Using the Char-Griller Akorn
Ok, it's time to start talking about actually using this cooker. Here are our thoughts and observations.
Maximum Cooker Temperature
Let's start out by taking a look at the manufacturer's restriction that the cooker should not be used over 700°F. We'll take their word for it that we don't want to exceed 700°F, but one thing we wondered was if you could get it over 700°F, or would the limited vent openings self-restrict the temperature to this maximum limit. The answer is no. With the vents at their maximum opening, you can easily exceed the maximum temperature specified by the manufacturer. You need to keep an eye on things when doing things like searing steaks or making Neapolitan pizza.
We decided to measure the temperature at the grate level while the cooker was holding at 700°F since that is where you would be doing the cooking. While the cooker was coming up to 700°F, the temperature at the grate level exceeded 1,000°F. once the cooker got to 700°F and we shut down the vents to keep it there, the grate level temperature stabilized at about 870°F. So you can still cook at some very hot temperatures even with the 700°F speed limit imposed by the manufacturer.
We have to admit, this was the first thing we checked and the last thing we expected. "Ha ha," we said to ourselves. "A metal cooker can't possibly hold the heat is as well as a ceramic cooker." The Akorn dome is constructed of two layers of steel with some form of insulation in between and it appears the insulation ends just above the lower edge of the dome. So how well does this work? Well, we were just stunned by the results of our usual test to measure heat-holding ability of a cooker. We heat up the cooker to 400°F and then let it remain at that temperature for several hours, controlled by a device like a BBQ Guru temperature controller product. In the case of this cooker, we used the relatively new Flame Boss 200-WiFi temperature controller. We then measure the surface temperature at a number of locations on the dome to compare with other cookers.
When we tested the large Big Green Egg, the temperature of the dome on the Egg varied from 180 degrees at the lower edge of the dome to 245 degrees at the top of the dome near the upper vent. On the Char-Griller Akorn, the temperature at the top of the dome was only 190°F. As you descended the dome, the surface temperature dropped to 134.5°F about halfway down, and then rose to 181°F at the lower edge. Again, stunning and unexpected results.
Another thing we noticed is that the Akorn doesn't cool off very quickly. It really holds the heat inside the cooker. Time for another test. A typical method of cooking a steak is to sear it first at 700°F and then let the cooker cool down to 400°F to finish roasting the steak. We compared the Akorn to a large Big Green Egg by heating up the cold cookers to as close to 700°F as we could manage, keep them there for 6 minutes, and then completely close off both vents. We then measured the dome temperature of both cookers as they cooled down. Here are the results: (The vertical line shows where the vents were closed.)
Clearly, the Akorn holds the heat in better than the Big Green Egg. However, this is a bit of a mixed blessing. If you want to save fuel, that's a good thing. If you want to lower the temperature of the cooker, you have a problem. Using the steak cook example, the Big Green Egg's temperature dropped to 400°F in about 13 minutes. The Akorn hadn't got down to 400°F even after 30 minutes. Another consideration is that you will have to wait longer for the Akorn to cool so you can put the cover on it, and since the Akorn is made from metal, you DO want to put the cover on it.
As we just observed, the Akorn really keeps the heat in the cooker. As a result, if you come from the ceramic world, you will find that you have to be extremely conservative in bringing the cooker up to temperature in order to avoid overshooting your target temperature. If you do overshoot, you may have a devil of a time getting the cooker back down. If you don't come from the ceramic world, well, you will probably quickly learn to be conservative.
Cooking On The Char-Griller Akorn
We didn't cook a lot of interesting things on the Akorn, but we did take a few photos of interest. First, you will see some bison plate short ribs that were cooked relatively low and slow on the Akorn.
Next, you will see that we decided to try using a wok on the Akorn by removing the center grid and placing the wok in the resulting hole. In principle it works fine. In practice, you need to fill the firebox as full as it will go in order to get a hot fire close enough to the wok to heat the wok up as high as you need to. The shrimp that we cooked did cook, but we were unable to get the searingly high heat you want for wok cooking. Next time, we'll use more charcoal.
So, what to say about about this cooker? Well, the $200 price we paid was obviously very attractive, but you can expect to pay $300-$350 unless you get lucky like we did. That can get you started in the world of kamado cooking at a pretty attractive price point, but what do you get for this lower price? Well, we think you get what you pay for, and in this case, some good, some bad:
You may have seen the following photo if you have ever googled images of CharGriller Akorn cookers on the web. Evidently, someone was less than pleased with his Akorn and decided to send it to an early grave:
We don't particularly wish to disparage this cooker, since as we have said, we'd rather see something get started on an Akorn rather than never cook on a kamado-style cooker at all. But "the truth is out there" in the form of photos of Akorns in various states of decay.
So, how has our Akorn fared? Well, about 6 months ago, after we published our review, we put the Akorn factory cover on the cooker and it has pretty much sat out on our deck unused for six months. The following photos show the condition we found a few of the parts in when we recently uncovered it to transfer ownership to our son. The first two photos below show the painted wooden handle when we put the cooker away six months ago, and now. It is probably no surprise to anyone that the paint continues to deteriorate and peel.
These next three photos show the charcoal grate and how it has warped. We assume it was warped six months ago and we just didn't notice it, but it doesn't bode well for continued use at grilling temperatures.
Finally, the two photos below show deterioration of some of the metal on the cooker. The first shows the coating bubbling up on the "fire box" that sits inside the cooker and holds the charcoal. The second photo shows what seems to be the inevitable rusting that occurs on the bottom rim of the outer shell.
In addition to the rusting we showed above, there is rust forming on the brackets that hold the wheels to the upright supports. On the plus side, though, we can report that the cast iron grid appears to be in great shape still, and our heat deflector is still in good shape.
We don't intend these photos to represent any sort of formal testing of the durability of this cooker. We just report what we found and the conditions that the cooker was subjected to that led to this deterioration. It's just one more thing to factor in when you guage the price/value equation of buying one of these cookers.
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Sea Island, GA 31561
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