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Let’s face it, Joe is a pretty cool name. Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio, shoeless Joe and even Joe 90. To the pantheon add Kamado Joe – cool by name, hot by nature.
The seeds of the brand were sown in Ireland where Kamado Joe founder Bobby Brennan is from. The Dubliner was immersed in corporate life with global giant Siemens, but weekend therapy, triggered by the influence of his mother, a home economics teacher, was cooking on the grill.
“You light a fire and the blood pressure goes down,” says Brennan.
Work took Brennan to the US, ending up in Atlanta, Georgia, and embracing the Kamado style of cooking.
With his manufacturing gene and experience building and running factories, Brennan was a natural problem solver. His grill often posed problems, but when he raised the issues with the manufacturer, offering innovative solutions, he got no response.
Looking to switch careers and lifestyle, Brennan was advised by his broker to put away the laptop and the spreadsheets and make a list of what he was passionate about.
And that’s exactly what he did, with the word ‘cooking’ jumping off the page, ahead of golf and scuba diving. At the time, Big Green Egg was enjoying a dominant slice of the Kamado cake and Brennan saw an opportunity to apply his mechanical skills and business acumen,
not to mention an unbridled love for live fire cooking, to build a rival and that competitive fire burns strong every day.
So Brennan, with long-standing business colleague Kerry Coker, set about diligently researching the market and in 2009 launched Kamado Joe.
Brennan saw the move towards wood as a fuel source and the value of ceramic in retaining moisture on the grill, understanding the principles of heat transfer, insulation and thermodynamics.
But Kamado Joe is both industry and artistry, celebrating the full experience, with people happy to pay a bit more for the privilege, not to mention a cool (that word again) red ornament in the back yard that both decorates and delivers – a triumph of aesthetics and engineering.
No stone, or steak, is left unturned in the quest for the ultimate Kamado grill, right down to the technology behind the hinges. The innovation never stops, with customer service at the heart of everything, listening to the needs of the market and responding. The barbecue community, especially the ‘super fan’ category, can be a tough crowd to please, but always appreciative with feedback literal.
An example of Kamado Joe’s diligence is in its pioneering partnership with Harvard University to create the SloRoller Hyperbolic Smoke Chamber, harnessing cyclonic airflow technology to control heat and smoke – perfect for low and slow and an integral part of the Classic III grill.
Kamado Joe is big in its US homeland, with Atlanta still the headquarters, strong in Australia and expanding rapidly across Europe, with the UK in the vanguard, now marketing direct to retailers.
Kamado was first seared in the American consciousness when US troops returned from Japan after the Second World War with tales of this traditional Asian cooking technique.
“An ancient tradition has evolved into a modern day marvel. Kamado Joe is all about the adventure of outdoor cooking. We never add a feature for the sake of it, only to enhance the experience,” says Ben Forte (above), global marketing manager at Kamado Joe.
Despite all the technology, Kamado Joe always comes basted with free spirit. “Fire it up and slow it down. You don’t want to be battling with your cooking equipment, you want to relax and enjoy it,” says Forte.
The company’s marketing lines are evocative, be it the ‘primitive powerful magic of fire that draws us in and transforms us’, ‘not just a grill, it’s a lifestyle’ or ‘there’s a little bit of Joe in just about everybody’.
Kamado Joe is just as exhaustive in its search for the best fuel, sourcing its own lumpwood charcoal from Argentina – a blend of four different hardwoods, fired in stone kilns and called Big Block charcoal for a reason with the wood so hard it is known as ‘axe breaker’.
Forte is a leading BBQ influencer in his own right, cooking from an early age and inspired by his father regularly manning the BBQ at social events. “It wasn’t just the cooking that attracted me, but the fact that where the party was the grill was – the centre of attention. I soon learnt that if you then put a lid on it, it becomes an oven, transforming outdoor cooking.”
Forte was unconventional and experimental with his recipes. He started posting pictures on social media, building up a following.
“There is nothing you can’t cook on a BBQ, using every technique,” says Forte from Brixham in Devon.
His IT and marketing background only added fuel to his fire, as Forte saw the trends and the opportunities around barbecue, running a YouTube series and then starting a podcast with Dan Shahin, called UnitedQ, which regularly attracts the big names in barbecue.
The pair teamed up to compete on Channel 4’s version of the popular Australian cooking show My Kitchen Rules. Barbecue was of course their game and their outdoor cooking skills took them to the semi-finals. There was a book too, called Ben and Dan’s Alfresco Christmas.
Forte was doing chef demonstrations and training retailers for Kamado Joe, before becoming the company’s global marketing manager two years ago – a CV match made in heaven.
“There is an education process and many people don’t know the cooking capabilities of ceramic and yes it looks really cool as well.”
Kamado Joe enthusiasts are as emotional about the product as they are invested in it – not just the cooking, but the wood, the smoke profiles, how to control airflow and monitor temperature.
There is constant chatter in the barbecue village. “We are always looking to make our products better and if the BBQ community has ideas or issues, they tell everyone about them,” says Forte.
“Everything you learn you can do with ease on a Kamado Joe. You get the best results and it makes you a better cook, from the complete beginner to the ultimate grill master.”
The Kamado Joe Classic remains the most popular grill, family sized, before moving up to the Big Joe. Then there is the Joe Jr, the portable grill to take camping or to the beach.
Joe Jr is the tailgater’s barbecue – a familiar sight in the parking lots at NFL games in the States, off the back of the truck for food and beer.
“Tailgating is as much a part of American Football as the game.”
The JoeTisserie is the rotisserie attachment; while the DoJoe makes for a pizza oven. The iKamand smart technology ensures full and remote temperature control.
Forte sees barbecue only rising in popularity; not just a hot summer’s day activity, but year-round, as people reset their lives and look to repurpose their outside space to incorporate an outdoor kitchen, be it a BBQ shack or a full stack of built-in appliances.
To paraphrase again from Simon & Garfunkel’s Mrs Robinson: a nation turns its hungry eyes to you Kamado Joe.
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