With the ever-growing number of gas and electric grills on the market, it sometimes seem charcoal grilling is dying art.
That’s a shame as many grill enthusiasts will tell you nothing beats that authentic BBQ flavor of a charcoal grill.
We will take a look at some of the best charcoal grills on the market and explain why you should opt for charcoal.
This latest model of Weber’s iconic grill features a 22-inch diameter porcelain-enameled bowl with a cooking area of 363 square inches.
All Weber kettles include a one-touch cleaning system which removes the charcoal and debris out of the bottom of the grill.
This model adds a high-capacity ash catcher that can be removed for easy cleaning, rather than the usual steel plate.
Assembled, the grill stands 27 inches tall, with a diameter of 22 inches, meaning it can squeeze onto most small patios. With the lid closed, it adds another 13 inches to the height.
It weighs a lightweight 32.3 pounds, and sturdy wheels on the bottom of the grill legs make for easy moving.
When you think of charcoal grills, a Weber kettle grill is probably one of the first that springs to mind. These are the grills that launched Weber and have been seen in many backyards and countless movies and TV programs. The simple reason for this is that they are the best.
The large 22-inch grate provides enough space to sear about 12 decent sized steaks or cook up to 18 hamburger patties. You could even use indirect heat to cook a whole turkey.
The circular design when covered creates a convection style heat chamber, with adjustable vents allowing for better temperature control.
Extra vents on the bottom of the grill and in the lid allow this grill to be used as a smoker. And once you’re done, simply close the vents to cut the oxygen and kill the fire.
The learning curve of using a Weber charcoal grill, especially for indirect heat methods, can be quite steep. Many grill enthusiasts would argue charcoal grilling is more of an art than a scientific task, with practice and trial and error making for perfection.
The major criticism people tend to make about this design, and one which has not been improved since the original, is the legs. The three-leg system may take up less space, but can be unstable, especially when wheeling the grill about.
Plus, being Weber, they tend to be more expensive than other kettle grills on the market. But you are getting a premium grill using quality black enameled steel and that famous 10-year Weber warranty.
In my many years of grilling, people have often asked which is the best grill to buy.
Invariably my answer has nearly always been a Weber.
The kettle design of the grill offers more versatility than most other designs, and it can be used as a grill, smoker or outdoor oven. You can even set up a kettle grill to make the best wood-fired pizzas ever.
With a Weber grill you are investing in your grilling future. The extra temperature control of the venting system rivals many gas grills’ level of control. They may cost a little more, but they do offer that 10-year warranty and they’re still made in the USA.
Constructed using cold-rolled steel, this charcoal grill from Dyna-Glo is one the heaviest we looked at, despite the compact label.
Looking more like a smoker, the hood of this grill features a smoke stack for adjusting the temperature of the grill, and side doors for refuelling.
Both the body of the grill and hood feature a corrosion-resistant powder coat black finish.
With a height of 51.3 inches and a depth of just 27.36 inches, this will easily fit in smaller backyards. The porcelain-enameled steel grates provide 381 square inches of primary grilling area, with an additional 165 square-inch warming rack.
The trolley design also provides a side table, a shelf underneath the grill box for storing charcoal, and a row of hooks for your utensils. A removable ash pan is easy to clean, with the grates also being dishwasher-safe for extra convenience.
This heavy-duty compact charcoal grill is the smallest in the Dyna-Glo range, but don’t let that put you off. With 381 square inches of cooking area, it has a similar, slightly higher capacity than the Weber, and offers a warming shelf for roughly the same price.
A sturdy design features a crankshaft which allows for lowering and raising the coal box for different cooking temperatures. Side compartment doors are featured which allow you to add more coals to the box, and add more oxygen if needed.
An additional chimney on the lid can be adjusted for more temperature control or to add more smokiness to the foods.
Porcelain-enameled grates of cast iron allow for maximum heat transfer and better browning or searing of meats. An integrated thermometer in the hood allows you to keep an eye on the temperature of your meats.
The Dyna-Glo may offer a slightly larger cooking area and innovative temperature control system, but it just doesn’t seem as well designed as the Weber. Less durable and cheaper materials have been used in the construction of this grill.
Those same, less durable, materials are also very heavy. This is one compact grill which is just going to sit on your patio. The trolley design and wheels are convenient for moving around the patio, but at over 60 pounds, it’s hardly portable.
