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Kamado Joe Classic 1 Review: The Original and Still a Fine Grill

The Kamado Joe line of ceramic smokers is my favorite. I own three, one of each size. So you can guess how I feel about them? See why I love them so much in my review, where I take you through their build quality, latest innovations, pros and cons.

Mark Jenner profile picture
Written by:

Last Updated: March 6, 2024

A Kamado Joe Classic 1 isolated on black, next to text describing this article as a review.

I have owned the Kamado Joe Classic 1 for 9 years at the time of updating this article. In this review, I discuss how it may well be the best value, most budget-friendly kamado in the Kamado Joe lineup despite lacking some of the advanced features of the pricier Classic II and III models.

This ceramic grill is designed for grilling, searing, smoking, baking, and roasting. It is a Swiss army knife of outdoor cooking that can do it all, making it a highly versatile bit of kit for anyone who loves cooking outdoors.

Join me as I explore all its features, how it works, what I’ve been able to do with it, and if I feel it’s worth the money. By the end of this review, you’ll have a clear idea if this is the grill for you.

Ratings and Final Verdict

A red Kamado Joe Classic 1 on a paved patio, with a fence and bushes behind it.
8.4
Scores Out of 10
Build Quality and Durability 8.5
Temperature Control and Stability 9.0
Ease of Use 8.0
Versatility and Cooking Performance 9.0
Cleaning and Maintenance 8.0
Features and Technology 7.5
Value for Money 8.5

There is no question that the Kamado Joe Classic 1 is a terrific grill and smoker. While you’ll never be able to ram an entire side of beef into it, it’s big enough to handle most typical smoking and grilling assignments, including large brisket.

In terms of build quality, it’s hard to beat a Kamado Joe. It has thick ceramic walls, and the cart is solid steel. The daisy wheel is thick cast iron, and the grates are thick stainless steel. I have had mine 9 years and it is still going strong. This thing has lasted, and will continue to do so.

How about performance? Well, read further and you will see many photos of my cooks below. You will see this thing cooks wonderfully. It is incredibly fuel efficient, airtight, and creates a moist cooking chamber that results in evenly cooked, juicy and tender meat every time. You can smoke, roast, bake, grill and sear all in one unit, and it is highly capable at all of those things.

If you’re excited by the idea of such versatility, you appreciate high-quality products, and maybe you’re just a little enamored of the prestige (not everyone has such a fine grill!) then this investment will reward you with many, many years of enjoyment.

I’ve recommended this grill many times before, and I won’t hesitate to recommend it again.

However, other products may suit you better if:

  • You can’t justify the price.
  • You want to cook very large quantities of food at once.
  • You’re not interested in dealing with charcoal, ashes, and fire management.
  • You plan on taking your cooker on the road, because it’s not at all portable.

Pros

  • It looks great!
  • Ability to cook at high or low temperatures, suitable for smoking and grilling
  • Solid construction and good fits all around.
  • Flexible cooking surface allowing for multiple cooking techniques at the same time.
  • Easily adjusted top and bottom vents to control temperature.
  • Convenient clean out with ash drawer.
  • Cooking capacity can be expanded by purchasing add-ons.
  • Incredible warranty

Cons

  • Though not small, there’s less cooking surface compared to most standard grills and smokers.
  • It’s very heavy — fortunately the rolling cart makes it easy to move around your space.
  • Ceramic can be fragile, so handle with care.
  • Felt gasket needs replacement over time.
  • Lacks some advanced features found in higher models.
Kamado Joe Classic 1
A Kamado Joe Classic 1 isolated on white.

A premium ceramic outdoor cooker that is incredibly versatile and can grill, smoke, sear, roast, and bake. With innovative features and incredible build quality backed up by a lifetime warranty on ceramics, this cooker will produce quality food for a lifetime, all at a great price.

Our Ratings Explained

Here is why I gave this grill the ratings that I have.

