Thursday, May 8, 2014

Review of the Vision Grills Classic B Series Kamado

I had to buy a new kamado back when I was writing The Kamado Smoker and Grill Cookbook.

My next door neighbor, John, is a fellow kamado owner and we bounce a lot of grilling/bbq ideas off of each other.  He has had a Big Green Egg for as long as I have known him and he pays meticulous attention to detail so I thought that he would be a natural to review the Vision Grills Kamado for my blog.  Here is his in-depth review.  (Note:  I added the captions but I think they are consistent with his thoughts.)

black kamado grill
John smoking a brisket on the Vision Grills kamado.

Review of the Vision Classic B Series Grill (Sam's Club Version)

I first noticed this grill back in 2012 at an Atlanta Costco; it’s obvious similarity to the Big Green Egg caught my attention and its price heightened my interest.  It was an all ceramic grill, apparently well made, though the ceramics did appear different from the BGE, I was unsure if that meant it would be inferior.  On my return home I mentioned this grill to my neighbor Chris, we discussed it briefly, then pretty much never spoke of it much again… 

That is until he was authoring a kamado style grilling cookbook.  He needed a kamado style grill to shoot for the cover shot and the BGE was out since they have their own cookbook and might frown on having theirs pictured on other cookbooks.  He thought of the Vision; I thought it would be a good choice.  So off to Sam’s he went and came back with a Vision Classic B grill  (btw- make sure you check the grill before you leave as the first was cracked pretty bad and had to be returned).  We assembled it in approx. 40 minutes and brought it to the deck where it was used in photos for the cover of Chris’ forthcoming book.  He then asked if I would be willing break it in and write my comments on its use.  Of course I said yes.

open view of a black kamado grill
Finally, the Review…

Retail was $589 before tax, which included the 
  • grill, 
  • a very nice two-tiered grate with lift up sections that quickly can convert to one tier, 
  • a vinyl style cover, 
  • a sturdy aluminum cart with 4 casters (2 of which lock) and 
  • 2 wood side leafs 
  • and a ceramic disc to be paced on the grill bottom in the base.    
In other words ready to go from the start at about ½ the price of a similar large BGE or most other name brand kamado grills.  In reviewing the warranty policies they seem remarkably similar to BGE with the exception that Vision wants to you attach an electronic copy of the original purchase receipt with your warranty registration.

Looking over the assembled grill we noticed some minor crazing of the ceramics, nothing that we felt would affect the performance of the grill but we wondered how will it be 10 years from now.   

kamado grill glaze crazing spider web cracks cosmetic only
Picture showing the cosmetic crazing (spider web shaped micro cracks in the glaze coating)

The grill also has a spring-loaded piston style shock absorber to cushion the lid if accidently dropped.  This appeared to work too well and left a small gap at the felt line so we removed the top piece so the lid would fully close.  It really is not needed as the lid on opening and closing feels much lighter than the LBGE and the thick felt gaskets cushion nicely.

The overall appearance of the Vision is that it is shorter and slightly fatter than the BGE, squared oval as opposed to egg shaped.  The Vision firebox is much taller than a BGE as it incorporates the BGE fire ring into the firebox for a one-piece unit.  With the two-tiered rack in place the top tier is about 1 ¾” above felt level.  Below are some comparison dimensions.

Grill inner diameter (ID) at felt line
20 .25”
Overall grill height
Distance from top of fire ring to felt line
Chimney ID
Dome height to top of chimney

9 volt battery for scale.

All L BGE accessories that I own seem to work just fine with the Vision, unfortunately due to the increased width of the Vision, the very nice Vision two-tier grate will not fit in an L BGE.   As with the BGE and most other kamado grills, a plate setter/heat deflector does not come standard with the grill. They do offer as an accessory a SS spider like device and a lava stone, or the Vision firebox/ring is much wider than the BGE box at its base so it may be possible to move the coals to one side of the box and have a quasi-indirect set up ala webber style.   Also due to the very wide chimney of the Vision I believe it would be unwise to remove the top cap unless you intended to cook very hot 700+, Neapolitan pizza maybe?   

The Vision top cap has 3 markings numbered 1-3 to help you when adjusting airflow.  The vent door is very similar to the BGE door but the screen is solid stainless steel with holes drilled for airflow and graduated markings to also assist you in air control.

Bottom vent - note the graduated marks.  This helps you quickly learn the vent settings and be consistent with them.

More graduated markings, these for the top vent.

Time to fire this bad boy up.  First light was a lower temp run just to better set the gasket glue.  The gaskets btw are rather thick when compared to the BGE stock gaskets.  I lit the coals with a map torch and was attempting to hold the grill under 275 degrees.  I started to notice the temps creeping up near 300 while I kept shutting both the top and bottom vents.  Eventually I shut the grill down and dome temp (which I had calibrated) was at 310.  Next day I grilled a nice rack of baby back ribs shooting for a target temp 260ish.  This is when I realized we had a problem as the grill temp crept up to 310 even while I kept shutting down the top and bottom vents eventually closing the bottom all the way and the top open to ¼ only.  I started examining the vent door, called Chris over and we realized it was pretty loose and even when closed was allowing air into the grill, obvious by the temps it was holding.  By keeping the bottom almost fully closed and putting some pipe cleaners in the vent door to limit extra air I was able to finish the ribs in the 260ish range.  They turned out excellent.

