There is no such thing as too much barbecue. But aside from the quality ingredients, did you know the secret of making the best barbecue is to use the best grill? Nope, I’m not talking about propane grills.
Before anything else, this is an in-depth review of the Kamado Joe vs. AKORN Kooker products. In this article, you will learn how capable the Kamado Joe grills are. While there are several Kamado Joe products, I picked the Classic II and Joe Jr. due to their cult following.
I have departed from my boring backyard cookouts when I got to try the best kamado grill, the Kamado Joe Classic II. So, I am excited to share the details about this grill.
However, there might be a reason why a Kamado Joe isn’t the right one for you; it could be the price or your dog’s affinity for breaking ceramic. So, I made sure to include alternate suggestions.
What is the Best Charcoal Grill Smoker Combo to Buy?
- Kamado Joe Classic II: How do you want to cook your meat ― high and fast or low and slow? You have got in on the Classic II Kamado Joe! With this grill, you don’t need to cook your side dishes separately. Simply lay the steaks closer to the fire and keep the veggies high.
- Kamado Joe Jr.: The size may limit what you can do, but the Joe Jr. grills and smokes meat as amazing as the Classic II! This cooker retains heat so well; you could set it and forget it.
- Char-Griller AKORN Kooker: Stepping into the kamado-style cooking doesn’t require a huge investment. The Char-Griller AKORN Kooker will get you started for a fraction of the cost. If the kamado-style cooking fits your lifestyle, then you may decide if you wish to go for the big boys.
- Char-Griller AKORN JR. Kooker: If you are in the market for an affordable grill that you could take to camping, tailgating, or to a friend’s house, I highly recommend the Char-Griller AKORN Jr. This grill also fits the bill if you want a secondary searing station.
Kamado Joe vs. AKORN – Main Differences
- The Kamado Joes have a ceramic body, while the AKORN Kookers feature a steel construction coated with porcelain.
- The Divide & Conquer® Flexible Cooking System of the Kamado Joe Classic II makes it the most versatile cooker. Right out of the box, you can grill, smoke, bake, and whatnot. The best part is that you can cook your meat and veggies side by side.
- The firebox of the Kamado Joe Classic II is composed of five separate pieces. Referred to as the Advanced Multi-Panel FireBox, it handles thermal stress exceptionally well by allowing the ceramic firebox to expand and contract naturally.
- Albeit is cheaper than the Kamado Joes, the Char-Griller AKORN and AKORN Jr. have limited accessories. You will need to purchase the Smokin’ Stone heat deflector, among others.
- Sometimes, the built-in thermometer of the AKORN grills isn’t accurate.
- Having made of ceramic, the Kamado Joes are highly responsive to vent changes; thus, the temperature can soar high up and subside rather quickly. The insulated steel body of the AKORN Kookers does not.
The signature cooking system comes with a stainless steel cooking grid that you can split into two, allowing you to cook various foods simultaneously with different temperature zones. This flexibility has allowed me to roast corn on the cob on one side, while I seared the pork ribs on the other.
The Divide & Conquer® also includes an accessory rack and ceramic heat deflector plates to transform the Classic II into an awesome smoker. The ceramic heat deflector plates are also shaped like half-moons, so you can shield the elevated rack from direct heat.
With the accessory rack, I can place a water pan underneath the cooking grid for the most efficient “slow and low” cooking. To top it off, you can also create a convection baking setup or a wood-fired oven with the Classic II.
Moreover, the accessory rack provides adequate space for you to add fresh coals when needed. I also appreciate that the Classic II comes standard with a grid lifter and an ash/fire poker.
Moving onto the lower portion of the Classic II is the Advanced Multi-Panel FireBox and a removable perforated charcoal burn grate. The thick ceramic firebox is divided into five pieces, all of which are retained by a stainless steel ring that adds an extra layer of durability.
Cinders that fall below the fire grate gets collected in a stainless steel ash pan for easy cleaning. The bottom draft door is also made out of stainless steel. Also, you can slide it in various positions to calibrate airflow.
The secondary airflow adjustment is at the rust-resistant Kontrol Tower vent. Rain or shine, you can adjust the airflow with the tab or pivot the top out of the way for times that you want maximum airflow. You may also remove the chimney top for cleaning.
