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.
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.