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The Primo Oval XL 400 Ceramic Grill is one of the most unique and versatile kamado-style grills around. Its proprietary oval shape enables you to create a true two-zone cooking experience, while the solid construction makes it a superior performer as a traditional grill, smoker, or oven.
Although the basic package of the Primo Oval XL 400 is, well, basic, there are a plethora of optional accessories available. The manufacturer says these add-ons offer more than 70 different available cooking configurations. And even the basic setup comes with reversible racks that offer more versatility than traditional charcoal or gas grills.
The stand-alone Oval XL is fairly expensive, and by the time you add in a table and accessories, that jacks up the price even more. However, even those who say the only “con” of this cooker is the cost also say that it’s worth every penny.
It’s also a once-in-a-lifetime purchase you’ll be able to pass on to your children.
Made in the USA, the Primo XL is big: 400 square inches of cooking area, 230 pounds, and 27.5 inches tall, without a table or stand. On the plus side, that means it’s big enough to cook 15-25 steaks at a time, or a 30-pound turkey. On the minus side, you’ll need to be sure you have the room for it.
If you simply don’t need hat much cooking space, it also comes in Large and Junior sizes, which we discuss in more detail below.
Whether you need a traditional searing grill, roaster, smoker, or a terrific pizza oven, the Primo Oval XL will fire up your taste buds. And best of all, in spite of its many available configurations, it’s very simple to use.
Read on for a comprehensive overview of this high-quality ceramic outdoor kitchen tool.
A Signature Shape
The most notable feature of the Primo Oval XL 400 is its unique oval shape. Whereas many similar options are round, it’s the only oval grill on the market.
There are a couple of advantages to an oval shape. One is that it maximizes capacity. In the case of the Primo Oval XL, that translates to a total cooking area of 400 square inches, or enough space for 15-25 steaks, depending upon their size.
The oval design also offers a better two-zone cooking experience without sacrificing cooking space. Charcoal can simply be piled to one side, creating a space for searing steak, and a cooler space to cook it to the desired level of doneness.
This brings us to one of the few downsides to this unit: out of the box, it comes with just two grill grates. To utilize its full range of capabilities, you’ll have to purchase at least a few other bits and pieces. We discuss the various available accessories in more detail in their own section of the article below.
In addition to the oval shape, the Primo Oval XL 400 features a tall, domed lid that can accommodate two smaller briskets (more with expansion racks), five to six Boston butts, a monster turkey, or maybe even a small ostrich.
Materials and Construction
The Primo Oval XL 400 is made in Tucker, Georgia. It’s constructed of premium grade ceramic with a scratch-resistant porcelain glaze.
The chimney cap is cast iron and the gasket is heavy-duty double felt. That protects the lid material from damage when closing and opening it, and provides superior sealing to help maintain temperature.
The “daisy wheel” control of the chimney cap is a simple, traditional design that has been carried over from both the Big Green Egg and its Japanese forebears. It’s simple to control the flow of smoke out of the device, and therefore control the draft of air through the cooker from the stainless steel lower vent.
The handle is made of a “cool touch” material, but we spotted a couple of comments from users reporting that it can get hot. It’s always a good idea to use a potholder or to wear heat-resistant gloves while you’re cooking, to be on the safe side.
In spite of the heavy-duty hinges, this lid is heavy and can be hard to lift. But once it’s up, it stays in position.
Because of its solid construction, at 230 pounds, this is a very heavy unit. You’re going to need help to lift it into place, whether you’re putting it in a table or installing it in your custom backyard kitchen.
The Primo XL comes with a limited lifetime warranty, plus a 20-year guarantee on the ceramics, a 5-year warranty on the metal, and 1 year on the cast iron parts. The thermometer and felt gaskets are guaranteed for 30 days.
The Primo Oval XL 400 is a kamado-style grill. These are modern versions of ancient Japanese cooking urns, with a cooking technology that depends upon excellent sealing and insulation to hold consistent temperatures for long periods of time.
The tall, domed egg shape of the Primo is designed to radiate heat so that it works much like a convection oven, which means you can bake in it as well as grilling, smoking, and roasting.
