The 10 Best Charcoal Grills for an Authentic BBQ Extravaganza

Barbecue-grill.-Charcoal-grill

Cooking methods tend to polarize opinion among grill enthusiasts the world over.

For some purists, there is simply no substitute for the best charcoal grill. No other grilling method can impart that trademark smokiness. Most charcoal grills also happen to be reasonably compact, making them a great choice if you like grilling when you’re camping, out in the RV, or tailgating.

Other insist that gas grills closely replicate the results of charcoal without the expense or the hassle. 

Many others praise the virtues of electric grills, happy to take a hit on that authentic taste in the quest for convenience.

We understand that comparing grills can be tricky if this is your first time doing so. To simplify your buying decision, focus on the following pointers:

  • Total cooking surface area: The most important aspect when you’re comparing charcoal grills is how much cooking surface area they provide you with. The total area is always expressed in terms of square inches, and we break this down for each product in the features tab for your ease. All of the grills on our shortlist today will work well for smaller families, with some offering 500 to 800 square inches of cooking space, ample for a large cookout
  • Materials: Charcoal grills are typically made from cast iron, stainless steel, or porcelain-coated ceramic. Look for build quality rather than simply hunting for the cheapest charcoal grill – it’s highly unlikely to be the best or to last the distance. Steel grills are super-simple to clean, while cast iron charcoal grill could last for decades
  • Dampers: You’ll be adjusting the temperature of your grill using the dampers. Make sure you have at least 2 of these in place – one for exhaust, the other for intake – but ideally look for grills with 4 dampers for ultra-precise control
  • Grates: Look for grates that are non-stick, removable, and easy to clean. Some grills also deliver adjustable grates, allowing you to set up distinct cooking zones
  • Tightly sealed and lockable lid: The lid becomes particularly important if you’re planning to use your grill as a smoker. If you intend to use your grill on the go, a lockable lid will prevent any unwanted spillages in transit
  • Size and weight: If you want to shift your grill around the yard, you should make sure there are wheels or casters to make sure this is easier. The larger the cooking surface area, the larger the overall dimensions of the grill and the heavier it will be, so it’s all about compromising to meet your needs
  • Seamless build: Look for grills that are put together without visible seams. This will reduce the chance of corrosion eating away at your new charcoal grill
  • Stability: Let’s face it, grilling with white-hot charcoal can be dangerous, so make certain any grills on your shortlist are strong and stable. If there are wheels in place, ensure they are lockable
  • Hinged grate: Grills with hinged grates let you easily access the charcoal bed without completely removing the grate, ideal during longer cookouts

Now…

That basic skeleton should give you everything you need to readily compare our showcase of the best charcoal grills like-for-like.

We’ll launch directly into the main event now, then, with our reviews of the top 10 charcoal grills. See if any of these makes the right fit for your patio or deck.

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The 10 Best Charcoal Grills

1. Our #1 Pick: Weber Original Kettle Grill

Weber-Original-Kettle-Premium-Charcoal-Grill

Features

  • Grate diameter: 22 inches
  • Total surface area: 363 square inches
  • Dimensions: 39.5 x 22.5 x 27 inches

Weber is a household name in the grilling space, and they specialize in charcoal grills to deliver an authentic BBQ experience in your back yard. How does this model stand and fall, then?

The cart-style grill is ideal for shifting around, the lockable wheels making your life even easier. Sat on top of the legs is a traditional kettle style grill, so how does this shape up?

The plated steel cooking grate gives you 363 square inches of cooking surface, impressive when you consider the reasonably compact form and lightweight nature of this grill. You could easily use this as a travel grill when you’re tailgating or camping, but you’ll still benefit from that sprawling cooking area.

A one-touch cleaning system onboard removes one of the primary barriers to cooking with charcoal, so you can kiss goodbye to messy cleanup. While almost all user reviews of this charcoal grill are positive, we found a handful of complaints about the design of the ash catcher.

There is a thermometer baked into this grill, with a gauge mounted in the lid. As with all integrated thermometers, this may not be precise enough for your needs. If necessary, pick yourself up an external thermometer, too.

A handy lid hook means you can avoid your lid coming into contact with the floor.

You control the temperature on this grill by manipulating the aluminum dampers. While there is a slight initial learning curve, once you’re up and running this grill is super-simple to use, while still imparting that legitimate BBQ taste and aroma no other cooking method can replicate.

