There’s something about cooking with charcoal that can’t be beaten.
Maybe it’s the authentic taste of food cooked outdoors over hot coals, or the interactive cooking experience that brings you back to simpler times.
While charcoal grilling does take a little more skill than gas, with a bit of knowledge you’ll be impressing your friends and family with your new-found grillmaster abilities.
To help you choose the right grill, we’ve pulled together a list of the best charcoal grills available across a variety of price points.
For most people, we think the
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Our Top 6 Choices For The Best Charcoal Grill in 2021
1. The Best all around charcoal grill – Weber Original Premium 22” Kettle
Read our full review.
Unless you are really new to the grilling and barbecuing world,
Generations of grilling enthusiasts have trusted
Still made in the USA and with a 10 year warranty on the bowl, lid and center ring, you won’t be needing to upgrade or replace this grill for many years.
Other, smaller components of the grill are also covered by 3 and 5 year warranties.
The porcelain-coated bowl and lid has had the coating baked on at around 1500°F, in other words, it is essentially fused to the metal. This means the coating of the grill is extremely durable and will not rust through or burn off.
- The handle has a heat shield to help prevent burnt knuckles. A tool hook on the side of the unit allows you to keep all the tools you need closeby.
- There are also 2 large wheels that make the grill easy to move about.
- Removable ash catcher takes away some of the messy clean up associated with charcoal grills.
Although small touches, they tell of years of barbecuing experience which have gone into the design of these cookers.
The 22″ Kettle also boasts the
The cooker is big enough to cook around 13 burger patties in one hit, with 363 square inches of cooking area available.
For such a versatile, well built unit, the asking price is reasonable. It is worth keeping in mind that there are also additions you can purchase such as the Slow n’ Sear, or the Smokenator which allow you to use the grill as a smoker as well.
What we like:
- Outstanding value grill – The Premium Kettle hits the sweet spot between price, size and quality.
- Can be versatile – With the right know-how the Kettle can be turned into an excellent smoker, and the hinged grill grates make it easy to add wood chunks during the cook for an extra smoky flavor.
- Ease of use features – You can save money and get the Original Kettle, but we think the extra money is well worth it for the the
WeberPremium. the One Touch cleaning system alone is worth it and the built-in thermometer comes in handy.
What we don’t like:
- Lid holder – This is a pretty minor nit pick, but the system for holding the lid on the side could be better. The lid still blocks a large portion of the grill so it can make reaching things tricky.
It’s easily the best grill under $200, and so a lot of people buy it as their first grill. But thanks to the clever design and build quality, this grill will serve you well for years to come.
There are competition barbecue teams who use these grills when they compete.
2. Best mid range charcoal grill – Weber Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill
Read our full review.
If you take all the good bits from the
The body of the grill itself is 22” porcelain coated just like the Original Premium so you still get 363 square inches of cooking space, however, it is housed in a workbench which gives you a similar experience to the side tables found on some more expensive grills.
You could perform the entire cook from preparation to presentation from that work station.
It boasts a wire rack below, an LCD cook timer which can either be left with the grill or be removed and taken with you.
Perfect if you need to keep an eye on things while you pop inside to grab a drink.
The CharBin storage container is a handy way to store your coals in a protected spot, right there with the grill when you need them.
The Performer Deluxe boasts the One Touch cleaning system with ash catcher just like the Original Premium, as well as Touch-N-Go gas ignition system.
The Touch-N-Go gas ignition system makes lighting your coals really easy.
Just place the coals in the 2 char basket fuel holders (or a charcoal chimney starter).
Place these over the ignitor and then simply push the ignition button. Once some of the coals are burning white, move the fuel holders to the sides of the cooker under the cooking grate.
This video shows it in action.
The gas usually takes about 4 or 5 minutes to get the coals hot enough.
The gas cylinders for this system do not come with the grill, so you will need to purchase these separately.
As you may have figured by now, everything about this unit is about convenience and ease of use. If you regularly fire up the barbecue and have a dedicated barbecuing location in your yard or on your deck, this unit will likely hold much appeal.
What we like:
- Functional workbench – You get a huge painted metal work surface that feels very sturdy. This also makes the Kettle much more stable than the regular Kettle which is especially good if you have kids running around.
