Today’s post is going to be about restoring an antique kamado. It’s something different than I’ve ever written about before. Rather than specifically talking about photography, today I’m going to give you a bit of insight into my life. Just think of it as a little get to know me kind of thing. I guess there’s nothing wrong with getting to know the guy behind the camera so let’s have at it! Anyway, today we are going to talk about a restoration project where I’m currently restoring an antique kamado manufactured by Kinuura Yaki Pottery of Japan.
What’s A Kamado
For anyone not in the loop, a kamado is basically a ceramic or clay pot. It’s an all purpose grill, smoker and portable oven. It can help you to cook nearly anything to perfection if used right. The rounded ceramic lid acts like a convection oven, maintains moisture and allows you to cook fantastic cuts of meat, veggies and even pizza. Even so, I personally don’t see myself cranking this old pot up high enough to effectively cook a pizza. I don’t want to crack it. Perhaps in time I’ll gain enough confidence to run it up to 700 or perhaps 750 for a good steak but only time will tell.
For now I’m going to stick exclusively with low and slow. Or at least that’s the plan. As already stated this restoration project is being done to an antique kamado so it’s potentially fragile. I’d hate for bad things to happen because I got overzealous and pushed it too far too soon.
I love to cook and frankly I have a pretty good hand at it. Not as good as some but definitely better than most. Yeah, I’m modest like that.
With that in mind, when the wife found and suprised me with an antique kamado that she picked up for only 50 bucks I felt like a kid in a candy store and started work on it almost right away.
A Lack Of Photographic Documentation
As stated above, my wife got her hands on the antique kamado in the photo below and brought it home for me as a surprise. It was pretty banged up and needed a great deal of work. Had I known that I was going to end up writing this post about restoring it, I would certainly have taken some quality photos as I progressed rather than just a few mobile phone shots. Most of those were only intended to send to my wife. They were snapped just to show her the progress that I was making while she was at work. Sadly these are all the photos I have so that’s what I’m going to use. Be forewarned. This post does not display any my amazing photographic talent. 😉
Time To Start Cleaning It Up
From the photo above you can see that the main body of the kamado was intact. The lid, base and even the damper top were all good to go. What can’t be clearly seen is how bad all the steel components were. These things were flat out rusted and the hinges were not only rusted but bent at all sorts of odd and unnatural angles. Someone obviously tossed this thing around with little care at some point in it’s long life. A quick web search found new hinges for sale but as they are no longer manufactured I have to pay $299.00 plus $50.00 shipping. My dying ass I was! It was obviously time to play blacksmith.
The Last Owner Was An AssHat
Step one was to take everything apart. I started by removing the fire ring, fire box and fire grate.
No! WTF! There was no way in hell to remove any of these components.
Enshrined In A Tomb Of Rock
I have no idea how long it’d been since this thing was fired up but if I had to guess I’d say it was at least 30 – 40 years. I mean look at it. There was only a small hint of paint left on what had once been a vibrant gloss green finish! Now we were down to bare clay. Yes, clay. Not ceramic. Not refractory material. None of that cool stuff that your modern Big Green Egg is made of. This puppy is made out of clay! It’s basically nothing more than a big ass flower pot that you cook in.
[pullquote]“Whatever AssHat owned this thing last, he damn sure didn’t care how well it was treated.”[/pullquote]
Now, getting back to not being able to remove the interior components. Whatever AssHat owned this thing last, he damn sure didn’t care how well it was treated. Rather than closing the side vent and putting on the damper top to put out the last fire he burned, he dumped a huge bucket of sand inside the thing. This, no doubt, extinguished the fire. The problem was that now, 30 or 40 years later this sand was hard as rock and completely surrounded the firebox, fire grate and most of the fire ring. It’s no wonder it was so heavy when I was lifting it out of the car. The damn thing is suppose to only weigh about 140 lbs or so. Yeah, right! It was much closer to 200 lbs. Not only was it full of sand but all of that sand had hardened to the consistency of stone.
That’s right boys and girls. This was going to be fun!
Dealing With Sandstone
Anyway, as already stated, all of this sand had literally hardened to stone. This dude didn’t care because he didn’t toss sand in an antique kamado and screw it up. He tossed sand in just one of many Japanese clay pots that were brought to the US during and after the Vietnam War. Perhaps even before, but not likely. In this dude’s mind this pot was certainly nothing special. Perhaps it’s true that it wasn’t 40 years ago but today it’s a rare treasure. Neither of the of the two Japanese potteries that made them are still in business.
Despite the advantages of modern kamados like BGE the old clay pots do have advantages. Heat retention and convection are two of them, or so “they” say. Since I’ve never owned or used one of these old kamados before I guess I’ll have to test the theory myself. That’s the best way to discover the truth anyway. In short it’s said that they actually do cook better than the modern pots. The draw back is that they are, or can be, extremely fragile.
Oh well, moving right along. Let the digging begin.
