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Published Sep. 14, 2021

Meat, fish, vegetables, even fruit benefit from the magic of charcoal grilling. Charcoal imparts a woodsy, smoky taste to everything you put on the grill, and charcoal can burn at temperatures as high as 700 degrees—100 degrees hotter than a gas grill—ensuring the perfect sear that makes grilled steaks and chops taste so good. 

Outdoor cooking, camp cooking and entertaining all go better with charcoal. Cooking outside is a good way to keep the house cool in warmer months, as well, and keep cooking smells outside all year round. It’s healthier, too, because fat drips into the coals as it cooks. 

Sold on a charcoal grill? You should be. Now let’s find the best charcoal grill for you.

Features you’ll find in the best charcoal grill

Choosing the best charcoal grill begins with determining what size you need.  As a general guide, a grill with 200 square inches is big enough for two people, while 450-500 square inches of grate area will cook enough food for a family of four without anyone having to wait. Cooking for a big crowd? Bump the size up to 600 square inches or more. 

Err on the side of too big rather than too small, for two reasons. First, you don’t have to fill the grill with charcoal if you’re cooking for a small group. Second, it’s often useful to move coals and make a cooler spot for indirect cooking.

Make sure the grill has air vents, which will allow you to regulate the burn rate and heat level.

Pay attention to the way different grills clean out. Keeping your grill clean and free of burned charcoal will prolong its life by preventing rust.  Removing ash is a messy but necessary part of grilling. Look for a grill with an easy ash removal system. You’ll thank yourself later. 

Most grills are steel, but ceramic grills are a growing category. Gas and charcoal combo grills let you use one grill for both types of cooking. Despite the advantages of charcoal, gas has its good points, especially in temperature control and heat-up time. Think about your needs, and your budget, then take a look at this guide to the best charcoal grill for you.

Do you need a portable charcoal grill?

Along with the size of your gathering, consider how much storage room you have for a grill. If you don’t have a backyard and need to pack the grill away when you’re finished, a portable charcoal grill that you can store indoors when not in use is your best bet. And obviously a portable grill is perfect for taking on the road.

Best Portable Charcoal Grill: Oklahoma Joe Rambler

A heavy gauge steel body and thick cast-iron grates give full-size performance in a small package. Oklahoma Joe’s

With more than 450 square inches of cooking surface, this Oklahoma Joe portable grill feeds a family or small group with ease. Built in thermometer and adjustable height charcoal tray let you cook slow and low or fast and hot. A full-length ash tray makes for easy cleanup, and side handles let you take this grill out of the backyard and onto the road.

The advantages of a kettle grill

A kettle grill has a spherical top and bottom, and the design has been around for years and continually tweaked. A kettle grill allows air to circulate below the coals, allowing for better burning, and provides an easy way to clean ashes. The spherical top holds heat while putting the handle away from the hottest area. It is generally a large charcoal grill, making the kettle grill the ideal backyard grill for a family.

Best Large Charcoal Grill: Weber Original Kettle Grill

Plenty of grill space and easy cleanup make this Weber kettle grill an easy pick for backyard charcoal grilling. Weber

Simple but well-thought out, the original Weber Kettle Grill has been evolving and improving since 1952. The 22-inch-diameter grate holds 13 hamburgers at once and is hinged to make it easy to add more charcoal during cooking. One touch of a handle dumps ashes into an oversized catcher so you can keep the grill clean.

Have it both ways with a gas and charcoal grill combo

Dual gas-charcoal grills offer the advantages of both types of cooking. Charcoal gives you the most heat, and imparts the smoky flavor to meats and vegetables that make grilled food such a crowd-pleaser. The gas capability gives you instant heat and complete temperature control. 

Another advantage of a gas and charcoal grill combo: You can cook various foods at different temperatures simultaneously, such as low-and-slow chicken on one side and hot-sear steaks on the other. Some combo grills feature one grilling surface that can be switched from gas to charcoal and back, others give you optimum versatility with side by side gas and charcoal units.

Best Gas and Charcoal Combo: Char Griller 5050 Duo Gas and Charcoal Grill

Dual grills plus a side burner offer enough cooking surface to feed a mob. Char-Griller

The Char Griller 5050 is a complete outdoor cooking station all by itself. The gas side features electronic ignition and puts out 40,800 BTUs to reach temperatures of 500 degrees. The charcoal side has an adjustable grate for both searing and smoking. Porcelain-coated grates on both sides clean easily, and the cooker has a handy storage shelf and warming racks.

The pro’s choice: Stainless steel

Weather, heat and ash all combine to shorten the useful lives of grills. If you are committed to cooking outdoors a lot and want to use a high-grade grill, it makes sense to choose stainless steel. Stainless steel resists corrosion and lasts longer than non-stainless steel or cast iron. “Stainless” doesn’t mean rust or stain-proof. But, if you care for a stainless grill properly it will last much longer than other types. Use a microfiber cloth and non-abrasive stainless steel cleaner and clean with the grain of the metal to keep the outside looking great.