The next day I tore apart the vent door to better examine it.  One culprit is the very wide channel the vent door moves in.  Since it also is stainless steel I was unable to narrow the channel to make it fit better.  The other culprit was the silicon/rubber gasket Vision installed between the vent frame and the grill; it too was loose in places.  

Picture showing how the vent slide can flex out to the rail, creating an air leak on each end when in certain positions.

I took some measurements with my calipers and headed off to the local hardware store to find a solution.  By chance I noticed some ball bearings at the store and they had the proper size so I grabbed them, some JB Weld glue, and some Permatex hi temp rtv copper silicon gasket maker (though regular clear silicon caulking may work as well).  To complete the fix I JB welded a 3/16” ball bearing at each corner of the solid vent door (make sure you rough up the SS vent door or the glue will break loose).  I also put a small bead of the rtv silicon on the main assembly of the vent frame that faces the grill in places where the frame was furthest from the ceramic grill body.  I let everything set overnight and then reassembled.  I then put a bead of rtv silicon around the vent frame to seal the frame/grill interface and then let the silicon set up.  

Vision Grills kamado bottom vent air leak modification
Ball bearings being "JB Welded" to the vent slide.  You can get JB Weld adhesive at your local auto store.  Use the two tube version that has to be mixed together.  The putty has not worked as well for me.

Yellow arrow shows the tabs in the middle of the slide that Vision uses to press against the rail.  John's modification basically adds the same idea at each end of the slide to eliminate the air leak.

Re-installed - Now the slide his held firmly in place, no leaks, at each end.

Final version - rubber gasket removed and replaced by Permatex Copper, ball bearings on each corner.

The fix worked, the grill now operates the way it should and controlling temperature is no longer guesswork.  No more air leaks.  I cooked a brisket  a few days after the fix and was able to hold a consistent temperature in the 260-degree range.  That was a 10-hour cook with no surprises and the brisket was fantastic.  I have done many other cooks with this grill since with no temperature surprises along the way and the food always comes out moist and tasty just like it does off the BGE.  I do cook a lot of pizzas and I must say I really enjoy this grill for that cook.  For pizza I use the ceramic grill store’s PSwoo2, BGE plate setter, BGE grid and BGE pizza stone. This puts my stone approx. 3 inches above felt line and because the Vision is more squat that the BGE it is very high in the dome.  Pies cook a bit quicker and the crusts are coming out better than I had done with the BGE.

Overall I am very impressed with this grill.  Once the vent door was fixed it holds temp like you would expect a ceramic grill to.  So far all the L BGE accessories I have tried with this Vision work.  The cart is very sturdy and though I am careful moving the grill around I have not felt it was ever close to tipping over.  The very thick felt ring seals nicely and no smoke has come out from there.  After 5 pizza cooks the felt is charred a bit on the inner most edges certainly no worse than the BGE stock gasket would.  I would guess this gasket to last up to 2 years under normal use.  Cleaning ashes out is a bit more work than the BGE as the vent door does not open as wide as the BGE but certainly not overly difficult.  I have had the grill up to 650 and easily could have gone higher by removing the adjustable top. If I were to do it all over knowing what I know today the Vision is the grill I would get.  It’s almost ½ the cost of an L BGE or other name brand kamado grills and the L BGE accessories work nicely with it.  It cooks like a champ, after you fix the leaky vent door (about 1 hour labor plus wait time).  Now only time will tell if it will age as nicely as the BGE does.  Color me impressed.

As John noted, our first one had been brutally mishandled at some point.  I don't consider that a strike against the manufacturer.

Despite the very well cushioned packaging, it can still get damaged if dropped, rammed, or stacked on it's side.  Sam's was very good about swapping it out with no hassle but CHECK YOUR BOX BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE STORE!!
Top view of the one piece fire bowl - the Vision Grills Classic B doesn't use a two piece set up with a fire bowl and fire ring. 
The fire grate is much wider than the ones on my two BGEs, but not all of the holes are exposed so it's about the same area available for ventilation.

Love, love, love this two level cooking grate that comes standard.

Top level folds back for accessing food on the first layer or you can also just take it off.

The bottom grate also opens to access the fire bowl to add wood.

Top view of grate - top tier removed and the bottom grate folded back
review of black Vision Kamado Grill Classic B series
Grilling some chicken breasts over at John's house.

Once he fixed the air leak, John had no problems holding 250°F.

Gratuitous smoky vent cap.

