I picked up my 2013 model 96619 Char-Griller Kamado Akorn Grill at BJ's for $280 last month. It has a 19.5" round cast iron cooking grate and triple wall STEEL insulated shell. It came with a very thick ceramic interior smoking baffle for indirect-heat smoking and a nice fitted cover. So it has 300 square inches of primary cooking area not counting the additional 143 square inch (13.5" diameter) warming/upper grill. About the only things I needed to add were a round charcoal basket, and a 10 - 13 inch diameter water/drippings pan to place on top of the ceramic smoking baffle. The new model seems like they improved some of the seals. During assembly I noticed that the oven-door style seal around the lower edge of the upper hood, and the oven-door seal around the lower edge of the fire bowl (where the removable ash bowl goes on), were not compressing very much when I latched them down. I simply unscrewed the latch hooks and secured them tightly in a vise and then tapped with a hammer on the the hooked end and slightly bent it further over around 1/8 - 1/4 of an inch more. When I reinstalled the latch hooks and latched down the latch hooks the the seals were much more nicely compressed by the slightly bent-over latch hooks.
The first couple of smokes were great with amazing control as it's quite tightly sealed with precise draft controls that make a huge impact, and it's a STEEL body and NOT Ceramic so it's not fragile if it accidentally gets bumped or knocked over (and very repairable even if damaged), and it won't crack over time like sometimes happens with Ceramic. I noticed that you need to build up heat to only slightly more than the temperature you want, and then close up the air intake almost all the way, and also close down the exhaust partially (and not always leave the exhaust wide open like I'm used to). It was interesting to me that there was such a wide range of opening on the air intake (several inches of movement) but I was either using it all the way open to get my fire going, and then almost all the way closed (maybe 1/8 inch open) while cooking.
If you shut down the air intake and the exhaust all the way the fire will go out, and unburned lump and charred chunks will be left over for the next fire! This proves it is tightly sealed. I am using a charcoal basket which I can shake the burned ash out of to re-use the leftover fuel.
I did grill/sear on it a couple of times too, and still you end up building heat while the intake is wide open, and then when the temp reaches slightly above the desired temp you need to shut the intake way down to like 1 or even less on a scale of 1 - 5. Again the intake draft control has a lot of movement range - but seems you don't ever use the mid-range settings of the movement at all. However, I found that while grilling/searing there was never a need to use other than wide open on the exhaust stack. BTW, the 2013 model 96619 exhaust stack has no markings on it but looks otherwise the same as pictures I've seen of the older calibrated exhaust stack model(s).
I also have a pretty large side-burner (OK Joe - 20" X 40" cooking chamber and 20" X 20" firebox with searing/grilling grate) that's single wall STEEL, and works great for smoking/grilling in moderate weather - but does burn a lot of fuel which is really only a concern when I'm only cooking a small quantity of food. It is a very flexible rig and allows continuous fuel feeding during long smokes with no rearrangement like a Kamado would, and even allows simultaneous searing/grilling on the cooking grate in the firebox side. A Kamado like the Akorn can do anything, but it can only do one thing at a time. I bought the Akorn to have a smaller secondary rig that's unaffected by cold weather (well insulated) and is smaller sized for the times when I'm only cooking smaller quantities of food to conserve my fuel/effort. The Akorn's fuel efficiency is very high and the outside surface only gets warm (you can put your hand on it, but not keep your hand on it very long). You can indefinitely hold your hand 18 inches above the exhaust. Because of these characteristics I am experimenting with using my Akorn in a sheltered area under a roof overhang for cooking in the rain - with a fan behind me blowing the smoke out from under the roof. This is new to me as I'm used to always being out in the rain...
Edited by Ski-Freak - 8/2/13 at 8:56am