attached so that the storage space needed for the grill set in its table is less when stored and covered. This handy side table is helpful for many things including preparation, holding ingredients or fuel or even your BBQ cookbook of choice. There are also a number of tool hooks off to the side of the table making it handy to hang your tongs and grate tool etc. These are a little fiddly as they sit underneath the lip but a few attempts has your tools safely stored and out of the way. But the side table in this instance serves a bigger purpose, as a quick glance shows a daisy wheel vent housed to the back right of the grill itself inset into the table. This is part of the very clever vent system that Charbroil has used on the Kamander making it easy to make temperature vent adjustments without having to lean under the grill. Whilst not an issue for most to lean under a grill, anyone suffering with back issues could find this really useful when combined with the lighter weight of the unit itself. All the usual features are there such as a temperature dial that reads up to 425c. Yes that’s Celsius not Fahrenheit. A giveaway about how hot this unit can get with its insulation. The gasket between the lid and the main bowl is not of the felt variety that has been seen on most kamado units until now, but is the new style and harder wearing braided unit that compresses when the lid is clipped shut to form a tight seal and also acts as a cushion should you drop the lid. There is a latch to clip the lid shut to form an airtight seal and a large lifting handle. As the grill is steel construction and not ceramic the lid does not weight a ton making them hard to lift one handed as with some grills. The cooking grates are porcelain coated cast iron so hold heat in really well for those classic grill marks on steaks but also remain easy to clean too. The grate comes with another neat feature as it is in 2 parts. There is a very small section at the front that is removable with a handy tool CharBroil include that means you can easily top up on fuel or smoking wood mid cook. This doesn’t fit 100% tight for the first few cooks and feels like it could slip, but get a few cooks through the grill and it holds much tighter in place. There is also a very handy removable step up grill included with the kit there are 2 slots (left back and right back) that this can be slotted into, and then there are also 2 heights that the step grill can be set too. Very handy for those cooks where you need some extra space or it can also be used to separate food types if needed or also as a warming rack. But another neat feature of this is that is can swing out to the side of the grill giving you total access to the food on the main grill or act as a super cool zone away from the grill surface if needed. Underneath the grill there is a hanger in which you can place the drip pan which also acts as a diffuser for smoking creating an indirect cooking set up, but also can be used as a water pan if you so wish. The pan isn’t very deep so would probably require fairly regular top up’s during those really long low n slow cooks. We have been foiling it during cooks to keep it clean. Working your way down you have the charcoal grate, then at the very bottom of the grill sits the ash pan which has the air flow holes drilled into the sides at the top. Thankfully this pan is very deep meaning you can crack though a fair few cooks before it needs emptying. But they have thought the design of this through well and it has a lifting handle across the middle for easy removal.

    So having had the Charbroil Kamander unit in the line up for 3 months now and having cooked upwards of 20 cooks on it, I have to say I am very taken with it. Having yearned for a ceramic kamado grill for a number of years getting the opportunity to try the Charbroil Kamander was one I grabbed with both hands. I have cooked everything from a 14hr low and slow pork shoulder, chilli brisket, spatchcock chicken and lamb ribs right up to high heat steaks, seafood and even some brownies and it has coped well with everything I have thrown at it so far. The side table really plays a big part here with having somewhere to rest plates, rubs, glazes and tools which is something none of my other barbecues have. The built in tool hanger is very handy in keeping the table surface clear or tongs and lighter. It has taken some adjustments in my cooking technique to learn just how much heat these type of grills retain but learning is what makes BBQ fun. You definitely need to light less charcoal or briquettes on start up with these types of grill as once the insulation kicks in the temperature will climb rapidly and given the chance it will shoot over your desired cooking range. So some minor adjustments where needed in my cooks to ensure the temps stays level as the grill does want to cook hot. Briquettes are definitely recommended for low n slow cooks to keep in that 107c/225f-135c-275 sweet spot. The pork shoulder was cooked using heat beads briquettes and it sat in this range for the whole 14hrs with minimal vent changes during the cook. The one thing you will find is that the vents need to be shut down a lot lower than on some grills due to the nature of the insulation, again too much air going in will make the temperature rise above you desired cooking range as with any grill. For higher heat cooks this grill comes into it’s own. The charcoal grill is a little lower from the cooking grates than on some grills but this doesn’t seem to affect it. A good covering of some good quality lump charcoal on the grate can be lit and have you up to those 425c-797f high heats for the perfect sear in no time at all. One simple cook of some Sherwood foods Tomapork with a simple salt and pepper rub and some oak wood chunks had one guest asking how it was possible to get so much flavour into pork. That was a good moment and cemented the fact that the Kamander has it’s place in the barbecue line up.

    Conclusion

    The big players in the market make amazing units and have great reputations for quality and after care, but the cost makes them prohibitive for most people. The Charbroil Kamander comes in with a recommended retail price of £699 in the UK making it very very competitive against most other brands out there. But there is one small sticking point in that this grill sells at a lower price in the US. But that said, taking into account that mark up applies to every other grill and product imported into the UK, you can see that it’s something you have to swallow and that it’s still a very good deal. Also, if you keep your eyes peeled there have been some deals around for as low as £499 saving you a massive £200 and making the Kamander a no brainer in its market.