If you are looking for a sturdy but compact charcoal grill for your backyard, the Dyna-Glo Compact Grill DGD381BNC-D seems to tick all the boxes.
With a larger than average cooking area, it can easily handle up to 18 burgers at a time and cope with medium to large sized parties.
When those embers seem to be dying down, you can simply raise them with a crankshaft to be closer to your meats.
Similarly, steel side doors make it easy to add more charcoal when needed. And when you’re done, it’s simple to clean with a large removable ash pan and dishwasher-safe grates.
For the same amount as a Weber kettle, you’re getting a sturdy grill made from heavy-duty steel. If you plan on catering for larger groups, that warming shelf and extra few inches of cooking area will certainly come in handy.
This basic grill offers an impressive 373 square inches of cooking space which you will struggle to find on any other charcoal grill under $100.
A foldable and portable design uses folding legs and a simple elongated cookbox for a grill which could easily cope with six to 10 people.
The grill stands nearly 27 inches tall with a length of 37.4 inches and a depth of 13 inches, for a small footprint.
Made with 430 rust-resistant stainless steel, this grill is heat resistant and shouldn’t deform too easily.
The major selling point of this charcoal grill, apart from the cost, is its simplicity. You will often see similar grills at the side of the street in Asia, selling satays, yakitoris or kebabs.
Why take out an all-dancing, all-singing grill if you just want to prepare a few simple foods? At that tailgate party this would be the ideal grill for hot dogs and burgers.
The simple design is easy to throw in the trunk of your car and light enough if you strap it up to carry on your back. You could even use the inside of the box to carry your utensils without fear of scratching a porcelain surface.
Comfortable carry handles at both ends of the grill make it even easier to move and place at your chosen spot.
Cook-wise, the grill has been designed with air vents at either end of the charcoal box so airflow can be controlled. Heat is evenly distributed through the grill, with a choice of a wire mesh or more traditional grill grate included for cooking.
Some of you may be looking and thinking this grill is too simple. Surely you could build your own grill like that?
You probably could, but try doing it for less than this price and include the same grill accessories at that price. Plus, is it really worth the bother to save 50 bucks?
It doesn’t have the hood you find on more expensive grills, so it can’t be used for indirect cooking too much. There’s no integrated thermometer or built-in cleaning system, but hey—it’s only $50.
We’re not talking about a premium top of the line grill here. Instead it’s a cheap and cheerful charcoal grill which is ideal for those camping or hiking trips and the occasional tailgating.
Foods on a skewer like kebabs will cook quickly with the longer design allowing you to cook more simultaneously.
It would be ideal for that next block party where you want to show off your satay skills. And you could put more hot dogs than you can count on this long grill at your next backyard party.
For the incredible bargain price, you will probably get more use out of this grill than many others costing at least twice as much.
This latest model from Royal Gourmet features a large capacity grill with a built-in offset smoker for a similar price to other grills of the same size.
The main cooking chamber offers 438 square inches of cooking space with an extra 180 square-inch chrome warming rack.
Add the extra 183 square inches of the offset smoker and you get an impressive total cooking area of 756 square inches.
The cookbox has a capacity of five pounds of charcoal for those longer grill sessions, with lifting handles adjusting the height. By raising or lowering the charcoal, you can have better control of the temperature as you cook.
Unlike many other smokers, this grill/smoker combo has a smaller footprint which makes it more portable. At 48 inches high by 45 inches long, you will need a pretty large trunk or better still the bed of a pickup. But at just over 57 pounds, it’s manageable.
For the money, you’re getting a professional standard smoker which also doubles up as a great freestanding charcoal grill.
The grill is made from a high grade steel with a heat-resistant black process paint that prevents the firebox from flaking. This is one smoker that will stay looking new for longer.
The thermometer built into the main lid is ideal for those low and slow smoking sessions. A simple glance at the easy-to-read dial avoids opening the chamber and losing that valuable smoke.
Porcelain wire cooking grates are designed to retain more heat and lock in more of the juices to keep your meat tender. The grates are rust-resistant, more durable and easy to clean.
The swing-away warming rack also provides a secondary cooking area and adjustable vents allow for a better air flow with yet more heat control.
Older models of this grill had issues, with many complaints of the paint chipping or flaking. Royal Gourmet seemed to have sorted out this problem with the newer models. So, before purchasing, ensure you’re getting the newer version, the CC1830F.
