Thinking about grilling this Summer but not sure where to start? Keep reading to learn our top tips for choosing the best charcoal BBQ grill as well as our favorite picks!
When that char-grilled smell comes wafting through the air, you know the barbeque is going to be good! And what better way to make that happen, than with a charcoal grill. There are plenty of other options, particularly gas grills, which have their own perks. However, those in the know, know that nothing quite compares to the classic flavor a charcoal BBQ grill creates. That smoky goodness tastes like Summer. Once you’ve decided to go with charcoal, how do you narrow it down to which grill is best? There are a few key points to consider.
Charcoal grills tend to put out more smoke than a gas grill. While this is a sign delicious food is on the way, it can be overpowering in unventilated, small areas. Check with your local ordinances and your HOA or apartment guidelines to see if they have any rules about grills, so you can make sure you pick the right one. Obviously, grills get hot, even on the outside, so ensuring you have clearance away from walls and flammable materials is very important.
Charcoal BBQ Grill Types
What style of grill you’d like depends on your space as well as personal preference. Kettle grills are the most classic charcoal BBQ grill. This simple design gives you plenty of cooking space. The lid will help to keep in flavor and moisture. Kamado-style grills (Kamado is Japanese for “stove” or cooking range), while more expensive, can last for a lifetime. They are excellent for barbecuing or smoking foods. With a kamado grill, you want to use lump charcoal rather than briquettes, because it gets hotter. Barrel-style BBQ grills tend to hold a lot of food at one time, so they’re a great option for feeding a crowd. These types of grills come in many shapes and sizes. You will want to analyze the cooking space the grill provides and account for how many people you’re feeding at a time.
Types of Charcoal
Generally, you can use a variety of charcoal types. Briquettes are inexpensive, and some let you skip the lighter fluid. Speaking of lighter fluid, its use is common but somewhat controversial. Never apply it on hot charcoal. Though used within reason, lighter fluid will help your charcoal heat more quickly. Hardwood/lump charcoal is thought to be superior by many grill masters due to its extreme heat and better flavor. You can also add wood chips, such as applewood or mesquite, to your charcoal for added smoky flavor.
Why you should trust Ideaing?
We pride ourselves on providing truly objective insight into our reviews and recommendations. Our product experts spend hours and hours researching, analyzing, and testing products. After our extensive research on charcoal BBQ grills on the market, here are our best picks for most people.
Best Charcoal Grills to Buy in 2021
Whether you’re looking for something super affordable or something high-end, we’ve got the grill for you.
Portable Charcoal GrillGet it
The Aiglam charcoal grill is not only portable but foldable. While this style does not have a lid, it does come with a non-stick pan insert, useful tools like tongs, and a basket to hold sauces and spices. Perfect for a day at the beach, this grill is also the ideal choice if you want to be able to store your grill easily. The simple assembly and affordable price point make this a great grill for beginners as well.
- Tools-free assembly
- Portable and foldable for easy travel or storage
- Comes with extras including a storage basket and utensils
Tabletop Charcoal GrillGet it
This tabletop charcoal grill is the perfect size to host a small get-together. Weighing in at under 8 lbs. and measuring under 14 inches, this model does not take up much room but delivers all that you need to make great food. One issue that can arise with tabletop charcoal BBQ grills is smokiness. This grill prevents that by not only using a charcoal box to house the charcoal but a fan that can run on batteries or USB!
- Compact size and lightweight
- The majority of parts are dishwasher safe
- Fast heating: ready to use in three to five minutes
Classic Kettle Charcoal GrillGet it
While Weber is a household name with a lot of options, this simple kettle-style is one of the best Weber charcoal grills. This model comes with 363 square inches of cooking space, a rust-resistant frame, and a removable ash catcher. The wheels make it easy to move from location to location or to store away during the off-season.
- Porcelain-enameled bowl and lid
- Ample cooking space
- Easy to store
Rotisserie Charcoal GrillGet it
Rotisserie chickens are a grocery store and Costco favorite, but what if you could roast them at home? The Outsunny Portable Rotisserie Barrel Charcoal Grill makes that possible. Even better, you can control salt and spices, making for a healthy, delicious meal. Chicken isn’t the only thing this grill is capable of: smaller skewers are also included so you can get your fill of vegetables as well.
- Great for roasting a wide variety of protein
- Lockable wheels for stability
- Rotating rotisserie top
Easy to Use Charcoal GrillGet it
This BBQ Charcoal grill from Royal Gourmet is user-friendly and packed with functional features. The front pullout drawer lets you add charcoal easily as needed, and cleanup is also a breeze. This model comes with a cover, and storage for non-flammable goods below the grill makes this a handy backyard tool.