Build Quality and Durability

For the years I’ve owned and used the Kamado Joe Classic 1, I’ve been impressed with its solid build, and it has certainly stood the test of time, now being 9 years old and still going strong!

The ceramic body feels like it’s made to last a lifetime, and the stainless steel components don’t show any signs of wear, even after a ton of use. I’ve used this grill in all sorts of weather and mostly leave it outside uncovered (unless I go away on holiday), and this grill has stood up to the challenge. The only reason I’m not giving it a perfect score is because, well, it’s ceramic, so it is breakable and not as tough as many of the metal grills I own.

Score: 8.5/10.

Temperature Control and Stability

I’ve cooked everything from briskets on a slow smoke to pizzas at high heat on this grill, and its temperature control and stability are spot on. Adjusting the top and bottom vents is now second nature to me, and they let me dial in the exact temperature I need. And once it’s set, it stays there rock solid for hours at a time. It does take a bit of practice to get the hang of it, but once you do, it’s predictable and consistent. It’s manual, so I cannot give it full marks, there being many charcoal grills these days where you can program a temperature on a controller.

Score: 9/10.

Ease of Use

Assembly was straightforward, and after the initial learning curve, setting up to cook different ways, lighting it, and hitting a desired cooking temperature is easy enough. Clean-up is relatively easy with the removable ash tray. And being able to do a high-heat self-clean adds to the ease of use. Ongoing maintenance is as simple as wiping down with a cloth now and then and hoovering out the body to get ash that builds up between the firebox and outer shell. However, everything is manual, there’s no automation or connectivity, and you need to master fire lighting and management. So I can only score it an 8.

Score: 8/10.

Versatility and Cooking Performance

This grill has seen a lot of action in my backyard – smoking, grilling, even baking. The Divide and Conquer system is brilliant, letting me cook different foods at different temperatures simultaneously. Everything I’ve cooked on it comes out with perfectly cooked, unbeatable kamado flavor. It holds its own or even outperforms other grills I’ve used in terms of versatility and the quality of the cook.

Score: 9/10.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Cleaning up after a cookout is never fun, but the Kamado Joe makes it as painless as possible. The ash drawer is convenient, making it easy to clean without messing. Since it’s charcoal, there’s no grease management system or pellet cleanout to worry about, simplifying things. The grates just need a brush down like on any grill, and the ceramic exterior an occasional quick wipe down, and it’s ready for the next use.

Score: 8/10.

Features and Technology

While the Classic 1 might not have all the bells and whistles of some high-tech models, it’s got everything I need to make great food. The built-in thermometer is usable, and the Divide and Conquer system adds unrivaled versatility to cook in different ways. I do sometimes wish it had some of the newer tech features, but for what it is, it’s a solid setup.

Score: 7.5/10.

Value for Money

Having used this grill extensively, I can say it offers great value for the price. It’s built to last, cooks beautifully, and doesn’t have unnecessary gadgets that bump up the price. While it’s an investment, you’re getting a premium grilling experience. It’s the kind of grill that pays for itself over time with the quality of meals it produces. The price is relatively high compared to, for example, kettle grills, though.

Score: 8.5/10.

Why Trust Us

I have owned this grill for 9 years now, and have smoked and grilled everything from beef ribs to fish, and — as you can see above — even while dressed as a novelty cowboy while riding a horse! So what I say comes from my vast experience of actually using this grill to feed my family and friends hundreds of times now.

Not only that, but I have been smoking and grilling since 2005, and have been full time working on this website since 2017, which has allowed me to buy and use dozens of different grills and smokers over the years. So I am able to compare performance to competing products I have also used.

For this particular review, I have also researched what others have to say and read professional reviews, customer feedback, and discussions within the BBQ community to provide a well-rounded perspective.

Review and Test Results

So, from unboxing and assembly to build quality and a good look at all features, including how it grills, smokes, and bakes, here is everything you need to know about the KJ Classic V1.

General Overview

Kamado Joe classic v1 on a grass lawn with lid open, next to a black garden chair.