Best Stainless Steel Charcoal Grill: Napoleon Professional Charcoal Grill

Stainless steel construction and a host of features make this durable grill the last one you’ll need to buy. Napoleon

Six hundred square inches of grilling space, two side trays and a storage area underneath give you all the room you need to grill for a party with this Napoleon grill. A front-load door makes it easy to add more charcoal, and you can move the charcoal bed up or down while cooking to get the perfect heat level. It also features a rotisserie burner.   

Looking for a Grill on a Budget?

You may only grill a couple of times a year, and if so, you don’t have to invest a lot of money to enjoy outdoor cooking. Obviously there will be tradeoffs when you choose a low-priced grill. It may not offer easy cleaning, or a built-in thermometer, and it may not be built to last long. However, one feature you shouldn’t compromise on is safety. Some cheap charcoal grills have shaky legs and might be easy to upset. You don’t want to spill hot coals or food anywhere, anytime.

Best Cheap Charcoal Grill:  Weber Go-Anywhere Charcoal Grill

This compact travel grill cooks 6-8 pieces of chicken or a couple of steaks. Weber

Perfect for a small backyard or to pack along in an RV, the Weber Go-Anywhere Grill has 160 inches of space, just enough to cook for two or three. It’s a cheap grill, but has several excellent features. The short plated-steel legs fold up for easy storage and to lock the lid down for transport, yet they are sturdy enough that this grill is tough to knock over. It has air vents at top and bottom so you can adjust burn rate and heat level, plus side handles for carrying convenience.

FAQs

Q: How do I choose a charcoal grill?

Choose a charcoal grill based on its size first. Be sure it’s big enough to feed however many people you will be cooking for. Next, look at price and features. The better the grill, the easier it usually is to clean, and to add more charcoal to it during cooking. Other niceties include adjustable charcoal racks for low or hot cooking, and built-in thermometers.

Q: Are Weber charcoal grills worth it?

Weber grills cost more than the average grill, but the basic Weber kettle grill isn’t terribly expensive. And, there are much higher-end grills than the Weber. Solidly built on an enduring design, a Weber grill is a good investment as it will outlast and outperform cheap models. Webers were the first kettle grills, invented by George Stephan in 1952, who modeled the shape of the grill after a buoy. Weber Grills have always been made in Huntley, Illinois, and all these years later the Weber kettle grill remains incredibly popular for good reason.

Q: What are charcoal grills made of?

Most grills have steel, stainless steel, cast iron or plated steel grates, although some are porcelain coated. Stainless, plated and coated grates are easier to clean. Cast iron is heavier and holds heat well. On the outside you have your choice of enameled metal, steel, stainless steel or ceramic. Stainless resists the elements very well.

Q: How do you put out a charcoal grill?

Let the coals burn out until they are ash and completely cold. Dispose of the ashes in a noncombustible bin. If you need to put out the charcoal immediately, spread the coals and cover them with sand or soil, cover the grill and close any vents so you starve it of air. Pouring water on coals makes a soggy, dirty mess, so don’t do that unless it’s an emergency.

Q: How do you clean a charcoal grill?

Use a grill brush to clean the cooking grate while it’s still hot. Stuck-on food will fall into the coals and burn up. For a deep clean, brush the grill, then use soap and a scouring pad.

Q: What’s the difference between a gas and charcoal grill?

Gas grills are usually fueled by propane, commonly sold in home improvement stores and wherever grills are sold. Five pounds of propane come in a 20-pound tank that hangs from the side of the grill and attaches to a hose that leads to the burners inside the grill.

To ignite, open the valve on the propane tank, turn on one of the grill burners, and press the ignite button. That creates a spark that lights the burner. Some grills can be fueled by natural gas, which is easier and cheaper in the long run, but requires a natural gas line leading out from the dwelling to the grill’s location.

Charcoal grills are fueled by charcoal briquettes, which is a clean burning form of wood that has been heated without air. It provides a steady source of heat, and adds flavor to food. Some charcoal comes impregnated with a flammable material, so you only need a match or a lighter to get the coals burning. Other charcoal must be lit using charcoal lighter fluid, or a charcoal chimney, a cylinder that stacks charcoal briquettes closely together. Lighting a wad of newspaper in the bottom of the chimney gets the coals burning.

Our last tip about charcoal grills

No matter which model you get, be sure to use quality charcoal, and learn how to light it and get it ready for cooking (a chimney starter helps immensely). Familiarize yourself with the air vents so you can get that charcoal to the exact temperature you need.

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