- Push button ignition – is a real plus if you find lighting coals a hassle. It is also worth remembering that you can also use this system with a chimney. Simply place the chimney over the igniter to light it up nice and fast.
Webersupport & warranty – Weberis renowned for its great customer service and it’s good to know that you can call the company and get any issues you have attended to.
What We don’t like:
- Removing cooking grate could be better – There’s a convenient grate holder for when you need to remove it, but it doesn’t hold the two piece grate very well.
This grill makes cooking with charcoal almost as easy as cooking with gas.
Thanks to the built-in cabinet and the quick ignition system, you have a complete outdoor kitchen in a compact, attractive looking package.
3. Best grill and smoker combo – Kamado Joe Classic II 18″ Charcoal Grill
If you want a versatile charcoal grill that can do it all, and your budget can stretch you should seriously consider a
Don’t get me wrong, the
Most people refer to this style of cooker as a Kamado grill, but they are really more of a grill, smoker and outdoor oven hybrid.
Thanks to the thick-walled, heat resistant ceramic shell you get outstanding insulation and temp control.
Thanks to the “divide & conquer” cooking system, you can position different items of food at different levels on the 406 square inches of cooking area.
Being able to maintain different heat zones is key for a lot of different recipes.
What we like:
- Super versatile grill – Whether you’re using the multi level grill racks to grill different types of food at the same time, or setting up for a long low and slow smoke, the
Kamado JoeII excels at everything.
- Airlift hinge makes opening the lid simple – If you’ve used a smoker like the
WeberSmokey Mountain you’ll know how annoying it is to have to find somewhere to place the lid on the ground every time you open it. The hinge on the Joe slides open easily and stays in position while you position food on the grill.
- Ash clean-up system – Makes one of the worst parts of using a charcoal grill (ash cleanup), as easy as we’ve seen it.
What we don’t like:
- Price for amount of grill space – If you need to cook for a lot of people at once, the 406 square inches of cooking area may be a bit restrictive.
The price is high when you compare the Joe to other charcoal grills. But if you were to buy a similar sized Big Green Egg, you would be paying even more and that wouldn’t include some of the accessories the Joe Classic II comes with.
It’s definitely an investment, but with proper care this grill will last you a life time.
4. Best portable charcoal grill – Weber Jumbo Joe 18”
If you enjoy camping, you would probably agree that one of the best parts of the whole experience is the smell of food cooking over charcoal.
You actually have a couple of great portable charcoal grill options. Even if you just look at
We went for the Jumbo Joe which gives you the full 18″ grilling area you would get on a regular Kettle, but in a portable package.
This portable grill weighs in at 18 pounds, and sits at 19.8 x 20.5 x 19.8 inches, making it the perfect size to chuck in the trunk.
If you don’t need that much space and want to go extra portable, the Smokey Joe comes in at only 9.5 pounds!
While it has been shrunk down in order to be portable, the quality is just the same as any other offering from
The grill comes with a limited 10 year warranty. That is a lot of camping trips. In fact, this unit is such high quality that you could set it up on your deck and use it like a bigger grill, and host a (small) dinner party successfully.
You might want to sit it on a table though.
What we like:
- Easy to assemble – Should only take minutes to put this grill together.
- Budget price – It is small and comes with no bells and whistles, but it is still
Weberquality. It will essentially produce the same consistent results as any other Webergrill, just on a smaller scale.
What we don’t like:
- No side handles – So moving while it is hot is virtually impossible. It is true, moving a grill while it is hot is not recommended. However, the fact that this grill is made for use in the outdoors means that a situation might arise where you have to move it.
- Bottom vent position – The latest model has the bottom vent positioned in the center underneath the cooking grate. This is problematic, as anything that drops down clogs the vent and blocks the airflow.
Of course, this little charcoal grill is not going to cook enough steaks to feed a football team. But for a small family of up to 5 people (at a push) it is just the right size.
Of course, a smaller grill also means less to clean up. Even if you don’t take this little
5. Best high end charcoal grill – Blaze 32-Inch Freestanding Charcoal Grill
Read our full review.
If you want something high end but don’t want to go down the Kamado path, the 32 Inch Blaze could be the best charcoal grill for you.