    Once again the Kamander grill was supplied to us for review but we are free to add our own thoughts and have been honest and fair in our review.

    http://www.charbroil.eu/

    http://www.charbroil.eu/kamander-140-870

    Looftlighter – Review by @ArtustBBQ

    Without doubt one of the best BBQ gadgets I have ever added to my collection is the Looftlighter. Admittedly it’s an odd name but it’s one that will stick with you until you also own one. I was lucky enough to pick mine up at a festival around 4 years ago now and it’s still going strong to this day.

    So what is a Looftlighter? Imagine a hairdryer that has been to the gym twice a day for it’s whole life. It’s essentially a very strong heating element with fan behind it in a handheld unit that wouldn’t look out of place as a weapon in a Sci-Fi movie. So if you have ever struggled with getting your BBQ lit quickly when you are under a little pressure then this could be the tool for you. I know the #UKBBQ week team have some articles on reasons against using quick lighting charcoal and especially avoiding using any kind of lighter fluid, and the Looflighter will banish those items to the bin forever.

    Plug the Looftlighter in, touch the metal gauze on the end against your fuel of choice which can be charcoal, briquettes or even wood and push down the button. The heating element heats up within seconds and that heat is blown by the fan directly onto your chosen fuel. In under 60 seconds the fuel will be starting to smoulder at which point you can pull back the Looftlighter around 10cm and let the fan blow the flames until your barbecue is lit and ready to go. It really is that simple.

    Briquettes will take a little longer to catch light so my top tip is add some charcoal in with them so it catches easier. Used in combination with a chimney starter you can really get the fuel for your BBQ raging hot in just a few minutes which makes it a seriously handy piece of kit. Being able to get cooking in under 10 minutes really takes out any excuses about how long setting up a BBQ takes. Just another tool to help you get outside and cooking more because your life has been made a lot easier.

    The Looftlighter does have it’s limitations. It runs from the mains electricity so you need to have a plug socket available or at least be able to run an extension lead out to your BBQ or where you light your chimney starter. I have also seen some units suffering some melting on the metal guard around the heating element, but simply making sure the unit is only in direct contact with the fuel until it starts to smoulder will eliminate this.

    The Looftlighter is on sale via various outlets in the UK and has an RRP or around £69.99, however the unit has been seen on sale via Amazon as low as £30.00. The cheapest we can see currently is around £48.00 which is still a good price for such a hand piece of kit. I know I will always have one in my BBQ tool kit.

    Basic BBQ Tips: The Chimney Starter

    Chimney Starter
    Strangely in life the harder the things you learn to do the easier it to forget how you did it, remember riding a bike?

    BBQ is just the same!

    The hardest thing I found was lighting the BBQ. Open the bag of charcoal put directly into the BBQ then squirt with lighting fluid, BOOM big ball of flames and two minutes later it goes out, add more fluid and fan the flames, moving charcoal about and burning your fingers whilst having helpful comments like “people are arriving in 15 minutes”.

    If this sounds familiar read on …..

    Enter the game changer, the humble chimney starter. My preferred method is fill the chimney starter with charcoal (lump or briquettes) but never instant light charcoal.

    Light two eco firelighters and pop the chimney starter on top. Twenty minutes later you have perfect lit charcoal ready for instant use….that easy

    Wow they must be pricey? Cant be that easy? Well most cost between £8 – £20 and last for ages, and it really is that simple, like riding a bike….

    Smoking on your Charcoal BBQ

    Smoking Chunk on Charcoal
    Smoking on a charcoal BBQ is a great way to get started and learn the basics of smoking. My first attempts at smoking over charcoal were on my Weber Kettle and with a little practice, you can get great results. You can add wood to your charcoal or briquettes for any direct or indirect cooking method to ramp up the flavour.

    Should you use wood chips or chunks?

    Cherry Smoking Chunks

    Depending on the flavour or intensity of smoke you are aiming for, you can use chips or chunks when smoking on a charcoal BBQ. Both are placed directly onto the coals. Wood chips should be soaked for about 20-30 minutes before adding them to the coals. They are smaller in size and if you don’t soak them, they will burn quickly giving you very little smoke. When the wood chips are wet, they should give around 10-15 minutes of smoke so if you are aiming for a mild smoky flavour they are perfect. They are also perfect for shorter cooks or if you are cooking direct

    Chunks are larger and will therefore burn for a longer time. One or two chunks added to the coals can provide around 1 hour of smoke. Some people may choose to soak the chunks before adding them to the coals but in my opinion this isn’t necessary. Dry wood will produce a cleaner smoke and if they burn a little quicker, you can always add another chunk.

    Tips for smoking on a Charcoal BBQ


    When I talk to anyone who is interested in learning how to smoke, I always recommend they start smoking on a charcoal BBQ they already have. You can do almost any form of smoking on a Kettle BBQ and whilst they may not be as easy to manage as a dedicated smoker, you can get very similar results.

