Charcoal Grills

Charcoal Grill Buyers Guide

There’s not a whole lot better in the world than sizzling meat, and cooking it over charcoal is the preferred method for millions of people around the world. When it comes down to it, charcoal barbecuing is one of the best ways to get extra flavor into the meat and many people greatly prefer it.

However, they’re a bit less informed about what the best charcoal grill is than their preference in meat. The right grill can make a cookout go by easier than most people thought possible, so let’s check out what you need to ensure that you end up with something that’ll make that next backyard barbecue amazing instead of just great.

How to Know if It’s Time to Upgrade the Kettle Grill

The classic Weber is one of the best known examples of a charcoal grill. They look like a little UFO, perched on a few spindly legs, this style is ubiquitous and generally referred to as a kettle grill.

They’re fine for many people’s needs. A few burgers or hot dogs and a metal frame which isn’t going to fall apart without some major abuse applied to it? That’s a solid cooking device for the most part, although they lack much in the way of features.

Extra features aren’t the only reason for the upgrade, however. Many of these basic grills don’t allow you to move the grill itself up or down and can be hard to reposition while in use. Many have subpar containers for the ash, or just a tray, which can make them dicey to use in the dry season.

We’re guessing that if the old-fashioned, time-tested design doesn’t work for you then you’re probably getting into some serious barbecuing.

Some of the reasons people make the switch:

  • Regularly cooking larger pieces of meat
  • Temperature control by raising/lowering the grill
  • Easier to move in most cases, if bulkier
  • Differing weather conditions
  • More options for cooking!

Basically, if you’re planning on doing anything other than making burgers and hot dogs you’ll be well-served with a great charcoal grill instead of just going down the easy route.

Of course, a brand-new kettle grill is sometimes exactly what’s needed. The good ones last for decades, so it’s a solid investment.

What Do I Look for in a Charcoal Grill?

For those who are only familiar with the old-standby we mentioned above(and they’re not a bad option if the barbecuer is living by a KISS-philosophy) the bewildering array of grills out there can seem confusing.

Even once you’ve narrowed down the choice to going charcoal, the astute customer will look for the following before making a final choice.

Type of Grill

The type of grill is really what determines what features you’ll be looking at. There are three main styles.

Kettle grills are still common and inexpensive. They’re easy to find and tend to be simple and durable. They’re durable enough it’s almost more common to find people who’ve bought theirs second or third hand. There are plenty that are decades old and barely worn as long they’ve been protected adequately.

They’ve gotten a bit more complex these days but the essential elements have remained the same. The main reasons they remain in such heavy use is convenience, light weight, and ease of use but they’re not always the best option.

Easy to use also means less access to other features.

Barrel grills are those that have a cylinder shape and break in the middle. These have become quite common, especially for those who grill on a regular basis. They allow for better airflow control than most kettle grills since they generally have two vents.

They often have add-ons like smoke boxes which allow the savvy cook to go the extra mile when it comes time to prepare a meal.

Ceramic grills are expensive but have unmatched heat retention. People have even managed to bake pizzas in them through careful use of the air venting. They’re most often shaped similarly to kettle grills, making them a high end grill option which takes up little space.

While they’re expensive and sometimes smaller the tight air control and excellent heat retention makes them the most versatile option out of the three main types of charcoal grills on the market.

Barrel grills remain the standout for those who perform large cookouts on a regular basis, with some over-sized models even making it into smaller commercial applications. They can still slow cook and smoke the food within unlike kettle grills.

On the other hand, ceramic grills are capable of the same but also allow for baking which is something you just won’t achieve with any other style of charcoal grill, they’re just not quite as big. The efficiency of keeping heat in is the big draw.

There are a few other types, but most are either quite small for camping applications or made almost solely for commercial use.

Look At the Quality

Once you get out of the smaller variants, prices fluctuate wildly for most types of charcoal grills. Even within the same brand and rough style.

This usually has to do with the overall build. Many of the cheaper models out there, for instance, may use plastic screws in areas where they won’t melt. This can help for those who don’t want to bother with a good cover but they don’t help much when it comes to longevity otherwise.

The build-quality of the overall grill should be examined. It should be made of solid materials and all moving parts should easily move. Some rust and maintenance is inevitable, but the less problems the barbecue has initially the less it will give the owner in the future.