Construction problems still occasionally raise their ugly head with this grill, with some customers reporting the lids don’t shut tightly. Obviously with a smoker this can be a major problem, but the Royal Gourmet does come with a one-year warranty if issues should arise.
If you have always wanted to try your hand at smoking your own meats, this Royal Gourmet grill is one of the least expensive entry points. The offset smoker attached to the side allows it to be used either as a smoker or barrel style grill.
The flexible and portable design means it can be moved around the backyard easier, perfect for changing direction as the wind does. And that heat-resistant paint will keep it looking like the smartest smoker in the neighborhood for a longer time.
With porcelain steel grates and that extra-large cooking surface, this is one of the best grills you can buy in its price range, with the bonus of a smoker. Once you have tried that low and slow smoked pulled pork, you will wonder how you ever managed without.
This ultra-portable charcoal grill from Beau Jardin utilises the same kettle design favoured by Weber, but at a third of the weight.
Standing 24 inches high with an 18-inch diameter grate, it weighs just 10.1 pounds.
The 18-inch grill provides a cooking area of approximately 255 square inches, ample for most small families. You could easily grill about eight burgers or four large steaks on this charcoal grill and still have space for a few sides of corn.
The lid may not be as deep as a Weber grill, but it still features rust-resistant dampers to control the airflow and temperature.
An aluminum plate under the bowl of the grill acts to catch any falling ash or debris.
Two handles on the side of the grill bowl make this kettle grill perfect to use anywhere. The durable wheels are ideal for moving it around the campsite and can even be flat-packed with the legs removed, for transportation in your trunk.
The thick grilling bowl and porcelain-coated steel lid provide a better heat retention for grilling tasty food quicker. A vent-damper on the lid allows you to control the temperature for different grilling conditions.
The kettle design is not just more portable, but easy to clean, with all parts detachable for a thorough wash or soak. No more greasy patches in the trunk of your car and the one-touch clean system is very similar to the Weber for disposing of the ash.
To make this grill more portable and less expensive, sacrifices have been made. The construction is nowhere near as solid as the Weber.
Parts like the lid-mounted vents and one-touch clean or ash leak system are made of cheaper aluminum, which will eventually rust. Higher temperatures could also lead to the parts warping or becoming stuck. This really is an occasional portable use grill rather than a backyard staple.
The other main difference is the lack of heat-resistant handles. The plastic, especially on the lid handle, can potentially melt if placed too close to the burning charcoal. Although the hook is there to hang the lid, do so with caution.
The Beau Jardin grill makes it possible for you to enjoy cooking on the same type of kettle grill you have in your backyard.
At only 10 pounds in weight, it’s so lightweight that even if camping halfway up a mountain, you will be able to carry it. The extra lid even means you can set it up to roast a chicken while you put your tent up and familiarize yourself with the surroundings.
As an occasional grill for those camping trips, days out at the park or picnics, this Beau Jardin grill offers exceptional value for money. Just don’t expect it to be as durable as a Weber grill and withstand years of regular use.
Most grill enthusiasts, myself included, will tell you a BBQ isn’t a BBQ without burning some form of charcoal or wood.
Gas grills are definitely more popular, with over 60 percent of the backyard grills in the US being gas-powered.
Why in this day and age of more modern and convenient fuels—like gas or electricity—do so many people still insist on burning wood? There’s always the big flavor argument which we shall look at in more detail in a moment. But what are the other benefits?
First off there is the cost.
Charcoals grills tend to be much cheaper to buy, often starting at as little as $25 for a basic bucket style grill.
It doesn’t take a degree in rocket science either, if you want to build your own charcoal grill.
Compare this to gas grills (or electric), which will start around the $100 mark for a very basic gas grill and can cost into thousands of dollars. And trying to build your own gas grill is not only more difficult, but can also be very dangerous.
Charcoal grills are normally much more portable than their gas or electric equivalents.
When not filled with charcoal, they will weigh much less than a gas grill with its integrated burners and internal workings. Basically a bucket with a grate over the top could be a charcoal grill.
The best part, the reason I love grilling!
That smoky flavor you only get from the burning embers of some form of wood or charcoal.
Gas grills can use lava rocks, or more recently flavorizer bars, but nothing compares to that taste from fats or drippings vaporizing on hot coals.
People have even caught the essence of the smoke flavor and now sell it as hickory smoke and others to add flavor to foods. There’s actually very solid scientific reasoning why food grilled over charcoal tastes so good.
Much of the smokiness that people love about grilled food is from the vapors and aromas that come from the smoke.
