This grill was supplied to us by the manufacturer for review only and returned to Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet after the testing period to ensure the integrity of our review process. Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet in no way influenced this review; all opinions are our own.
One of the best things about being in this space is the opportunity to experience cooking on so many different grills. From gas to charcoal to electric, we get to try them all. One of the more popular styles of grills of late is the ceramic kamado grill. You’ve likely heard of Big Green Egg and Kamado Joe, two of the leaders in the ceramic space. You may not have heard of Primo or SNS grills, or many of the other companies who all produce similar ceramic grills. We’ve been able to cook on all of them which gives us a unique ability to compare the traditional ceramic kamado to what we’re reviewing today: the stainless steel kamado cooker by Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet.
At first glance, you’re not sure if this is a grill or if this is art. It’s that sexy. While stainless steel isn’t new to kamado-style grills, none offer the insulation and efficiency that the Kalamazoo version does. The Shokunin uses a full two inches of insulation between two layers of 304 stainless steel. Kalamazoo claims this grill will run for 65 hours at 225°F on only 12 lbs. of lump charcoal. While we didn’t test that specific claim, we did do a 13-hour cook on this grill and were shocked by the results in terms of fuel efficiency.
More on that later, but we have absolutely no doubt the grill would live up to Kalamazoo’s 65-hour claim.
This grill, and the entire lineup of Kalamazoo grills, are manufactured in the U.S., in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and each is built to order. What’s unique about the design of the Shokunin is not only the shape but the placement of charcoal or wood. With your food on the top level, you can build your fire at three different levels below. Depending on where you build the fire, this grill can be a smoker for traditional barbecue (the smoke ring it produces in a pork shoulder or a brisket are impressive indeed, on par with any offset stick burner), an oven for roasting or baking, or a grill to sear a steak or make pizza.
- Overall Width / Installation Width: 32.12 in (816 mm)
- Overall Depth / Installation Depth: 29.25 in (742 mm)
- Overall Height / Counter Height: 48.25 in (1225 mm)
- Approximate Product Weight: 290 lb (132 kg)
- 24 in x 18 in (610 mm x 457 mm) laser cut primary grilling surface
- Durable ipe wood frame and hood handle
- Choice of oiled or natural wood finish
- Three levels for charcoal/wood
- Air flow controlled by four shuttered air vents
- Marine-grade stainless steel available
*Specs taken from the Kalamazoo Gourmet website.
What We Loved
The list of what we loved about this grill could go on for days. Let’s start with efficiency because all kamado grills love to talk about insulation and efficiency.
During our efficiency test, we started with 3 lbs. of lump charcoal and one split of hickory. Thirteen hours at a consistent 225°F and one incredible brisket later there were still a few chunks of lump and most of the split of hickory left. Having used so many other kamado grills over the years, I was shocked to see just how little the vents need to be open in order to create such a stable temperature setting.
During testing we smoked, roasted, baked, and grilled — and we love that the grill excels in all categories. For grilling, the charcoal grate is near enough to the cooking grate that very little fuel can produce an enormous amount of heat at the cooking surface, perfect for searing.
The rectangular shape of the cooking surface and the proximity of the coals to the grill grate created a more distinct two-zone cooking environment than is normally found on a round kamado. With traditional round kamado-style grills and the placement of charcoal inside them, getting two zones of heat requires the use of ceramic heat deflectors — which are prone to breaking if dropped and require storage when not in use. The Shokunin, with its unique charcoal placement options, doesn’t require heat deflectors to achieve true two-zone heating.
We’ll get to the baking feature next, but when used as a smoker, this cooker really produces. Because of the efficiency and temperature stability, we found it to work on par with the high-end offset stick burner we use as a standard-bearer for traditional BBQ. Ribs, brisket, pork shoulder, and chicken all came out of the Shokunin with the perfect smoke flavor and smoke ring you’d expect from an offset cooker while taking up a fraction of the space.