    Aim to be subtle with your smoke and treat it like any other flavour you add to your food. By all means you can add a little extra if you like the flavour but too much will result in your food tasting and looking like it was in a house fire!

    I like to think of it this way.

    Let’s say you add a rub to a whole chicken before putting in onto the BBQ to roast. You would never dream of going back and adding more rub every 15 minutes or so until the chicken is cooked. The flavour of the chicken would be overpowered by the layers of rub and result in a rather unpleasant meal! The same rules apply to smoke. 15 minutes of smoke at the very beginning of the cook is enough to give you a great flavour but you will still be able to taste your seasoning and more importantly the meat.

    The smoke will only penetrate into the meat whilst the outer surface isn’t sealed. After 20-30 minutes at normal roasting temperatures, the smoke will struggle to get into the meat so there is little point in adding more. Food that is cooking low and slow will take longer to seal so can therefore take on more smoke but remember not to be too heavy handed.

    Another important factor to remember is airflow. If you are cooking indirect and want to add smoke, the position of your lid vent is crucial. The same can be said for any indirect cooking. Your lid vent should always be placed directly over your food to ensure the air is drawn in through the bottom vent, through the coals and wood then it passes over your food before exiting the BBQ through the lid vent. If the vent is placed over the coals, the airflow will be through the coals then straight up and out through the vent.The caveat to this setup is that the hood thermometer may now be placed directly over the coals giving you a false reading as to the actual temperature at grill level where your food is placed. I would recommend you have a grill level thermometer to get accurate temperature readings.

    A great place to start!


    A kettle BBQ is the ideal beginners BBQ as you can do almost any form of cooking on it including smoking. Something like the Weber 57cm Mastertouch has all the features you need to learn all aspects of BBQ. When smoking on a charcoal BBQ, a lid is essential and hinged cooking grates make it very easy to add more coals or wood chips without having to remove your cooking grate from the BBQ.You can easily learn the basics of smoking on a kettle before moving up to a dedicated smoker. Start with adding a few wood chips or chunks to your current cooks and experimenting with different flavours before moving on to some of the bigger cooks like ribs or brisket.

    Click to Download your Smoking Wood Chart
    By adding a little bit of smoke at the start, then building from there, you will slowly learn what wood flavours you like and how strong you like them. To help you match the different wood flavours with your meat, we have put together a chart with some of the most common smoking woods showing their strength and what meats they go well with. 

    Click here to download your FREE smoking wood chart in pdf format

    There are many other varieties of smoking wood but this is a great selection to get you started and help you learn the different levels of flavour.

     

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    Chimney Starter: An Essential Accessory

    Lit Chimney Starter with Charcoal

    An Essential

    For anyone with a ‘natural’ BBQ where you need to light either charcoal or briquettes a Chimney Starter is an essential item to own.

    What is a Chimney Starter and How to they work?

    A chimney starter is by far one of the easiest ways to light the charcoal for your BBQ.

    The old method of placing a few fire lighters under a stack of charcoal then dousing it with lighter fuel not only adds a bad flavour to your food, but it can take a long time before your coals are ready to cook on. Add to that the fact that not all the charcoal will light at the same rate and it can easily stress you out before the first piece of meat hits the grill!

    A chimney starter takes away all that annoyance as it will light all your charcoal evenly and quickly. It becomes especially useful when lighting briquettes as they are notoriously harder to light that standard lumpwood charcoal.

    So how do they work?

    You simply fill your desired amount of charcoal into the chimney starter. Then place some form of lighter on the charcoal grate of your BBQ and set the chimney starter on top of it.

    The starter is designed to draw air through the bottom, up through your charcoal and out the top (like a chimney). The rush of air flowing through the coals lights them up quickly and as they are all held together in the cylinder, they are evenly lit all the way through.

    You will know your coals are ready when the top layer of charcoal has turned white and the flames are dancing at the top.

    Using a BBQ Glove, simply pour the lit coals into the BBQ and add your cooking grate. After a few minutes with the lid on to pre-heat your cooking grate, you are ready to cook.

    A full chimney starter of lumpwood charcoal should light in around 10-15 minutes. Briquettes can take up to 20-25 minutes to get a full chimney going.

    A lot of people moved away from charcoal BBQ’s as they were such a pain to light but this simply isn’t an issue any more. It is recommended that you pre-heat your Gas BBQ for around 15 minutes before cooking so the time difference between the two is negligible.

    Adding the right amount of fuel

    Another great benefit of a chimney starter is that they allow you to measure the amount of charcoal you are adding to your BBQ so you will quickly learn how much fuel is needed to achieve a desired temperature.

    By keeping track of the level the chimney was filled to and the resulting grill temperature, it can make it easier to hit your target temperature i.e. ½ chimney starter of briquettes = 160-180C….. Ideal for roasting when setup for indirect cooking.

    I’ve never talked to someone who has purchased a chimney starter and didn’t think it was one of the best investments they had ever made. They make getting a fire going really easy and hassle free allowing you to concentrate on the things that matter, cooking your food!

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