A sufficiently well-built barbecue in the type you prefer will always work just as well as any other, after a certain price point you’re only paying for more features. That’s not always a bad thing, however, for those who are looking to maximize their purchase.

Framing and Storage

Of course, there’s more to the barbecue than just the grill. There’s also framing, storage, and workspace to take into account.

The simplest grills might have, at best, a small place to chop things and a few hooks for various cooking instruments like tongs. They’ll usually have no closed storage spaces, which makes them lighter and cheaper.

For those who are looking to keep their marinades, sauces, and other cookware in the same place some form of cabinet storage is essential.

Of course, a lot of what people also find that a lot of what’s being paid for in a high-end grill is held in that frame being solid and the cabinets being placed well. Shoddy cabinets made from cheap tin or aluminum can readily fall apart, especially since grills tend to have people moving around them quite a bit.

However, storage space and extras come at the direct expense of both weight and portability as well.

For a barrel grill that’s destined to live out decades of existence in a small backyard that’s generally not a problem, those who like to take their grills on trips would do well to ensure that they pay attention to wheels and weight in addition to bells and whistles.

Lighting and Extras

Lights are common on high-end grills, although under cabinet lighting will cost you a pretty penny. They’re handy for some, but others find it just another piece of maintenance.

Other extras include things like smoke boxes which are made to hold wettened wood chips while doing serious smoking.

Most of these are pretty minimal, many barbecuers get the vast majority of their accessories as aftermarket pieces bought seperately.

Racks

While specialized racks like v-racks can be bought after the fact, they’re a good thing to include initially for those who need them. These racks can be used to hold ribs upright to fit more on the grill at a time, or flipped over to cook chicken and other smaller animals in an easy-to-remove rack.

The material also matters: cast iron cooking grids may be heavy but they’re also extremely durable, easy to clean, and hold in heat for longer.

Portability

Depending on where someone stores their grill and how often they plan on using it portability can be a major factor. For the most part small kettle grills are easiest to move, they just need to sit until they’re cool to be moved once started.

Bigger wheels and a wider frame will make a large grill much easier to move.

Ceramic grills are often in excess of 200lbs and lack wheels. For the average person they should be considered mostly immobile.

If portability isn’t a concern but you want to build in a grill on a back patio then you should look for square-bottomed barrel grills.

There are also tiny kettle grills made with small surfaces. These can be carried pretty much anywhere with no need to use wheels or any assistance.

Questions to Ask

Before you settle on a final decision, the following questions will give you the best end results.

  • How many people do you plan to cook for?
  • Do you want to smoke or slow cook meat?
  • Where will the grill be used?
  • What’s your budget?
  • Briquettes or chips?

Those five simple questions, combined with the information above, will give you an answer that will meet your needs.

Cooking Needs and Styles

When you break down your cooking… needs are the main thing. You want to be able to feed everyone in a timely fashion after all. Many people use their grills for… well, simple grilling where the meat is just heated to a safe temperature.

That’s as simple as it gets, but others want to make fall-off-the-bone ribs reliably or

The largest grills are barrel grills, and they’re quite versatile for smoking and slow cooking. The smaller ones are portable enough to make a good camping companion as well.

For those just looking for the most versatile cooking surface, ceramics take the cake. The argument can go back and forth but the simple fact of the matter is that used by someone who knows what they’re doing ceramic has higher potential temperatures and better heat retention.

And there’s nothing wrong with a simple kettle grill for the occasional tri-tip and burgers or other simpler meal. Many people will be well served by them, especially if they’re wise about accessory choices.

Briquettes vs. Wood Charcoal

Kettle grills are primarily designed for charcoal briquettes. That makes them ideal for those who don’t want to bother with more complex, and more expensive, wood chips.

The area contained within is too small to get anything but a fraction of the wood flavor most people are looking for into the meat. With no way to raise or lower the cooking grid the options boil down to much longer cooking times or less flavor imparted.

Briquettes are really good for maintaining consistent heat, however. While the majority of people prefer the wooden flavor, a good kettle grill with a high-quality briquette can make cooking over the surface for an extended period easy.

Of course, wood chips impart more flavor. These charcoal chips are best kept for larger grills, however, and using a slower cooking time. For the best effect, of course, a smoker box is needed.

