Ceramic charcoal cookers can cost quite a bit of money, so you may ask yourself why should you purchase one. We think the reasons become evident when you describe how a ceramic charcoal cooker is constructed, which in turn reveals some of the advantages of ceramic charcoal cookers.
To the right you will see an animation showing how a Big Green Egg cooker is constructed. Here are the key factors. First, ceramic charcoal cookers are made from ceramic or refractory materials that keep the heat in the cooker far better than metal cookers. Keeping the heat in is an advantage because this means that you can maintain any given temperature inside of a ceramic cooker with a smaller fire than would be required in a metal cooker. Of course, this means less fuel is necessary. As a point of reference, a fully-loaded large Big Green Egg burning at 230° can go for up to 30 hours without refueling! This is great for those long overnight low and slow barbecue cooks. Also, a smaller fire means less air flowing through the cooker, and less air flowing through the cooker means less moisture being removed from the food by the air that travels through the cooker. There's no need for a water pan in a ceramic charcoal cooker. It's probably worth noting that keeping the heat in also means that the surface temperature of a ceramic cooker will be less than that of a metal cooker. Make no mistake, ceramic cookers get hot with time, but not as hot and not as fast as metal cookers.
The second thing to notice is that the cooker has a lower vent to let air into the cooker, an upper vent to allow air to exit the cooker, and a gasket between the upper and lower halves to prevent unintended airflow in or out of the cooker where the two halves join. This sealing combined with the upper and lower vents gives you precise control over airflow through the cooker. And precise control of airflow gives you precise control of temperature as well as an incredible range of temperatures. For a graphic depiction of a comparison of the temperatures possible with ceramic charcoal cookers versus other types of cooker, take a look at our Ceramic Charcoal Cooker Thermometer.
Look at the range of temperatures possible and the variety of foods that can be cooked in a ceramic charcoal cooker! You can cold smoke cheese at 100 degrees. Beef jerky at 150. Low and slow barbecue at 225. You can roast meats at 325. Spatchcock chicken at 375. Pizza at 500. Wok at 700 degrees. Neopolitan style pizzas at 800 degrees. Sear steaks at over 1200 degrees. We don't know about you, but we feel there is more to life than ribs, pulled pork and brisket. Ceramic charcoal cookers can be used to roast, bake, barbecue, sear, you name it. Perhaps our favorite thing to make on a ceramic cooker is paella. Paella is meant to be cooked outdoors over a wood fire. A ceramic charcoal cooker comes pretty close to that description, plus it gives you greater control over temperaturess. For information about cooking paella on ceramic charcoal cookers, here's a link to our Paella Primer. And with a ceramic charcoal cooker you literally have a wood-fired oven on your back deck for baking artisan breads along with pizza, calzones, pies, cakes and brownies.
And it is worth expanding a bit on that 1200° figure we provided. Because of the chimney effect created by having a lower and upper vent on the cooker, you can achieve grid-level temperatures for searing meat over 1200°. (By comparison, Ruth's Chris Steak House claims to sear their steaks at 1800°.) How does this compare with an open grill such as a Weber kettle? Our testing has shown that even lump charcoal burning in an open grill only gets up to about 700° The lack of large volumes of air passing through the fire limits these fires to lower temperatures.
Another benefit of ceramic charcoal cookers is their long life. They won't rust. They don't have burners that have to be replaced every few years. Many folks are still cooking on the original Kamado-style cookers that were brought into the country in the 1960's. Today's cookers are made from more advanced materials and with appropriate care will last your lifetime. One manufacturer of cookers which come in different colors advises his customers to choose their color wisely, for they will be giving their cooker to their children some day.
So, there you have the main advantages of a ceramic charcoal cooker: Long life, lower fuel consumption, longer burns, less moisture escaping from food, more precise temperature control, a wider range of temperatures possible, and an enormous range of possibilities for the types of cooking you can do. Yes, they are expensive, but if you are looking for a quality versatile charcoal cooker, you should give them consideration when you are ready to buy your next outdoor cooker.