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Best Charcoal Grills

Summer brings with it so many great moments – beaches, baseball, and camping are just a few. But few things shout “Summer is here!” more than a great cookout!

There are many types of grill to choose from, and a gas grill does offer some attractive options. However, charcoal is still a great option, too. Sometimes, you can’t beat a traditional charcoal grill when it comes to barbecuing.

Why Choose a Charcoal Grill 

Gas grills may seem cleaner and modern, but those aren’t the only factors to consider in a grill!

There’s a lot of debate about whether there’s a difference in taste between food cooked over charcoal and food cooked on a gas grill. Sometimes it depends on what you’re cooking. Meats that cook quickly don’t allow the time needed for a real difference to development. However, slower-cooking meat like a steak has a chance to sear better. 

Also, as their juice drops on the coals, that juice is vaporized and rising back to the meat. On a gas grill, the volcanic rock or other material isn’t the direct heat source, so there’s not as much vapor produced.

Charcoal grills also tend to be simpler and therefore less expensive than their gas equivalents. Granted, there is a wide range of options available with both. But charcoal grills of similar sizes and with similar features are normally less expensive.

Finally, there’s tradition. Sure, gas can get the job done. But there’s something special about doing it the old way. Sometimes, it can just seem “right” to stick to this method that has probably existed since the days of the cave dwellers.

charcoal bbq grills

What to Look for in a Charcoal Grill 

When you’re choosing a charcoal grill, there are several elements to consider. These can affect your cooking efficiency as well as the cleanup process.

First, you want to look at the surface area of the grill. A larger surface means that you can cook more food at once. If you like to entertain, this is particularly important! You want to be sure that the grill area, as well as the area for charcoal underneath it, is sufficient for your needs. You don’t want a long line of hungry guests waiting for their burgers!

You may want to also look at the height of the grill. You want it to be tall enough that you can easily manipulate the food without ending up with a backache.

Another important consideration is how easy the grill is to clean up. Charcoal is messy even before it’s burned, and when it’s already ash, it can create a huge mess. You want a grill that will let you easily dispense with the waste once it’s cooled off. With low-end grills, you actually have to flip them over, which is definitely something you want to avoid.

A lid is an important element, too. While it might not be necessary if all you do is prepare hot dogs and hamburgers, you’ll want it for just about everything else. It helps with indirect cooking by trapping and circulating heat.

Being able to raise or lower the charcoal can help with a lot of cooking, too. This varies the heat. A higher level is great when you want to sear the meat, but a lower level is better for a slower cooking process.

There are three basic types of charcoal grill: kettle grills, ceramic grills, and barrel grills. 

Kettle grills are the simplest grills. They’re also the most portable, in case you want to be able to take it to the lake or the park. The charcoal sits in the bottom of the grill. It usually has a lift-off top.

A barrel grill is shaped more like a gas grill. It usually has the same style of hinged top, too. That can be a big advantage since you won’t have to find a safe space to set it down. This style is great when you want to trap a lot of smoke and to take advantage of indirect heat.

A ceramic grill is the most expensive type of charcoal grill. The ceramic interior is great for holding and circulating heat, and it’s great for both direct and indirect cooking. It’s also fantastic at generating a lot of heat! Of course, that also makes it the heaviest type of charcoal grill by far.

Other things to consider include the type of grate, a built-in thermometer, and the ability to move charcoal within the grill without removing the grates. This last option allows you to create zones with different temperatures for cooking. You can also have cooler areas where you can keep food warm without overcooking it.

Our Picks For The Best Charcoal Grills

Now that you know what to look for, we’d like to share some of our recommendations for some of the best charcoal grills on the market. Of course, there are other great ones too, but we’ve limited ourselves to five picks based on the information we’ve shared above. Hope you’ll be able to enjoy some great BBQ using one of them!

Weber 14401001 Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill

weber grill on amazon

This kettle grill comes from one of the most respected names in grills. Weber has a large line of offerings, and this one doesn’t disappoint.

At 22” across, it will easily allow you to cook about 13 or more hamburgers at a time. That’ll make it perfect for when you do have gatherings. It’s still comfortable enough (including price-wise) if you’re usually just cooking for one or two.

Both the lid and bowl are lined with porcelain, helping to generate higher temperatures. This is a great feature not present on an average kettle grill. It also has a hook to hang the lid from.

Even the cooking grate is hinged so you can lift it to add more charcoal while cooking.

