LAST UPDATED: February 22, 2021
The Best Charcoal Grills (Review & Buying Guide) in 2021
These awesome charcoal grills will help you make grilling out an event to remember.
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PUBLISHED ON February 22, 2021
There’s something special about cooking on a charcoal grill. Just the smell of it sparks memories of nostalgia and good feelings in almost anyone. It’s the quintessential player in a good and successful backyard barbecue. Memories of family reunions, tailgating parties, and fun backyard celebrations with friends and neighbors abound whenever someone lights up a charcoal grill.
Charcoal grills have come a long way since the grills of our childhood. Today, they offer many different options in relation to size, shape, capacity, weather resistance, and much more. They also vary greatly when it comes to budget, accessories, and cooking ability. Many of today’s charcoal grills can do double duty as smokers. Whatever your needs or budget, there’s a charcoal grill out there for you. Our handy buying guide will help you find the perfect one so that you can start making great memories and great food in your backyard.
This sleek-looking grill features a 22-inch diameter porcelain enamel bowl and 363 square inches of cooking area.
- This grill features a removable, large-capacity aluminum ash-catcher and one-touch cleaning system for ease of use
- It also has a rust-resistant aluminum damper
- There are no attached side tables for you to set trays, beverages, or cooking aids on
This is a well-made, super portable 150 square-inch chrome-plated grill that won’t ruin your budget, and will go wherever you do.
- The handy dual-venting system allows you to manage the temperature of the grill efficiently
- Triple-locking mechanisms ensure safe, mess-free travel
- This grill is quite compact, which makes it less than ideal for feeding large groups
- It’s also very short, so you may need to set it up on a table or platform to use it
This grill features an 18x13 inch steel grate that provides 230 square inches of cooking area but is still portable and light enough to go anywhere you want it to.
- An exclusive sealed lid and tight air valves allow you to incrementally and optimally control your cooking temperature while also providing one of the most rapid cooldowns on the market
- The carrying handle on this compact and portable grill is substantial, but its design causes it to catch on clothing or other loose materials easily
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Benefits of Charcoal Grill
- Hotter cooking temperatures. Charcoal grills can achieve higher temperatures than their gas-powered counterparts. This means better searing of meats on the outside to seal in flavors and more tender meat on the inside.
- Better cooking control. Charcoal grills allow you the luxury of dual-zone cooking since the center of the charcoal burns hotter than the outer regions. You can control the speed of cooking by placing your food on different areas of the grill, allowing you to time foods to be ready together and to avoid over or under-cooking something.
- Better taste. This is a huge point of contention between charcoal lovers and gas grillers, but the general consensus seems to be that food cooked on a charcoal grill just tastes better. The smoky flavors add an extra dimension to your grilled meats.
- More portability. Most charcoal grills are substantially more compact than their gas-powered counterparts. With no heavy propane tank to have to lug around, charcoal grills are a great option for bringing along to tailgating parties, family reunions, camping trips, picnics, or days at the beach.
Types of Charcoal Grills
These types of grills are the original and traditional type of charcoal grills. They have a round shape, with a deep bowl or belly to hold the coals. These are typically the least expensive and most portable types of charcoal grills. They can come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, small enough to cook food for one to two people, or large enough to cook for medium-sized groups. They’re not usually ideal for larger groups or gatherings unless you plan to cook in multiple stages.
These grills are very similar to the kettle grill, but are often rectangular in shape, with a deep belly for holding charcoal. They typically sit very low to the ground on short legs, so you need to use them on a table that is safe enough to hold the grill, or be prepared to squat low to the ground to cook your food. They’re ultra space-saving, so they’re great options for camping and tailgating, or if you live in an apartment with a very tiny balcony that can’t accommodate a larger grilling method.
As the name suggests, these types of grills look like a barrel that is laying on its side that someone has cut in half and put hinges and a grate on to make into a barbecue. Their natural round shape makes them a great option as a charcoal grill, since the deep belly can hold lots of coals, and the high domed lid can circulate and trap heat well, creating an efficient cooking or smoking option. Their cooking surface is larger than most kettle-style grills, making them a better option for larger crowds. They do tend to be pricier and less portable than kettle grills, however.