The Kamado Joe Classic 1 is one of several ceramic kamados produced by Kamado Joe, and it’s the one with the broadest appeal.

It’s a reasonably sized smoker and grill that will fit in most backyard spaces. Unlike some 2-in-1 units, a kamado can achieve temperatures high enough to sear, but can also hold a low enough temperature for true low ‘n’ slow grilling.

For more details on how they work and getting the best out of one, check out our guide on how to use kamado grill.

Unboxing and Assembly

What’s in the Box?

Opening the box will reveal not only the red ceramic Kamado shell itself, but also:

  • A rolling stand with locking wheels.
  • Twin side tables.
  • A Grill Gripper for manipulating hot grates.
  • An Ash Tool to help you clean up after cooking.
  • The Divide & Conquer grill system (A split grill and heat deflector combo that allows you to set up direct and indirect grilling at the same time.)
  • A firebox and fire ring.

It’s very well packaged, and has everything you need to get grilling except the fuel.

Ease of Assembly

It was very easy to put together, taking no more than about 20 minutes, and requiring only an adjustable spanner.

You might want a buddy to help get the grill into the cart, as the grill is not light. I managed to put it in myself 9 years ago, but I was younger and stronger then.

First Impressions

The first impression you’ll get is this is a very well packed box, which is a good thing since ceramic is somewhat fragile. Assembly is pretty straightforward, and you’ll be up and running in no time.

The Kamado Joe Classic II is an attractive grill; the glossy red exterior is a real eye-catcher! It’s also pretty darn hefty so make sure you have an able-bodied assistant to help you put it together.

Build-quality is excellent; all connecting parts are solidly attached, everything fits snugly, and the lid latches closed and stays tightly sealed. The whole unit feels very well-thought-out and user-friendly.

The two side tables are such a blessing when you’ve got a bunch of tools, sauces, and seasonings all vying for space. The thermometer is front and center, and the top vent and bottom ash drawer are all easy to get at.

Divide & Conquer Grill System

Kamado Joe classic V1 with lid open, showing divide and conquer grate system.

Having an 18” diameter grill should be limiting, but the clever engineers at Kamado Joe have found ways to max out on versatility.

With their novel grill system, you can set up grills at staggered heights and use heat deflectors to create distinct temperature zones, and areas for direct and indirect grilling simultaneously. This is something you might think only possible with a standard-shaped barbecue.

This, for me, is what makes the KJ so good. With the deflector plates in, you cook indirectly and can smoke and roast. Remove them, and you have direct heat grilling and searing. Want to increase/decrease the heat when grilling? Simply move the grates up or down a level so the food is closer or further from the hot coals. I have found this flexibility invaluable over the years.

Slide-Out Ash Drawer

The removable ash tray being pulled out from the lower vent of the Kamado Joe smoker.

Cleaning out ash is a dirty job, but every charcoal or wood-fired grill owner has to deal with it at some point. To help ease the burden, the KJ has an ash collection area at the bottom of the unit. All you have to do is slide out the drawer and carefully dispose of the contents. Of course, not all the ash will cooperate, so they do include a handy ash clean-out tool for those hard-to-reach places.

I’ve found this highly effective during use. It really couldn’t be easier.

Side Shelves

Yeah, I am personally obsessed with side tables. I love having work/storage space, but without devoting a ton of room to a large table, cart, stand, or storage unit. There’s just the right amount of room for a plate to receive cooked food, or for rubs, seasonings, and sauces to wait their turn. It’s nice to be able to set down my frosty beverage, too.

A word of warning though! I placed a hot grate on one of my shelves and burned a line into it about 5mm deep. So be careful, they are heat resistant, but not completely and can be melted.

Latching Lid

Speaking of lids, a tight fit is essential to good low ‘n’ slow cooking. You don’t want to lose smoke and heat because you forgot to check if the lid was shut, especially since the lid won’t self-close.