This is not a unit on which you will find gimmicks or tinny components that look good from afar but flimsy up close (except for the built-in thermometer, but that goes for just about any grill or smoker you buy).
The entire exterior of the unit is made of 304 stainless steel. This is high quality steel that will look good for years and years. If you look nice and close the finish on the unit is really clean.
Major components come with a lifetime warranty.
The adjustable height charcoal tray means you can lift the coals up closer to the racks for searing, or drop them lower when you don’t need such intense heat.
The rear vents are also fully adjustable. All of these features make temperature control nice and easy.
The unit offers 550 square inches of cooking area, in other words, you can cook around 20 burger patties in one go! The Blaze is definitely the best large grill we’ve looked at.
Other handy features include side tables, stainless steel cooking grate rods with a matte finish. This allows the oil you season with will stick on the rods, and your food won’t.
The charcoal grate is removable so that cleaning up is nice and easy. You can also remove the full length ash-pan.
Blaze has also included hooks that correspond with the cooking grates. This means that you can easily “hang” the cooking grate from the lid while it is open and replace coals with ease.
What we like:
- It is hard to go past the sturdy, quality construction of this unit. The finishes are clean, look great and inspire great confidence that one of these grills is going to last practically forever.
- The manufacturers have made some strategic decisions to provide the Blaze at a lower price point than charcoal grills of comparable quality.
- There is great consistent temperature across the entire cooking surface of this grill. This means you can take full advantage of the generous cooking area and feed a whole football team if you need to.
What we don’t like:
- There are no lights in this unit – at all. Not inside, or on the controls. If you are not expecting this surprising “un-feature”, you may be bumbling around looking for a torch if you don’t have good lighting on hand when you go to get dinner out of the grill in the dark.
In the manufacturer’s defence, there is a reason for this. After listening to the most common complaints from customers about components which break down the most, the answer was consistently electrics. So Blaze has none.
The Blaze is a high quality, gimmick free, commercial grade grill.
6. Best Hibachi grill – ISUMER Charcoal Hibachi Grill
Hibachi translates to “fire bowl” in Japanese, and is a term for any open topped container designed to hold burning charcoal.
This style of grill doesn’t have a lid, so it’s more suited for quickly searing meat and vegetables. Remember that when you cook with charcoal a lid decreases oxygen which actually lowers the temperature.
Most Hibachi grills you can buy in the store are designed to be portable. While there are some larger portable options out there, our pick the ISUMER charcoal hibachi still has plenty of space to work with.
The grill can handle 4-6 burgers or a couple of steaks at once which is perfect for cooking for a couple of people.
What we like:
- Easy to setup and take down – While not as fast to move as some of the other grills in this guide, the ISUMER can be easily packed up and down in about 1 minute by removing the four detachable legs.
- Great for searing – Not all portable charcoal grills can get hot enough for searing. In this case the space between charcoal and grill rack lets you get nice and hot.
What we don’t like:
- Parts are thin – The grill grate is on the thin side, so need to be careful it doesn’t get warped in transport.
For the price it’s hard to complain about the construction quality though. It’s a great little grill for cooking Yakitori style or if you want to get a great sear.
Check out our guide to the best Hibachi grills.
Get the latest price on Amazon.
Charcoal vs gas grills
The debate over whether gas or charcoal grills are better is often a heated one. And as time goes on and technology improves, it has become harder and harder to discern a clear winner. There really isn’t one to be honest.
The truth of the matter is that whether you should buy a gas grill or a charcoal one depends on how much time you have and what you cook most of the time.
Let’s have a look at the pros and cons both these types of charcoal grills to help you decide:
- It cannot be denied that some cuts of meat will be tastier cooked over charcoal smoke.
Unless you have a high end gas grill with an infrared burner, charcoal grills are going to be better at searing your meat.
- High quality charcoal grills these days are made with ease of use in mind, with design features that make grilling over them easier than you would expect.
- Cooking with gas is fast and convenient. The grill will be up to temp in 5-10 minutes, and cleanup is a simple affair compared to charcoal
- Temperature control on a gas grill is far more straightforward than charcoal
Some smoke flavor can be introduced with the addition of wood lumps or chips, however for quicker cooks the flavor they produce is often not discernible.