Ceramic Charcoal Grills
These types of grills are the newest style to hit the market and are often referred to as “Kamado grills,” which is a type of Japanese cooking stove. They usually have a distinctive egg shape design, allowing for ultra-efficient heat regulation and retention. These types of grills heat up fast and provide you the flexibility of being able to smoke or cook many different foods, like paella or pizzas. They’re still quite expensive, but that’s offset by the fact that they’re extremely weather-resistant and durable. They also tend to be quite heavy and not easily portable.
Weber is the most iconic name in the grilling industry. In fact, the traditional kettle-style grill was invented in 1952 by Weber’s founder, George Stephen. Today, Weber continues to pioneer advancements in the grilling industry with its Q Series Electric Grills and its Smokefire Series Wood Pellet Grills.
Founded in 1948, Char-Broil introduced one of the earliest forms of outdoor grills to the masses. It continues to make strides to improve outdoor grilling experiences with its series of Tru-Infrared Gas Grills and its Oil-less Turkey Fryer, a truly innovative and game-changing invention in the grilling arena.
Char-Griller prides itself on making grills, smokers, and accessories that are affordable for hard-working families. It manufactures well-known products like the Double Play Gas and Charcoal Grill and the Super Pro Charcoal Grill.
Cuisinart became a household name with the invention of the food processor and thanks to plenty of accolades from world-renowned chefs like Julia Child and James Beard. Today, Cuisinart makes a full line of high-end kitchen appliances, such as its line of Stand Mixers and its line of Air Fryers, and of course, it’s still famous for manufacturing top-notch Food Processors.
Masterbuilt got its start back in 1973 when founder Dawson McLemore manufactured a fish cooker for a friend of his. The company has been making outdoor cooking methods ever since. It’s well-known for its Gravity Series Charcoal Grill and Smoker and its Masterbuilt Charcoal Bullet Smoker.
Charcoal Grill Pricing
- Under $100: This price range will get you an inexpensive, more compact, and portable charcoal grill, like the smaller kettle-style and hibachi-style grills that sit lower to the ground, weigh less, and can go just about anywhere.
- $100 to $500: Delving into this price range will get you some larger kettle-style charcoal grills and barrel-style grills and smokers that are constructed of higher-quality, more weather-resistant components and can cook larger amounts of food.
- $500 and up: This is the price range for people who are hardcore grillers and barbecuers. This gets you the best of the best as far as technology and construction materials. This is where you find competition-ready grills.
This is probably one of the most important key features to look for when purchasing a charcoal grill. Main factors that allow you to optimally control your temperature through the use of a good lid, proper dampers, or vents, and the ability to move your coals around to achieve the best cooking conditions possible.
Knowing your cooking temperature is key to being able to grill successfully and prepare delicious food that your friends and family will love. A properly functioning temperature gauge will help you time the cooking for your food, as well as let you know if you need to add more charcoal if the temperature is too low or vent out some heat if the temperature inside the grill is too high.
How your grill is made will determine how reliably it functions and for how long. If you invest a good chunk of change into a charcoal grill, you don’t want it rusting out in under a year. Choose a grill that’s constructed from stainless steel, or thick, coated metal that is rust-resistant. A thicker metal will also allow the grill to maintain heat and a constant cooking temperature better. Also look for solid, sturdy legs that sit firmly on the ground and will be less prone to allowing the grill to accidentally tip over.
Look for a charcoal grill that comes equipped with high-end components, like a good and tight-fitting lid and a large and sturdy ash catcher that won’t let ash blow all over you on windy days. A good lid will keep heat in and debris out, creating a well-sealed cooking area. A solid ash catcher will collect and keep hot ashes securely until you’re ready to remove them, which should be easy and mess-free. Also, look for a grill with a hinged gate or door that allows you to quickly and easily add more coals when necessary.
