Kamado grills are known for their unique shape, excellent insulative properties, and superior cooking results. These types of grills have traditionally been quite expensive, which means that they haven’t been hugely successful with the average home grilling enthusiast. Of course, as with many things in the cooking world, innovation can be used to bring prices down, and today you can get a relatively affordable kamado grill and start cooking with traditional charcoal and the power of convection.
This Char-Griller Akorn is a compact grill, but it follows all the classic design philosophies that have made kamados so coveted in the grilling world. It is made from high quality materials, it’s easy to use, and the cooking results are as good as any of the best kamados on the market.
If you’ve been wanting to try a kamado but have been put off by the price, then you’re going to be quite interested by what the Char-Griller Akorn Jr. has to offer.
What Makes a Kamado Grill Special?
Kamado is a Japanese word used to describe charcoal fueled cooking stoves. These stoves were traditionally set into stonework and could be used with both cooking grates and pots or cauldrons. Today, Kamado is known in English speaking countries as an egg shaped grill that uses charcoal as a fuel source.
One thing that makes most kamados unique is the construction material that is used. A kamado grill is usually made from ceramic. Ceramic is a highly efficient insulator that can ensure that cooking energy stays within the grill. This means that you will use less fuel, but you’ll have the potential for searing hot temperatures that can produce better cooking results. Kamados can also be made from traditional steel if there’s an insulated wall design that retains heat.
The egg shape of the grill also creates natural heat convection, and a kamado grill could be thought of as a combination closed top grill, smoker, and oven.
If you want to grill in ways that simply aren’t possible on normal open top or hooded grills, then a model like the Char-Griller Akorn is the best way to do it for a reasonable price.
Key Product Features of the Char-Griller Akorn Jr.
Before we get into the full review of the Char-Griller Akorn Jr., let’s look at the most important product features.
- Traditional kamado egg shaped design that allows for convection cooking in a small chamber.
- Cast iron cooking grates.
- Top and bottom dampers for easy temperature control.
- Integrated temperature gauge.
- Easy clean design with an ash collector/dump on the bottom of the grill.
- Constructed from steel with an insulated design.
- Temperatures up to 700° F.
- 153 square inch cooking area.
- Portable design, total 37-pound weight.
First Impressions, Materials, and Construction Quality
The shape of the Char-Griller Akorn will immediately stand out. If you’re familiar with other American style kamados then you will recognize the egg shape. The grill looks great and it could be a conversation point if you are entertaining guests. The grill is supported by three short legs and it can be used on a bench or on the ground, depending on your needs.
Traditional kamados are made with ceramic, which can provide excellent insulative qualities. Ceramic is an expensive material, largely due to the amount of labor that is required to shape and cure it. The Akorn doesn’t use ceramic but instead goes for more affordable steel, but this doesn’t have a negative impact on the cooking results.
The design that Char-Griller has used means that there is very little temperature loss, and the grill can get up to 700° F with charcoal fuel. This is significantly higher than the average gas or charcoal grill, and it is equal to the very best grills made of ceramic. The Akorn can achieve such high temperatures because it uses a triple insulated steel shell.
Construction quality is excellent, and the assembly instructions are easy to follow. It is recommended that you use hand tools to perform the assembly, as over-torqueing any of the screws could lead to failure in the future. The kamado has a more complicated design than the average grill, so the assembly is critically important. There have been some negative reviews in terms of construction quality, however, this is most often due to improper assembly and not taking special care when putting all the pieces together.
Overall, the grill is made to a high standard, even when considering that it costs more than other grills that have a similar cooking capacity. You do pay a premium to get the kamado design, but you will see why when you first unpack the unit and see the quality of each individual part.
There’s nothing to complain about in terms of construction and this is one of the highest quality small charcoal grills that you can buy. The red painted finish makes the grill stand out, and it looks much more expensive than it is.
Features and Cooking
If you are looking for an affordable grill that does everything in one unit then the Char-Griller Akorn is not for you. This grill excels at a few different cooking styles, but its size can be limiting, especially if you regularly cook for a large family or a group of guests.