Furthermore, you can always keep a close eye on your ambient temperature because the Classic II comes with a lid-mounted thermometer. This model also uses a wire mesh fiberglass gasket for maximum heat and smoke retention.
More impressively, the lid features a stainless steel self-activating latch for an ultra air-tight seal. I also love the Air-Lift Hinge because even the senior members of the family can lift the 19-pound ceramic lid.
- Divide & Conquer® Flexible Cooking System ― meats and sides can be ready to come off the grill nearly the same time
- you can transform the grill into a convection oven to bake pizzas and pastries
- compatible with numerous Kamado Joe cooking accessories
- Air Lift Hinge ― opening the lid is a two-finger job and the lid stays open even when you let go half-way
- hardware components are stainless steel
- equipped with an accurate built-in thermometer and includes all the necessary tools to get you started
- comes with a four-wheeled cast iron cart with two casters that lock
- the level of versatility and convenience of this grill comes with a hefty price tag
- albeit durable and scratch-resistant, the ceramic chamber may shatter when it falls from a few feet or more
The Kamado Joe Jr. features thick ceramic walls to promote excellent heat retention and fuel efficiency; thereby, it minimizes cooking costs. An accessory rack and a ceramic heat deflector plate are also included. You have the option to leave out the ceramic plate or use it for indirect cooking.
With the Kamado Joe Jr., I realized that I have to cook my sides separately and batch different meats. The Joe Jr. doesn’t have the multi-functionality of the Classic II; nonetheless, it makes amazing barbecues as its bigger brothers nonetheless.
What the Joe Jr. does have is a 304 stainless steel cooking grid, which is the same quality as the one used in the Classic II. The grid also comes with a hinge, allowing you to feed the deflector plate with aromatic wood chips. As you can see in the picture, it also has a built-in thermometer.
Being light and compact, you can take the Joe Jr. to beach parties, campings, tailgating, and whatnot. The Joe Jr. can also serve as your secondary grill if you already have a bigger Kamado Joe.
- perfect everyday barbecue for a small family
- boasts of having similar grilling and smoking techniques as the Classic II albeit condensed into a 75.6-pound unit
- fantastic heat retention and fuel efficiency
- equipped with an accurate built-in thermometer
- comes with a cast iron stand, grid lifter, and ash/fire poker
- all metal parts provide excellent resistance against corrosion and rust
- designed to be basic and portable; incompatible with Kamado Joe accessories
- you don’t get the Divide & Conquer® Flexible Cooking System, Advanced Multi-Panel FireBox, Air-Lift Hinge, and Kontrol Tower Vent
If you are to buy a grill for the first time, and you don’t want to drop a ton of cash, I suggest the Char-Griller AKORN Kooker Grill & Smoker. Also known as model #E16620, this cooker has already been out for several years, but it remains the best kamado grill as far as value goes.
Get this; the Char-Griller AKORN Kooker delivers outstanding cooking performance without the massive weight ― and the hefty price tag ― of ceramic kamado grills. Unlike traditional kamados, it features an insulated steel body that retains the heat for an extended period. As such, it is ideal for long cooking and smoking sessions.
The AKORN Kooker can also crank up the heat for grilling steaks. No matter how hot the cooker gets, it does not singe your hand if you touch it accidentally. Most importantly, you’ll love the fact that your hard-earned investment won’t shatter to bits if your beloved pooch tips it by accident.
Assembly is straightforward, but first-time users might still find themselves on a steep learning curve. The manual does come with a diagram of vent positions to help you find the ideal heat temperature. But in spite of having two vents, it might still prove difficult for you to cool the grill down once it gets too hot. Remember, the cooker is made of double-walled steel.
I’m sure everyone would agree that the best part of the AKORN Kooker is the cast iron cooking grid. As long as the grid is seasoned prior to the cooking process, it will maintain its performance for many seasons to come. The grill also comes with a removable warming rack perfect for heating up buns.
Foldable side shelves offer preparation space, as well as hooks for hanging utensils. Pushing the grill across your law is also made easy, due to the chunky wheels. Although there are a few things that need improvement, the Char-Griller AKORN Kooker is an excellent product for the money.