Ironically a lot of these compounds are already in the food you grill and are released as the food heats up.
Of course, cooking over gas can also produce a vapor from these drippings, but charcoal adds other aroma compounds to the party. Mainly guaiacol, which is an aroma compound created when you break down the lignin in wood with heat.
Lignin is the resin which holds the cellulose strands together to form the wood. When it breaks down or degrades, the result tends to be smoky, spicy, bacon-like aroma. Basically, cooking over wood gives your foods a bacon-like flavor—never a bad thing.
The other big advantage of charcoal over gas is the higher temperature it burns at. Most gas grills will only achieve temperatures of around 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Charcoal grills will often hit temperatures of 700 to 800 degrees Fahrenheit and more.
That higher temperature increases the effects of the Maillard reaction, which causes your steak to get a good sear. The Maillard reaction occurs when simultaneous reactions of amino acids and sugars are caused by heat, and this browns the meat.
The higher the heat, the quicker and deeper that sear for those grill lines we all love so much.
To learn more about the science behind charcoal grilling, refer to our BBQ 101 article for further information.
Many of the grill enthusiasts who favor gas will argue over how difficult it can be to light a charcoal grill.
But once you have learnt the simple way to light a charcoal grill, you will wonder what all the fuss was about.
Popular methods of lighting a charcoal grill include using a starter chimney or throwing some lighter fluid on the coals to ignite. If you intend to grill frequently, I would always recommend you invest in a good chimney starter.
Failing that, you could try the old-fashioned method of kindling and fanning the flames, but that’s hardly simple.
The following YouTube video looks in more depth at how you can start a charcoal grill in the quickest possible time.
When choosing the best charcoal grill, the first question you need to ask yourself is where you intend to use it most.
Consider the size of your patio or backyard and the number of people you’re going to cook for. Remember to take into account that it will contain hot coals and need extra space around it.
Grills which have a trolley-like design can be easier to move around your patio and provide extra storage or work spaces.
If it’s a grill you intend to take on camping trips or tailgating, ensure it will comfortably fit in the trunk of your car.
If you have a pickup, then a larger, barrel-style grill may be possible to put on the back, just take into account how heavy it may be to lift on and off.
Directly related to the size of the grill is the amount of cooking space it offers. Consider how many people you will be catering for and the type of grilling you want to achieve.
A larger grill will not only allow for more food but can also be used for indirect heat methods and, if it has a lid, roasting or smoking of meats. Even some portable charcoal grills will feature a lid, although this is normally for speeding up the cooking process of the smaller area.
How mobile your grill is doesn’t just come down to size.
Some smaller charcoal grills on the market can also be very heavy, especially if made from steel or iron. And how easy a grill is to assemble or unassemble can be a large part of how portable it truly is.
If you only intend to use a grill on the move occasionally, simple charcoal grills which are little more than a box with a grate can be lightweight. Folding legs will add to the portability, and built-in wheels are always a bonus for moving to that far corner of the campsite.
Although you may not be playing with gas, charcoal grills will still get very hot, if not hotter, and should be used with the same care.
The better quality materials used in the construction of a grill will not only extend its durability but improve the safety too.
Always check what materials are used, with iron being the strongest but heaviest and aluminum being the lightest but weakest.
Steel or stainless-steel is a good compromise, with many manufacturers using enameled steel for better heat retention and more corrosion resistance.
One of the major downsides of a charcoal grill is ash. They’re not as simple to wipe down as other popular types of grill, like gas or electric.
When looking at the best charcoal grills, consider how they get rid of that troublesome ash and other debris. Many will feature an ash collecting tray under the grill or ash pans that tend to be removed from the side of the grill.
Some charcoal grills we have looked at, like the Weber, feature one-touch cleaning systems for quicker removal of ash.
Porcelain-coated grates will generally be easier to clean, with many being dishwasher-safe too.
Check if the grill can be dismantled easily for a thorough clean, especially if it’s one you are going to throw in your trunk. This can protect your trunk for the build up of grease and also extend the life of your grill.
Charcoal adds that true BBQ taste to your grilling sessions, but is a minority choice in today’s grill market.
We hope some of the grills we have looked at can turn you back to the dark side of the force, for that extra smoky flavor you won’t find anywhere else.
This post was last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 03:43 pm
William Clay is a BBQ enthusiast dedicated to sharing his grilling (and overall cooking) expertise with FireFoodChef's readers.