It mostly boils down to convenience versus flavor, but kettle grills are perfectly designed to use the unique properties of a briquette.

How Much Will a Charcoal Grill Cost?

Budget is always a big factor. Before you even begin to look at grill prices, however, you should take a look at what you have around the house.

For someone with no implements or specialized cookware at all expect to set aside at least $50 for a medium quality setup and double that if you want the good stuff. Like any cooking equipment these can run up to pretty absurd prices but the above guideline should serve you well enough.

A good kettle grill will run from $75-$150 when you’re buying new. Some of the big names sell exclusive kettle grills for more but even the best have appropriately sized grills in that price range.

Barrel grills worthy of the name start at about $175 and run up to $300. More can be spent if you need something especially large or with some kind of exceptional qualities like being made of stainless steel but the core functions top off about there.

Those in the higher price range will generally have more convenience features, there’s only so much you can improve on the core design of the grill itself.

Expect ceramic grills to start at around $350 for a passable model. Name brand models regularly run over $1,000. Those who love them swear by them but it’s a large price jump for a weekend warrior to stomach.

One last thing to get over with, however, is the cover. For all grills they’re necessary and a good cover will run from $30-70 for most average sized grills. Brand name covers will be more expensive but unless you’re carefully vetting each cover individually, the other options can be subpar in quality.

Charcoal Grill FAQ

Q: Is there any way to raise and lower the cooking grid in a charcoal grill?
A: Some really high-end kettle grills come with a way to raise and lower the grate. Most people will end up purchasing an aftermarket riser rack if they really feel they need the capabilities.

Q: How often should I clean the racks on my grill?
A: Every time you use your grill you should be taking a wire brush to them. Stainless models tend to work best but can scratch really cheap cooking grids. Otherwise it’s up to you, with weekly use and regular maintenance most people should do a dedicated scrubbing at least once a year. Many people use an oven cleaner to do so, but be sure that it’s thoroughly rinsed afterward and that you use proper protective equipment when doing so. Even a bit of Easy-Off getting under a glove can ruin your day.

Q: Should I clean the inside of my charcoal grill?
A: Scoop out the ash and give everything a good scrubbing with a brush and dish soap at least once a year. If you’re an every weekend griller then you may need to do so more often but most people won’t need to do it much more than twice per season. For those who only grill for part of the year it’s a good idea to clean it before putting it back in storage.

Q: Are there set-in charcoal grills?
A: There are and they usually come in a barrel configuration. Some people love them but charcoal grills require a bit more maintenance than propane so they’re not as common of an option. Many barrel grills can be found with a flat bottom that will function well as set-ins if that’s your taste.

Q: Why use a charcoal grill instead of a modern propane one?
A: It’s largely a matter of personal preference but many people just prefer to use wood. Propane is generally cheaper and lower maintenance but more complex to set up and use. They’re also more expensive for the equivalent amount of cooking room.

Our full list of Charcoal Grill for 2019

Sort: Editor’s Choice

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Our full list of Charcoal Grill for 2019

#1 Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill
Product Highlights
  • A brilliant combination of useful features to make a smooth cooking experience 
  • Offers a convenient way to grill your meat and other foods
  • Beautifully crafted and designed to last

Overview

Pros

  • Can hold up to 13 burgers 
  • Easy, One-Touch cleaning system
  • Heating control for precise cooking

Cons

  • May be delivered damaged or broken
  • Copper-colored variants may lose their color 

bottomlinelogoBottom Line

Weber gives us an excellent grill to enjoy our summers and Friday afternoons with the Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill. Not only does it give us perfectly grilled food every time, but it also outperforms the competition in every aspect. With very minimal errors on the product's part, it is worth every penny that it asks for. Its faults mainly lie with the company, rather than the item itself, which gets us excited for more products just like it.    So for all your grilling needs, look no further than Weber, to ensure that your next backyard party or family gathering is a huge hit. Overall, its performance outweighs its shortcomings and should be a family staple in any and every home. What are you waiting for? Order your own now for only $165 — a whopping deal for a product that delivers the goods. 
#2 Weber 15501001 Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill
Product Highlights
  • Gives extra workspace by including a Fold-Away bench
  • A powerful and convenient griller 
  • Has an innovative design that answers all our needs