An Antique Kamado and the Excavation of Precious Artifacts
Ya know? I’m starting to realize that this operation not only needed photographic evidence. That would help show what I was up against. To help it make even more sense it could also use some good quality video. Oh well. That didn’t happen either so you’re pretty much stuck with my tale of how it all went down.
So, It works like this. I have this really cool antique kamado on my hands but there are serious issues with it.
The components are locked in stone.
Are all the components are even there?
Are the components broken or shattered beyond repair?
Get Down and Dirty
I wasn’t going to get anywhere without disassembling everything. Since I had to take it apart now rather than later I may as well get down and dirty with it. I started by taking off the hinges, removing the lid and then started digging into this project as if I were excavating precious artifacts from Pompeii or some damn place. As far I was concerned that’s how important this project was. I wasn’t going to lose this opportunity because of a block of hardened sand. With that frame of mind I started chipping the sand from around the edge of the base.
For the most part this was pretty easy and within 10 or 15 min the fire ring was free. I didn’t finish cleaning it right away. I just took it out of the base and keep working on the fire box. Sure enough, after another 45 min to and hour I was able to remove the fire box as well. Both seemed OK but I still wasn’t sure about the fire grate. It was still buried deep in rock that had formed inside and around the fire box. It was obvious that only time would tell. At this point all I could do was keep digging and hope for the best. Fire grid or no fire grid the fire box had to come clean.
Chipping, Scraping and Grinding
After I had the stone incased fire box out, I started cleaning the base. Chipping, scraping and grinding. I kept at it for sometime but in the end I had gotten the shits of it and started chipping away at the larger chunks of crap in and around the fire box. It was easier and simply put, at this point I was in the mood for easy. Chip chip, scrape scrape . I’m at it pretty much most of the day. In the end all the sand, rock or whatever you want to call it was removed.
Good News! All the components of the my brand new antique kamado, including the fragile little fire grate, were not only there, but unbroken. The only thing missing were the feet. Hell, I can make feet for it myself. This miracle started me thinking about Mr. Asshat from above once again. This dude was now my best friend. It was his foolish use of sand to put out a fire 40 years ago that hardened and kept everything from moving inside the kamado. As bent and twisted as the hardware was, it was easy to see that at some point this thing has been tossed around more than once. The hard sand helped keep everything intact, immovable and unbroken. I guess even morons can do something right once in a while. Even if that wasn’t the dude’s plan to start with.
I don’t have any good shots of the different components and at this point I’m not in the mood to take it apart just to get a picture. I really wish I had photos of everything that was entombed in a grave of stone. Just so you could see what a pain it was. I only have one crappy cell phone shot, below, with all the pieces laying in the basement. I placed them there with a fan blowing them dry for 4 days after they were washed.
Gloves Are For Pussies
While the clay was drying in the basement, I started cleaning the twisted and rusted metal. First I had to cut the two remaining bolts from the hinge asimbly. After everything was separated I made good use of a claw hammer and a rubber mallet to straighten the bent and twisted steel of the hinge. Surprisingly this was much easier and faster than I thought it would be. After only 10 or 15 min the hinge was straight. After that I started cleaning it with a hand drill with a wire brush mounted to it. I also used lots and lots of WD-40. This was the really fun part. All I can say is that I tore chunks of skin and even some meat off my hands while performing this pleasant little task.
[pullquote]Gloves are for pussies. Everyone knows that![/pullquote]No, I didn’t wear gloves. Gloves are for pussies. Everyone knows that! At least till you tare a chunk of meat out of your hand. After that gloves seem like a pretty good idea!
Moving along. The hinges were clean and dry I so took them outside and painted them. Easy peasy. Well, except for the avulsion wounds on my hands. Oh well, live and learn they say.
Once the hinges were painted I got to work on the slide vent, draft door or whatever you choose to call it. Once again I used my trusty wire brush, drill and WD-40 combo to clean a mountain of rust. This was one of the most questionable jobs so far. I really didn’t know if I could salvage the vent. In the end I was able to get it cleaned up and sliding as it should. Life is good!
Painting The Pot
I had originally thought to use a traditional bright colored gloss or semi-gloss high heat paint. A two tone scheme of complimentry colors would make it look like the original Japanese kamados. Rather than all of that, in the end I decided to keep it simple. I painted it with 4 coats of flat black Rust-Oleum® Specialty High Heat Spray. I planned to use only 2 coats. In the end it took a lot of paint because it all absorbed into the clay. It wasn’t fancy but it was easy and looked a good deal sharper than I expected. At least something went right.
Below you can see photo where I’d just finished painting the lid. By far, the easiest part of restoring any antique kamado is the paint. Go figure?
The Next Step
Now that it was painted, the only thing left to do was put it back together and order the Nomex® replacement gasket and a chimney cap. Here was the dilemma. Did I go with a traditional cast iron cap since it was a classic antique kamado? Japanese made at that. Or did I go with something more modern like the chimney caps made by Smokeware? Part of me wanted that traditional look. Traditional was just cool. That’s all there was to it and this thing screamed traditional! In the end however, I decided on the newer tapered vent design that Smokeware offers. Functionality was far more important than the cool guy effect. Antique kamado or not, I didn’t restore this thing to set it in a museum. I was restoring it to cook with.
