Guest Article: ALDI Kamado Review
I have been following Ted on Twitter for sometime now and his account is definitely worth a follow. He is regularly cracking out great BBQ cooks every week and always shares what went well, and on the rare occasion it happens, what went less well.
He produces a wide range of cooks on different equipment, with the ALDI Kamado being the latest bit of kit added to his collection. It has a great price point, so I was delighted when Ted agreed to write a review to share his honest view on his new purchase.
How it happened
I have a good selection of BBQ kit including an Outback 6 burner gas grill, an Ooni 3 pellet oven and several Webers (Smokey Mountain, Master Touch, Smokey Joe), but was in the market for another, either a pellet grill or kamado, or both! With the cash burning a hole in my pocket I was intrigued when a friend sent me a message that ALDI had a special on a kamado which could be pre-ordered via their website. Only having heard of the big brands before I was a little skeptical, but with a price tag of just £349.99 plus £3.95 delivery, I quickly searched online for reviews and found lots of positives with hardly any negatives. Coupled with the 3-year standard warranty, I decided to bite the bullet and go for it.
Delivery and unpacking
The kamado arrived around 9 days after ordering and I was impressed straight away by the careful packaging. The side panels and lid were slotted together and easy to remove giving full and easy access to the contents, which in turn were all carefully packed and well protected.
The delivery included, as well as the kamado, the grate, heat deflector, two-level grill, ash removal tool and also a cover.
The grate is powder coated 4mm thick steel. The heat deflector is a single piece ceramic, 10mm thick and 29cm diameter, so it’s something like a pizza stone rather than the split-level system. The cooking grill is 41cm (approx. 16 inches) in diameter so a little smaller than, for example, the Kamado Joe Classic II at 18 inches. The second level grill is approximately 34 x 28cm.
The assembly was straightforward and I managed it by myself, although the most frustrating part was peeling the backing of some self-adhesive pads which protect the kamado shell from the frame when in place. It took me around 15 minutes (and a lot of cursing) to peel the back off the first one before figuring out a method of scraping back the felt from the front. After this minor setback was overcome, the total assembly time was probably no more than 40 minutes and was helped by the very clear assembly pamphlet.
My main concern when ordering this kamado, and after reading reviews of other low-cost models that are available, was that the quality would be questionable, however, I needn’t have worried. The first thing I noticed was how solid it all was, with well-fitting frame components and reassuringly chunky, lockable casters.
The fire box is a single moulding with an expansion slot and is 30mm thick. There’s no ash removal box, but the included scraper seems easy enough to use. The top vent is also steel and doesn’t have the element-proof protection feature of the brands. However, as I don’t normally cook in the rain, I don’t think this will be an issue. The vents slide easily and the whole top vent assembly also slides fully to give the full opening on the lid. The seal is a felt material rather than fibreglass mesh and time will tell how good it is but I think that, if I ever have to, I will be able to upgrade this by myself quite easily. There’s no latch on the lid and the hinge is sprung rather than air damped and so it would be possible to have the lid drop down with potential to damage the ceramic, but it’s very easy to lift and also very stable when fully open. The two side shelves are made from bamboo with underside hooks and the edges are bevelled, which I thought was nice attention to detail.
Lid Temperature Gauge
The first thing the instruction pamphlet advises is to bring the temperature up slowly to around 200-250°C using a couple of handfuls of lump wood charcoal, in order to ‘season’ the ceramics. I was interested to see how accurate the lid thermometer was of course and so calibrated it against my therm-pro which I dropped in through the top vent to the level of the main cooking surface. I was amazed to find that the lid thermometer and therm-pro were in agreement to within 3-5°C over the range 90-210°C, which was as high as I took it, being more accurate at the higher end of the scale.
Never having used a kamado before, but being aware that over-shooting temperature is worse than being under because of the large thermal mass of the ceramics, I then tried to see how easy it was to bring the temperature down. I closed the top vents half way and it took 15 minutes for the temperature to drop by 10°C. I then closed the bottom vents half way and recorded a further 10°C drop in 15 minutes. With the bottom vents closed to just a quarter, the temperature settled at 175°C after another 15 minutes, which gave me a feel at least for what to expect during cooking. I had put just two large fist-fulls of lump wood charcoal in for this and was blown away with how little fuel is needed in these ceramic cookers. After this period of ‘pfaffing around’ as my wife referred to it, I decided to try my first cook.
Early on the same morning, I had made an hour round-trip to a good quality butcher for a pork shoulder for my first cook, figuring ‘in for a penny…’ and all that. Completely ignoring all the advice regarding correct fuelling methods, I chucked it on and set it at 110°C, adding some hickory wood chunks for smoke. Whilst waiting for the smoke to go from white to blue I carefully checked for any signs of leakage through the lid seal (or anywhere else) and was really pleased to see that the only smoke escaping was through the top vent.
The temperature was rock-steady for the first two hours, but because of my haste, and because I hadn’t put enough fuel in for fear of over-shooting the temperature, I had to refuel a couple of times. This isn’t as easy to do as in the Smokey Mountain because, even though the cooking grate is hinged for refuelling purposes, it’s not easy to get the fuel through the gap between the side wall and the heat deflector (~30mm), something that I remembered Gary (@glitch33) had the same trouble within his review of the MasterTouch GBS Premium. Far easier, but again a bit of a pfaff, is to remove the grill and heat deflector, which I did. This was a lesson learned and I will fuel in the correct way for low and slow from now on. The pulled pork came out well enough I have to say, and any deviation from perfection was operator error rather than any issue with the kamado.
As I wrote earlier, I haven’t used a big brand kamado before and so can’t really make a direct comparison. Time will tell, for example, if I wished I had the split deflector and if the components are up to the long-term task. At this price and with this warranty, however, and also after experiencing the build quality first-hand, I have no doubts that I’m going to enjoy kamado cooking in general and would have no hesitation in recommending this model specifically as a good starting point.
If you have any question on the ALDI Kamado feel free to get in touch with Ted through his Twitter account. I am certainly looking forward to watching Ted’s cooks on this!