When people think of outdoor kitchens and the grills they’d like to complete the space, they typically think of big, bold, shiny gas-powered grills. This is perfectly understandable. We have to admit that they’re very luxurious and elegant, but so are ceramic grills and we don’t see near the same level of interest. (Though this category is definitely growing)
It’s just that many people don’t know enough about ceramic grills to want to make such an investment (and they are an investment). Truly, ceramic grills are so much more than a grill, and can easily last for decades. We love ceramic grills and we wanted to share the reasons why.
Here’s everything you need to know about ceramic grills — what they are, the major benefits to using them, and the best ceramic grills based on your budget. Don't get me wrong, these grills are an investment that will last a lifetime!
They offer a versatility that truly gives you the best of the gas grills and the best of the charcoal grills.
What is a Ceramic Grill?
The name “ceramic grill” can be a bit misleading. A ceramic grill — also frequently referred to as a Kamado grill — isn’t just a grill. In reality, ceramic grills are versatile pieces of outdoor kitchen equipment that can be used for multiple purposes. Ceramic grills look a bit like an egg, which is oftentimes what draws people to them, if for no other reason than to figure out exactly what it is they’re looking at.
In some ways, ceramic grills can be compared to charcoal grills, but they’re not the same — not even close. While ceramic grills also use charcoal as a fire-induction agent, the type of charcoal is what makes the difference. Ceramic Grills use lump wood charcoal whereas charcoal grills use carbon style charcoal.
Natural lump charcoal is made with only one ingredient: pieces of hardwood that have been slowly kiln charred, turning the wood into carbon. Lumps vary in size and shape due to it being a natural product. Lump charcoal lights faster and burns cleaner than briquettes and produces a lot less ash than charcoal briquettes.
Briquettes, on the other hand, are manufactured by a process that blends wood products with a variety of materials, including nitrates, anthracite coal, limestone and sawdust, along with petroleum by-products and chemicals to aid lighting. This mixture is then pressed into the familiar briquette shapes.
Based on clay cooking vessels (such as tandoori oven, for example) our ancestors used, ceramic grills take advantage of newer grilling techniques and more advanced grilling technology (such as dampers) in order to create a more complete cooking experience that does not only include grilling. Sure, they can be used as grills and come with a rack for doing so (very similar to what you’d find with a regular charcoal grill), but they can also be used as smokers and outdoor ovens. Their ability to retain heat is from the ceramic body something metal body charcoal grills cannot do.
One of the coolest things to make in a ceramic grill is pizza. If you want homemade wood-fired-style pizza with a twist, try out the ceramic grill. Because of its unique way of trapping heat and ability to cook food so evenly, Kamado grills create the perfect environment for pizza ovens.
Major Benefits to Ceramic Grills
Temperature Control and Change
A major difference between ceramic grills and gas grills is that they can be heated up very quickly and then cooled if necessary. This is particularly useful for searing meat. You want a very hot grill at the beginning to get a char on the outside of the meat, as you cannot get a good sear (or any sear, for that matter) at a low temperature. However, that’s not the temperature at which you’ll cook the meat. After searing, you’ll want to cool the grill down so you can cook the meat a bit slower to seal in the juices.
Furthermore, the materials used in making ceramic grills and the unique dome shape at the top helps hold in the heat, allowing grillmasters better control over the temperature of the grill, and more efficient use of the charcoal.
Perhaps the very best part about the temperature control of ceramic grills is that the heat is not permanently affected by opening the lid or adding ingredients that can lower the temperature, such as sauce or cheese. When you open the lid to add cheese to your burgers, the temperature temporarily decreases, but when you close it again, the grill will heat back up to where it was — and typically in under one minute.
Cooks from All Sides
Unlike traditional charcoal (or even gas) grills, ceramic grills cook from all sides, rather than just the bottom. This also contributes to the evenness of cooking, which will allow for cooked meats to be juicier and more flavorful, since you’re not inadvertently overcooking the meat in an attempt to make sure it’s truly done throughout.
