The 10 Best Charcoal Grills
This wiki has been updated 23 times since it was first published in April of 2016. Grilling with charcoal delivers that familiar, hearty, smoky flavor as well as the complex aromas of juices vaporizing when they land on hot coals. These models, designed specifically for briquettes, deliver the outdoor culinary experience you know and love, and some of them also incorporate a few handy, innovative features that bring old-school great taste into the 21st century. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
April 16, 2021:
The only recent alteration to the Wiki was the replacement of a tabletop Char-Broil model with the extremely similar and slightly less expensive American Gourmet Portable. As you'll notice, we still recommend a number of Weber grills, like the Weber Jumbo Joe and Weber Original Kettle Premium. We highly recommend them for all barrel-type charcoal grills, while for upright grills and those with side-mounted fire boxes, the Dyna-Glo Signature Series remains the most versatile choice, as long as you have the room for it.
We strongly recommend getting a grill mat to place underneath whichever you get, in order to protect the floor it's on and minimize fire risks.
March 25, 2020:
Whether you're talking about briquettes or natural charcoal, you're talking about lots of flavor. Of course, using charcoal is considerably more work than propane, but it's no doubt that you can taste the difference. The Weber Original Kettle Premium and Char-Broil Kettleman both follow a pretty classic style, and while they don't have a ton of real estate, they're both very well made and should last for quite a while with proper care. The Weber Jumbo Joe is similar, but it's much more portable. The Weber Go-Anywhere is even smaller and easier to take with you on an outdoors trip, although it's only really suitable for 2 or 3 people. The Char-Broil American Gourmet is technically portable, although it is pretty heavy, but if you have a truck it shouldn't be a problem at all, because it's not very large.
If you don't plan on moving it around much (although you should never just leave your grill outside all the time), the Char-Griller Patio Pro is a compact and reasonably priced yet high-performing unit. The Expert Grill Heavy Duty is similarly affordable but notably bigger, and it's surprisingly well priced for its overall quality and rugged construction.
If you're okay with spending considerably more, the Weber Performer Deluxe is an advanced model with a built-in gas ignition system, which can take quite a bit of hassle and danger out of the process by minimizing the amount it takes to get the coals going. About as expensive but quite a bit different, the PK Grills SSB-X seems simple but is actually quite highly refined; it's a very nice grill to have, although it does have its idiosyncrasies, such as the lack of a built-in ash receptacle.
Overall, though, it's awfully hard to top the Dyna-Glo Signature Series. Its rectangular shape is easier than a round one for many cooks to deal with, its two available sizes offer plenty of versatility, and it's set up like a high-quality smoker but without the fire box, which you can buy separately and install on your own. Of course, you could also keep an eye out for a standalone propane electric smoker that uses highly efficient pellets or, honestly, you could just toss some tasty wood chips into your charcoal grill and shut the lid, and that does a passable job of imparting that tasty smoky flavor.
R&V Works Smokin' Cajun This is a supremely well-made line of both gas and charcoal grills. While a lot of speciality barbecues are absurdly expensive, these are actually reasonably priced, all the way up to the 40-inch model, which has a sticker price of well under $1,000. You will, however, probably have to pay a considerable amount for shipping. cajunfryer.com
Belson Outdoors Equipment Located in Illinois, Belson's offerings are worth checking out if you routinely cook for many people at once. They're especially useful for on-site catering, competition, and other traveling endeavors, because some of them have convenient tow hitches. belson.com
Get Yourself A Great Grill
One of the most important factors in deciding which grill you should buy is simply the grill's size.
No one can resolve the great debate between the charcoal grill and the gas grill for you; it's a decision you have to make for yourself. But if you have settled on making your next grill a charcoal burning unit, you potentially stand to get a great grill for a pleasantly low price. While you can spend hundreds on a top of the line charcoal grill with an integrated smoker box and optional gas ignition systems, you can also get a perfectly decent unit without spending a fortune.
One of the most important factors in deciding which grill you should buy is simply the grill's size. That means two things, however: you need to account for the overall dimensions of a prospective grill, making sure it will fit the porch, patio, or deck on which you hope to do your cooking out, and you have to know the measurements of the physical grilling surface, too. Some smaller grills might seem like a good fit for your property, but if it turns out you can't simultaneously cook as many hamburgers, steaks, or sausages as you'd like, you will make a "penny wise, pound foolish" decision that will ultimately mean much more time standing around waiting for foods to cook. Therefore the grill's cooking surface area is the more important consideration when it comes to size.