The ash removal system is well-designed, making it even to remove the bulk of the ash as it falls into the bottom chamber.

There are doors to the charcoal area for stoking. There’s even a built-in thermometer on this model!

One drawback is that it could be more stable. The three-leg design isn’t as strong as it could be. That’s not saying there’s a major risk of it toppling over, but it does feel like it could with another force.

Kamado Joe KJ23RHC Classic II Ceramic Charcoal Grill 

kamado joe classic 2 on amazon

Kamado grills are a type all to themselves, and this model from KamadoJoe helps set the standard. Ceramic is the most common material for this type of grill, including for this model. This is a serious piece of equipment – it weighs 250 pounds with all that ceramic material inside it!

The cooking surface is a bit smaller than the Weber Grill above. The primary cooking area is only 24 square inches and the diameter is about 18 inches. Still, that will allow you to cook several cuts at a time.

The kamado grills are great for smoking. Since they close tightly, they also hold a lot of moisture in. 

The ash drawer slides out for easy cleaning. The two shelves are a great addition, allowing you to keep supplies or plates of food handy. It’s easy this way to have your raw meat on one side, then pass it to the other once it’s cooked!

This is a serious investment when it comes to cost – and to set it up. It’s not a grill that you’re going to be able to take on the road or even move around the yard much. 

But if you’re looking for a quality piece and like the kamado grilling style, it’s a fantastic option. The only issue we’ve heard about with it doesn’t have to do with the grill itself; however, it is fragile and occasionally gets broken in transit. While they can be replaced, it can be a bit of a hassle. 

The warranty length varies based on the part. The ceramic parts have a lifetime warranty; the thermometer one year. There is a range of levels in between.

PK Grills PK 99740 Original Grill & Smoker

If you want a grill and smoker in one, PK Grills offers a good model with this one. And it’s portable, as well. The drum easily detaches from the legs. The entire unit weighs 60 pounds – that’s definitely manageable.

The grilling area isn’t huge – only 300 square inches. It’s great for personal use but you might feel restricted for larger parties or for a large roast or a turkey.

It does have 4 vents that allow good control of the temperature. Two are on top of the lid and two around the base.

With a 4-leg design, this grill is stable. And it is light for its size since it’s made from aluminum. There is a side shelf as well as one under the cooking unit. The lid is hinged. 

A version is available with a stainless steel grate, too (button on the same link). Assembly is straightforward.

It’s a bit harder to clean out than other models since it doesn’t have an ash drawer. It also lacks a thermometer.

It’s made in Arkansas, USA, and has a 10-year warranty.

Char-Broil TRU-Infrared Kettleman Charcoal Grill

kettleman grill from char-broil on amazon

Here’s another kettle grill that offers a pretty good surface area for cooking, coming in at 360 square inches. It’s got a thermometer on the lid and the lid is hinged, saving you the trouble of finding where to put it down.

If you don’t need all that space, it’s easy enough to just stack your charcoal toward one side. That can also work if you want to smoke ribs or other meats – keep your coals to one side and the meat to the other.

The kettle is steel and the legs are aluminum. Some people have said that the legs tend to work loose over time and need to be tightened periodically.

Most people recommend this for direct cooking for food like hamburgers or steaks. Since it’s not deep, the coals can be too close to the cooking grate for effective indirect cooking. It can be done, it’s just a hassle to do it.

Weber 40020 Smokey Joe 14-Inch Portable Grill

There are plenty of times a smaller grill comes in handy. You might not have much space in your yard. You might like the increased portability. Or it might serve your needs better. Whatever, the reason, this is a great grill to choose.

The cooking grate is 14 inches in diameter, giving it about 154 square inches of cooking surface. That’s good for about 5 hamburgers. 

Both the lid and bowl are porcelain enameled. However, the vents aren’t optimally placed to create the greatest heat levels.

There’s no ash tray – you have to pick it up and dump it out. That’s not a big deal because of the smaller size and lighter weight. At the same time, it can be a little messier if you’re not careful.

It weighs just under 10 pounds, so taking it on the road or storing it isn’t a hassle. It also has a lid lock so you don’t have to worry about losing parts while in transport.

It’s only about 16 inches high, so you’ll most likely be using it on a picnic table or other raised surface.

Conclusion

There’s something special about grilling over charcoal. Whether you like the taste or the tradition, it’s a fantastic way to prepare a meal. Charcoal grills come in many styles and a wide range of prices. Find one that suits your needs and enjoy the marvelous taste you can only get while cooking out!