It is also worth noting that when cooking fatty, marbled cuts, charcoal can be prone to flare ups if the fat drips onto the hot coals. All in all, you are going to have to keep a closer eye on your food when cooking over charcoal.
But that distinctive flavor is the payoff.
In short, if you have a little more time to spare and a passion for the traditional smoky flavors that charcoal imparts, then you might be up for the slightly higher level of time and commitment involved in grilling over charcoal.
On the other hand, if you are time poor, but don’t want to give up on grilling, then gas will still produce tasty results fast, with less maintenance required.
Adam Perry Lang, a New York Barbeque chef sums it up nicely when he says:
“I love everything about wood and charcoal, but not at the expense of people stepping away from grilling altogether because it’s complicated to light and tend a fire,”
Asses your lifestyle, and make the choice that will mean you can keep grilling all year round!
What are the different types of charcoal grill?
The decisions you need to make when buying a grill don’t just stop at charcoal or gas. If you decide to go with a charcoal grill, then you have to drill down even further and decide what type you would like.
Let’s have a look at main types available:
The name “kettle grill” springs from the kettle shape of the charcoal grill chamber.
Kettle grills have a straightforward design. A lid, the lower chamber, a cooking grate that you sit the food on, a grate below that where the charcoal sits, vents for oxygen and temperature control and, of course, legs.
There may be a few small differences between the different models available on the market, such as an ash catcher, wheels to make the unit more mobile, a workbench to the side, or tiny legs for more portable models.
We think Kettles are the best charcoal grill for the majority of grillers.
Ceramic / Kamado grill:
The body of these grills are made out of ceramic. Thanks to the properties of ceramic, these grills retain heat and moisture is retained throughout the cooking process. Kamados make the best charcoal grill for people who want versatility.
These grills have a deeper chamber than a kettle grill, and could roughly be described as “cylindrical” or even “egg-like” in appearance.
Due to the outstanding heat retention of these grills, you can not only grill on these cookers, but also smoke low and slow or even use the grill like a pizza oven.
The real key to mastering a ceramic grill is getting a handle on temperature control. There are vents at the top and the bottom of the unit. By learning how much you need to have each of these vents open to achieve the temperature you need, you are well on your way to barbecuing success.
Free standing / hood grill:
Freestanding charcoal grills might take up a little more room on your deck than the other types we have described but will offer the most square inches of cooking space.
The door is more like a hood, and is lifted up, with the hinges at the back of the grill. About half of the unit makes up the lid, and the other half holds the cooking grates and the chamber, in which the charcoal sits.
As with the other types of grill we have described, there are vents at the top and the bottom which control the airflow and temperature.
There will also be a chimney which will control how much smoke stays in the barrel, and how much escapes. Some models may also come with the option of smoke boxes.
You can fit a lot of food in these units, and some models come with extra food racks, workbenches and trays underneath the cooker which can make them like a outdoor kitchen.
What to consider when buying a charcoal grill
The best charcoal grill for you will come down to a few factors.
You can then decide how important each factor is to you personally, and then use that information to inform your purchase decision.
Unlike gas grills, you don’t have a knob that can make things hotter or colder so the temp control features are among the most important to consider when buying a charcoal grill.
The way to manage temperatures will vary by the grill, but will include a combination of adjustable dampers (aka air vents), adjusting the distance between the coals and the food, thermometers, and lid.
Most charcoal grills these days include a built-in thermometer. While you might think a thermometer is essential, it’s actually preferable to just buy a third party grill thermometer.
For most charcoal grills learning to use the dampers is the best way to master temperature control, so look out for this feature.
Grill surface area
You always want to plan for how many people you expect to cook for, and then buy the next size up.
Charcoal grills tend to be smaller compared to gas grills.
It’s much better to have space and not use it than the alternative. Most manufacturers include the surface area in square inches to make it easy to compare.
When you cook on a charcoal grill you have the added annoyance of ash and charcoal dust to clean up.
Look for a grill with a smart system for handling this. Most of the charcoal grills in this guide have convenient systems for catching and disposing of ash.
Accessories and features
Charcoal grills tend to be a little more primitive than gas when it comes to bells and whistles.
But there are still lots of features available for you to consider.
If you know you will be doing a lot of prep work outside I would recommend a grill with a cabinet and or side tables.