Overview

Pros

  • Offers many versatile features for grilling
  • Makes clean-up easier, so it's the least of your worries
  • Compatible with other Weber's BBQ Gourmet systems

Cons

  • The unit may be delivered in bad condition, showing a lack of attention from the company
  • Other parts may be delivered broken

bottomlinelogoBottom Line

In the end, the Weber 15501001 Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill is a top-of-the-line grill that everyone can enjoy. Your weekends, birthdays and every other special occasion can be celebrated with juicy, flavorful steaks and meats using this well-designed, full-featured deluxe grill. Sure, it comes with a few flaws, but this model has many advantages that save it from being a failure in our eyes.    Instead, this grill shines in more ways than one, which is expected from the huge company that produces it. Through the years, Weber has given us perfection for all our grilling needs and the Weber 15501001 Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill is no exception. With all the essentials and more, this model is their most versatile yet, and now there's an even more natural way to cook — turning grilling into an enjoyable hobby. 
#3 Char-Griller E56720 AKORN Kamado Charcoal Grill
Product Highlights
  • Plenty of extra space to get more prep and cooking done
  • Offers a variety of features to help achieve a perfect grill

Overview

Pros

  • Functional design and beautiful color  
  • 2-in-1 function: grill and smoker 
  • The solid steel construction makes it built to last

Cons

  • Some parts may become defective and potentially hazardous 
  • Has been known to catch fire at times  
  • May let out some heat as it is not airtight

bottomlinelogoBottom Line

At its best, the Char-Griller E56720 AKORN Kamado Charcoal Grill delivers the perfect, fall-off-the-bone meat we all love and crave during parties and summers. But on the other end of the spectrum, this grill is the stuff of nightmares, and we could not recommend it even with all its excellent features.    While the Char-Griller E56720 AKORN Kamado Charcoal Grill tries its best to address all the concerns involved in grilling food for several guests and heavy-duty grilling, the company completely misses the mark in providing a solution for user safety. There are no excuses for releasing a product without checking on the safety standards, and as a result, this product lacks considerably.
#4 Portable Charcoal Grill for Outdoor Grilling
Product Highlights
  • The company ensures satisfaction guarantee with refund and return both accepted
  • Plenty of features to help you get the perfect grill

Overview

Pros

  • Porcelain-enameled coating bowl for heat retention  
  • Easy to use and clean 
  • A portable grill small enough to take with you

Cons

  • After-sales customer service is lacking
  • Quality of materials is questionable

bottomlinelogoBottom Line

After a solid attempt at providing us with a portable charcoal grill for our trips or backyard gatherings, Portable Charcoal Grill for Outdoor Grilling ultimately misses out on giving us the ultimate grill. By failing to address several important issues such as customer service and the use of quality materials, the company lets down many potential customers and would-be fans of an otherwise great grill.    However, we remain hopeful for this model, and if the company manages to get their act together to quickly provide a solution for the complaints against this product, then perhaps their next iterations can become worthy of taking the number one spot. At its best, the Portable Charcoal Grill for Outdoor Grilling delivers flavor and portability all in one small package, which is why it deserves some credit.
#5 Weber 741001 Original Kettle 22-Inch Charcoal Grill
Product Highlights
  • Plenty of features that help towards achieving the perfect grill 
  • Convenient and durable design

Overview

Pros

  • Easy to use and clean 
  • Allows for precise control of temperature 
  • Boasts superior heat retention

Cons

  • Can have problems with the legs and wheels  
  • May arrive with no ash collector at the bottom   

bottomlinelogoBottom Line

The Weber 741001 Original Kettle 22-Inch Charcoal Grill gives an excellent performance along with great features to make our grilling easier. However, the company completely misses out on providing extra care for their customers by fulfilling all their promises. Neglecting to deliver their packages wholly and carefully is a massive mistake on their part and can cost them more customers in the future, not to mention ruining the reputation that Weber managed to build throughout the years.    However, even with these screw-ups, the Weber 741001 Original Kettle 22-Inch Charcoal Grill manages to bring a smile to our faces as it does what it set out to do as a grill — deliver perfectly cooked food with every use. Whether you're a Weber fan or not, you will surely enjoy grilling with this product and will be a great addition to your Saturday nights.