The Best Charcoal Grills for Outdoor Cooking

Infuse steaks, veggies, fish, and chicken with delicious smoky flavor by cooking them on a charcoal grill.

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The Best Charcoal Grill Options

Photo: amazon.com

Grilling is a cooking practice that dates back thousands of years. And charcoal grills are simple devices, so buying one seems like it would be easy. But while any old grill can cook food, there are significant differences between charcoal grills, and these will affect how you cook meat and vegetables. The right grill can make the difference between steaks that are the perfect pink or medium rare and steaks that have been incinerated. Good grilling that infuses that smoky taste into your food requires the right grill.

The best charcoal grills come with a range of features, including ventilation for heat control, adjustable grates, covers, and even integrated smokers. So before you pull on your BBQ gloves and start cooking, you need to start with the right grill for you. The research and reviews here can help you sort through some of the best charcoal grills on the market today.

  1. BEST OVERALL: Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill
  2. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Char-Griller E1515 Patio Pro Charcoal Grill
  3. BEST WITH SMOKER: Gravity Series 560 Digital Charcoal Grill Plus Smoker
  4. BEST LARGE CAPACITY: Royal Gourmet 30″ BBQ Charcoal Grill and Offset Smoker
  5. BEST CART-STYLE: Weber 15501001 Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill
  6. BEST KAMADO: Kamado Joe KJ23RHC Classic II Charcoal Grill
  7. BEST HIBACHI: ISUMER Charcoal Grill
  8. BEST PORTABLE: Weber 121020 Go-Anywhere Charcoal Grill
The Best Charcoal Grill Options

Photo: amazon.com

What to Consider When Choosing the Best Charcoal Grill

Here are some factors to consider when shopping for a charcoal grill.

Type

There are eight basic types of charcoal grills: kettle, barrel, ceramic, kamado, hibachi, cart, portable, and built-in models.

  • Kettle charcoal grills are the classic, rounded grill. They have a steel chamber on legs that holds the charcoal grate and cooking grate. They usually have a lid and chamber with vents to control airflow into the grill.
  • Barrel charcoal grills look like a steel barrel sliced in half. The halves are hinged so the grill has a lid, and a grate sits in the bottom of the chamber. It has top and bottom vents and may also have a chimney.
  • Kamado charcoal grills, also known as ceramic grills or egg-shaped cookers, take longer to heat up but will hold and radiate heat longer than a standard steel grill. They have a narrow, egg shape that reduces airflow on the food so your steaks stay moist while cooking.
  • Hibachi charcoal grills are small and portable with a cast iron grate suspended over a metal chamber that holds charcoal. Hibachis don’t have a lid, and while some have ventilation in the bottom for heat control, this isn’t a standard feature.
  • Cart charcoal grills have different chamber shapes and grid patterns, but their defining feature is at least one pair of wheels that makes them very portable. You can roll them to wherever you want to cook out.
  • Portable charcoal grills usually have a smaller cooking surface, folding legs, a carrying handle, built-in tabletop stand, and a compact size. Designed to take camping or tailgating, they tend to be smaller and even more portable than cart grills.
  • Built-in charcoal grills are fixtures built to remain outdoors year round. They can be made of bricks, mortar, concrete, cast iron, tile, and steel. A built-in requires a significant time and money commitment, however, once the grill is built, it will last much longer than a standard charcoal grill.

Size and Weight

Consider how and where you will use a grill when deciding on the best charcoal grill for you. If you need to store it indoors over the winter or take it on camping trips, choose one that is small and lightweight. If you regularly cook for a crowd, the best charcoal grill for you will be one with a lot of surface area for cooking food.

Cooking Surface

The cooking surface of a charcoal grill is usually one or two metal grates made of cast iron or stainless steel. The cooking surface may be completely flat, or it can have multiple tiers so you can grill at low and high heat simultaneously. The second tier can also be used for keeping food warm while the rest of the food cooks.