With the rust-resistant latch, there’s no guessing whether the lid is down or not. And combined with the felt gasket, it seals tightly keeping in all heat and smoke exactly where you want it, making the grill fuel-efficient and keeping food moist.

Daisy Wheel Top Vent

Close up of the daisy wheel top vent with smoke rising from it, on a Kamado Joe classic 1.

The top vent daisy wheel is made of cast iron and coated in high-heat paint. The original looks a little different to mine because I burned all the paint away and seasoned it myself, as I tend to do with all my cast iron.

Anyhow, the daisy wheel works well enough. It’s a two-part design, with a larger slide-out opening and a small turning daisy wheel on top. You can open the larger slide to get maximum airflow and super hot temperatures up past 750 °F, or close this down and tweak the daisy wheel to lock in temperatures as low as 200 °F.

There’s a bit of a learning curve to getting the right settings of how open this should be to hit certain temperatures, but once you know, you know, and then it’s easy.

However, I do have a couple of issues with this design of top vent:

Firstly, The larger slide opening massively moves when opening and closing the grill lid. And I even find the daisy wheel can spin a little, too. This changes the settings, which will affect your set temperature. So you need to remember where it is set and reset it when you close the lid after peeking inside.

Secondly, it lets the rain in! I leave mine outside, mostly uncovered, and I have found rain can enter the top vent, even when I have it closed. It collects and drips through, basically.

Small annoyances, but there nonetheless.

Overall Ease of Use

Being versatile is not the same as being easy. There’s a lot you can do with a Kamado, but if you’re used to more conventional grilling, there is going to be a learning period while you master all the nuances of the equipment.

It took me a few cooks to get the hang of hitting a target temperature without overshooting, and once you overshoot it’s a game of patience waiting for it to come back down.

By the way, this is a kamado thing, not a specifically Kamado Joe thing.

If you’re already used to grilling with charcoal, you’re going to have an easier time adapting than someone switching over from gas, of course. Still, there may be some frustration at first as you learn to control the temperature for long roasts and smokes. Once you’ve got the hang of it, though, you’ll love it.

And there’s always the option of adding an automatic barbecue temperature controller if set and forget smoking is on your wish list!

Cleaning and Maintenance

I find cleaning my Kamado Joe is pretty straightforward. We’ve already gone over the ash drawer and ash-cleaning tool. If you keep the cooker covered between uses, there won’t be much else to do.

Like most indoor ovens, a kamado can self-clean. The manufacturer suggests getting the temperature up to 600 °F for 15 minutes. At that point, close off the vents and wait for the kamado to cool down completely. Then simply brush off the grate and ceramics, and that’s all that’s necessary beside a wipe on the outside with a damp cloth.

A Few Things I’ve Cooked

In my time with this grill, I have grilled fish, steaks, and lamb chops. I’ve cold smoked cheeses, garlic, and bacon. I’ve smoked low n slow beef ribs, pork ribs, brisket and pork butts, ox cheeks, pork knuckles and more. This grill successfully cooks everything you can throw at it.

Here are some photos of a few things I’ve cooked while owning this grill. (Sorry for the lack of good photography, most of these photos were taken with a smartphone before I started this website and bought camera equipment.)

Smoke Roasted Lamb Leg

Smoked Oxtail Stew

Mixed Grill

Cold Smoked Cheeses

Manufacturer Specs

  • Model Number: KJ23RH
  • Width: 46.5 in.
  • Height: 48.5 in.
  • Grill Weight: 231.5 lbs.
  • Heat Range: 225°F to 750°F
  • Cooking Surface: 18 in. Diameter
  • Max Cooking Space: 250 sq. in.
Kamado Joe Classic 1
A Kamado Joe Classic 1 isolated on white.

A premium ceramic outdoor cooker that is incredibly versatile and can grill, smoke, sear, roast, and bake. With innovative features and incredible build quality backed up by a lifetime warranty on ceramics, this cooker will produce quality food for a lifetime, all at a great price.

