Ceramic grills are all the rage these days and for good reason. They give users the ability to both grill and smoke without the need for more than one cooker. Prices range from a few hundred dollars on the very low-end to over $1000 for a premier unit. I consider the Primo Oval XL a premier unit. Below are my unbiased primo 400 XL review.
Built at the company headquarters in Tucker, Georgia, this cooker is constructed with quality and durability in mind. I was lucky enough to be invited to tour the factory and see the cooker built from start to finish. It is an impressive operation, employing American workers to deliver a high-end product. This cooker, like others in the premier category, comes in various sizes; but what sets Primo apart from the competition is the patented oval shape. Why is the shape so important? Read on for a full breakdown of this cooker’s unique advantages.
- Total Cooking Area (including Rack System) – 680 sq inches
- Cooking Grid – 18.5 inches x 25 inches
- Weight – 200lbs
*Specs taken from Primo Oval Grills website.
What I Loved
The biggest difference with this cooker is obvious: the shape! The oval design allows for true two-zone heating. With some round cookers, the shape makes it challenging to maintain any significant differences in temperature from one side of the grill to the other—even when using a divider.
The oval-shape of the Primo Oval provides ample space inside the firebox to place the hot coals on one side (the left side near the bottom vent is recommended), leaving the other side void of a heat source. This setup creates two truly distinct zones of heat, a key part of many outdoor cooking recipes.
Like other cookers in its class, the Primo comes with a divider to keep the coals on the desired side of the firebox. This makes it very easy to maintain differences of more than 150 degrees from one side of the cooker to the other. Using the cooker’s deflector plates allows for even greater differences between the two cooking zones.
Another added benefit to the oval shape is the increased amount of usable space. While the standard cooking area is slightly smaller than some extra-large round models, the shape makes the available space more functional. With a round cooker, I find some areas around the perimeter of the cooking surface aren’t really desirable as actual cooking space. As if a more functional shape weren’t enough, with Primo’s optional extension racks you can easily have enough cooking space to feed an army.
Finally, this cooker is efficient. When I say efficient I mean that I tested it with a full load of quality lump charcoal, adjusted the vents to 225 degrees, and let it run. The outside air temperature during the test ranged from 12 degrees to 23 degrees and the XL 400 maintained its temperature for 17-plus hours! Considering the frigid temperatures at the time of my test, I would say this is more than acceptable.
What Could Be Improved
As good as this cooker is, it could be better with a couple of tweaks. First, the lid on the XL 400 is extremely heavy and the hinge does very little to assist in lifting it. I would love to see a newly designed hinge that implemented some lift assistance.
Second, the standard lid thermometer is prone to condensation forming inside the glass during the humid summer months. This isn’t really a big deal for me as I generally use a digital thermometer anyway; but if you rely on the built-in temperature gauge, this can become annoying. There is an easy fix for this; simply remove the thermometer and place it in your indoor oven to dry it out. Just know that in humid environments like the Eastern US, the condensation will return in a few days. Primo Oval owners living in drier climates don’t seem to have this issue, and I don’t experience it in the dry winter months. At the end of the day, I would hope that an alternative thermometer would be used to eliminate the problem—especially at this cooker’s price point.
Who It’s For
The Primo XL 400 is designed for those cooking large cuts of meat—think brisket, several racks of ribs, multiple pork shoulders, etc.—or for families that entertain. This isn’t the cooker for the single apartment dweller, as it takes up a sizable amount of space. For smaller families, check out our review of the Primo JR 200. It’s an excellent product that is surprisingly roomy for a little cooker.
Overall, this cooker is a winner. I am sold on the shape since it allows for true two-zone heating. For me, that alone overshadows the few downsides identified above.
I would love to see Primo get more involved in the accessories market and develop a rotisserie, making this cooker even more versatile. That being said, it’s been a great and versatile cooker.
Finally, it’s important to note that while I haven’t experienced it, plenty of others have reported that the ceramic fire box has cracked on their Primo XL400. This is covered under the warranty, but can be inconvenient to be sure.