Heat Control and Airflow

The key to cooking food properly on a charcoal grill is controlling the temperature. You do this by adjusting the amount of oxygen the flames get. Vents in the hood and chamber let you control the airflow. You can also control heat by controlling the distance between the food and the flames. You can do this on a grill by raising or lowering the charcoal and cooking grates.

Ventilation

Air vents are the temperature control on a charcoal grill. These vents are on bottom or top of the grill and control airflow on the food and the flames. More air makes the fire burn hotter, less air lowers the heat. Ventilation in the bottom of the grill pulls in oxygen to keep the charcoal hot, while vents in the top of the grill pull heated air out and away from the food. Closing the top vents traps smoke inside the grill, giving food that wonderful smoky flavor.

Additional Features

Some charcoal grills have a simple design, while others have premium features, such as:.

  • digital temperature controls, which let you set the temperature at which you want to cook your food. The grill makes the necessary adjustments to its ventilation to maintain the temperature, taking the guesswork out of heat control.
  • an ignition switch, so you don’t need a match or lighter to ignite the charcoal.
  • smokers that enable you cook food slowly and at a lower heat. Smoking is a different technique from grilling, which is about high heat and fast cooking. Some charcoal grills have a separate chamber for smoking food or a main chamber designed to double as a smoker.

Ease of Cleaning

Grease and charred pieces of food stick to the grill, and the chamber, ash basket, or drawer fills up with ashes after each cooking session. Some charcoal grill grates can be run through the dishwasher, but it’s usually best to hand wash and dry them along with the chamber. It’s easier to get ashes out of a grill if there’s a basket or drawer you can pull out.

Our Top Picks

This guide rounds up some of the best charcoal grills, based on the shopping criteria reviewed above, quality, and price.

Best Overall

The Best Charcoal Grill Option: Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill
Photo: amazon.com

This kettle-style grill is an improved version of Weber’s classic kettle grill. This model has an enclosed ash collector that keeps messes off your patio and makes clean up easy. The grill has a built-in thermometer and a vent in the lid to give you control over the cooking temperature. It’s compact, with a 22-inch diameter chamber, but is big enough to cook a dozen burgers at once. It has a tripod stand equipped with a set of wheels so you can easily roll it around your deck or patio. A hinged cooking grate lets you add more coals without having to remove or balance the food.

Best Bang for the Buck

The Best Charcoal Grill Option: Char-Griller E1515 Patio Pro Charcoal Grill
Photo: amazon.com

Char-Griller’s Super Pro is one of the company’s most popular models. It’s only about 2.5 feet wide, but it has 250 square inches of cooking surface when used with its warming rack, which should be enough to cook for a small family. The cooking grates are made of cast iron. It has a side vent and smoke stack to control temperature, a wire storage shelf, and a wooden side shelf with hooks for hanging cooking accessories. And its double-layered steel frame has a pair of wheels so you can roll it where you need it. There’s also a side drawer in the chamber to access the charcoal while cooking and to make cleanup simpler.

Best with Smoker

The Best Charcoal Grill Option: Gravity Series 560 Digital Charcoal Grill Plus Smoker
Photo: homedepot.com

You can smoke and grill with one product on Masterbuilt’s Charcoal Grill and Smoker combo. You can set the grill temperature on its digital control panel, or you can even control the grill with an app on your phone. The grill works by feeding charcoal into a hopper, which can hold up to 12 hours worth. Then, a fan circulates the hot air into the grill. While it’s on, the grill can maintain temperatures between 225 and 700 degrees. You can also use wood chips for smoking food.

The grill has cast-iron grilling grates and two stainless steel grill racks that sit higher for cooking more delicate food, like corn. It has a total of 560 square inches of cooking surface.