The Best Charcoal Grills in 2021
All things considered, the Weber 14402001 Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill is an absolute home run when it comes to grilling delicious, smoking, and tender meats. Of course, Weber is certainly a household name in grilling, so this selection should come as no surprise. Like most charcoal grills in general, the Weber isn’t necessarily huge—it features a 22-inch diameter porcelain-enameled bowl and lid—but it will certainly get the job done for family-sized meals, thanks to its generous 363 square-inch plated steel hinged cooking grate. It’s also pretty durable and weather-resistant, especially when you factor in the rust-resistant aluminum damper. The lid is easy to take on and off as you cook, thanks to two glass-reinforced nylon handles with built-in tool hooks. Each handle contains a heat shield to protect you from getting burned, and the grill also features precision heat control to better control the temperature.
The one thing we would like to see that could improve this grill would be an attached side table or tray that you can set your beverages, seasonings, or tongs on while you’re watching the grill. It’s hardly a major issue, but it would add an extra level of convenience.
On the other hand, if you want to use less charcoal to cook your food, you might want to opt for the Char-Griller E16620 Akorn Kamado Charcoal Grill, which creates less air flow and provides more insulated heat en route to juicier meat. This grill certainly checks all of the boxes from a quality standpoint, as the body is made with 22 gauge steel with a powder-coated exterior finish, while the interior is comprised of porcelain-coated steel. Plus, it contains a bevy of cool and convenient features, such as folding black metal shelves for storage, double-wall insulation, wheels with locking casters, an easy-dump ash pan, and a heat gauge, making this the perfect Kamado charcoal grill for all types of grilling.
In this unit, we’d like to see a hinged door or grate that allows you to easily add coals to improve the slow-cooking ability of this grill. That being said, the heavy-duty construction of the grill itself makes for an excellent heat insulator.
If you need something a bit more portable for tailgates, camping trips, or a day trip to the park, you should opt for the Weber 121020 Go-Anywhere Charcoal Grill. We went with another Weber product here, and for good reason. This easy-to-carry tabletop grill is compact and lightweight, yet you can still fit around six standard-sized burgers without issue. You’ll be getting around 160 square inches of cooking space, in total, which is certainly much larger than we initially expected. The porcelain-enameled lid and base work in conjunction to retain heat, and they’re effectively rust- and peel-proof. The lid locks for easy travel and the dampers also allow you to easily control the temperature inside your grill.
We like how the legs of the grill do double-duty to lock down the lid for transportation, but it would be nice if the legs were built more substantially. They seem a little unstable at times and no one wants to risk dropping their food all over the place if one of the legs lets go.
The Cuisinart Portable Charcoal Grill gets a nod for being a great, budget-friendly option. This 14-inch portable grill comes in black or red, which we personally think is a bit more stylish. The chrome-plated cooking grate is 150 square inches and is designed to evenly cook a good amount of food. It also has a dual venting system, so you can better modulate the temperature. But what makes this grill most appealing is its portability. The lid locks, so it's easy to move around. Also, it only weighs 2 pounds, so you can easily use it when camping, tailgating, or on your balcony.
The grill has an enamel-coated firebox and ash catcher for convenience. It's quick and easy to assemble and is a good value for the price. Plus, it doesn't require a lot of charcoal because it's not very big. Unfortunately, it's not the highest-quality grill, it may wobble a little bit, and the cooking grate tends teeter-totter when you're flipping burgers.
This charcoal grill is for serious foodies who enjoy making great-tasting meals. The Char-Broil Kamander Charcoal Grill features insulated double-layered steel walls that seal in heat and warm items quickly and evenly. It features an air intake that allows you to control the temperature, whether you plan on searing meat or slow-cooking ribs. The grill also has two cooking surfaces, so you can grill, smoke, or roast to your heart's content. Even better, you can remove the ash pan from the top to avoid leaking air and losing temperature control. The grill has integrated tool hooks, a folding side shelf, a wire bottom shelf, and a removable drip pan.
Overall, it's very sturdy and great for searing burgers, steaks, and sausage. The biggest downside is its price, but it's less expensive than its ceramic counterparts. Also, it can take a few hours to assemble, and you may have to fiddle with the air vents to maintain the temperature.
