There’s something about cooking with charcoal that can’t be beat.
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 little bit of knowledge you’ll be impressing your friends and family with your new found grill master abilities.
To make choosing a grill easy, we’ve pulled together a list of the best charcoal grills available in 2018 across a variety of price points. We’ll also guide you through how to setup and start cooking on a charcoal grill.
Click to jump straight to each topic
- Best value charcoal grill – Weber Original Premium 22” Kettle
- Best mid price charcoal grill – Weber Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill
- Best high end charcoal grill – Blaze 32-Inch Freestanding Charcoal Grill
- Best portable charcoal grill – Weber Smokey Joe 14”
- Charcoal vs gas grills
- What are the different types of charcoal grill?
- What’s the best charcoal to use?
- Controlling temperature on your charcoal grill
- Cleaning and maintaining your charcoal grill
- Essential charcoal grill accessories
Best value charcoal grill – Weber Original Premium 22” Kettle
Read our full review.
Unless you are really new to the grilling and barbecuing world, Weber products need no introduction. They have been trusted for generations of barbecue enthusiasts, and the company has honed the craft of building reliable, sturdy barbecues that produce great results.
The original premium kettle is no exception.
Made in the USA 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.
Weber have included some handy features on this unit:
- 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 which make the grill easy to move about.
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 Weber One Touch cleaning system, which makes cleaning up the cook a lot easier. A removable ash bucket fits under the vent slots. After you have finished cooking, move the vent handle back and forth to sweep the ash into the bucket. Empty the bucket and that is your ash, dealt with.
The cooker is big enough to cook around 13 burger patties in one hit, with 363 square inches of cooking space 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:
- Well built product from a trusted brand at a reasonable price
- Versatile, with the potential to be used as a smoker as well as a grill
- Despite being a product sold with “no frills attached”, the Weber Premium 22 inch still includes innovative features such as the One Touch cleaning system which makes cleanup a breeze
- Generous warranty
What we don’t like:
- While this grill is big enough to cook for an average family, it is not big enough to cater for your kids sports team on the weekend. If you plan on cooking for larger groups, you may need to look for a grill with a bit more cooking space.
If you are a beginner, the reasonable price for such a good quality is a real plus. However, you need not view this barbecue as a “beginners only” unit. Its build quality and versatility mean that it will last for many years, and grow with you as you become more skilled.
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Best mid price charcoal grill – Weber Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill
Read our full review.
If you take all the good bits we mentioned about the Weber Original Premium 22” grill then add a bucket load of features, you end up with the Performer Deluxe.
The body of the grill itself is 22” porcelain coated just like the Original Premium, however it is housed in a work bench.
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.
Another small feature that is seriously handy is the tuck away lid holder. This rack is positioned on the grill so that you can lift the lid and rest it in the rack while you check what is going on inside without having to look for somewhere to put your lid down. No more mysterious greasy circles on the deck!
The Performer Deluxe boasts the One Touch cleaning system 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. 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. 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.
Like the Weber Original Premium, the cooking space is 363 square inches. The height of the lid is 7.5”.
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:
- The workbench is a great inclusion. If your budget can stretch and you want a barbecue with more features, this is the kind of addition that really sets this grill apart from more basic models.
- Weber is renowned for its great customer service. Especially when forking out a little more for a grill, it is good to know that you can call the company and get any issues you have attended to
- The push button lighting system 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.
- Again, with this unit there is a great warranty.
What We don’t like:
- Being a bigger unit, this barbecue is not quite so portable. But if you barbecue regularly, you most likely have a favourite spot and are happy to stay setup there anyway.
This unit is not only hugely versatile like the Weber Original, but it is also very convenient. Once you have set this unit up, you pretty much have a complete outdoor kitchen in a compact, attractive looking unit.
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Best high end charcoal grill – Blaze 32-Inch Freestanding Charcoal Grill
Read our full review.
The Blaze is a premium unit, at a premium price point.
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 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.
This unit is also incredibly versatile 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 space, in other words, you can cook around 20 burger patties in one go!
Other handy features include 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-tray.
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 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.
Best portable charcoal grill – Weber Smokey Joe 14”
Read our full review.
If you enjoy camping, you would probably agree that one of the of the best parts of the whole experience is the smell of food cooking over charcoal.
This portable grill weighs in at 9.5 pounds, and sits at 15.6 x 15.6 x 9 inches, making it the perfect size to chuck in the trunk of the car.
The 14.5” cooking area will easily fit 3 steaks, or around 6 burger patties.
While it has been shrunk down in order to be portable, the quality is just the same as any other offering from Weber. It has porcelain enamel coated bowl and lid just like its bigger siblings, and the aluminum dampers on the lid and bowl also will not rust.
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:
- Assembling this unit is a breeze, and should only take minutes to put together.
For those who love grilling but are living in an apartment with a small balcony, this is the perfect solution.
- This unit is seriously affordable. It is small and comes with no bells and whistles, but it is still Weber quality. It will essentially produce the same consistent results as any other Weber grill, just on a smaller scale.
What we don’t like:
- There are no handles on the side, which means moving the unit 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.
- 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 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 cleanup. Even if you don’t take this little Weber on the road with you, it might be just right to whip up a small meal for 2 or 3 if you couldn’t be bothered firing up a bigger grill.
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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 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 is 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 the types out there.
The name “kettle grill” springs from the kettle shape of the charcoal chamber.
Kettle grills are have a straightforward design. A lid, the lower chamber, a 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.
The body of these grills are made out of ceramic. Thanks to the properties of ceramic, ceramic grills retain heat and moisture is retained throughout the cooking process. This means they are very versatile.
These grills have a deeper chamber than a kettle grill, and could roughly be described as “cylindrical” or even “egg-like” in appearance.
We haven’t included any of these grills in this guide because they’re really more like out door ovens.
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:
These grills might take up a little more room on your deck than the other types we have described. They are also cylindrical, but lie on their side.
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 barrell, 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, work benches and trays underneath the cooker which can make them like a outdoor kitchen.
What’s the best 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.
This is natural charcoal made completely from wood which has been burnt in a kiln, cave, or underground. Fogo make an excellent quality lump charcoal.
- Lump charcoal will burn clean and hot.
- Because it is purely 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.
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 temperature, you can place it on the grate directly above the hot coals.
If you are wanting to prevent flare ups, or if you need to cook your food at lower temperature 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 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 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 catcher 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.
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 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 readings you get from these two thermometers, you will be able to make all the adjustments needed to pull of successful cooks.
Wrapping it up
Cooking with charcoal is a method as old as cooking itself. However, these days there are loads of options out there when it comes to buying a grill to help you cook using this time honored method.
We hope you have enjoyed our guide on the best charcoal grills, and that we have been able to take some of the guesswork out of knowing which one of these 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. And if you enjoyed this article, be sure to share!
Last update on 2019-03-19 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API