 With no serious drawbacks, this is one of the best charcoal grills you’ll find, and it’s also pretty keenly priced, so what are you waiting for?

Things We Like

  • Holds over a dozen burgers
  • Unbeatable brand heritage
  • One-touch cleaning system

Things We Dislike

  • Some issues with ash catcher

2. Budget Pick: Weber Kettle Grill

Weber-741001-Original-Kettle-22-Inch-Charcoal-Grill

Features

  • Grate diameter: 22 inches
  • Total surface area: 363 square inches
  • Dimensions: 25 x 22.5 x 39.5 inches

If you’re looking to buy into the Weber brand without spending a fortune, this 22-inch iteration of the classic kettle grill is well worth popping on your shortlist.

Measuring 22 inches across and offering you over 350 square inches of cooking real estate, you’ll have enough room on the cooking grates for over a dozen burgers, perfect for the whole family and guests.

You get the traditional cart arrangement with this Weber grill, wheels and legs supporting a kettle grill designed to lock in heat and distribute it evenly. This is achieved through a porcelain enamel used on many of the best charcoal grills. Not only does this do a great job of bringing out the best in your barbecued food, but it’s also rust-resistant and built to stay the distance.

As with all charcoal grills, you’ll need to spend a while getting to grips with the adjustable dampers. Once you master this simple skill, you’ll be tweaking the temperature like a pitmaster and wondering why you didn’t treat yourself to a charcoal grill years earlier.

Setting this grill up couldn’t be easier. If you find visual instructions easier to follow, take advantage of the 3D assembly instructions. You’ll find this in the free BILT app available for iOS and Android.

Like with all Weber grills, you get a one-touch cleaning system that will have you thanking the manufacturer as you relax with a cocktail instead of scrubbing the grill grates.

Although you get ample cooking surface area with this grill, its lightweight properties and reasonably compact footprint make it a great candidate for a travel grill if you don’t want it permanently set up in the back yard.

Things We Like

  • Outstanding price/performance ratio
  • Easy to adjust temperature
  • Lightweight yet rugged build

Things We Dislike

  • Reported quality control issues

3. Upgrade Pick: Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Grill

Char-Griller-E16620-Akorn-Kamado-Charcoal-Grill

Features

  • Grate diameter: 31 inches
  • Total surface area: 447 square inches
  • Dimensions: 26.6 x 24.8 x 21.65 inches

If you have deep pockets and demanding tastes, we would strongly recommend Char-Griller’s iconic Akorn Kamado Grill. What do you get for the considerable price tag, then?

Firstly, this grill is made from a robust alloy steel that should return decades of use, if properly maintained. This material is not only built to last, but will also allow you to cook with less charcoal due to its heat retention and distribution qualities.

The cooking surface is cast iron, so your grilled food will come out consistently cooked every time, and you’ll easily impart that trademark sear along with the unmistakable smokiness you get with all the best charcoal grills.

Inside this grill, you get a porcelain enamel coating that helps inhibit food splatter, while at the same time further improving efficiency when you’re grilling out.

The grill is set on a tubular steel cart. Oversized rubber wheels streamline maneuverability, and these lock into place so you get the stable cooking surface you need for grilling safely.

Adjusting the temperature on this grill couldn’t be easier, so don’t let the perceived difficulty of grilling with charcoal put you off. All you need to do is adjust the damper, and this is even indexed so you can more easily dial in your preferred temperatures. This is handily located on top of the grill.

A pair of foldable side shelves come into their own for prepping or serving food. You also benefit from a removable warming rack, so you have all bases covered.

Things We Like

  • Striking alloy steel build
  • Sprawling cooking area
  • Highly insulated for efficiency

Things We Dislike

  • Not the cheapest charcoal grill

4. Portable Pick: Weber Smokey Joe Portable Grill

Weber-10020-Smokey-Joe-14-Inch-Portable-Grill

Features

  • Grate diameter: 14 inches
  • Total surface area: 147 square inches
  • Dimensions: 17 x 14.2 x 14.5 inches

Not everyone wants a hulking charcoal grill for permanent back yard installation. For many people, a charcoal grill is the ideal addition to a camping or hiking trip. Tailgating, road trips in the RV, and boat trips all benefit from a great grill, so next up we have the best portable charcoal grill up for grabs.

Small enough to easily pop in the trunk of your car, and lightweight enough to shift around without straining yourself, this charcoal grill is ideal for use on the go or popping on the patio or deck.

