This curious grill arrived on the American barbecue scene in 1974. It is modeled on a Japanese kamado, a domed, charcoal-fired clay oven that’s been used in the Far East for thousands of years. The heavy ceramic smoker grill consists of a firebox with a grate in the middle and a domed lid that’s tall enough to accommodate a large turkey. The thick clay walls maintain a steady, even temperature, so even a little charcoal will keep the cooker going for several hours (this also enables you to cook at a very low temperature). Vents at the top and bottom allow you to control the heat. The tight-fitting lid seals in moisture, which keeps food exceptionally moist and tender. Ceramic cookers work on a hybrid principle: The food is positioned directly over the coals, as in direct grilling, but because the grate sits so high above the coals, the cooking process is more like that of indirect grilling. A perforated ceramic coal holder allows air to enter from below the coals, which fuels the fire and facilitates air flow from top to bottom. The Big Green Egg is the best known ceramic cooker, but other companies make similar devices.
What to look for when buying a ceramic cooker: Thick walls of heat-resistant, kilned ceramic; a tight-fitting seal around the lid; a safety catch that prevents the lid from falling shut (it’s heavy); air vents at the top and bottom; “shoes” (ceramic supports that keep the hot cooker an inch or so above your deck); side tables; housing in a rolling cart.