Allows Meat to Hold in Moisture
The temperature control that ceramic grills afford helps hold in the moisture of whatever meat you’re cooking. This is in large part because the grill itself holds in the heat, which allows for less fiddling (by moving the meat around the rack looking for hotter spots) and lowers the possibility of the meat being undercooked.
Can Be Used in Colder Climates
While most people store their grills for the winter (or at least cover them up to protect them from harsh weather conditions), ceramic grills can be used year-round. Whereas metal grills allow for more temperature transference, ceramic grills simply hold in their heat, making it possible to use them during the winter months — provided of course, that you don’t mind standing outside in the cold.
We could easily see football fans taking advantage of ceramic grills during the winter months, cooking up burgers and hot dogs for their family and friends. (And we’d be open to an invitation to the barbeque. We’ll bring the potato salad.)
Another major differentiating factor between regular charcoal grills and ceramic grills is the efficiency of the charcoal. Ceramic grills can do more with less charcoal, not only in physical pounds of the bricks, but in the amount of time they can burn while still being effective. You can get about 10 uses (depending on what you are cooking) from the lump charcoal. It does not turn to ash as quick. It also burns much hotter than traditional carbon charcoal.
Again, this has much to do with the shape of the grill and the materials which are used to make them. The fact that the heat is so well retained in ceramic grills means that the charcoal can last longer than they would in a traditional metal charcoal grill, which would be highly susceptible to external temperature changes.
Provided that you don’t break them (as in, knock them over or drop them, resulting in a crack) ceramic grills are incredibly durable and long lasting. We have customers that have had their Egg over 20 years and it is still in perfect condition!
If your ceramic grill does get a crack, it doesn’t necessarily mean the end of its life. If the crack is small enough, the grill will probably be fine. But if it’s too large, or goes too far around the circumference of the grill, you’ll find yourself in need of a new one. The Big Green Egg offers a lifetime warranty on the ceramic top and base so, you will never have to worry.
One of the best parts about ceramic grills is that they’re far safer to be around than traditional metal freestanding charcoal grills. Metal charcoal grills get extremely hot because metal is a conductor of heat. This can be dangerous for people with small children who may not understand that hot things can very seriously injure them (particularly toddlers, who still have very sensitive skin and are extraordinarily curious).
Ceramic grills are so well-insulated that they rarely get so hot on the outside that they could do damage to anyone who accidentally or purposely touched it. Some parents find this comforting (one less thing to worry about), but even adults who are more accident-prone find themselves grateful for such a feature.
Best Ceramic Grills
There are quite a few ceramic grill manufacturers, with two of the most popular (and best) being Big Green Egg and Primo (currently owned by the same company that owns Broilmaster Grills). Broil King makes Kamado-style grills, but they’re not ceramic — more on that later.
For the most part, the function of each grill remains the same, regardless of which grill you buy. It’s simply a matter of how the grill is built. However, Kamado grills vary in size, which makes a significant difference in price, in addition to some bells and whistles that can influence the decision you make regarding your final purchase.
What makes Primo unique is its oval shape. They are offered in 3 oval sizes and 1 in Round. The prices range from approx mid $700 to mid $1,600.
Whereas, the Big Green Egg manufactures only round (traditional) kamado grills. They are offered in 7 sizes ranging from Mini to 2XL. Many people own a variety of sizes to meet all of their culinary needs.
There are many imitators on the marketplace. We have carried alot of them. In our opinion, the only 2 choices should be Big Green Egg or Primo.
Best Affordable Ceramic Grill
If you’d like a Kamado-style grill, but don’t want anything too large, you can look into the Mini Big Green Egg or the Mini Max Big Green Egg. These are perfect for people who are single, live in an apartment building (for the balcony — please do not use charcoal grills indoors), or would like to travel (or tailgate!) with their ceramic grill.
Another positive aspect to the smaller ceramic grills is their weight. Clay gets heavy rather quickly, so the larger the grill, the heavier it will be. The Mini Big Green Egg is about 39 pounds, and the Mini Max Big Green Egg is 76 pounds.
If you’d like something a little bigger, you can go for the Small Big Green Egg or the , which allows for a larger cooking surface (without a significant price difference), but will be substantial weight difference, at 80 pounds.