Available Upgrades, Accessories and Attachments

There’s a whole host of accessories Kamado Joe sells. The ones I bought you can see in the photo below. I wanted a cast iron for better searing, the reversible griddle so I could cook liquids and small items, the grill expander to increase capacity, and the pizza stone for…well, for pizzas.

A selection of Kamado Joe accessories, still in their white and red boxes, on a chair cushion.

Other available accessories include:

  • Joetisserie rotisserie spit
  • Stainless steel cooking plate
  • Soapstone cooking plate
  • Rib rack
  • Cover

What do Others Say?

At the time writing, this is the customer feedback at some major online retailers of this grill:

  • Kamadojoe.com: 4.7/5 from 333 reviews.
  • Acehardware.com: 4.9/5 from 182 Reviews.

The review at NakedWhiz is overall highly positive. They praise iss, ease of assembly, and the range of features it offers, such as its durable materials, efficient temperature control and wide temperature range from 225 °F to 750 °F, and thoughtful additions like the spring-assist hinge, grill gripper, and ash tool. These, along with a variety of optional accessories and a generous lifetime warranty, add up to the Kamado Joe being not only comparable to but possibly superior to other well-known brands in in the kamado space in terms of quality and value.

They go on to say how excellent the results are from cooking on this pit. From low and slow ribs to high-heat seared steaks and baked brie, they praise the easy temperature management and the quality of the resulting dishes.

Despite a minor critique regarding the side tables’ hinge mechanism, the review highly recommends this grill.

Warranty and Support

Kamado Joe builds an excellent cooker, but even the best can have an off day. They have a good reputation for providing quick and useful support, and most customers come away happy after an interaction.

You can phone KJ toll-free, but the best access to support seems to be through an online form. You can even attach a picture of your issue to the form with ease. Socially, they maintain Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter accounts. They have a tab on their website for ‘Community,’ but as of the time of writing, this section was non-functional.

To interact with other Kamado Joe users, your best bet is to try Facebook. There are groups for fans in many specific geographical locations (such as Australia/New Zealand, U.K., Sweden, and The Netherlands), as well as a general group open to all. This last group boasts more than 14,000 members, and there are daily posts. You can check out this group here.

  • Limited lifetime warranty on ceramic parts
  • 5-year warranty on metal parts
  • 3-year warranty on the heat deflector
  • 1-year warranty on thermometer and gaskets
  • No coverage for problems due to misuse, abuse, normal wear and tear, modifications, or poor assembly

Summary of Findings

This is our overall thoughts after looking at the Kamado Joe Classic 1 in detail:

What We Like

This grill looks amazing. Lovely shape, striking red, it draws attention and remarks. And the build quality is incredible. Made from heavy-duty ceramics, cast iron, and stainless steel, it’s built to last.

I can maintain a low 225 °F for many hours for low and slow smoking, 750 °F for baking pizza, and anything in between for roasting joints or searing steaks and chops. I can cook almost anything on it.

Although they cost me extra, I love the accessories I bought, like the grill expander and a pizza stone, so I can cook larger volumes and use my Kamado as a pizza oven, making it super versatile.

Most of all, I love the quality of food it produces. Because of consistent temperatures, even heat, and a sealed cooking environment holding in moisture, the food produced is some of the most moist and tender I have ever created while cooking outdoors.

What Could be Improved?

While there’s a lot to love about the Kamado Joe, a couple of areas could be better.

For one, the upper vent isn’t watertight, so when I left it outside during rain without a cover, I found some water inside afterward. It’s a minor issue but getting a cover is an extra step and expense.

Also, the side tables’ hinge mechanism could be more user-friendly. It’s easy to accidentally lift the tables out of their brackets if you grab them from the wrong spot, which can be a bit frustrating.

Another point is the price. While Kamado Joe offers great value, it’s still quite an investment for people who may only have bought budget grills before.

Do We Recommend this Product?

Absolutely, I am happy to recommend the Kamado Joe Classic 1 grill. It’s a high-quality, versatile cooker that can handle just about any grilling task you throw at it. From its sturdy construction to its excellent temperature range and easy assembly, it ticks a lot of boxes.

