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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BY Lisa Conant / LAST UPDATED ON June 14, 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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Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
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 smokers, grills and barrel-style grills 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
- 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.