5 Best Charcoal Grills, According to Food Network Kitchen
Love smoky flavor? Like to spend time cooking outdoors? A charcoal grill is for you!
Our Top Charcoal Grill Picks:
- Best Overall: Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill 22-Inch
- Best Barrel Grill: Royal Gourmet 23-inch Charcoal BBQ Grill
- Best Kamado Grill: Vision Grills Professional S-Series Ceramic Kamodo Grill
- Best Hybrid Grill: Char-Broil Gas2coal 3-Burner Hybrid Grill
- Best for Entertaining: Dyna-Glo-X-Large Premium Dual Chamber Charcoal Grill
By Sharon Franke for Food Network Kitchen
A charcoal grill is for you if you love the incomparable taste of food cooked over briquets and don’t mind fussing a bit to get it. On work days, a charcoal grill may demand more time than you’re willing to put out, but on weekends, if you make the effort to tend to one, you’ll get a huge payback in flavor. These days, prices on these relatively low-tech grills have climbed to several hundred dollars, which means you want to make sure you’re getting one that’s worth your hard-earned money. Our experience and research can help you find the best one for your needs.
What To Know About Charcoal Grills
Charcoal grills take time and attention. First you have to get the fire started. One of the easiest ways is with a charcoal chimney. It’s a simple, inexpensive, tool that along with some crumpled newspaper can get your briquets hot enough for cooking in about 20 minutes. As you cook, you need to be mindful and use the lid and the air vents to control the heat. When you plan on grilling for more than 40 minutes, you have to be prepared to add more charcoal to keep the fire hot. And after every cookout, in addition to scrubbing the grates, you need to wait until the ashes are cooled down and then dispose of them. Leaving them in the bottom of the grill can corrode it and shorten the life of your grill.
Types of Charcoal Grills
Kettles are deep and rounded. As you pile the briquets high on top of each other, rather than spread them out in these grills, they do a good job of holding in heat. You’ll find them good for foods like chicken, a side of salmon, or a leg of lamb that you want to cook low and slow until they’re done. It can be tricky to add more charcoal to a kettle during grilling as you have to lift the grate.
Barrels are so-named because they look like a barrel lying on its side. Wide and shallow, they require a substantial amount of charcoal but give you room for a whole lot of food on their broad grates. As they cook quickly, barrels are best for grillers who stick to the basics. It’s easy to add charcoal to barrel grills if you want to keep the party going all afternoon.
Ceramics or Kamados really hold in the heat and keep it at a steady temperature, giving you lots of control over cooking. They’re ideal for serious grillers who want to master items like slabs of ribs, pork shoulders, and brisket. They also make a mean steak. The downsides are that kamados are pricey and heavy, and don’t have a very big cooking surface.
Things To Consider When Buying a Charcoal Grill
Construction: Look for a grill that’s made of thick metal. Not only will it resist rust, it will hold in heat better. Give it a shake to make sure it’s planted firmly on the ground and won’t be easily knocked or blown over.
Wheels: You want at least two to make it easy to move the grill from place to place.
Lid: Check that the lid is tight-fitting so it will prevent heat from escaping.
Vents: There should be vents on top and bottom to give you control over how much air enters the grill, helping you to manipulate the grill temperature.
Ash catcher: To make clean-up easier, you want either a bin or a tray below the grill to collect the ashes.
How do you add more coals? Either a dedicated door or a hinged grate makes it easy for you to replenish or rearrange the coals.
This large kettle grill is remarkably versatile. On the stainless-steel grate, there’s room to grill about 13 hamburger patties at once. However, because you can adjust the heat by opening and closing the vents in the bottom and in the lid, it’s easy to control the heat. That means when thick pork chops or chicken legs are on the menu you can sear them, then close the vents and reduce the heat to prevent them from charring before they’re done. The grate is hinged on both sides so it’s convenient to lift one side and add more briquets if you’re having a party and turning out hot dogs throughout the evening or cooking a turkey or pork butt low and slow for hours.
Lots of extras make the grill convenient to use. In the lid, there’s a thermometer and on the bottom, a place to hang your tools. A heat shield underneath the lid handle makes it easy to open without singeing your hand, and the lid rests on the side of the grill while you turn the kabobs or baste the ribs. Underneath the kettle, there’s a big bucket called an ash catcher; using a lever, you sweep the ashes into it. The only thing missing are side tables for holding a platter. You can choose your Weber with a black, green or copper finish.