When we set our grill up for baking, we found it to actually be better than a traditional indoor oven. How is that possible? Test your oven’s temperature stability for yourself. Use a dependable leave-in thermometer and track the oven’s actual temperature over a 60-minute period when set to 350°F. What you’ll find is that there is a fluctuation of about 15° to 20°F caused by the heating element and the oven fan. Once vents are adjusted to maintain that same 350°F on the Shokunin, we experienced fluctuations of only 4° over a one-hour period. This is also without the use of an electronic temperature controller or blower unit. The Kalamazoo Shokunin Kamado legitimately provides a more stable temperature environment than a typical indoor oven.
We found the Shokunin to be built like you’d expect for a grill at this price point. The seams, the welds, and the joints are all done with pride of workmanship and luxury in mind — but purpose-driven.
The hinge mechanism operates like a precision instrument allowing the hefty lid to be opened with a pinky finger.
The charcoal and cooking grates are heavy and built to last a lifetime. You just feel like you’re working on a grill of another level with the Shokunin. Finally, the four air vents on this unit remind us of the internal workings of a swiss watch. They are precise and tight enough that they don’t get bumped out of adjustment. The hash marks on them allow for precision tuning on a consistent basis.
Aside from the Primo, most kamado cookers are round. Round cooking surfaces tend to leave wasted cooking space around the edges of the grill. Not so with the rectangle design of the Kalamazoo Shokunin Kamado. We loved that every inch of the cooking surface was in fact, usable.
Using an ultra-reliable 4-channel thermometer, we placed temperature probes in four quadrants of the cooking surface and built a coal bed in the bottom charcoal position. After dialing in the Shokunin vents to maintain 225°F we observed only a 3° variance in temperature across the four probes. When vents were dialed into a cooking temperature of 350°F, that variance decreased to 2°. This range is more than acceptable.
What Could Be Improved
As truly amazing as the Kalamazoo Shokunin Kamado is, there are some things we’d like to see improved. We’re nitpicking here, but at this price point a grill needs to be absolutely perfect and we did find a couple of shortcomings with the cooker. First, while the hinge is very smooth and makes lifting the lid easy for even the slightest of operators, there is no middle ground with the lid. It’s either all the way open or all the way closed. We’d love to see the lid be able to maintain a position in-between like some other hinges in the marketplace.
Second, there is a lack of workspace available for the grill. There is an optional small shelf but that’s only big enough for a bottle of sauce or a beverage. We’d love to see at least an option for a side shelf that’s capable of holding a large plate, or even better, a small baking sheet. Some hooks would also be nice for hanging utensils. At the time of this review, we had to use a folding table to set out things any outdoor cook would need regularly. For a cooker this beautiful it seems a shame to have to flank it with a folding table; it’s deserving of its own, true-to-design workspace.
Who It’s For
We’d love to say this grill is for everyone because its high-performance smoking, roasting, baking, and grilling could meet everyone’s needs. It absolutely outperforms any traditional ceramic kamado cooker in every way. So why can’t we say it’s for everyone? Because of the price. At nearly $6000 (before shipping), this grill is simply out of reach for most grilling Americans.
I imagine that this perfect grill will adorn a lot of high-end backyards where it’s admired but rarely used, and not be affordable for those who would really use and enjoy it. That’s a shame because outdoor enthusiasts, backyard heroes, and cul-de-sac champions really need to experience this grill for themselves. The folks at Kalamazoo have designed a masterpiece that should be enjoyed — by the little league coach at the team’s year-end party, by the girl scout leader who is teaching outdoor grilling to her troop, and by the youth pastor after a church softball game. For us, grilling is as much about building memories as it is about building flavor, but you can’t build memories around a grill you can’t afford.
The Kalamazoo Shokunin Kamado is an amazing cooker that exceeded our expectations on every test. Truly the Rolls Royce of grills, it’s certain to make any owner extremely happy and want to cook on it every chance they get. It truly enhances the cooking experience. If you can afford it, we recommend this product strongly and without reservation. If our pockets were deeper we would have one on a permanent basis, no question.