Buying a kamado grill is an expensive investment. There is a learning curve involved.
Not to mention that most kamado grills are made of ceramic, which is very fragile. One drop and game over.
Even after spending a lot of cash on one, what if you didn’t like kamado cooking at all?
Well, you need something cheap and durable to try on first. Does that option even exist? – you might ask. The answer is a resounding Yes.
Introducing the Char-griller Akorn Jr.
In my humble opinion, it’s the best entry-level kamado out there. It fits all the criteria that we’re looking for — cheap and durable. It also performs quite well, turning out amazing food.
Let’s take a closer look at this decent little grill in this Akorn Junior kamado review, shall we?
A Word About Char Griller
Char-griller is owned and operated by a brother and sister duo in Atlanta, Georgia. The company is known for their affordable grills and smokers. They started with the charcoal barrel grill, and have ever since branched out to propane, dual-fuel cookers, and more.
Many Char Griller models are very popular on the market. One of them is the Akorn kamado series. It consists of the regular-sized Akorn grill (formerly King Griller Kamado Kooker) and a smaller version called the Akorn Junior.
The one thing that makes them different is their triple wall insulated steel construction. This is not only unbreakable, but it also retains heat just as well as ceramic. Furthermore, steel isn’t expensive, which brings the total cost down. These Akorn kamados really offer consumers a lot of bangs for their bucks.
That being said, Char-Griller have recently come out with a ceramic version of the Akorn, which is available in black and sapphire blue.
First Impression Of The Akorn Junior
The Akorn Jr comes in a branded carton box. Everything is well-packed inside, with proper packing material. You still have to put everything together. But the complicated parts have already been assembled, such as the lid hinge, gasket, and thermometer.
Once you’re done with that, the grill is ready for use. It has a darker shade of red in real life than in the pictures. But the grill looks great overall.
Everything feels well-made. The lid handle is thick and robust. The three legs are sturdy. Even if it’s not ceramic, the Akorn Jr still has a bit of weight to it (at around 40lbs). After all, it’s made of steel.
There is a layer of fiberglass gasket in between the three parts of the grill (lid, body, and ash pan). There is also a latch that shuts the lid tighter. The thermometer is front and center. Above it is the prominent Char Griller and Akorn logo.
The top vent features numbers, which makes it easy for you to control. It also has a protruding tab that allows you to adjust the opening of the vent. Same thing for the bottom vent, which is located at the ash pan.
All in all, nothing bad about this grill. So far so good!
- Grill owner’s manual
- Ash pan
- 14” cast iron cooking grate (with removable center)
- Top vent
- Three legs
- Grill gripper
- A box with all the hardwares to assemble the grill (nuts and bolts, handles, and leg bases)
|Exterior Dimensions||20″ W x 25″ H x 20″ D|
|Material||22 gauge steel. Exterior finish is powder coated steel, interior is porcelain coated steel|
|Steel Insulation Thickness||triple|
|Gasket Material||flexible fiberglass|
|Color||red, black, orange, grey, navy blue|
|Cooking Grate Material||cast iron|
|Cooking Grate Dimension||14″ diameter|
|Cooking Grate Type||round & removable center|
|Total Grilling Space||153 square inches (no extra warming rack)|
|Spring Assisted Lid||no|
|Temperature Range||200F – 700F|
Who Is It For?
If you never cook on a kamado before and don’t know anybody who owns one, consider this little grill. Kamado grills perform differently than your traditional kettle grills. So it might require some learning at first.
Instead of spending a few thousand dollars on an unfamiliar grilling system, the Akorn Junior will get you started for a fraction of the cost. Once you get a hang of it, you can then decide if you want to go for the big boys.
Even if it isn’t made of ceramic, the Akorn Jr kamado still gives you a fairly close ceramic grilling experience. And for its size, you can easily cook for 2 to 3 people with no problem.
Now, if you already have a larger kamado and want something a bit smaller for quick cooks after work, tailgating, camping, or a secondary searing station, this grill also fits the bill.
Seriously, the Akorn Jr kamado is a versatile little grill. If you want to check it out, please click the button down below.
Char Griller Akorn Jr Smoker Review
Body & Lid
Unlike the traditional ceramic grills, the Akorn Jr’s body and lid are made of two layers of 22-gauge steel. Now, I did mention that the grill has a triple wall at the beginning. I’ll explain that further in the Fire Box section below.
Although 22-gauge steel is thin, it’s lighter, more durable, and less expensive than ceramic. And when you put two layers together, they create a heat insulator that is as efficient as ceramic itself.
You then combine that with the porcelain coating inside the grill. What you end up with is a cooker that is capable of trapping heat inside it for a long time. Perfect for all things low n slow.