The handle scratch happened at my house, it didn't come like that.
The inside ceramics of the Vision have taken on a slick patina with two months or so of use.  Shiny, right?  This pic also shows the felt gasket after several high temp pizza cooks. 
ceramic grill, Vision grill, black kamado

My $.02 (by Chris Grove)
With the ever increasing popularity of kamado grills, there has also been an explosion in the number of kamado brands - some good, others are cheap imitations.  I haven't cooked on this kamado grill near as much as John has but I have to agree with his assessment of the Vision Grills Kamado - Classic B Series. I have been one of Big Green Egg's biggest supporters on my blog since I started it and I still love the two larges that I have - but the Vision Grills gives them a run for the money.  

Addendum to Vision Classic B Grill review (May 12, 2014) by John Makela

Based on a few of the comments below I felt it necessary to expand a bit on the vision grill.

Overall Grill Weight
According to each web site the L BGE weighs in at 162 lbs and the Vision Classic weighs in at 196 lbs. I would assume the Vision stated weight includes the cart and side leaves, which in my guess are 25 lbs. This puts the weight of each grill pretty close at 162/170 lbs.

Wall Thickness
Measuring the wall thickness on the Vision is a challenge as the ceramic is much thicker on each side of the metal band channel. Which is a good thing should your band loosen over time the vision dome most likely would not fall out of its bands as easily as the BGE. That being said I was able to measure ceramic thickness at the top of each grill’s dome and essentially they are equal at .65/.68 inches. The BGE ceramic thickness at dome felt line is approximately .95 inches and my best estimate of the Vision dome thickness (at felt line it is almost 1.4 inches) is 1.0 inches so essentially the same considering some error. The firebox thickness was much easier to measure and the BGE came in at 1.04 inches (1.25 inches for the fire ring) while the Vision came in at .95 inches.

Temp and Rate of lump burn
Although I did no scientific tests I had 2 longer cooks one apprx 6 hours and one 10 hours. In each case I felt the amount of lump burned to be roughly equal to the BGE rate of burn and would be confident that lump in Vision could go 20+ hours on a full load.

Lid opening and hinge design
As mentioned in my review I felt perceived weight when opening the Vision dome was lighter than
the BGE dome opening. If the ceramics are the same thickness and the grills overall weight are close then what’s up? I believe it comes down to the hinge design and the physics of each based on the point of rotation (pivot point) and spring leverage rate. Since I am not a mechanical engineer or physicist I can only guess, and looking at the pictures, surmise that the Vision with its single mid-spring pivot point and attachment points of the spring offer more efficient assistance when opening the dome. The BGE has a much more complicated hinge system with 2 pivot points and vastly different spring attachment points. The weak point in the Vision hinge system will be the pivot point of its hinge which looks to be a rivet attached to the main metal support which itself attaches to the lower metal band. I would suspect after 10 years and millions of open and closing cycles this rivet may fail.

My only other comment would be with the vent modification the Vision vent door is more difficult to slide than the BGE vent door. None of this changes my opinion of the Vision. I LOVE my L BGE
and I LOVE this Vision considering initial costs to own the Vision it is hard to deny.

Firebox/Firebowl Cracks
Reader Rustwood wrote:
The only issue I have heard about that you did not mention is that there have been many reports of hairline (or worse) cracks in the firebox. Mine has a crack, but it is still structurally sound and reports suggest that Vision will replace it if/when necessary. I have read that cracks in fireboxes are not uncommon in other kamados, but it remains to be seen whether or not they are more common in the vision grills.

Our Reply
Our firebowl did develop a crack through the bottom in less than 6 months but the unit remained intact.  We contacted Vision and received the following reply:

Thank you for the photos. This is not an uncommon occurrence with any ceramic grill, especially after several uses. As you know, the purpose of the fire bowl is to hold fuel. If it ever fails to do so, it will be replaced. I want to reassure you that a hairline crack does not mean that the fire bowl will break in two. Our logistics manager has had a similar crack in his fire bowl for over two years. He uses his grill frequently and it has never gotten worse. I would urge you not to remove the fire bowl to clean it, but keep it in place in the grill. I will keep your photos on file should there be any issues in the future. Please let me know if you have any further questions or concerns.  August 11, 2014

I have had two firebowls in my Big Green Egg develop similar fractures and BGE replaced them right away under warranty coverage.  Alexis' Big Green Egg has the expansion slit cut into it and it has not developed any fractures.  I have used a cracked firebowl for a year once in another kamado without issues so I understand them not wanting to replace the unit until it actually fails.  Point being, until it catastrophically fails, this is a cosmetic issue and it is still functioning.  The downside to their strategy is:
  1. When the firebowl does fail, the owner will be unable to use the kamado grill until the replacement arrives,
  2. You still have to remove the firebowl to fully clean the kamado at least occasionally.  The firebowl has vent holes all around it and ashes fall out of those holes, accumulating ash piles behind the firebowl.  They eventually will block air flow and can't be cleaned without taking the firebowl out.  
  3. If the firebowl finally catastrophically fails DURING a cook with hot coals, you aren't going to be too happy, at best.  Don't even want to get into the possible worst case scenarios, that is why you keep your vent screen closed. 

[Standard Disclaimer] Neither John nor I have any affiliation with Vision Grills and we paid full price for the grill at a warehouse club.