The cooking surface area, as you would expect, is modest. You’ll nevertheless have space for 5 burgers in one session, not bad for a travel grill. The grate is made from a plated steel that’s ideal for retaining heat, and also super-simple to keep clean.

By the standards of charcoal grills, the Smokey Joe is user-friendly, making it a smart choice for beginners as well as more experienced grill artists.

Almost all reviews of the grill itself are positive, but we unearthed a handful of quality control complaints, specifically consumers reporting damaged grills. Check the contents of your delivery closely to avoid any nasty surprises.

Aside from this minor niggles, you’re getting one of the best charcoal grills out there, and it’s also one of the most portable.

Things We Like

  • Perfectly portable
  • Reasonable cooking surface area
  • Easy to use and clean

Things We Dislike

  • Some users report receiving damaged grills

5. PK Grills Grill and Smoker

PK-Grills-PKO-SCAX-X-Original-PK-Grill-&-Smoker-Grill-Smoker

Features

  • Grate diameter: 16 inches
  • Total surface area: 300 square inches
  • Dimensions: 16 x 35 x 35.5 inches

PK Grills has a deep bench of charcoal grills including this superb grill/smoker combo. What do you get for your money, then?

The first thing that strikes you with this grill is the showstopping appearance. The cast aluminum grill is finished in a muted silver that looks like it means business.

This cast aluminum build is about far more than good looks, though. Lightweight, rustproof, and durable, the material is also great for heat retention and heat distribution, giving you everything you need in the best charcoal grill.

You can easily detach the grill from the stand, giving you the best of both worlds: a truly portable charcoal grill that also delivers in terms of cooking surface area.

Measuring 16 inches across, this grill provides you with 300 square inches, more than enough space to make sure nobody goes hungry.

You adjust the temperature on this grill using a patented venting system that you’ll master in minutes. This grill is designed to be suitable for all experience levels, from novice to pitmaster.

You’ll be free to grill slow and low at 180F and you can achieve temperatures of up to 750F at the upper end, making this one of the most capable charcoal grills in its class and well worth a place on your shortlist.

 Aside from being reasonably expensive, there’s really not much else we can find to knock about this outstanding charcoal grill from an industry specialist, so see what you think.

Things We Like

  • Striking aesthetics
  • Generous cooking surface area
  • 10-year limited warranty

Things We Dislike

  • Pretty pricey

6. Kamado Joe Classic I Charcoal Grill

Kamado-Joe-KJ23RH-Classic-I-Charcoal-Grill

Features

  • Grate diameter: 18 inches
  • Total surface area: 245 square inches
  • Dimensions: 46.5 x 28 x 48 inches

As we pass the midpoint of our charcoal grill reviews, we have the enduringly popular Classic I from Kamado Joe, a grill that flies of the shelves the world over.

The key selling point here is the Divide and Conquer grilling system. The half-moon design of the grill combined with multi-level grates lets you mix up your cooking methods at the same time.

The fire box of this grill has been constructed from several pieces. This not only serves to improve heat retention, but it will also minimize the likelihood of breakage.

The grill measures 18 inches across, and you get a reasonable 245 square inches of cooking surface at your disposal. While this will not be fit for purpose if you want a huge cookout, for singles, couples, and small families, the Kamado Joe works well. You can also explore some of the larger models Kamado Joe offers if you need more cooking real estate at your fingertips.

To clean the ash catcher, just slide out the drawer, ditch the ashes, and you’re good to go.

You control the temperature using a vent positioned on the top. This allows you to manipulate the temperature from 225F through 750F, giving you enormous scope when you’re grilling out.

Cooking grates are made of stainless steel for efficiency and ease of cleaning.

A thermometer baked in lets you keep an eye on the internal temperature of your food, although you may want to supplement this with something more precise.

Overall, the Kamado Joe Classic I is a strong contender for the best charcoal grill, with only its stiff price tag letting it down.

Things We Like

  • Iconic design
  • Split-level cooking system
  • Slide-out drawer simplifies cleanup

Things We Dislike

  • Ruthlessly expensive

7. Dyna-Glo Charcoal Grill

Dyna-Glo-DGN576SNC-D-Dual-Zone-Premium-Charcoal-Grill

Features

  • Grate diameter: 28 inches
  • Total surface area: 816 square inches
  • Dimensions: 60.2 x 50.5 x 28.2 inches

Dyna-Glo’s charcoal grill comes as a classic cart arrangement, and if you’re shopping for charcoal grills primarily based on total cooking surface area, this is your best bet.