But everything has its weaknesses. One of them is the fact that once the grill gets hot, it stays hot and takes a long time to cool down. If you happen to overshoot your target temp, it really is a pain in the rear to bring it down. So work your way up slowly with the Akorn Jr unless you’re going for high heat grilling right off the bat.
For the price, the Junior has a decent build. Everything is lightweight yet good enough to do its job.
Handles & Gasket
There are three handles on this grill.
The front handle feels substantial and grippy. It also doesn’t get hot during cooking. The two side handles are thinner. They’re convenient when you need to move the grill. However, I’d prefer them to be a little thicker. That way, it’s easier to hold on to them.
As I mentioned earlier, there are two gaskets on the grill — one in between the lid and body and another one in between the body and ash pan. Keep in mind that they’re on only one edge. The gaskets are made of flexible fiberglass and seem to seal the grill quite well, especially the second one.
For the first one, you have to use the latch on the body to get a better seal. Because the lid is lightweight, there isn’t much pressure to push the gasket down as in the case of a heavier ceramic lid.
Now, it’d be great if Char Griller includes a double layer of gasket. It’ll provide an even more superior seal. But hey, this is an evidence of the company trying to save on some cost. We can’t have it both ways, can we?
Surprisingly, there aren’t many reports of air leaks from previous owners. Everything works out well after all.
The fire box is actually the third steel wall of the grill. This means the rest of the grill only has a double-walled construction. I think this is OK since the fire box is where all the firing takes place. It’s where you need to keep the fire going. If your fire isn’t losing heat, especially during the colder winter, the rest of your grill should be good to go.
One complaint is that the fire box loosely rocks inside the grill. To fix it, put the cooking grate on top and rotate it. It’ll then lock the fire box in place. But some folks do say that the fire box still moves a little even after that.
The Akorn Jr has a tripod design to support its own weight. The three legs are sturdy and about 1.25” thick. They’re also wide enough that the grill won’t tip over on a smooth surface. They also elevate the grill off the ground, allowing for air circulation underneath. The elevation also prevents the surface that the grill’s on from burning up.
For the best cooking experience, it’s best if you place the grill on a tabletop since the legs are quite short (it’s a mini-sized grill). However, I see folks making a leg extension for this grill before. Please see the video below.
This grill has about 153 square inches of cooking space. FYI, it actually has more cooking area than other kamado grills of its size.
With that amount, you can cook 6 chicken breasts, a rack of lamb, or 2 T-bone steaks. Even a beer can chicken can be in there.
If you set the grill up for indirect cooking with a smoking stone (not included), you can easily fit a pork butt. A brisket packer or a turkey, however, might not be able to fit.
The Akorn Jr also has a small footprint, which makes it easy for you to store in the garage. If you live in an apartment, that will work too, provided that you’re allowed to cook with charcoal.
All in all, this grill works for a single, a couple, or a family of three. If you have to feed more people, you can always cook in batches.
The Akorn Jr smoker works just like other kamado grills. You control the internal temperature by adjusting the top and bottom vents.
Both of them feature an array of numbers, from 0 to 5. This gives you good reference marks for future cooks. One thing to keep in mind that the top vent will get hot after a while. So wearing BBQ gloves is recommended here.
We’ve already talked about the construction of the grill and how it affects the temperature control. So to reiterate, the Akorn Jr can get hot really fast. Once it’s hot, it stays there. If you want to bring the temp down, it will take a while.
Ceramic is very responsive to vent changes. It allows a grill to go up and down in temp quickly. Insulated steel does not.
Therefore, if you’re smoking on this grill, you only need a small crack in the vents. Don’t forget to light just a small amount of coal and be patient. You might need to do some dry runs without the food to get used to the Akorn Jr.
With that said, this grill is a fuel-miser like none other. You can do many cooks with just a single load of charcoal. So that’s definitely a plus.
Quality Of The Cook
According to the owner’s manual, you will have to do a burn off before cooking. Set the grill to 400F for about 1 hour. It will burn away all the chemicals as well as packaging dust inside the grill. Once that’s done, you’re ready to cook.
Similar to anything cooked on charcoal, the Akorn Junior turns out some great food. Everything from pizza to pork butt to chicken wings. If you throw in some smoking wood, it will impart that amazing wood-fired flavor to your food.
Keep in mind that this grill has a cast iron cooking grate. It will give you great sear marks thanks to the superior heat conductivity of cast iron.
There is nothing to complain about the quality of the food coming out of the Akorn Jr. With it, you have the control of an oven with the flavor of smoked BBQ. What more can you ask for?
The instructions for putting the grill together are clear and accurate. As always, it’s best to loosely assemble all the parts first before tightening the bolts. That way, everything lines up nicely.
That said, the one thing that might be frustrating is the handles, both the front and sides. They have a tight fit and are really difficult to screw in all the way. As a result, some folks might struggle with this.