The grill can still impress in the right scenarios, especially when used for smaller cooking sessions. The quality of the results will impress you.
Although marketed as a grill, you can think of this charcoal kamado as a mini oven. The egg shape design brings the heat up from the bottom of the grill, where it is forced through the food and down to the bottom. The air is then heated again, and the process repeats itself. This convection is what makes kitchen ovens so efficient, and it can mean thoroughly cooked food at very high temperatures. You could reduce your cooking time when using the Akorn Jr., or you could even try food that wasn’t possible with your old grill. It’s great for small pizzas, roast chicken, steak, small BBQ cuts, and anything else that you love to grill. It can also be used for baking bread and other specialties; however, you will need to be aware that the small grid size and overall small size of the grill will limit you to servings that are good for 2 – 4 people.
The convection design and enclosed shell means that this is also a great grill for smoking. When you are smoking food, the idea is to cook things low and slow. While this cooker can easily reach 700° F, it doesn’t mean that you always have to cook at those temperatures. You could close the vents to reduce oxygen and get a slower and less intense burn from the charcoal fuel. Add in some smoker chips or pellets and you will have a very convenient small and portable smoker. The insulated design makes it even more effective as a smoker than some dedicated units, because smoke loss will be minimized.
Steaks, sausages, chops, vegetables, fish, and poultry all turn out perfectly when cooked in the Char-Griller Akorn. The Design helps to lock in moisture, so your food can be perfectly cooked every time, while remaining succulent and juicy inside. If you have struggled with dry BBQ food in the past, then the Akorn could seriously up your grilling skills.
Ease of Use
Cooking with a kamado is like cooking on a kettle grill. The big difference is the insulated shell and the way that heat is retained. It’s important to understand that your cooking times will change when compared to cooking with another grill. You may need to experiment when you are first using the Char-Griller Akorn, but it won’t take long before you are used to your new appliance.
The grill isn’t difficult to operate but it will require work to fill the charcoal and then start cooking. If you have used a charcoal grill before then this will be nothing new to you. If you have previously used a gas grill or even an electric portable grill, then starting the charcoal will become an extra step to get accustomed to.
There are still similarities to cooking with gas. One example is that instead of adjusting a burner control, you will instead adjust the air flow to change the internal temperature. The handy temperature gauge will let you know the exact conditions inside the grill, and before long you will feel just as at home with the Akorn as you have with any grill in the past.
Biggest Pros and Cons of Cooking with the Char-Griller Akorn Jr. Kamado Grill
This is a unique grill that makes kamado cooking accessible to a wider audience. These are the top pros and cons that we’ve found.
- High temperatures just like a ceramic kamado grill.
- Aesthetically appealing design that looks and feels premium.
- High quality materials used.
- Simple assembly.
- Great cooking results.
- Ability to be used as a smoker.
- Convection allows more thorough cooking.
- The Akorn takes some getting used to and your cooking times may need to be adjusted.
- This Jr. model has just 153 square inches of cooking surface, so it’s not suited for large group cookouts.
- Improper assembly can lead to failed parts in the future. This grill is more sensitive to assembly than other models on the market.
- The impressive red paint will begin to fade to orange after a few cooking sessions (a natural reaction to the heat).
The Akorn Jr. is a fantastic cooking appliance that can cook all your favorite grilled food, while also having the extra option to smoke and bake. The high temperatures can change the dynamics of your cooking and could even change the flavor of your food. It’s also a charcoal grill, which means that you’ll get classic smoky flavor, even if you don’t add wood chips while you are cooking.
There are some downsides, including the size, but this will only be a negative if you’re in the market for a larger grill. There are bigger models in the Akorn family, so you can get similar cooking results from something that is more suitable, but you will need to increase your budget.
This is a niche product, but it’s one that we can recommend to people who want an amazing grilling experience at home. For solo cooking, couples, or a small family, this is one of the best charcoal grills on the market today.