The primary cooking area gives you 576 square inches of space, in itself much more space than most of the opposition deliver. Also, you get a secondary cooking area with a further 240 square inches of space, so cookout for lots of guests without needing to be chained to the grill all afternoon.

The fire box divider is removable, meaning you can create a single-zone or dual-zone cooking environment to taste. Whether you’re a complete beginner or a much more experienced pitmaster, the Dyna-Glo offers something for everyone, and it’s a remarkably versatile piece of kit.

Double-walled insulation locks all he heat inside, allowing you to sear your steaks like a pro without the heat escaping out into the air.

The ash catcher is quite spacious, meaning you won’t find yourself constantly scuttling to the trash can to empty it. You simply slide it out when it’s full for hassle-free grilling.

               

If you plan to leave your grill outdoors in all winds and weathers, you’ll need to cover it. While Dyna-Glo offers a cover for this charcoal grill, it’s regrettably only available as a costly optional extra.

This grill is quite heavy and bulky, weighing well over 100 pounds. It comes with wheels and casters to simplify moving it around, though.

Things We Like

  • Huge cooking surface area
  • Durable and long-lasting build
  • Twin cooking areas

Things We Dislike

  • Cover costs extra

8. Oklahoma Joe’s Rambler Grill

Oklahoma-Joe's-19402088-Rambler-Portable-Charcoal-Grill

Features

  • Grate diameter: 20 inches
  • Total surface area: 218 square inches
  • Dimensions: 19.5 x 26.8 x 21.8 inches

Oklahoma Joe’s Rambler is a grill that looks like it would cost much more than its almost budget pricing, but do those good looks flatter to deceive?

Absolutely not. This grill is not only keenly priced, but it’s also a highly capable performer, as long as you don’t mind taking a hit when it comes to cooking surface area.

The grill grate measures 20 inches across, and you get a total cooking surface area of just 218 square inches. While ideal for singles, couples, or small families, you’ll find this grill leaves you wanting if you host larger cookouts.

Despite the compact form factor, build quality is reassuringly robust. Made of alloy steel and finished in a muted matte black, you’ll get a grill that’s ideal for use on the road or out in the back yard.

With large adjustable air dampers, you’ll soon be regulating the temperature on this grill like a pitmaster, even if you’re a complete beginner.

The cooking grates are made from heavy-grade cast iron, delivering the optimum grilling environment while also remaining non-stick.

A removable and oversized ash pan ensures that using this grill is a seamless experience and renders it one of the best charcoal grills in a crowded pack.

Things We Like

  • Great value for money
  • Rugged alloy steel build
  • Precise airflow control

Things We Dislike

  • Customer service issues flagged

9. Masterbuilt Gravity Series Charcoal Grill and Smoker

Masterbuilt-MB20040220-Gravity-Series-560-Digital-Charcoal-Grill-+-Smoker

Features

  • Grate diameter: 25 inches
  • Total surface area: 560 square inches
  • Dimensions: 24.7 x 54.1 x 52 inches

Masterbuilt has a wide range of grills and smokers, mainly electric models. This charcoal-fueled model, though, shows that they have more up their sleeve than just corded electric appliances.

Perhaps the primary benefit of this charcoal grill is the speed with which it gets up to temperature. You’ll hit 225F in just 7 minutes, and the grill will reach a scorching 700F in just 13 minutes. No other grills in this class get up to heat this quickly.

The gravity-fed hopper allows you to load in enough lump charcoal or charcoal briquettes to fuel a 13 to 15-hour cookout. You won’t need to keep fussing around with fuel and you can focus on the grilling at hand instead.

The cast iron grates on this grill are reversible. Whether you want to cook some tender meat slow and low, or you want to sear your steaks and impart griddle marks, you can do both and much more with this charcoal grill.

These grates are coated with a porcelain enamel that discourages food from sticking on and also improved heat retention and heat distribution. The grates can withstand plenty of punishment, too.

Although almost all user reviews of this charcoal grill are positive, we can’t say the same for opinion concerning Masterbuilt’s customer service. With this minor gripe set aside, you’re getting one of the best charcoal grills out there, even if it comes from an electric smoker specialist.

