A kamado (竈) is a traditional Japanese wood or charcoal fueled cook stove. The name kamado is, in fact, the Japanese word for “stove” or “cooking range”. Literally, it means “place for the cauldron”. A movable kamado called "mushikamado" came to the attention of Americans after the Second World War and is now found in the US as a Kamado style cooker or Barbecue grill. The mushikamado is a round clay pot with a removable domed clay lid and was typically found in Southern Japan.
History of Asian Kamado
Clay cooking pots and stoves have been found in every part of the world and some of the earliest dated by archaeologists to be over 3000 years old have been found in China and over 4000 years in Indus Valley Civilization, India. Some kamados have dampers and draft doors for better heat control. Clay stoves have evolved in many different ways across the globe, the tandoor for example in India, and in Japan the mushikamado is designed to steam rice and is used by Japanese families for ceremonial occasions. Fuels may include charcoal and dry twigs or straw, and wood among others.
The kanji character for kamado is 竈. Literally, this character means “place for the cauldron”. The kanji character may be the best name to use when searching for information about traditional unmovable kamados. In hiragana, kamado is written かまど. In katakana, it is written カマド. In Chinese, it is written 卡玛都. In romaji, it is written kamado. Elsewhere the word kamado has become a generic term for ceramic, or unfired-clay cook stoves.
Mushikamado: movable Kamado-style cookers
Mushikamado, or movable Kamado-style cookers are now made from a variety of materials including high fire ceramics, refractory materials, double wall insulated steel, traditional terra cotta, and a mix of Portland cement and crushed lava rock. Outer surfaces also vary from a high gloss ceramic glaze, paint, a textured stucco-like surface and ceramic tiles. Modern ceramic and refractory materials decrease cracking – a common fault in the original Japanese design. Portland cement is still associated with cracking problems. In addition to the outer ceramic shell there is also a ceramic or stainless steel bowl inside the unit to hold charcoal. There is a draft opening in the lower side of the unit to provide air to the charcoal, as well as a controllable vent in the top of the dome lid for air to exit the cooker. Temperature is controlled by adjusting these two vents. One or more grids are suspended over the fire to provide the cooking surface(s) for the food. Finally, most Kamado-style cookers have a hole drilled in the lid to allow the insertion of the stem of a dial-type thermometer for monitoring the cooking temperature of the cooker. The high end kamados have layers of insulation which create low-airflow cooking conditions and are self-opening. Digital temperature control devices can be installed using a small blower to regulate airflow.
Mushikamado grills are generally fueled by charcoal although some attempts have been made to fire them with gas, electricity, or pellets. One of the claims for ceramic construction is that there is no flavour contamination (metallic taste) to the cooked food and for the same reasoning, lump wood charcoal is the preferred choice for modern kamado cooking. Lump charcoal creates little ash, the alternative charcoal briquettes contain many additives that can contaminate the flavour of the food. Lump wood charcoal can be manufactured in an environmentally sustainable manner using the technique of coppicing.
Mushikamado's are versatile. They are used for grilling and smoking, flat-bread such as pizza can be cooked on a flat ceramic or stone tray (pizza stone) and bread can also be baked. This is by virtue of the heat retention properties of the ceramic shell with temperatures up to 750 °F (400 °C). Precise control of airflow (and thus temperature) afforded by the vent system, means Kamado-style cookers are much like wood-fired ovens and can be used to roast and bake. Kamados may also have a rotisserie cradle for crisping the skin of birds and uniform browning.