I also like to see somewhere convenient to hang grill tools.
Charcoal grills range in portability, with the more simple options like the Original Kettle easily fitting in the back of a truck.
Kamado grills, on the other hand, are not at all portable.
Then you have grills designed specifically to be portable, like the
Luckily charcoal grills are generally cheaper than gas. There are lots of good options under $200, and if you can stretch your budget up to $500-1000 you can start to get some more luxurious grills.
Warranty and customer service
Most of the charcoal grills in this guide all come with outstanding warranty periods. The advantages of buying off a company like
While it can be tempting to pick up a cheap grill on sale, always double check the manufacturer is reputable first.
What’s the best type of charcoal to use?
There are a few types of charcoal out there, some of which are bit exotic. Let’s have a look at the two types you are most likely to come across and weigh up their pros and cons, and then have a quick look at a couple of exotic types as well.
- Lump charcoal will burn clean and hot and tends to produce less ash which makes cleaning your charcoal grill a little easier.
- Because it is pure wood, it will not have any chemically fumes come off it when it is first lit.
- Lump charcoal burns fast, so you will find yourself needing to add more after about 40 mins.
- Lump charcoal will burn hotter at the start of the cook, and cooler at the end. If you are cooking for a while, you will need to keep an eye on the temperature and regulate it.
These are the most popular choice for cooking on charcoal grills.
Briquettes are made with wood scraps and sawdust along with some petroleum based binders and borax.
There are lots of brands available, our favorite to grill with is Kingsford Original.
- Briquettes burn for about an hour at an even temperature. They have been designed to stick at around 600°F, which is roughly broiling temperature.
Instant light briquettes add another level of convenience in that they light up quickly (as the name suggests).
- There are natural briquettes available which are made with wood scraps and starch binders. So if the convenience of briquettes appeals to you, but the thought of cooking over petroleum binders does not, these might be a good option for you.
- Briquettes are made with some petrol based products, so some fumes will come off them when they are first lit. However, the “petroleum-y” smoke that comes off them does stop after a couple of minutes burning.
- Instant light briquettes do light up super fast, but that is because they have been saturated in lighter fluid. Needless to say, that nasty smelling smoke that comes off briquettes when they are first lit is stronger again when you use instant light briquettes.
More exotic types of charcoal you might hear of around the traps are binchotan and coconut charcoal.
Binchotan hails from Japan. It burns hot, clean and for a long time, with little smoke smell. It takes about 30 minutes to light however, and will also burn a hole in your pocket, costing dollars per chunk.
Another exotic charcoal is coconut charcoal. Used in South East Asia by street vendors, it lights quickly and burns hot. This charcoal comes in little pieces, so if you plan on trying to use it for an American style grill, you will need a lot. It is also hard to come by in the States.
Controlling temperature on your charcoal grill
Buying a charcoal grill is just the first step on your journey. Now that you’ve got it home it’s time to learn how to actually use it!
The most common way to setup a charcoal grill is called the 2 zone method. Essentially pilling most of the coals to one side to create a hot zone. This area can be used for high heat cooking and searing.
Then you use the cool part of the grill for lower temperature cooking or to manage flare-ups. This video shows you how to setup a charcoal grill.
- Flip your charcoal chimney over and scrunch up a couple of pieces of paper in the bottom. Flip the chimney back over and fill it ¾ full with the charcoal you plan to use
- Light the paper in the bottom and wait for the charcoal to light
- The charcoal should start to ash over in 15 to 20 mins. Once this happens, take out the cooking rack and pour the charcoal on one side of the charcoal rack
- Replace the cooking rack, and replace the lid, leaving the vent open. Let the cooker heat up for about 5 minutes. This heats up the rack and sterilizes the cooking surface.
Clean off the cooking grate with your brush.
You will notice that the charcoal is only placed on one side of the cooker. This is called the 2 zone technique.
The 2 zone technique gives you two options while cooking. If you need to cook or sear your meat at high temperatures, you can place it on the cooking grate directly above the hot coals.
If you are wanting to prevent flare-ups, or if you need to cook your food at lower temperatures for some time, you can move it onto the other side of the grate. This is the indirect heat zone.
Meathead goes into more detail about the benefits of setting up your grill into two zones.