Yes, you can spread out burgers and brats across the wide grates, but thanks to a crank that lets you lower the charcoal pan, moving it further from the food, you can also slowly smoke a rack of baby back ribs without worrying about flare-ups. To fill the grill pan, you’ll need a lot of briquets and you’ll find you have to add more often. However, a door makes it easy to replenish the charcoal and a shelf below the grill gives you a place to keep an extra bag at the ready.
Unlike a kettle-style grill, this Royal Gourmet has side tables to hold your tongs and trays and platters. You’ll also find a thermometer in the lid to give you a rough idea as to how hot it is under the hood and a warming rack that’s helpful for keeping the burgers warm and for heating the buns. There’s a large ash tray right on the front of the grill that’s easy to remove and empty.
If you’re one of those grillers who really likes to experiment, you’ll be willing to pay big bucks for the control and flexibility you get with this heavy ceramic grill. Its ability to hold in heat, maintain a steady temperature, and keep in moisture makes it possible to grill a pizza, smoke a prime rib, and yes, cook a perfect steak. While you won’t be buying this grill if hamburgers and hot dogs are your standard fare, when you have a horde over for a bash, the two-tiered grate means you can throw on a lot of patties at once.
Instead of briquets, the Vision uses lump hardwood charcoal. Although it can be hard to find, it lights easily and burns slowly. This model has a lot of convenient features not found on other kamados. It comes with an electric starter which plugs into the bottom of the grill for lighting the charcoal in 10 to 15 minutes. (If you don’t have access to an electric outlet, you can use fire starters.) On the vents, there are numbers that correlate to specific cooking temperatures. There’s an ash drawer that slides out to make it easy to dump the ashes after they’ve cooled down.
For the price of the grill, you get a wheeled stand, side tables with hooks for your tools, and a vinyl cover, useful features which don’t come standard with many ceramic grills. The exterior is available in black, red, orange, taupe, or white.
With this grill you get the best of both worlds. It can be used with either charcoal or a propane tank so you can quickly cook swordfish steaks and veggies during the week and then go for ribs or London broil with big smoky flavor on the weekends. The grate is large enough to sling about 20 burgers. However, on this grill it’s hard to control the heat flow, so it’s better for relatively fast cooking items than roasts or whole poultry.
Even when you opt to cook over charcoal, you turn on the gas burners to light the briquets, eliminating one of the big hassles of charcoal grilling. The Gas2coal has two side tables and one has a gas-powered burner for heating barbecue sauce or baked beans, a feature you won’t find on a charcoal-only grill. In the lid, there’s a temperature gauge and under the hood, a warming rack.
If there’s always a party in your backyard, you’ll love this grill. First of all, it’s large, with a grate that can handle at least 25 hamburgers, depending on how big you shape your patties. Then, it gives you two charcoal pans that can be raised or lowered independently to create two separate cooking zones that can be used at different temperatures. That means you can slow roast a leg of lamb on one side, while you’re quick grilling shrimp for appetizers or hot dogs. Under the grates, there are two doors so you can add briquets to whichever side needs to be stoked.
With two side tables, you have a landing pad for your tongs and basting brush. Under the grill there’s a basket for stashing your mitts, chimney starter, and paper towels. The Dyna-Glo has a thermometer in the hood, a removable ash pan, and a bottle opener on the side, so the griller in chief can open their cold one.
How We Picked
We relied on our experience both in developing recipes and cooking in our own backyards to select our picks for the best charcoal grills. In addition, we checked review sites to see what other professionals recommend and read user comments to see what real folks like you have to say about their experiences with various grills.
Our chief consideration was how easy it was to control the flame so you can cook evenly without excess flare ups. However, we also reviewed how easy the grills were to light and clean up and what helpful extras they offered. Our picks contain a selection of models for everyone from the basic burger slinger to the gourmet griller.
Sharon Franke has been testing and writing about kitchen equipment for over 30 years. Before becoming a cooking tools expert, she spent seven years working as a professional chef in New York City restaurants. In her free time, she's busy baking sourdough bread and rustling pots and pans on her own stove.