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MikeRobinson

"The Akorn-Maverick question:" Does Ceramic really matter?

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Okay – "all you Akorn, Jr. owners among us, let's maybe have a bit of (good-natured) fun ..." does 'Ceramic' actually matter?

 

The "capo dei capi" grill among us, of course, is "The™ Egg."  With an equally well-known and also, ceramic, second-fiddler chasing just behind.  But now I ask "the Mavericks" – have you actually ever missed those extra hundred pounds? :)

 

My answer is and always has been – "no."  I've always decided that the essential feature of "kamado-style cooking," and therefore of kamado-style cooking appliances, is that it is "a convection oven."  That, notwithstanding(!) the contribution of additional radiant heat contributed by a heated ceramic envelope, the irreplaceable(!) benefit of this style of cooking-appliance lies simply in the inner layer – which creates a natural avenue in which heated air can recirculate.  I opine that it is this circulation of heated air that makes the actual, effective difference ... notwithstanding the pyroclastic nature of the edifice which surrounds it.  I opine that it is the heated air which actually cooks the food – not the radiant heat, neither from the coals nor from the ceramic shell.

 

I'm delighted to own a "convection oven" that is heated by charcoal ... and that didn't break my bank. (Although, full disclosure in this case, "yes, I could have.")  I'm delighted to now own a grill that is significantly better than my accursed old "Smokey Joe," and I frankly think that I managed to obtain the essential benefit at far less cost.

 

So ... "what say ye?"  (And, of course, "please stick to the grill, never the griller!")  :)

 

Civility reminder:  "no, this isn't 'troll bait!'"  It's a question of technology"does" ceramic make a difference – in your opinion – why or why not?  (And: "does anything else" make a difference – in your opinion – why or why not?")

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I am hoping it does. My Akorn has become so frustrating I have ordered a KJ Classic II. I anticipate it will be more stable and not nearly go out every time airflow is reduced.

 I know I am a sellout but I couldn’t take it anymore. For the first three years I didn’t believe I would need ceramic. Now sanity requires it!

 I will always love my little steel buddy!

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13 hours ago, lnarngr said:

I am hoping it does. My Akorn has become so frustrating I have ordered a KJ Classic II. I anticipate it will be more stable and not nearly go out every time airflow is reduced.

 I know I am a sellout but I couldn’t take it anymore. For the first three years I didn’t believe I would need ceramic. Now sanity requires it!

 I will always love my little steel buddy!

I guess I got lucky with my Akorn (3 years old now... no vent mods or extra sealing) 230 is about as low as I can go and keep it lit but I can hold it there all day long. The real sweet spot it likes to stay is 240-250. I recently added a BBQ Guru and now it's a set and forget. Holds +/- 5 degrees until fuel runs out. Even before the temp controller I was able to hold steady temps once I found the sweet spot on the vents.

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Good Luck! 

I think they are great kamados. Something in mine must have changed. 

I never did it, but I always felt an Akorn would last longer if you dumped the ash pan after every use and stored it off the grill. This would seem to allow less moisture formation. 

Also, I thought about drilling holes in the inside corner of the bottom of the hull that would allow moisture that formed inside to drain when you had the pan off. 

My rear attachment point of the ash pan center support has rusted off. Not real bad for three years plus in this humid an environment. 

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Relatively new user here with the akorn (< 1 year) but so far, so good. The junior checks all the boxes for me:

 

1. Lightweight. I store mine in a cabinet I built for the back patio. When in use I just set up on a metal folding table that puts the grate height right where I want it. At 35ish lbs makes it very portable. Took it along on a float trip this past weekend. Ended up not using but was no problem to bring along at all.

 

2. Heats up so fast. Went from zero to 450 for pizza in about 20 minutes using 3 cotton balls. That included a homemade pizza stone in the mix as well. Going from low and slow to reverse searing takes about 5 minutes. Means using on weeknights is a lot more convenient.