- the best budget kamado-style cooker
- boasts of a durable steel metal construction that does not crack
- the exterior remains surprisingly cool to the touch during cooking
- fuel-efficient and has impressive heat retention
- uses a heavy-duty cast iron cooking grid, plus a detachable warming rack
- for portability, it comes with a two-wheeled cart with one front caster that locks
- you’ll have to buy the smoking accessories
- the rivets tacked on gaskets could protrude overtime
- you’ll have to season the cast iron grid before and after cooking to maintain quality and efficiency
- heat control is tricker due to its untraditional steel body and somewhat unreliable built-in thermometer
- eventually, the paint would peel off and the metal components would rust
- replenishing the firebox with coal or wood is a nightmare due to the lack of space in the edges
This might sound hilarious to you, but if you have ever owned a ceramic kamado grill, they are not really what you would call portable, even with the Kamado Joe Jr. These ceramic grills are still downright heavy.
So, if you are looking for the best portable kamado grill, the Char-Griller AKORN Jr. Kooker is worth a shot. Apart from the lack of a warming rack, it functions just the same as the AKORN Kooker. The steel body is unbreakable, and it retains heat just as well as a ceramic cooker.
Cooking on the seasoned cast iron grid is likewise a guaranteed pleasure. For its size, you can cook for at least two or three people without a problem.
You are not going to beat what you pay for the AKORN Jr.! This cooker is one of the best entry-level kamado grills out there.
- the best portable kamado grill ― perfect for quick cooks after work, camping, etc.
- performs nearly the same as the bigger AKORN
- the exterior remains surprisingly cool to the touch during cooking
- fuel-efficient and has impressive heat retention
- uses a heavy-duty cast iron cooking grid
- lacks many accessories including a heat deflector
- heat control needs practice
- difficult to add in fresh coals once the food is laid on the grid
Face to Face Comparison
Design and Construction
Char-Griller AKORN and AKORN Jr.
To be honest, I expected the Char-Griller AKORN and AKORN Jr. to come up short in this regard, but the durable and conscientious design turned out to be my favorite thing about them.
The Char-Griller AKORN and AKORN Junior are egg-shaped with a hinged lid like most kamado grills. But unlike traditional kamados, these AKORNs aren’t made of ceramic.
The body and lid of each model feature a dual-layer of 22-gauge steel; thereby, creating a heat insulator that is as efficient as a ceramic kamado. Yup, 22-gauge steel is thinner and lighter than ceramic, but it is more durable and less expensive.
Having hyperactive canines roving the backyard is a worrisome thought if you have a ceramic kamado grill. But with an AKORN, you don’t have to worry if a clumsy, gigantic dog would knock it over. You just set the grill back and dust it off. The bumpy, powder-coated exterior doesn’t scratch that much and even if it did, I bet you won’t even notice.
Combined with the interior porcelain finish, you’ll get a cooker that will carry its heat a long time ― perfect for slow cooking. More importantly, the double-walled construction ensures the exterior remains cool enough to the touch; thus, making the grill safe when children or pets are around.
Moreover, the Char-Griller AKORN has two large wheels and one locking caster at the front. The AKORN Junior, on the other hand, sits on a metal tripod to support its own weight.
Aesthetically, AKORN could have made a better stand, but I guess that’s how they got the price down. Nevertheless, it is doing the job exceptionally well. Having a small footprint also makes it easy for you to store the AKORN Junior in the garage.
Lids, Gaskets, and Hinges
Char-Griller AKORN and AKORN Jr.
The Char-Griller AKORN uses a fiberglass gasket to prevent leaks between the lid and the base. Upon closer inspection on the lid, I noticed the gasket has some sort of rivet or studs tacked in intervals.
Additionally, there is a gasket on the bottom edge of the base where it connects to the ash pan. The AKOR Junior also has two gaskets, both of which are placed in the same manner as the standard model.
Since there isn’t much weight on the lid, you’ll have to secure it to the body using the latch to achieve a better seal. However, the lid and hinge for both models don’t seem well-made. There were instances when the lid gets chafed against the rivets. If this happens frequently, holes could quickly form in the gasket.
AKORN is trying to cut down costs as much as possible, so I am not that surprised.
Char-Griller AKORN and AKORN Jr.