Best Large Capacity

The Best Charcoal Grill Option: Royal Gourmet 30 BBQ Charcoal Grill and Offset Smoker
Photo: amazon.com

Having a small grill is a good option for some people, but if you like cooking for a crowd, check out this Royal Gourmet’s grill and smoker with an impressive cooking surface of 800 square inches. It has porcelain-coated, steel grill grates; a chrome-plated warming rack; and an offset smoker, so you can smoke a pork butt, grill burgers, and sear veggies at the same time. It has a built-in temperature gauge, a utility shelf, wheels on its frame, and a door in the chamber that makes cleanup easy.

Best Cart-Style

The Best Charcoal Grill Option: Weber 15501001 Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill
Photo: amazon.com

This Weber grill is like a little rolling outdoor kitchen. It has an attached food prep area, a storage shelf, an electronic ignition switch, and a kettle charcoal grill mounted in a wheeled cart that should look great on the patio or yard. There’s a built-in thermometer so you can monitor the grill’s internal temperature. And the 22-inch diameter grill has a generous 363-square-inch cooking surface. It has a removable ash catcher for simple cleanup when you’re done. It’s about 4 feet long and weighs 91 pounds, so it’s substantial but not unwieldy.

Best Kamado

The Best Charcoal Grill Option: Kamado Joe KJ23RHC Classic II Charcoal Grill
Photo: amazon.com

Ceramic egg-shaped cookers, like this Kamado Joe grill, do an amazing job of maintaining temperature, so you can use them for grilling, smoking, and even making pizza. Its top vent allows you to control grilling or smoking temperatures with an impressive range of between 225 and 750 degrees. It has utility shelves on each side and 254 square inches of cooking surface divided between two staggered grill grates, which allows you to cook food at different temperatures at the same time. This 18-inch diameter product is heavy, with the ceramic grill and its cast-iron cart weighing in at around 250 pounds, so its wheeled base comes in handy.

Best Hibachi

The Best Charcoal Grill Option: ISUMER Charcoal Grill
Photo: amazon.com

The hibachi grill gets an upgrade with the ISUMER Charcoal Grill, suitable for grilling food for up to 15 people. It’s lightweight, weighing just under 13 pounds, but durable, as it is constructed of stainless steel. It has a 400-square-inch cooking surface that consists of a stainless steel grill grate and a non-stick grill pan for cooking eggs, bacon, or other foods. The grill’s legs can be folded up so you can pack it into your car for easy transportation or store it in a shed. It has a storage rack, ash catcher for convenient cleanup, and air vents.

Best Portable

The Best Charcoal Grill Option: Weber 121020 Go-Anywhere Charcoal Grill
Photo: amazon.com

Having a charcoal grill you can fold up and take with you gives you freedom to grill steaks wherever you go. The compact grill weighs just 15 pounds and measures 12.2 by 21 by 14.5 inches, but it still boasts a 160-square-inch cooking surface. The grill has plated steel legs that fold up and fasten to the lid when not in use. Its chamber is coated with porcelain enamel to protect it from rust and maintain heat while you’re cooking. There are two air vents for controlling heat and airflow, and you can clean out the ashes after use by just turning it upside down.

FAQs About Your New Charcoal Grill

Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about charcoal grills.

Q. Does charcoal add flavor?

Yes, charcoal adds flavor to your food, and if you pick the right charcoal for your grill, you can give food a rich, deep taste.

Q. Is the smoke from charcoal dangerous?

Smoke of any kind is dangerous if inhaled in large quantities. Some charcoal smoke can contain hazardous byproducts, depending on the type and quality of the charcoal you use.

Q. What can you make on a charcoal grill?

You can grab your grill tongs and make burgers, hot dogs, sausage, steak, roast, chicken, turkey, kabobs, mushrooms, onions, and many more items.

Q. How often do you need to clean a charcoal grill?

Deep clean your grill at least once every two months using a grill cleaner. You should also clean food debris from the cooking surface with a grill brush before you cook.

Q. How long do charcoal grills last?

The average charcoal grill will last about 10 years, provided it’s maintained and protected with a grill cover when not in use.