Yes, there are a few minor niggles, like the non-watertight vent and the side table hinges, but these don’t detract from the overall positive experience.

So, if you’re in the market for a kamado grill, we say go for it. The Kamado Joe might just become your new favorite backyard companion.

Kamado Joe Classic 1
A Kamado Joe Classic 1 isolated on white.

A premium ceramic outdoor cooker that is incredibly versatile and can grill, smoke, sear, roast, and bake. With innovative features and incredible build quality backed up by a lifetime warranty on ceramics, this cooker will produce quality food for a lifetime, all at a great price.

Alternative Products

Although this is a great grill, there may be reasons why it isn’t the one for you. Here are a few alternate suggestions for you to consider.

Kamado Joe Big Joe & Joe Jr

All three sizes of Kamado Joe smokers side by side in front of a wooden paneled fence.

If your biggest issue with the Classic II is the size, you’ve got options. For example, if you want an even larger kamado for truly epic cookouts, the Big Joe might be the one for you. It has a 24” diameter grill, and, just like the Classic II, it is divisible and expandable.

You can get a load of this beast, with specs, images and current prices on Amazon right here.

Now, if your problem with the Classic II is that it’s too big, and you want a compact kamado you can take with you, you could choose the Joe Jr. With a 13.5” diameter grill, and weighing “only” 68 pounds, you have the option of going mobile.

You can learn more about this cute little kamado by clicking this link to the Junior Joe on Amazon.

A Wide Range of Kamado Grills

Lately, the market for kamado grills has totally blown up. Besides Kamado Joe, there are a bunch of other brands, such as Big Green Egg, Primo Grills, Chargriller, Broil King, and Vison Grills, just to name a few.

Although Kamado Joe is the top dog for me, the offerings from competing brands are excellent, too. And some are cheaper, so they are definitely worth checking out.

So head over to our article on the best kamado grills on the market today to see if they take your fancy.

Final Thoughts

Every time we look at a Kamado Joe grill, we come away impressed. It really is a fun and versatile product, and anyone passionate about barbecue is going to have a great experience with one of these babies.

No, they don’t pay us to say this stuff — we just love these grills! I still have my original Classic version 1, and have added a Joe Jr. and a Big Joe version 3 since buying this classic. I love them that much.

If you’re feeling the love (or you’re wondering why we are) you should take a minute or two to check further details at Amazon.

Don’t forget to send us your questions, comments, critiques and more in the comment section below.

It’s been great sharing this review with you, and we look forward to seeing you around the site!

Happy grilling!

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Mark Jenner profile picture

Written By: Mark Jenner

I'm a BBQ fanatic and have been barbecuing and grilling since 2005. I founded FoodFireFriends in 2017 and have extensively written for the site since.

I love cooking outdoors over live fire and smoke whatever the weather, and I currently own over 30 grills and smokers of all varieties that I frequently cook on to produce epic food.

My goal with this site is to help as many people as possible enjoy and be good at doing the same.

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4 Comments

  1. Avatar for Robert Vehorn Robert Vehorn says:

    Just got mine and agree with you 100%!

    1. Avatar for Mark Jenner Mark Jenner says:

      They are fantastic. My kamados are my most used outdoor cookers by a long way.

  2. Avatar for Greg vickers Greg vickers says:

    Hi, Mark — Firstly, thank you for a great article.

    I’m going to get a kamado grill, and I can’t decide between the Weber Summit x6 and the Kamado Big Joe 3.

    My questions are, does the KJ3 suffer from crazing on the glaze, and how robust is the grill if you are moving it about your yard? And finally, could the KJ3 be left outside in British winters with a cover?

    Thank you,
    Greg.

  3. As of 10/30/2022, the Independence, MO Costco couldn’t sell all the Kamado Joe 2s it had in the store. They’re marked down to $500 and they still can’t rid of them all.

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