My Shameless Plug For The People At Smokeware
Because of all the different sizes needed I couldn’t just go online and order whatever was designed to fit a specific kamado. I couldn’t, for example, order gaskets for a Kamado Joe, Classic Joe or a chimney cap for a Large Big Green Egg. None of the sizes I needed were standard. In the end, I took my measurements and the people at Smokeware helped find what I needed on a piece by piece basis.
The office Manager, Carlyn Owens, and the Sales Manager Matt Garner down atSmokeware helped get me the parts I needed. They took measurements of their products there in Florida and compared them to the measurements of the old kamado here in Pennsylvania. They also did all of this on Black Friday when I’m sure they were busy enough already. Now that all the parts are installed and I’ve finally been able to fire this thing up! Because of your effort on my behalf here’s a shout out and shameless, good ole fashioned all American plug hoping it will send more business your way!
Thank you both.
Above is a micro photo of the Smokeware Chimney Cap. It’s raining here today, and I thought it’d make a cool shot so I broke out a real camera on this thing for the first time. Technically, we all know that displaying someone’s logo is uncool. At least I was asked by the people at Smokeware to show an image or two of the final restoration. I’m sure however that they were thinking more on the lines of Facebook than a long winded smart assed, blog post. Oh well. I am who I am and do what I do.
Taking It Easy At First
I have no idea what sort of abuse this thing has gone through in it’s long life. I don’t know about moisture or weakening from repeated freezing and thawing year after year. In short, my new prize could be a disaster waiting to happen once it gets good and hot.
The First Burn
The first time I fired it up, I decided to try and temper the old clay and to preseason the interior of the pot. I built a reasonably small fire and cooked low and slow for about 7 or 8 hours. As a bonus that I cut an onion in half and placed it, along with two garlic cloves right on the fire. I’ve heard that this will help properly season the pot. After all I had nothing to loose except my sense of smell. Dude! 7 or 8 hours of burning onion and garlic was not what I’d call pleasing to the senses. At best? It did what it was intended to do. At worst I’ll have lasting memories that may affect my psychological well being for years to come. Let’s talk no more about burning onions and such!
The Second Burn
My second burn was also a low and slow. Bare in mind that I’m not cooking anything. I’m just trying to temper the clay, season the pot and set the Nomex® gaskets with heat. After starting the fire, I turned back the temp to 250 degrees. The Smokeware Cap made adjusting the temperature fast and easy. It also was very intuitive. I let it burn at 250 for about 7 hours then I slowly started cranking up the heat. This was just to make sure that the new gaskets would set well. I also wanted to see how well it did with more fire running through it.
After inching the temp up to a max of 500 degrees, I think I’m going to hold off there for now. Since my wife found this beautiful antique kamado by Kinuura Yaki Pottery of Japan the very last thing I want to do is test fortune and crack the fire box or something else. There’s no sense in pushing it beyond it’s limits this early. Perhaps never but we’ll have to wait and see.
Time For Pastrami
At last the image below shows the finished kamado ready to go.
I wish all of you luck in your own cooking endeavors. Now it’s time for me to stop typing and start cooking. The first real mission I’ve set for myself is to make pastrami. There should be plenty of stuff beforehand however. Pastrami takes nearly a full month to make. Most of that time is spent in the brine solution.
By the way. The wife hates pastrami. How can anyone hate pastrami?!
I’ve never made pastrami. I’m going to try the method on the YouTube video below. “Smoked Pastrami on the Big Green Egg (curing-to-smoking instructions)“. Though there’s all kinds of information on the web about using ceramic grills and much of it is good solid information you can find more of this guys stuff on his YouTube Channel FlamingRoosterBBQ or his website Flaming Rooster BBQ. I’ll be sure to comeback here sometime in January and let y’all know how well it turned out or what I could have done differently.
I’ve never tried the technique that he shows in his video but if it works that dude is going to be my new hero!
I’d like to thank you all for your time. I hope you enjoyed reading about this little mini disaster that, in the end, has all come together to produce one beautifuly restored, fully functional antique kamado. And at a fraction of the cost at that. All it took was a bit of elbow grease and little more. The total investment from start to finish, including the old kamado it’s self, was less than $100.00 US. That cost is minus a plate setter of course. I’ll need one sooner or later but it is up and running for basic use.
Edit: An Update
I have started using it and have been taking the temperatures much higher than originally planned. In the end I decided there was little point in having the thing if I couldn’t get the full use I wanted from it. Last night I cooked two rather thick 16 oz Delmonico steaks at well over 1000 degrees. I seared them for 2 minus on each side and they were amazing!
The brisket for the pastrami is in the brine solution and will be for another 15 days. Then I pull it, wash and soak it. After that I’ll smoke it for perhaps 10 – 12 hours. Who knows at this point but it will ready for a Christmas Eve party that evening!
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