If you like to grill when you're camping or want a portable charcoal grill and smoker for your patio, you can't go wrong with this tabletop travel grill from Raptor Grilling. It's designed to produce mess-free meals and features handles, a charcoal basket, and an integrated stand. The grill has a sealed lid and air valves, so you can control the temperature. It also has a cool-down feature. The chrome-plated grate is 18 by 13 inches with a cooking surface of 230 square inches. It's small enough to take in your RV or use at home. Many people treat it as a hibachi or smoker. Overall, it can feed around four people, it's easy to clean, and it's made of high-quality materials.
However, there have been some complaints that the assembly instructions aren't that great. Also, it may get damaged during shipping, and the screws are not very good quality. The carrying handle is sturdy, but constructed in such a way that it can easily get snagged on clothes and loose materials, so be mindful of that during cooking.
If you’re in the market for a top-of-the-line premium ceramic kamado grill, check out the Kamado Joe KJ23RHC Classic II Charcoal Grill. This is one of the most luxurious charcoal grills on the market. It features 18-inch grates with a heavy-duty and extra rugged cast iron cart and locking wheels that will hold up to years of use and harsh outdoor conditions if properly cared for. The two-tier cooking design allows you to cook food at different levels and different temperatures, making this a versatile option. This grill also features a patent-pending powder-coated cast aluminum vent that is both mold- and rain-resistant, giving you optimal control over your cooking temperatures. A patented air-lift hinge on the dome helps reduce dome weight by as much as 96 percent and allows you to open the dome with just one finger.
The only drawback is the price tag on this grill. This is a purchase for people who take grilling seriously and want only the best quality, highest-end construction in a charcoal grill.
The Char-Broil Offset BBQ Smoker features 430 square inches of cooking space. It can accommodate up to 18 hamburgers and provides complete heat control. Simply open or close the dampers to adjust the airflow and heat. The lid-mounted temperature gauge is easy to read and adjust. The grill also has cool-touch handles and a shelf for items such as utensils and sauces/spices. It has two large wheels, so it's easy to move, and a clean-out door for ash removal. Many people use this grill as an entry-level smoker.
It heats up quickly and doesn't take much work to maintain the temperature. And while it's a little on the small side, it's great for grilling and cooking tasty BBQ meals. Unfortunately, it does have some downsides. The paint has a tendency to peel and burn off, and there are gaps in the lid and base, so smoke can escape. It's also very lightweight and may move around in moderately windy conditions.
What sets this grill apart is that you can control the temperature and cooking time using the digital control panel or via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. You read that right: It’s truly a modern grill. The digitally-controlled fan provides airflow and maintains the proper cooking temperature. It uses lump or briquette charcoal and can reach 700 degrees in just 15 minutes if you plan on searing or grilling food. It reaches 225 degrees in just 10 minutes for slow cooking. The grill comes with warming and smoking racks. Users note that it immediately allows you to cook at a high level, whether you want to smoke delicate foods or sear a steak.
It won't take you long before you can grill, sear, or smoke like a pro. However, the Wi-Fi connectivity isn't the best, and the metal is a little flimsy and may get dented during the shipping process. It also takes a few hours to assemble.
The Royal Gourmet CD1824A Charcoal Grill gets an honorable mention for being one of the better-designed charcoal grills on the market. It features an impressive 598 square inches of cooking space between the 205 square inch warming rack and the 393 square inch cooking grates. The grates are solidly constructed from chrome-plated steel wiring. The charcoal pan is height adjustable allowing for optimum heat control and cooking flexibility. The pan is equipped with special holes that enhance airflow. The front-hinged door lets you easily and safely add coals or stoke them to spread heat more evenly. A handy pull-out drawer catches the ash for easy clean-up.
While we love the design of this grill, its assembly can be complicated and take some time, so be patient. Also, be aware that this grill is not very easily transported from one place to another, so it’s not the best option for tailgaters or campers.