Things We Like

  • Gets up to temperature quickly
  • Holds enough fuel for 12 hours of grilling
  • Pair of porcelain-coated racks

Things We Dislike

  • Customer support is hard to contact

10. PK Grills Outdoor Charcoal Grill and Smoker

PK-Grills-PK360-Outdoor-Charcoal-Grill-and-Smoker-Combination

Features

  • Grate diameter: 23.5 inches
  • Total surface area: 360 square inches
  • Dimensions: 23 x 54 x 43 inches

Next up and our final contender for the best charcoal grill comes from PK Grills. Just like the model we review above, the Outdoor Grill and Smoker makes an arresting statement on the patio or deck. Is it a case of form over function, though?

Certainly not. Off the bat, you get 4 adjustable dampers in place of the 2 found on much of the competition. Doubling up the dampers means you get much more control over the temperature, while the grill is still pretty straightforward to use.

Made from a lightweight yet robust aluminum throughout, the grill also features first-class heat retention properties.               

An efficient ash management system baked in removes one of the tedious elements of cooking with charcoal and allows you to concentrate on whipping up your favorite grilled dishes.

Mounted on a pedestal stand, you can move this grill around easily enough, despite its 90-pound weight.

Removable shelves help you prep and serve your food without using a third-party table. You get a decent cooking surface area of 360 square inches, too, so you can grill out for the whole family with ease.

While this grill doesn’t come with any bells or whistles, it gets the job done without any fuss or fanfare, and deserves its place on any shortlist of the best charcoal grills.

Things We Like

  • Striking appearance
  • Cook low or slow or scorching hot
  • 4 adjustable vents

Things We Dislike

  • Instructions are unclear

FAQs

1) How long does a charcoal grill need to cool down?

Once you stop an aggressive grill-out, it could take anywhere from 24 hours to 48 hours for your charcoal grill to completely cool down. As soon as you finish grilling, you should suffocate your grill. You achieve this by slashing the airflow. With your grill starved of oxygen, no further combustion will take place. You then need to let the coals cool naturally. Resist the temptation to douse the coals with water. This will turn the ash into lye, a highly caustic substance.

2) Is it hard to control the temperature when you’re using a charcoal grill?

There is a slight learning curve, but it’s easy to master. You can adjust the temperature by adding different amounts of charcoal, but this method is reasonably crude. The most effective way of controlling your charcoal grill is to adjust the dampers. The wider you position the vents, the greater the airflow and heat. Indexed dampers on some charcoal grills make your life easier in this regard.

3) How much charcoal do I need when grilling?

The size and type of grill you’re using will impact the amount of charcoal you need. The temperature and timing will also come into play. With so many variables, you’ll need to experiment until you find the right amount of fuel for your grill.

4) How do charcoal briquettes and lump charcoal differ?

Charcoal briquettes contain filler and additives. These can give your food a chemical taint. Lump charcoal is all-natural and burns slower, and it will also leave much less ash.

5) What’s the best way to prevent embers from flying onto my deck?

Position a grill mat under the grill if you are close to any combustible surfaces like deck.

6) Do charcoal grills need cleaning frequently?

You should clean your grill after each use. Get rid of any food debris as well as any charcoal and ash. Remove the grates and clean these by hand with some warm soapy water. Dry them naturally before replacing. Every few months, you should deep clean your grill.

7) What is the optimum method of charcoal disposal?

Keep ash away from the ground as it can easily burn feet when mixed with water. Wrap up the ash in some foil then throw it in the trash. Lump charcoal ash can be composted, but keep it away from your garden beds due to the burning properties of lye.

8) How should I light charcoal?

Light larger piles of charcoal using a charcoal chimney. If you use a lighter, avoid gas lighters as the fluid can impart a taint to your food.

Conclusion

Anyone who arrived here today at Hempen Hill BBQ with no idea of how to choose the best charcoal grill should now be spoiled with options.

No other cooking method can rival charcoal, and using one of these grills really isn’t that hard. Once you get accustomed to adjusting the dampers, you’ll soon find you can control the temperature with ease and start cooking like a pitmaster.

If you still feeling cooking with charcoal is not for you, we would recommend exploring our breakdown of the best electric grills. And if you’re looking for some inspiration to get started, here’s a glimpse at the best cuts of steak for grilling, and we would also suggest you check out our BBQ planning checklist.

We have a very busy content calendar for the coming months, so bookmark our blog before you head off, and be sure to pop back soon!

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