When you get a new charcoal grill, you will need to experiment a little to reach ideal temperatures. But by understanding the basics of how to control temp you should avoid a few “burnt offerings” to the grill gods.
In the indirect zone, 225°F is the temperature you should aim for. This cooking temperature can be achieved by pushing your charcoal to one side, and placing your meat on the other, as described above.
If you are smoking with your grill, the addition of a water pans is one way to introduce moisture to the air and take up some of the excess heat. This will prevent your meat from drying out and overcooking.
Cleaning and maintaining your charcoal grill
Maintaining your charcoal grill is vital if you want it to last the distance. The good news is, this is not a complicated job if you are consistent.
- Clean the grates before cooking. After you light your coals, replace the lid for 5 minutes or so with the vents open and let the grates get hot. Once they are hot, scrub the grates with a good bristle free grill brush. It is also a good idea to oil the grates before you start cooking as it will help stop the food from sticking.
- Empty the ash pan after each cook. Be careful to wait until everything has cooled down. It is especially important to make sure that your ash is completely cool before you dump it in the bin, as this could result in a fire. It can take up to 12 hours for your grill and coals to cool down to a safe temperature.
- Don’t let your grill sit out in the rain. The combination of water and ash will lead to corrosion. It is best if you can keep your grill in the garage or at least covered up under an awning when not in use. A note of warning, however. While it is idea to store your grill inside, never ever cook with it in an enclosed space. The smoke that comes off the grill can kill, so always make sure you are in a open area where these fumes will dissipate and cause no harm.
- Regularly wipe down the outside and inside of your grill with a mix of mild detergent and water when it is cool. Similarly, if you notice any chunky debris building up inside your grill, brush it off and give the surface a wash.
What kind of grill grate is best?
You should always consider what material the grill grate is made out of when you are considering a new grill.
There are three main times of grill grate:
- Cast iron grates – This heavy type of grate holds heat well and gives good sear marks, but can rust and needs extra care.
- Steel grates – Tend to be more common on cheaper grills, can wear over time and stainless steel can lose it’s non stick properties.
- Porcelain grates – Some manufacturers coat their cast iron grates with porcelain to make them easier to care for.
Most of the negatives of each type of grill grate can be minimized by properly cleaning your grill, and using a grill cover.
Essential charcoal grill accessories
There really is no simpler and more fail proof way of starting up your coals than with a chimney starter.
Simply place a couple of pieces of scrunched up paper in the bottom section, and fill the top section ¾ full with your coals. Light the paper, and wait for about 15-20 minutes for the coals to ash over.
A chimney starter will not set you back much at all and will last you for a very long time. Well worth the small investment.
You will be dealing with some hot stuff when you start grilling. Whether it be shuffling the coals into place, or moving the meat you are cooking, there are some things that you are better off not touching, even with your heat resistant gloves, if you want to stay safe and burn free.
Once you get your grill cranking, even the outside is going to be hot. So lifting the lid is dangerous if you are not wearing heat resistant gloves.
It is surprising how easy it is to forget yourself when barbecuing and inadvertently grab at something that is scorching hot.
The safest course of action is to have a pair of these gloves at the ready, and don them once the grill is hot and you might be tempted to grab something hot before putting your brain into gear.
We have mentioned numerous times that the built-in thermometers that come in grills are rubbish.
Generally, a good start is to have an instant read thermometer to check what is going on temperature wise inside your meat. A dual probe thermometer is essential if you plan on smoking on your charcoal grill.
Between the accurate temp readings you get from these two thermometers, you will be able to make all the adjustments needed to pull off successful cooks.
Wrapping it up
These days there are loads of options out there to choose from when it comes to buying a charcoal grill.
For most people, we think the Weber Original Premium 22″ Kettle is the best charcoal grill. You can’t beat the quality and versatility at that price point.
There’s a reason you can see these Kettles in backyards all around the world.
If you can increase your budget a little, the Weber Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill gives you essentially the game grill, but with a cart and a lot more features like the touch and go ignition system.
We hope you have enjoyed our guide, and that we have been able to take some of the guesswork out of knowing which one of these charcoal grills is right for you.
Do you have a charcoal grill? Which model do you like? Or do you have any questions that were not covered in this article? Let us know in the comments section below.