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What Is a Kamado?

Meg Higa
Meg Higa

The original kamado is an ancient, cooking stove of Japanese design. When it was first used, the “kitchen” was a structure detached from the main house, and the most prominent feature within the building was an earthen, wood-burning stove fixed in place on the dirt floor. Large, bowl-shaped pots nestled snugly in cut-out circles on the stove’s top surface. The temperature of the stove, and the burning of the heat source in the boxed enclosure, were regulated by a system of adjustable vents. Commercially available modern kamados, while made with modern materials and usages in mind, have retained the functional design of the original.

In Japanese, kama means “pot, or cauldron,” and do means “the place or location of.” Early pots were made from either kiln-hardened clay or cast iron. These pots, along with their lids, were not unlike that of modern Dutch ovens, designed to condense steam and return the moisture back into the pot. The kamado was used regularly for steaming rice, Japan’s primary staple grain.

A kamado was regularly used for steaming rice in Japan.
A kamado was regularly used for steaming rice in Japan.

The design of the clay pot’s lid was eventually improved into a shallow, inverted bowl to better trap and retain moisture. Together with the Japanese word for “steam,” use of this type of pot came to be called mushikamado. Although they typically sit on top of gas-powered burners, such clay pots continue to be used in modern Japanese kitchens. Most Japanese people, when using the word kamado, do not know of the traditional stoves and are instead referring to this style of steam-cooking meals in ceramic pots.

There are several distinctive features of the original kamado stove. The enclosure itself was made of thick, hardened clay. This was molded to a tight fit with its cast iron hardware, namely its vents and top surface cut-outs for the pots. The result was both an airtight box and a stove that absorbed and retained heat well. When heated with wood charcoal, it required very little daily replenishment of fuel to keep the stove at constant cooking temperature.

Kamado stoves are, by and large, not made and sold to modern Japanese homes. Outdoor stoves are impractical in the densely populated island nation. Modern stoves are, though uncommon, popular elsewhere in the world. They are versatile cooking appliances, fuel efficient and therefore cost effective.

Modern models are built with a variety of technologically advanced materials, including lightweight, heat-resistant ceramics. Some units are also built with modern conveniences, such as automatic digital temperature controllers. At its extreme, its internal temperature might be raised to 750° F (400° C), as hot as a pizza oven. Yet, it can also be precisely controlled to maintain a temperature of 250° F (120° C) to smoke meat for eight or more hours.

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    • A kamado was regularly used for steaming rice in Japan.
      By: Viktor Lugovskoy
      A kamado was regularly used for steaming rice in Japan.