Ease Of Use
Once everything is set up, the grill is easy to use. Just pour on some coals and light the fire. Again, remember to start a small fire and work your way up slowly. I’d recommend using a Looftlighter and ignite only one to two pieces of coal.
It’s also easy to snuff out the fire. Simply close the top and bottom vents and let the grill die down. After you close the grill, don’t open it again because that will introduce an influx of oxygen. “Flashback” will happen and you’ll have to say goodbye to your arm hairs.
Now, let’s talk about the cooking grate since that’s where we’re going to spend most of our time. It has a round, removable center so you can add charcoal or wood if needed. The grill actually comes with a grill gripper that allows you to lift up the center or the entire grate.
On the grate, there are also two holes to insert a secondary grate on a swivel shaft for some extra cooking space. Char Griller doesn’t sell any of that so you might have to buy from third-party companies.
Weighing around 40lbs, the Chargriller Akorn Jr is light enough to be carried by one person. And due to its small profile, you can easily fit it in the back of your truck or SUV. Perfect choice for tailgating, camping, and grilling on the go.
Cleaning & Maintenance
All the ash will fall into the bottom ash pan. Simply remove the pan and dump away the ash. You don’t have to use any small shovel through the bottom vent hole to clean up.
That said, it’s a bit tricky to remove and put back the ash pan. You would have to undo the two latches, spin the pan ¼ turn then lower and remove. It’s a great design where it prevents the pan from falling off if you happen to release the latches. But it might be awkward at first until you get used to it.
Besides the ash pan, you also have to maintain the cooking grate since it’s made of cast iron. If you drop the grate, it might break into pieces. This material is also easy to rust away if you don’t season it properly and regularly.
Fortunately, if you prefer stainless steel over cast iron, you can actually use the Kamado Joe Jr’s cooking grate on the Akorn Jr. You won’t be able to use the Kamado Joe Jr’s smoking stone though since it won’t fit.
Another option is to use the cooking grate of the Weber Smokey Joe. Keep in mind that it can only sit on the tabs at the rim level, but not down on the fire box. It also doesn’t have any removable or hinged opening.
Now, If you’re interested, I have an article on how to clean and maintain a cast iron grill grate. It might be useful.
There are just a few accessories available for the Akorn Junior kamado.
Chargriller has a smoking stone or heat deflector for it. BBQ Guru does sell a temperature controller for the JR. And Kick Ash Basket does have a charcoal basket as well. But that’s it.
A word of warning, the bottom ash pan traps water after rainfall even if you close the top vent. That water will quickly deteriorate the inside of your grill. Therefore, it’s best to buy a cover to protect your Akorn Jr.
Warranty & Support
Chargriller offers a 5-year warranty on the lid and the exterior of the body if it’s a complete rust-through. For other manufacturer defects, the company offers a 1-year warranty instead.
For support, you can reach Chargriller through email, live chat, and phone. They also have active Facebook and Instagram accounts.
What We Like
- Insulated steel provides a quality heat retention capability
- Lightweight and portable, great for any outdoor events
- Affordable and suitable for any limited budget
- Perform just as well as ceramic kamados
- Not fragile like ceramic
- A perfect entry-level kamado grill
- Can also be a good secondary grill if you already have other larger grills
What Could Be Improved
- Prone to rust if not taken care properly
- Bottom ash pan collects water even if the top vent is closed
- No cover included
- No heat deflector included
- Few accessories available
- Stays hot if overshoot the desired temp and hard to get down
The Kamado Joe Jr is definitely an upgrade from the Akorn Jr. It’s made from ceramic, therefore more responsive to temperature changes. It also doesn’t require a lot of upkeep yet lasts longer. Besides the grill gripper, the KJ Jr also comes with an ash tool and a heat deflector.
That said, ceramic is more fragile so you always have to handle the grill with care. It’s also more expensive and heavier. Lastly, it features less cooking space than the Akorn Jr (148 vs 153 sq in).
Should You Buy The Akorn Jr?
If you’re curious about kamado grilling but don’t want to spend a lot of money YET, I’d highly recommend the Char-griller Akorn Junior kamado.
If you’re instead looking for a smaller grill to travel with or for quick cooks after work, this little beast also fits the bill.
Seriously, the Akorn Jr hits a sweet spot between affordability, portability, and performance. Compared to other kamado of the same size, it can easily feed 2 to 3 people with no problem.
Keep in mind that Char-griller is notorious for their quality. So the Akorn might not last as long as you want. If lifespan is your priority, I’d recommend saving the money until you can buy a proper ceramic grill. Otherwise, enjoy your Akorn Jr while it lasts.
If you’re ready to purchase, here is a convenient link for you.
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