(For the record — we think basically every Big Green Egg grill is worth the price.)
Best Mid Range Ceramic Grill
The Medium or Large Big Green Egg are great options for a mid-range ceramic grill. The difference in size here allows for their EGGcessories, such as pizza stone. The Medium Big Green Egg weighs in at 113 pounds without EGGcessories, and is easily suitable for smaller families.
The large Big Green Egg offers much of the same versatility in terms of EGGcessories, but provides a larger cooking space. This is easily the most popular size, as it can accommodate most average-sized families and social gatherings. Without EGGcessories, the large Big Green Egg weighs in at 162 pounds.
Obviously, given the weight increase, you’ll notice that mobility is severely restricted at this point. If you’d like to move your ceramic grill around, or do any kind of traveling with it, staying in the smaller sizes is a better option.
The Primo JR weighs slightly less than the Medium and the round is more than the large. The Primo Round is the least expensive model in their lineup.
Best Luxury Ceramic Grill
As far as luxury ceramic grills are concerned, you can’t do much better than the XL Big Green Egg or the 2XL Big Green Egg or the Primo Oval XL. These grills are perfect for large gatherings, such as family reunions.
To give you an idea of the size difference between the two, the XL Big Green Egg can accommodate two 20lb turkeys at once, and weighs 219 pounds.
The 2XL Big Green Egg can cook a whole (moderately sized) pig and is a whopping 375 pounds, so don’t expect to be moving it around very much. Once it’s in its spot (perhaps within a nest — a popular EGGcessory), you’ll want to leave it there, so choose wisely.
The Primo XL stands right in-between the Green Egg at 250 lbs. It can also accommodate 2 whole turkeys.
Steel vs. Ceramic
Some Kamado-style grills are made with steel instead of clay. Some claim that there’s very little difference between a steel Kamado and a true ceramic build. In theory, the technology available now should lend itself to creating a product that is very close to an original ceramic grill. For example, Broil King makes a double walled steel style Egg that they have named the Keg. It is extraordinarily durable and easy to use. Customers who have purchased these grills are very happy with them.
However, the properties of metal and ceramic differ. Steel is still metal and will be more susceptible to temperature changes and transference. While the steel or aluminum used for Kamado grills are likely to be very thick (double or triple-walled, typically) and therefore, more effective in maintaining temperature, ceramic is still the superior material in this instance. Ceramic has the ability to absorb and retain heat.
That being said, if you’re not thrilled with the idea of a ceramic grill, but want the versatility of one, a metal version will be more than sufficient.
Learning More About Ceramic Grills
Choosing a ceramic grill instead of a gas-powered grill changes the overall look and feel of your outdoor kitchen space — it’s not “better” or “worse,” but is rather a difference of aesthetics and preference. Both are excellent choices and will make excellent focal points for your patio space. But ceramic grills are far more versatile than gas-powered grills, and will provide a great conversation starter.
There are many choices now in the market but none beat the warranty and customer service of the original … Big Green Egg. There repertoire of EGGcessories is almost endless. You cannot purchase an authentic Big Green Egg online. They want you to visit the brick and mortar shops of their huge list of dealers.
Because people are less familiar with ceramic grills, we’re accustomed to answering a lot of questions about them. It’s not uncommon for people to have more concerns about their function and efficacy, but once they learn more about the theory behind them and how they can use them in more ways than just grilling, they quickly come around to the idea. We love the Big Green Egg due to their amazing customer service and Lifetime Warranty.
Beware of the cheap imitators. The quality of the ceramic and components are below standard and do not have the customer support as Big Green Egg and Primo.
At the BBQ Depot, we’re committed to providing exceptional customer service, and a significant portion of that commitment is talking to our customers and potential customers. In an age when people are phone-averse, we don’t shy away from picking up the phone.
We’re happy to talk through your outdoor kitchen plans and help you select a grill that best suits your needs and goals. We’re not going to spend time trying to sell you the most expensive or the largest ceramic grill, or every single accessory possible. We want to help you find the best ceramic grill for you.
No matter what your goals are, we’re confident we can help. Contact us today to learn how we can help you choose the ceramic grill that works best for you and your family.