Grilling is my favorite pastime, which means that I’m constantly curious about the latest trends. With kamado grills becoming more popular, I decided to take a closer look at a few of them to see what all the fuss was about. My findings resulted in this Char-Griller Akorn Jr review.
Things To Consider Before Buying a Kamado Grill
Kamado grills are charcoal-fueled units with exceptionally sturdy construction and a distinctive egg-like shape. The word kamado literally means “a place for the cauldron,” and these grills do have a reputation for burning hotter than their traditional charcoal-burning counterparts.
The flavor that kamado grills provide is beyond reproach. The cooking style allows the smoke to permeate the inner chamber, infusing the ingredients with that hearty, savory taste. Because of the rugged construction, a kamado grill could also be the last grill you ever have to buy.
Although kamado grills offer superb durability and heat retention, they might not be the best choice for everyone. If you’re used to the instantaneous flames that you get from a gas grill, for example, you’re bound to become frustrated at how long a charcoal fire takes to get going. Also, be aware that kamado grills are designed to be operated with the lids closed, meaning that they’re geared more toward long-term cooking applications than simple burgers and hot dogs. If you’re the type of person who only breaks out the grill a few times a year, you should probably consider other options.
Should you decide that a kamado grill is the right fit for what you have in mind, here’s what you should be on the lookout for:
You can expect to spend a bit more on a kamado grill than you would on a kettle-style unit of similar size. Fortunately, you often get what you pay for in terms of quality (see Construction, below.
Because of their unique shape, kamado grills don’t typically offer a large surface area. Some units will include multiple shelves, making it easier to prepare more than one meal component at a time, but this requires a fair amount of skill and practice.
In general, these units range in diameter from 9 to 24 inches. Before making a purchase, be sure that the grill is large enough to suit your lifestyle.
Many kamado grills feature a ceramic construction, with extra-thick walls to help hold in the heat. While this is the traditional choice, ceramic is also quite fragile and prone to cracking—a worrisome thought, given how heavy these units are. For this reason, some manufacturers are making the switch to heavy-gauge steel instead. Cooking grates are usually made of either stainless steel or cast iron.
Since you’ll probably be cooking with the lid closed most of the time, it’s in your best interests to make sure that it’s a good lid to begin with. The fit should be completely snug, with no gaps. If there’s a lock, it should be easy to operate and made of high-quality hardware.
The best kamado grills will include built-in gauges that allow you to check the temperature of the cooking chamber.
On this type of grill, the temperature is controlled through the amount of air that flows in and out of the cooking chamber. Both the lid and bottom half of the grill should be equipped with working dampers that allow for a higher degree of control over this airflow.
Care and Maintenance
If the grill is outfitted with an ash catcher, it should be easy to remove. Ditto for the cooking grates—their construction should allow for a simple cleanup.
Char-Griller Akorn Jr: Product Specifications
If you choose the Char-Griller Akorn Jr, here’s what you’ll receive:
- Kamado grill with triple-wall 22-gauge steel construction
- Cast iron cooking grate measuring 14 inches in diameter
- Built-in temperature gauge
- Side handles for portability
- Tripod design with three sturdy legs
- Dual damper system
- Locking lid
- Removable ash pan
- Relatively affordable price point
- Simple to assemble, with clear instructions
- Heats rapidly and evenly
- Some shipping issues reported
- Slight off-gassing, requires a short burn-in period to dissipate odor
Char-Griller Akorn Jr Review: Features & Benefits
As kamado grills go, this one is fairly affordable. While the small size might be partly responsible for this (see below), I think it offers a good value for the price.
The grilling grate on the Akorn Jr. measures 14 inches in diameter, giving you 153 square inches of cooking space. To give you a rough idea of what that means, the surface should be able to comfortably accommodate up to 8 hamburger patties.
Since it’s advertised as a travel-sized unit (the abbreviation “Jr.” is right there in the name), this shouldn’t be a deterrent. However, if you’re looking for a model that’s large enough to smoke full rib racks or whole turkeys, however, you would be better off expanding your search.
The Char-Griller Akorn Jr. is composed of triple-wall 22-gauge steel. The interior features a porcelain coating, while the exterior has a powder-coated finish.
In addition to providing the cooking chamber with superior heat retention, this construction also makes the unit easier to transport. You won’t have to worry about the walls becoming cracked or split in transit—a definite plus for any travel grill.
The grilling grate is made of cast iron, another good choice when it comes to heat retention. If you choose to heat the cooking chamber to 700 degrees, you’ll be able to leave impressive grill marks on your steak or pork chops.