Kamado grills also make excellent pizza ovens. Unlike traditional charcoal or gas grills, flare-ups almost never occur with kamado grills, so you don’t have to worry about scorched foods.
The Primo XL 400 is a particularly good performer, thanks to its quality materials and tight seal. In one test, a firebox filled with fuel stayed at 225 degrees for an astonishing three days. In another, also at 225 degrees, it ran for more than 17 hours in sub-freezing temperatures.
Adding to the Primo’s versatility is the option to use it as a smoker at temperatures as low as 180 degrees, or crank it up to 500 degrees for a superior sear.
The basic version of the Primo Oval XL 400 is definitely a bare bones unit. It includes the grill itself, the firebox, and two cast iron racks. Stands or tables and all other accessories are optional purchases, in some cases sold as sets. We discuss these in more detail in their own section of this review.
You won’t need to purchase a stand or table if you’re planning to incorporate the Primo XL into a backyard kitchen, or if you are making your own stand. Keep in mind that the ceramic feet (BBQ Guys | Amazon) are not included in the basic package. These are a must if you are going to use this unit on a base comprised of a combustible material, such as wood.
The racks that are included are half-moon shaped, to make it easy to add coals or wood chips to the fire. They are also double sided, so you can set them at different distances from the coals: higher for smoking and roasting, lower for searing or other fast, direct cooking tasks.
Because the racks are actually two separate units, you can use them in a multi-level setup to cook two different types of food at a time. For example, use one grate closer to the coals for cooking food that you want to sear, like steaks, and the upper grate for cooking more delicate foods, like shrimp or veggies.
However, as we noted earlier, without adding an optional accessory or two, you won’t be able to achieve true “two-zone” indirect and direct cooking.
The lid of the grill includes an integrated thermometer, so you can see the internal temperature. It can be calibrated by using a boil test.
At times, the in-lid thermometer is prone to condensation, and it really should only be used to gauge an estimate of the internal temperature. The thermometer also can’t be used to test food for doneness. We recommend utilizing a good quality meat thermometer for that task.
Assembly and Use
There’s not much to the assembly of the Primo Oval XL 400; it’s as simple as screwing the handle on and adding the firebox inserts.
But, again, keep in mind that it’s very heavy. You’ll need assistance putting it into wherever it’s going to live. For our test model, it took two men (and three would have been better) to lift up and drop it down into the assembled stainless cart. And that’s with the firebox inserts and grates removed.
In spite of its many possible configurations, the Primo XL is really easy and intuitive to use.
To use the basic grill unit, start by adding a small amount of charcoal to the firebox. Natural lump charcoal is recommended, not briquettes. While the manufactures says you can use standard charcoal briquettes, they can’t achieve the high temperatures and longer burn times that you’ll get from natural charcoal, which can definitely affect taste and performance.
Light the charcoal with a non-chemical fire starter, such as paraffin cubes, wood kindling, a chimney, an electric starter, or even a wadded-up paper towel soaked in olive oil. Never use instant light charcoal or lighter fluid, since the chemicals will be absorbed by the ceramic and affect the taste of your food.
Setting the temperature involves adjusting both the top and bottom dampers. Exact adjustments will depend upon the temperature you want to cook at, and the amount of time you want it to stay at that temperature. But, in general, low and slow cooking requires the dampers to be almost closed, whereas higher heats mean more air flow, so you’ll want the dampers more open.
One caveat: don’t let the Primo get smoking hot if you want to cook low and slow – it can take hours to cool down enough to start cooking. Be sure to read the owner’s manual for instructions on how to properly start cooking on the Primo XL.
Primo offers several stand, table, and tabletop configurations for the Oval XL. The most basic is the Cart Base (BBQ Guys | Amazon), which has a basket shelf for storage, and casters to more easily move the unit around.
Both of these tabletops are made from FDA-approved food safe materials that will resist weather damage. The two-piece model is significantly less expensive for some reason, with a similar appearance and made with similar materials, plus two added cup holders.
In addition to the metal, steel, plastic options, Primo makes several unfinished cypress tables that are available for separate purchase, including the Cypress Countertop Table, the Curved Cypress Table, and the Compact Cypress Table.
