Antique Appraisals

What’s it Worth?: Kamado grills used for centuries in Japan, now popular in U.S.

A Kamado is a traditional Japanese wood- or charcoal-fueled cook stove. Literally, it means “place for the cauldron.”
A Kamado is a traditional Japanese wood- or charcoal-fueled cook stove. Literally, it means “place for the cauldron.”

Summer’s heat seems to have arrived somewhat early in the mid-Columbia. Never mind, though. If it is hot, that means barbecue and grilling season.

In today’s What’s It Worth? we turn the heat up to answer a reader’s question about a modern but historical grilling unit. Mushikamado, anyone?

Q. What can you tell me about this? A friend gave me this porcelain grill. It had been in her family for over 50 years. The only identifying mark is the word Sazco on the lower vent - Mike in Pasco

A. This is a Kamado-style cooking unit and they have a small and dedicated following among grillmeisters across the nation and world.

A Kamado is a traditional Japanese wood- or charcoal-fueled cook stove. Kamado is the Japanese word for “stove” or “cooking range.” Literally, it means “place for the cauldron.”

Traditionally, these are quite large communal or professional cooking units.

In sizes appropriate for home use, they are called “mushikamados.”

Very versatile, they can be used for grilling, roasting, smoking, making flat breads like pizza, and you can also bake loaves of bread with them.

This all works because they can be heated to very high temperatures.

Because the ceramic shell has great heat retention, you can cook at up to 750 degrees Fahrenheit.

After Wortd War II, American service personnel brought the kamado idea back to the states. Clever entrepreneurs soon were selling American-made mushikamado units. One such was the Sazco.

The first ceramic grill in what became the Sazco line was something called the “Casa-Q.” It was developed by a Californian named Farhad Sazegar.

Sazegar was a man of many talents. A flight engineer, in addition to his grill (it was patented) he designed many other products, including landing gear for Cessna aircraft, bicycle racks, a ski rack and wheels for skateboards. But, the Sazco is his enduring legacy.

While the company appears not to have made it through the ‘60s, many Sazcos are still going strong today. Like Mike’s, they are now more than 50 years old.

The fact that the Sazco grills still exist is a testament to their quality.

As to value, brand new comparable units are still made today by different companies and can cost up to $1,000. In good condition an older mushikamado such as this one is somewhere in the $200 to $400 range.

But, its real value will shine through in those burgers and ribs!

Q. Some time back, a What’s It Worth? reader asked you about Washington state metal tax tokens. Because I worked as an auditor for the state tax commission in the 1940s, I thought you would be interested to know those metal tax tokens weren’t the originals used to cover sales taxes on purchases of less than 10 cents. They were preceded by small paper scrip “tokens,” and there were even plastic tokens before the metal ones were issued. - Ray in Pasco.

A. Ray is quite right. While many of us will remember those metal tokens — about the size of a quarter — they weren’t the first method Washington used for the then-new sales tax.

Here’s the back story. In 1935 Washington made major changes to the state’s tax code and initiated a sales tax. The new sales tax was set at 3.5 percent statewide.

You paid the tax on all purchases. But, what about really small items, like a five cent piece of candy? Well, taxes were required on that and the state script token system started. The little cardboard “tax token scrip” pieces paid 1/5th of a cent on those minimal purchases.

Ray told us these two-inch-long scrip tax tokens were replaced by round cardboard pieces and later the aluminum tokens we wrote about previously were put into circulation.

We’d never seen these paper “tokens” until Ray shared them. The aluminum tokens are pretty common and seemingly not of much interest to collectors, even though they are an offshoot of coin collecting.

Washington state aluminum pieces can be found at shops, shows, flea markets and garage sales for 10 to 25 cents and not many people care to collect them. We think the cardboard scrip pieces would be in the same value range.

Terry K. Maurer, 15 year Senior Member of the Certified Appraisers Guild of America, is a personal property appraiser in the Tri-Cities. His What’s It Worth? column on antiques and collectibles has appeared in the Tri-City Herald for more than 14 years.