How to Light a Kamado Joe Grill
- By Eric Gephart
- Apr 21, 2022
Watch as Chef Eric Gephart teaches you how to light a Kamado Joe Grill. You'll learn how to pick the best charcoal for your grill, how much to use to get to temp quick, and how to stabilize your temperatures once you get there.
Whether you're cooking steaks hot and fast or smoking ribs low and slow, this video will give you everything you need to know to do it right the first time.
Getting Started Lighting Your Kamado Joe Grill
Today we want to break down one of the most important parts of cooking on a Kamado Joe grill, and that's starting the fire.
To do this you're going to need a high quality lump charcoal, such as Kamado Joe Big Block XL charcoal, and some fire starters or lighter cubes. Remember, you never want to use charcoal briquettes or lighter fluid in your ceramic grill.
Now you can get started building your coal bed.
The name of the game when starting your grill is air flow. If you fill this fire basket up with too much charcoal, you're going to restrict air flow and it's going to take a really long time to get to temperature. And once your kamado grill does come to temperature you'll risk overshooting your desired temperature because you have way too much fuel in there.
So go ahead and fill up your fire basket, but only 40% full. And even then that may be too much for your cook, so remember to use only as much charcoal as you need.
Now it's important to note that lighting a kamado grill is going to be the exact same whether you're doing a low and slow indirect cook or grilling hot and fast.
If you find that you have covered all of the tines on the bottom of your fire basket; that isn't good. So make sure and bank your charcoal so that you can see a couple of tines in the fire grate down there.
If you happen to be using a Series I or Series II Kamado Joe you're going to want to see four or five of the holes in your fire grate in the bottom of your fire ring. We should also mention that the Kamado Joe Charcoal Basket can be used in a Series I or Series II as well.
Once you have your charcoal banked so that you can see a couple of your basket's tines you're going to have great air flow. Also, with the charcoal banked a little bit to one side you will be able to add your fire starter or starter cube underneath giving the flame access to the fuel source.
Finally, before you put a flame to the charcoal, you need to check your draft door. Open it fully and make sure that this isn't full of debris and ash from a previous cook. Once you know your draft door is completely empty you can put the tray back in, and you're going to leave the draft door completely open. This will allow ambient air to be sucked in creating convection in your fire which allows it to grow.
Let's Light Some Fire
We prefer using Kamado Joe Fire Starters to start our grills. They are manufactured from paraffin and saw dust which is then compacted into rectangle briquettes. You'll use two every time you light a fire.
When using two of the fire starters you can give it a twist, tearing one side and giving you a thin area to light. This will allow it to catch easily so you can place it down in the charcoal. That's going to allow it to light and catch fire and before sneaking it into the charcoal. To light your starters you can use a match, a small lighter, or a propane torch. There is no right or wrong method here.
This is one of the things that draws people to Kamado-style grilling, the interaction with the flame."
So now your dome is up, you've got charcoal in the fire box banked toward the rear, and you have great airflow coming from the fully open bottom vent.
Many times we will see people place their fire starter on top of the charcoal expecting the flame to burn down. But since we know that the heat rises you will instead make space in the charcoal, place the fire starter, and then loosely place some charcoal around the flame.
This is one of the things that draws people to Kamado-style grilling, the interaction with the flame. You're not thinking about work. You're not thinking about your cell phone. You're scratching that primal itch.
Francis Mallmann said it perfectly, "When you're cooking with live fire, you're living on the edge of uncertainty." So, this is one of the most enjoyable parts about grilling: interacting with that flame and building the fire.
As time passes you will notice that the flame is just climbing, climbing, climbing, and that big stack allows us to light everything from the bottom and still have complete access to all the charcoal. Think of this as a charcoal chimney starter; of course when you use a ceramic grill or a Kamado Joe, you don't need a chimney starter. The ash basket and the fire box is your chimney starter. You've lit it from the bottom and it's climbing up.
Finally, you want to ensure that you leave the lid open, and the draft door is fully open, for about 10 minutes, and you're going to let this charcoal get activated. You want to see it start to ash and ember up.
Stabilizing Your Kamado Joe
It's been 10 to 12 minutes and your charcoal is activated. You'll notice a great bed of embers and ash. Once you see that, you'll use your ash tool and rake your charcoal around a little bit. This allows you to get some of those pieces that haven't fully lit in the fire, but again ensuring that you can see some of those tines on your fire basket.
When you do this you're also knocking it down a little bit and getting that nice even coal bed. Now, remember that it doesn't matter if you're going to do a hot and fast cook or you're smoking low and slow, this portion of lighting the grill is exactly the same.
If you are planning on smoking food you'll want to take a nice wood chunk and bury it in the hottest portion of the coals. Now you'll wait until you see combustion. You want to see that wood chunk fully combust to make sure you're going to get that really great thin blue smoke.
Once you see the wood is fully lit and giving you that thin blue smoke, you will either install your Slo-Roller or your half-moon heat deflector shields to create an indirect cook. Place the grill grates on the highest setting of the Divide and Conquer System, and you're ready for an indirect cook.
Now you can close your lid and since you have obtained clear smoke you can begin to choke down that top and bottom vents, and work on approaching the temperature that you're gunning for.
Hot and Fast Charcoal Grilling
If you want to do a hot and fast high temp cook, you don't have your heat deflectors in. With your draft door fully open, you'll have a great flame going.
Now you can choose to put your grill grates at the lower or higher position of the Divide and Conquer System, and adjust your control tower fully open for maximum airflow and you can just sit back and watch the temperature needle climb.
This covers everything you need to know to light your Kamado Joe grill.
Remember that this is one of the most enjoyable parts of working with live fire: the natural lump charcoal, lighting the grill, and adjusting your vents to dial in that perfect temperature.
Why We Love Kamado Joe XL Big Block Premium Lump Charcoal
Kamado Joe XL Big Block Premium Lump Charcoal is our absolute favorite lump charcoal for several reasons.
- Unlike other brands of charcoal, Kamado Joe XL Big Block burns cleaner and more efficiently. This means that you'll get more cooks per pound out of this bag making it cost less per use than cheaper brands.
Kamado Joe charcoal is made from a blend of three different Argentinian hardwoods...
- Kamado Joe charcoal is made from a blend of three different Argentinian hardwoods, and the blend and process was developed while working with masters of Argentinian charcoal.
- The flavor! It's not often you'll hear someone say that they prefer one charcoal brand over another for its flavor, but in the case of the XL Big Block Charcoal, it's true.
So if you're looking for the best lump charcoal around, we highly recommend Kamado Joe XL Big Block Premium Lump Charcoal. It's our favorite and we think you'll agree!
*A Few Notes
- Not only is lighter fluid unnecessary in a kamado grill, but the chemical additives can create off putting flavors on your food. So do everyone a favor and just toss that old bottle of lighter fluid in the trash.
- The reason you don't want to use briquettes in a kamado grill grill is that they produce a lot of ash that will restrict airflow. On a cook longer than 30 to 40 minutes you may have so much ash buildup that you need to actually clean out the ash drawer and try and stir up your fuel in order to keep cooking at your desired temperature inside.