You can also find them bundled with the grills at BBQ Guys and elsewhere.
Another option that offers good value is the Primo All-In-One Series (BBQ Guys | Amazon). This package includes the grill, a cradle with casters, and two side tables. A shelf is not included here, though.
Primo does offer various grill covers. But they also note that their grills, carts, and tables are all made to withstand even harsh weather conditions, and you don’t need to cover them.
As for accessories, as we’ve noted several times throughout this review, there are a lot of them available. You’re going to want to invest in a few!
The accessories that we would consider “must-haves” are the Heat Deflector Plates, Heat Deflector Racks, and the Firebox Divider. These are the three accessories that will enable you to create true, two-zone and indirect cooking, or a mix thereof.
Heat Deflector Plates and Racks
These half-moon plates sit inside of your oval XL kamado to block direct contact between the flames and the food – turning the Primo into a low-temperature smoker, exactly what you need for smoking things “low and slow” like brisket, beef and pork ribs, picnic hams, and Boston butts. It’s great for making other home-smoked culinary items as well, such as salt.
Many folks use their ceramic cooker as an outdoor oven, and enjoy baking bread, and even cookies and cakes. How is this possible? Charcoal burns quite clean, if additional wood chunks are not added.
One little tip: if you aren’t using a water pan (which is not necessary for a kamado-style cooker), we like to wrap the plates in aluminum foil as shown above to minimize cleanup. It keeps the drips from the meat from scorching the plates.
You’ll also need a pair of heat deflector racks for the plates to sit on. Yes, Primo packages these separately (remember… this is the BMW of kamados).
Besides being platforms to set the deflector plates on, they also provide a stable platform to place aluminum pans to catch grease or juices from steak, burgers, and other meats. This helps reduce flare-ups and grease fires.
Having said that, fire safety is always a must when grilling (put your beer in your gut, not on the flames).
Although the racks and plates are sold separately by Primo, BBQ Guys have assembled them as a bundle for a bit of savings.
The firebox divider is something else you’ll likely want to invest in sooner rather than later. This cast iron divider fits in the center of your XL 400 and splits the firebox in two.
This is useful for two reasons. First, you can have more coals and more heat on one side for searing, and a lesser amount of coals on the other side to finish cooking meat, or cook sides that require less heat.
The other reason it’s useful is to cut down on the amount of charcoal used for cooking smaller quantities of food. Let’s face it – the Oval XL is a big honkin’ grill. Chances are, if you are just making some burgers for the family, you won’t need to use the whole surface. Save money by using less fuel in these instances.
These are some of our recommended accessories that you’ll likely want purchase, either with the grill or shortly thereafter. They just make life easier, and make your Oval XL more versatile.
You can almost double your available cook space on the XL 400 via the optional extended cooking racks. Using two, you can transform the 400-square-inch cooking space into 680 square inches. They come one per box.
These racks attach on top of your existing porcelain-coated wire racks, and are ideal for cooking multiple full packer’s cut briskets, or taking advantage of multiple grilling zones for direct and indirect cooking. They allow you to prepare different foods that require different temperatures at the same time, or prepare more food at once.
Two-Sided Cast Iron Griddle
Primo makes cast iron griddles shaped in a half-moon style for their oval cookers. Sold one per box, you can buy one just to change one side, or purchase two to convert your entire kamado into a flat-top grill. Cast iron retains much more heat than the included porcelain racks.
The smooth side can be used to prepare breakfast, and for cooking veggies, frying, sauteing, or making smash burgers.
The grooved side is designed for searing steak. But we actually prefer to use the smooth side for that, as it gets more contact with the metal and produces a nice, crusty Maillard reaction on the surface of the meat.
Cast Iron Grates
These half-moon cast iron grates are the ticket if you love sear marks on your steak, burgers, or sausages. Cast iron offers better heat retention than the stock porcelain-coated wire grates, with faster cooking times and better searing as a result.
The bars are also set much closer than those on the stock set, which keeps food from falling through.