The exception here comes when you are looking for a portable grill you can bring camping, to a picnic, or to the beach. There are compact grills available that weigh less than four pounds, making them suitable even for backpacking trips. When a unit is that small and portable, sacrificing square inches of cooking space for the ability to cookout at all is a fine trade indeed.
For the casual chef looking for a larger charcoal grill for his or her backyard, once minimum grill surface size has been factored in, the next consideration for which grill best suits you should be the type of cooking you prefer. If you just want a good grill for cooking up dogs and burgers in the summer, then a standard kettle style charcoal grill is a great idea. These grills tend to produce even heat all across their cooking surfaces (provided you used enough charcoal) and allow for easy 360 degree access which means easier flipping and monitoring of your foods.
For the decidedly more serious cook, a larger charcoal grill with a generously portioned rectangular cook surface is a good idea. This is true not only because these designs afford more cook space, but because they make it easier to create differing heat zones even when using charcoal (or hardwood) as the heat source, something most kettle grills can't do. (And an ability many assume is relegated to gas grills, in fact.) By keeping hotter coals to one side of the grill, an experienced chef can sear meats over flaming heat and then slow cook them to perfection, or can slowly roast vegetables even while cooking up a platter full of steak or salmon fillets nearby.
Charcoal, Hardwood, And More
The easiest way to cook in a charcoal grill is to use charcoal briquettes. That's all the more true if you opt for briquettes that are "self lighting," meaning they have been infused with lighter fluid. While most self-lighting charcoals are safe for human health -- contrary to common misconceptions -- the accelerant used to make them burn can impart unpleasant flavors to foods, therefore serving to be counterproductive. If you are going to use self-lighting charcoal, make sure all licking flames have died down and that the briquettes have taken on a uniform gray and orange coloration before you begin to cook.
Then add the hardwood once the charcoal is well on its way to burning down.
Using charcoal that is not pre-treated requires a bit of extra patience and, usually, extra tools. See below for information about charcoal chimneys, a must have for an efficient charcoal briquette grilling experience.
Hardwood barbecue cooking is becoming ever more popular and, when conducted properly, can yield delicious results. Hardwood, not surprisingly, infuses meats with a subtle smoky flavor that most types of charcoal can't muster. You can get so-called hardwood charcoal that consists of wooden lumps and/or briquets without the same fillers used in standard charcoal, but pre-packaged, pre-cut strips of simple hardwood is the way to go for ideal smoke flavoring.
Plan to light your hardwood in the same charcoal chimney you use with basic briquettes, or else plan to first build up base heat in your grill using charcoal. Then add the hardwood once the charcoal is well on its way to burning down.
Finally, you can always grill using the same wood you burn in a fire place. However, to avoid creating meats (or veggies or grilled fruits) that are overly smoky, make sure the wood has fully burned down to embers before you start cooking over it. One approach is to keep a crackling fire going in a nearby fire pit so you have a ready source of more hot wood coals.
Great Charcoal Grill Accessories
Getting a charcoal great grill is just the beginning of your outdoor culinary adventure. There are myriad tools and accessories to which you should treat yourself to ensure that you will have the most enjoyable, efficient, and safest grilling experience possible.
There are myriad tools and accessories to which you should treat yourself to ensure that you will have the most enjoyable, efficient, and safest grilling experience possible.
First and foremost, you need good barbecue tools. At the most basic, a set should have a large, sturdy spatula, a pair of tongs, and a good, long fork. Also often included is a basting brush, skewers, a long-handled knife, and a good case in which to store everything when you're not grilling.
If your grill tool set did not come with a meat thermometer (or if the included unit yields desultory results), then treat yourself to one of these affordable, essential items. Using a meat thermometer means the difference between an overcooked steak, an undercooked chicken breast, or a pork chop prepared to perfection. If you spend the money to get fine cuts of meat, you absolutely must make the modest investment in a meat thermometer.
Also wise to have on hand, as it were, are grilling gloves. Heat resistant gloves offer much more control and dexterity than the outmoded oven mitt, allowing you to maneuver, slice, baste, or simply flip your foods even when the flames are dancing high above the grill.