 

3. A real fuel miser. 

 

4. I may be lucky but mine holds a pretty steady temp and will hum along at 200 dome temp (240-250 grate temp) all day once dialed in. The challenge is that the low and slow vent settings don't equal to the same temps from cook to cook but that is part of the fun of grilling for me. I can see the value of a temp controller, but for me,  it makes it too much like a kitchen oven.

 

Having said all that, I've never used a ceramic kamado so I can't compare. I would guess the ceramic would be much more stable on temps. The offset, I would guess though, is that it takes longer to get up to temp. 

 

The most important thing for me was the price point. In all honesty, if my only option was ceramic grill, I probably never would have tried out a kamado for the cost to see if I liked it. I was happy with and could grill most anything with the weber kettle but now I am a total convert. When the akorn rusts out, maybe I'll take the next step but right now I'm perfectly content.

 

On a side note I may not have a choice to get another akorn  jr. A quick search resulted in no legitimate sites with one for sale??

 

 

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You have hit on a subject here I have been doing a little writing and thinking about for a Man Cave Meals post in the near future....

 

I do not believe that the perfect kamado would be ceramic.  I believe it's an outdated mode of operation in the modern pitmaster's arsenal of tools.  Ceramic kamados have one advantage over everything else but in the greater scheme of things, that advantage is negligible.  I believe the advantages of a LOW THERMAL MASS and light weight kamado outweigh that negligible benefit of heavy ceramics.  

 

Smoke on THAT for a while....

 

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Having been a long term Steel Keg user I can comment on this I think.  I would summarize my hundreds of cooks with the following points:

  • Having a lightweight, easy to move (can even throw it on the trailer hitch!) Kamado is highly preferable over 350+ pounds of ceramic in many situations.  I move mine to different locations depending on weather, wind direction etc.
  • Having a highly insulated and very thermally efficient kamado is preferable in some situations (high temp cooks etc). Very fuel efficient (can run at 500 degrees for hours and hours over multiple cooks on a single load of charcoal for example).  Cool exterior at high interior temps.
  • Having a highly insulated and very thermally efficient kamado is NOT preferable for smoking at lower temps.  Can be difficult to maintain "low and slow" temperature without putting out the fire.  Very short lid opening times spikes temperatures quickly.  Poor smoke quality as charcoal "smolders" (white smoke) instead of clean burning (blue smoke).  I basically do brisket, pulled pork etc at closer to 275-300 degrees temps to maintain a consistent smoke/temp environment.
  • Having a non-ceramic kamado that can rust is best suited for dry/arid regions.  Heard numerous reports of rusting etc, but mine (nothing but a good quality cover) is exposed from -30 to +30 (celcius) for about 10 years and still in great condition with little corrosion to speak of.  We are in low humidity area overall winter and summer.

 

Probably more to speak of, of course....

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On 7/26/2020 at 2:11 PM, MikeRobinson said:

... does 'Ceramic' actually matter?

Not as much as quality. 

 

Ceramic costs more, so there's less temptation to skimp on quality. Some brands do skimp, and the resulting issues are well known. Same is true for steel, but with a lower quality floor. Price and quality of the Akorn and Steel Keg are different. The one that works better "ought to" because it's priced like ceramic. 

 

But among quality units, yes, ceramic matters if you want the cooking results that come from the ability to retain heat. Nothing that conducts heat well can sear steak like soapstone, or brown both sides of a pizza in 4 minutes. Inherent stability at low temperatures is a bonus. 

 

The only truly important thing is finding what you want out of a cooker, so you can make an informed choice. 

 

Stay well,

Frank

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41 minutes ago, SmallBBQr said:

 

 

  • Having a highly insulated and very thermally efficient kamado is NOT preferable for smoking at lower temps.  Can be difficult to maintain "low and slow" temperature without putting out the fire.  Very short lid opening times spikes temperatures quickly.  Poor smoke quality as charcoal "smolders" (white smoke) instead of clean burning (blue smoke).  I basically do brisket, pulled pork etc at closer to 275-300 degrees temps to maintain a consistent smoke/temp environment.

 

Probably more to speak of, of course....