When properly cared for (i.e. cleaned and kept oiled with something like olive oil or lard) and seasoned, cast iron is naturally nonstick. These are sold one per box, so if you want complete coverage, you need to order two.
Buy Later (Father’s Day? Cough, Cough)
These are the accessories that are nice but not necessary to get the maximum performance from your Oval XL. In some instances, you can substitute equipment you already have, or even utilize cheaper third-party options for some of these.
Primo manufactures baking/pizza stones in both 13- and 16-inch sizes.
They are available in both natural and glazed finishes.
Although we love using this kamado as a pizza and bread oven, pretty much any pizza or baking stone or steel will work just as well. And other options are often cheaper. That being said, these are made in the USA, and you can’t say that for most other baking stones.
Why smoke one or two racks of ribs at a time when you can do five, nine, or even 14 at once?
Primo actually offers two rib racks that are compatible with the Oval XL. The bigger one, known as the “Premium,” fits up to nine racks of ribs.
The smaller one, called the “Deluxe,” fits up to five racks.
Here’s the deal:
The Oval XL is big enough to fit both at the the same time, allowing you to smoke up to 14 ribs at once. Party, anyone?
Primo offers a couple of convenience accessories as well, including a Grate Cleaning Bar (BBQ Guys | Amazon), an Ash Tool (BBQ Guys | Amazon), and a Grate/Rack Lifter (BBQ Guys | Amazon) to make it easier to remove your grate to add coals or wood.
Last, but not least, you might need to purchase a set of Ceramic Feet (BBQ Guys | Amazon), depending upon where you are going to use the grill. As mentioned above, if you’re building your own support or table from combustible materials you will need them for fire safety.
The feet are not included with the grill itself, or the grill sold as a bundle with a metal or plastic table. They are included, however, with any of the cypress table options.
The Primo Oval LG and Primo Oval Jr.
There’s no doubt that the Primo Oval XL is a terrific grill. But it might be just a bit too much grill for some people. In addition to taking up a lot of space, it could be overkill if you tend to cook for a smaller family.
Fortunately, Primo also makes two smaller versions of the Primo XL, the Oval LG 300 and the Oval JR 200.
The Oval LG has a 300-square-inch cooking area, which the manufacturer says will accommodate 10-20 steaks, depending upon size. It’s also lighter at 145 pounds, and it is 25 inches tall.
The Oval JR has an 8-15 steak capacity, with a cooking area of 210 square inches. It weighs 110 pounds and stands 22 inches tall. Although it’s significantly smaller than the XL, we managed to fit two 9-pound Boston butts on the Junior in one go with no expansion racks.
A full line of accessories is also available for both of these grills.
- Building Quality
- Warranty and Support
We feel that the Primo Oval XL 400 is one of the best kamado grills available. It's the only one MADE IN THE USA. Fit and finish is incredible. Comes with a 20-year warranty on the ceramics, a 5-year warranty on the metal, and 1 year on the cast iron parts, and the support from the factory is top notch. If we had to nitpick one thing, there is no rotisserie accessory available from Primo, unlike what's available one of their major competitors. Other than that one quibble, it's a fantastic grill, and is our number one choice for a kamado-style grill (which is our favorite type of outdoor cooker).
A Top Performer that Extends the Kitchen to Your Backyard
If you’ve ever had your eye on a ceramic or kamado -style grill, you won’t find one better than the Primo Oval XL. Its unique oval design and quality construction make it a top choice among experts, and owners praise its versatility and performance as a grill and smoker, or for roasting and baking.
A wide range of available accessories makes this ceramic grill even more versatile, and Primo makes their Oval grills in several different sizes to suit a variety of households – even a version small enough to fit on an apartment deck.
With a lifetime warranty on the ceramics, this unit is built to last a lifetime, and beyond.
Photos and additional writing by Mike Quinn, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos on isolated background courtesy of Primo.
About Kelly Burgess
Kelly Burgess is a product review specialist who loves food, kitchen gadgets, gardening, and writing. She was born and raised in Southern California, raised her kids in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and now lives in Spokane, Washington with her husband and three cats. When she’s not cooking, eating or writing, Kelly likes to read, hang out with friends, hike, and explore the great Northwest.