The AKORN grills also have two vents, although nothing special. Let me start with the top vent, which is a simple rotating metal cap. It has four wedge-shaped gaps in it and a protruding tab that allows you to adjust these openings.
There are also indicators to make it easier for you to reproduce various vent settings. The same goes for the bottom vent, which is part of the removable ash pan held up against the base by two latches.
Unlike the Kamado Joes, the top vent for the AKORNs is attached permanently to the dome. The manufacturer probably did this on purpose so that the temperature does not exceed 700°F.
The upper vent closes tightly enough to douse the fire when you’re finished cooking. My only gripe is that it is not watertight. As such, water could get inside the cooker when it rains. So, I highly recommend you get a cover for your cooker.
The firebox is supposedly the “third” wall of steel that the manufacturer is boasting about.
One complaint I have about the AKORN firebox is that it moves a little even after you put the cooking grate on top of it.
I’m not sure if this is a good thing, but it limits the amount of air that can go up through the fire.
In light of the 700° temperature limit, this should help keep the fire from getting out of control.
Cooking Area and Performance
One of the reasons why the Char-Grill AKORN is a big hit is the equipment that comes with it. I am referring to no other than the 8.3-pound cast iron cooking surface, which sits between the lid and the base. Approximately, the cast iron grid yields 314 sq. inches of cooking space.
However, you’ll want to remove the circular insert at the center when adding smoking chips or replenishing the firebox with coals. On the bright side, the grill comes with a grid lifter, so you could pick the piping hot grate.
The standard AKORN also includes a chrome-plated steel warming rack with 133 sq. inches of cooking space. When installed, it sits five inches above the cooking grid. Likewise, it pivots to one side should you need to access the main cooking surface.
The same applies to the AKORN Jr. It uses a cast iron cooking grid with a round and removable center. The only difference is that its total grilling space is almost half the size of its bigger brother.
Both models comprise similar parts, except that the AKORN Junior doesn’t have a warming rack and has a tripod stand, instead of casters.
While these two products are advertised as a grill and smoker combo, they actually lack the accessories that make them as such. You will have to purchase the Smokin’ Stone to obtain the added benefit of a smoker and convection oven.
I haven’t seen rusts forming yet, but a number of people talked about rust problems, especially if you live a few miles away from the beach or if it fogs frequently in your area.
So, if you are concerned about these, you’ll have to get your AKORN a cover.
Assembly and Ease of Use
My AKORN grills arrived in excellent condition. All the parts were present. The fasteners were wrapped in a blister pack, and they were identified so you’ll know which is which. All the parts lined up and everything mounted the way it should.
Unfortunately for other consumers, they complained about how their boxes looked like they got dragged by a donkey. I am guessing the company isn’t paying too much attention to the packaging because of two reasons: to cut down costs and the sheer confidence that these metal babies will stay in one piece even if they were to go around the earth twice.
Either way, I think it would have been better if the AKORN grills were enclosed in a sturdier box.
The AKORN took me an hour to assemble, but the AKORN Junior was quicker. However, you can’t start cooking immediately. You’ll need to season the cast iron cooking grids first.
If there is one thing unreliable about these AKORNs, it is no other than the thermometer, which has been off by up to 200°F. If the temperature goes far beyond the desired level, it will take a while to cool down.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Cleaning the AKORN grills is not a difficult process if you season the cast iron grid before and after cooking. There is also a removable ash pan at the bottom of the grills.
The ash pan then lowers about half an inch and becomes suspended by the disk that slots into the bracket on the base. Pull the pan forward, and you can lower it away from the cooker.
Other than the price, you can expect limitless capabilities to up your BBQ game with the Kamado Joe Classic II, which is hands down the best ceramic kamado grill in the market!
Straight out of the box, you can smoke, grill, and bake without having to purchase additional accessories. The versatility and build quality of this Kamado Joe is definitely difficult to surpass!
The Kamado Joe Jr. is also a terrific grill and smoker combo. While you’ll never be able to ram a whole side of beef into it, it handles typical smoking and grilling assignments, as well.
If the price tag of these Kamado Joes doesn’t appeal to you, there are AKORN cookers to try. Hopefully, this article is of help. Happy grilling!