The Realcook Vertical 17-inch Steel Charcoal Smoker is a sturdily constructed grill that does easy double-duty as a smoker. In fact, the way this unit is designed allows it to function as a barbecue pit, a single grill, a double grill, or as a smoker, making it one of the most versatile cookers on the market. The built-in thermometer gives you accurate and detailed temperature readings to enable you to adjust the heat and airflow for optimal cooking. Heat-resistant handles make transportation of the grill easy. When used as a double-tiered grill, you get 453 square inches of cooking space. Four hangers and a crossbar inside the high-domed lid allow you to smoke multiple slices of meat simultaneously.
Just about the only improvement we could make on this well-designed cooker would be to make the support legs a little beefier and more tip-resistant. The last thing you want is an accidental bump that tips over and ruins all your hard work or potentially injures someone.
If you want a smoker and grill that tells your neighbors and family that you mean business, the Dyna-Glo Signature Series DGSS1382VCS-D Heavy-Duty Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker & Grill is the ideal choice. This enormous five-tier grill comes with a whopping 1382 square inches of cooking space, allowing you the capacity to handle any neighborhood barbecue or family reunion. With heavy-gauge steel-body construction, a convenient and accurate temperature gauge that indicates the perfect temperatures for smoking versus grilling, you’ll be able to produce delicious foods that are prepared to perfection. Pre-installed sausage hooks allow you extra smoking ability. This grill also features an easy-to-remove ash pan for quick and mess-free ash disposal.
This grill is pretty huge. Weighing in at 124 pounds, it’s not able to be transported easily but is more of a permanent fixture and point of conversation in your backyard. This unit will garner some attention.
- Make sure you have a proper and durable grill brush and scraper to thoroughly remove debris and charred bits from your grill grates before cooking a new meal on your charcoal grill.
- At the end of the grilling season, if you have one, be sure to thoroughly clean all ash and charcoal debris from the bottom of the grill. Wash the grates and the inside of the lid to make sure yucky food particles and burnt leftovers don’t sit in your grill during the off-season.
- Be sure to pre-measure your grill space to ensure that you have enough area around the grill for proper ventilation. Allow enough room around the outside of your grill that nothing will come in contact with it and potentially get burned or start a fire.
- Invest in a proper set of grill utensils. These have long, sturdy handles and tools on the end that allow for a sure grip from a safe distance so you don’t get too close to the heat source.
- Make sure to keep the components of your grill relatively free from gunk and grease, which can clog vents and debris holders, greatly shortening the lifespan of your charcoal grill.
- Always place your grill on the most level surface possible to minimize the chance of it tipping over, or having coals end up uncentered, leading to uneven hot spots around the grill.
- Make sure the grill you choose will be able to easily accommodate the amount of food you plan to cook on it regularly. It’s very time consuming to have to cook things in various stages on a charcoal grill.
Q: What is the best charcoal grill to buy?
The best charcoal grill is one that can cook the amount of food you need, fits within your desired budget, and is backed by a solid and reliable warranty in case of defects. Ideally, it’s made with durable, high-end, energy-efficient materials that are designed to last a long time.
Q: Is grilling with charcoal bad for you?
There is some concern over two chemicals that are potential carcinogens being leached into foods grilled on a charcoal grill. This can be almost completely nullified by limiting big flame flare-ups when cooking by watching your temperature, frequently flipping or turning foods during cooking, cooking with lean meats, and cooking smaller cuts that cook faster.
Q: What is the healthiest charcoal to use?
There are several lines of organic lump charcoals that are very healthy to cook with. They have no added fillers, petroleum, nitrates, accelerants, or carcinogens. One of the most well-known healthy brands of charcoal is Stubb's 100% All Natural Bar-B-Q Charcoal Briquettes.
Q: Is charcoal grilling expensive?
Charcoal grills usually cost less upfront than gas grills, but the cost of grilling with charcoal rises over time as you continually need to buy new charcoal. The same amount of money spent on propane will allow you to grill many more meals, but there’s a lot more to the choice to grill with charcoal than just cost concerns alone.
There you have it: all you need to know to decide on and purchase your ideal charcoal grill, whether it’s the Weber 14402001 Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill, the Cuisinart CCG190RB Portable Charcoal Grill, or something in between, you’re sure to find a grill that fits your needs and budget.