The lid is outfitted with a quality locking mechanism, which helps to hold in the heat and smoke during cooking. This is an especially attractive feature for a travel grill, as it will keep the top and bottom halves from cracking together during transit.
The lid also features a built-in temperature gauge, so you can make sure the cooking chamber is hot enough to get the job done. The Akorn Jr. boasts a temperature range of 200 to 700 degrees Fahrenheit, making it suitable for a myriad of cooking applications.
This unit comes equipped with a dual-damper system, with one damper located at the bottom and another on the lid. Both are easy to adjust, but the top damper has the added benefit of a number dial to help you gauge the airflow. Remember that opening the dampers translates into a hotter fire, while closing them lowers the interior temperature and amps up the smoky flavor.
Care and Maintenance
The ash pan is readily accessible and easily removed, which works in the Akorn Jr.’s favor. However, its capacity is relatively low, meaning you should keep a close watch on it during low-and-slow cooking applications like smoking and braising. On the plus side, the unit consumes very little charcoal in the first place, so this shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
The cast iron grilling grate doesn’t have a porcelain coating, so they’ll require a bit of extra maintenance. Before you attempt to use them for cooking, start a test fire of about 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the grilling grate and allow it to heat for about 10 minutes. This should help to neutralize any lingering industrial odors as well.
Next, remove the grate and wait until it’s cool enough to handle. Rub a thin layer of neutral oil (such as grapeseed or canola) all over the grate. This process should be repeated after each use, once the grate has been scrubbed clean of all lingering debris.
What Customers Are Saying
Since customer experience can vary depending on individual taste, I was curious to learn more about the response to the Akorn Jr. After taking to the internet, I was able to come up with the following information.
The grill was praised for its efficiency and heat retention, as well as its user-friendly design. First-time kamado grillers were especially appreciative of how simple it was to use, after a relatively rapid assembly. Its diminutive size was lauded by smaller families who had limited space for a grill. Other than a few minor complaints—such as the latches for the ash catcher being a tad on the loose side—the results for the Akorn Jr. were positive across the board.
Assuming you don’t think the Char-Griller Akorn Jr. is quite right for you, there are plenty of other kamado grills out there. The following list is meant to familiarize you with models that share a few things in common with the Akorn Jr., but which differ in at least one important respect.
#1 Chefood 13-Inch Ceramic Kamado Portable Grill
This is another travel-sized unit, measuring just 13 inches in diameter. That gives you a cooking surface of 85 square inches—suitable for small groups and tailgating expeditions, but a bit small for everyday use. Chefood’s offering features a ceramic construction, so if you want a more authentic kamado grilling experience, this one might be a better fit.
How They Compare
- Temperature Gauge—Char-Griller
- Care and Maintenance—Chefood
If you have your heart set on a travel-sized kamado grill with a ceramic construction, the Chefood unit could be worth a closer look.
#2 London Sunshine 13-Inch Ceramic Tabletop Kamado Grill
This unit from London Sunshine has many things in common with the Chefood grill, with one important distinction: It’s a tabletop unit. That means there are no legs attached, only a flat bottom that’s meant to be set upon a picnic table or the back of a pickup truck. Oversized built-in handles make it easier to maneuver, but the ceramic construction means the unit will take a while to cool down enough for transport.
How They Compare
- Construction—London Sunshine
- Temperature Gauge—Char-Griller
- Care and Maintenance—London Sunshine
Consider investing in the London Sunshine grill if you’d prefer a unit that’s designed for tabletop use.
#3 Kamado Joe Classic II Charcoal Grill
Kamado Joe offers a grill that’s slightly larger than the other options listed here, with a cooking grate measuring 18 inches in diameter. Built-in side shelves and tool hooks offer extra room for prep and storage. While this isn’t a travel grill per se, it does come equipped with wheels to make transport easier.
How They Compare
- Size—Kamado Joe
- Construction—Kamado Joe
- Lid—Kamado Joe
- Temperature Gauge—Tie
- Dampers—Kamado Joe
- Care and Maintenance—Char-Griller
Check out the Kamado Joe Classic II if you’d like a unit with a little more surface area.
At the end of the day, is the Char-Griller Akorn Jr. a good investment? I believe so, especially if you’re working with a limited budget. While the steel construction is slightly unorthodox, it gives the unit extra points in the portability department. I especially appreciate the broad temperature range, which makes this grill suitable for everything from Southern barbecue to grilled flatbread.
Click here to explore everything the Char-Griller Akorn Jr. has to offer. Best of luck, and bon appetit!