 

 

I was under the impression that the keg was air tight enough that this wasn't a problem.  Maybe my impression of the big steel keg is unfounded.  Those spikes should be tamed by tweaking the airflow.  I understand how those spikes will happen in a really efficient kamado but as quickly as they happen they should be able to be brought under control by reducing the airflow.... 

 

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34 minutes ago, John Setzler said:

 

 

I was under the impression that the keg was air tight enough that this wasn't a problem.  Maybe my impression of the big steel keg is unfounded.  Those spikes should be tamed by tweaking the airflow.  I understand how those spikes will happen in a really efficient kamado but as quickly as they happen they should be able to be brought under control by reducing the airflow.... 

 

 

My Keg (at least) is incredibly air tight.  It is one of the older models with the slider vent, not the larger insert like the new one.  But what I have seen in practice (this only applies to low/slow temps) is this....

 

1) Bring up the Keg to temp (let's say 225) very slowly and carefully adjusting vents etc.  Once at temp, it will happily sit there for a long, long time....as long as nothing changes.  I typically have one or two ceramic pizza stones inside as well during this time.  Quite a bit of mass.

 

2) Open lid and drop on food to smoke (temperature will fluctuate depending on food temp etc) but usually come back pretty close to original temp...maybe 10 degrees cooler.  I believe the cooler food mass is the cause here.

 

3) Over period of time, if you open lid to add sauce, flip meat etc, I find it will often be accompanied by another immediate temperature DROP (as cold air rushes in) initally, but then it creeps back up PAST your set temp and settles in again. 

 

4) If I try to set the vents any lower to try DROP the temperature, the fire will often snuff out.

 

It's like the vents only have three settings at lower temps....

 

a) increase temp

b) hold temp

c) put out fire

 

My feeling is that it is so efficient, the fire JUST needs to be on the verge of going out to maintain temps.  If you add any air, it INCREASES the temp, and if you reduce any air, it goes out.

 

At higher temps, it is much less sensitive to this effect.   Even my PitMaster IQ temperature controller cannot deal with it.  Set up the  Keg with the controller so it is always a little lacking in air (as recommended - any higher and it will never come down anyways).  As soon as the PID controller senses it is time to increase temperature and ups the airflow, the temperature shoots up, and when the PID controller tries to drag it back down....the fire goes out very often.  Again...this is at lower temps (under 275 let's say).  It works as expected at temperature closer to 300 and above...but at those temps...it is easy to control by the vents manually anyways....

 

Overall...I think there needs to be enough "inefficiency" in the system so enough burning needs to be maintained to produce smoke/heat and equilibrium.  The "equilibrium" point of my Keg is just too low/picky.

 

 

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5 hours ago, willys1 said:

On a side note I may not have a choice to get another akorn  jr. A quick search resulted in no legitimate sites with one for sale??

 

 

I've heard from Char-Griller themselves that more are currently being manufactured and will be available by late August to early September. They said they'd had an unprecedented run on all of their grills, probably due to the Shelter in Place order keeping everyone home with more time to grill. Glad it worked out well for them!

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This is a great question and I'd love to know the answer. I am brand spanking new to kamados and smoking. I have a Jr. that I absolutely love. It's the perfect grill for us right now because we're in a condo and I only have a tiny deck to grill on, but once we move to someplace bigger with a real yard I'd love to upgrade to one of their bigger units. I'm vacillating on whether I should get a steel or ceramic Akorn when I do finally upgrade. I'd really love to know if the additional cost, extra weight, and non-portability would be worth whatever advantages I'd gain from going with ceramic over insulated steel.

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I've tried my Pitmaster IQ120 on mine many times....works great at higher temps, but I find the same problem at lower temps....

 

I mentioned this in my previous note...

 

Even my PitMaster IQ temperature controller cannot deal with it.  Set up the  Keg with the controller so it is always a little lacking in air (as recommended - any higher and it will never come down anyways).  As soon as the PID controller senses it is time to increase temperature and ups the airflow, the temperature shoots up, and when the PID controller tries to drag it back down....the fire goes out very often.  Again...this is at lower temps (under 275 let's say).  It works as expected at temperature closer to 300 and above...but at those temps...it is easy to control by the vents manually anyways....

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