- Space for food preparation on either side of the grill
- Comes with a cover for off-season protection
- Easy clean-up
Multi-functional BBQ Charcoal GrillGet it
This grill combines the small footprint of a vertical grill with an excellent amount of cooking space and superior temperature control. One challenge with charcoal BBQ grills is maintaining an even temperature. The Sunlife Vertical Grill includes a built-in thermometer as well as venting, giving you ultimate control. This model can be used as a smoker, and the dual layers can be used separately.
- Can be used to grill, smoke, steam, or roast
- Dual layers can be used together or taken apart
- Small footprint makes it great for smaller areas like a balcony
Budget Kamado-Style Charcoal GrillGet it
Kamado-style grills are highly regarded and often pricier than your average charcoal BBQ grill. Models like the Big Green Egg can retail well over $800. Enter the Kamado Joe Jr. This grill retails for under $400, yet brings all of the best features you’d find on a pricier grill. Created from stainless steel and ceramic, this small but mighty grill will stand the test of time. As a bonus, this grill can be moved relatively easily compared to its larger counterparts.
- Built-in temperature gauge
- Keeps moisture and smoke locked in
- Comes with a cast iron stand
Weber Charcoal GrillGet it
The Weber Performer Premium Charcoal Grill gives you ample space to prep meals, a charcoal storage bin, and an LCD cook timer to make your backyard BBQ go off without a hitch. Storage underneath and easy, one-touch cleanup adds to the appeal. The lid is fully removable but can be tucked in the specially-made holster so that you do not have to set the lid down. With the Weber name, you can expect great quality and a lasting grill that you will enjoy for years to come.
- One-touch cleaning
- Designated, safe storage space for charcoal
- Temperature control and LCD backlit timer
Barrel Grill Charcoal GrillGet it
Barrel BBQ charcoal grills are very popular with Pro Pitmasters and quite likely what your favorite BBQ restaurant uses. This model from Oklahoma Joe’s brings that culinary finesse right into your backyard. This top-of-the-line grill features over 1,060 square inches of cooking space, as well as a built-in smoker. The firebox and clean-out door allow you to tend to the grill without interrupting the temperature on the cooktop. All-steel construction means it’s sturdy, while porcelain-coated grates mean it’s ideal for perfectly cooked food.
- Can handle up to 40 burgers at once
- Multiple dampers allow for better oxygen intake
- Offset smoker gives more cooking and flavor options
Best Kamado GrillGet it
Kamado Joe is known to be the original grill company that brought the ancient style into the American mainstream, and this is the most popular model. The domed lid requires almost no strength to lift thanks to the airlift hinge, the wheels are lockable for stability, and the half-moon design means you can cook different foods at differing temperatures at the same time. Temperatures range from 225 degrees for smoking to an insanely hot 750 degrees for searing, giving you a wide range of options.
- Wide range of temperature options as well as a temperature control via top vent
- “Divide and Conquer” offers dual cooking surfaces
- Airtight seal with fiberglass mesh gasket
Most Unique BBQ Charcoal GrillGet it
Not for the faint of heart (or faint of budget!) this Tagwood grill is the best of the best. Known as Argentinian or Santa Maria style, this grill can reach up to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. There are multiple levels at which you can cook your food, and you can hang your meat for a very traditional style of cooking. The frame is made from heavy-duty stainless steel, which is rust and corrosion-resistant. Included as well is a UV-resistant cover, making this grill able to withstand all elements. One particularly unique aspect of this model are the firebricks, which help to create and maintain extreme temperatures. All in all, this is the perfect grill for a BBQ connoisseur.
- Multiple cooking levels
- Created to withstand all seasons
- Includes meat hooks and prep area
Commonly Asked Questions
Question: Is a charcoal grill bad for you?
Charcoal BBQ grills have a bit of a bad rap regarding healthiness, and there is some truth to it. Charred foods do contain carcinogens. You can help to avoid this by not overly charring your food, or cutting off the extremely charred parts. Another method to cut down on potential carcinogens is to prevent flare-ups. Many grills have mechanisms to help with this, and you can also put down the foil to catch any drippings. Another thing to consider is limiting or even eliminating using lighter fluid. This is also known to improve the taste of grilled foods, as the fluid can cause a noticeable off-taste, as well as being toxic in larger amounts.
Question: Is charcoal better than gas? Why are charcoal grills better?
To a large degree, the debate between BBQ gas grills versus BBQ charcoal grills will be a matter of opinion. However, charcoal’s signature smoky taste is hard, if not impossible, to replicate using gas. Additionally, charcoal grills get hotter and stay hotter than gas. Another great thing about charcoal BBQ grills is the price point: There are a huge amount of charcoal grills under $500, and even grills under $100 will have decent features. Gas grills, for the same thing, will usually be considerably more expensive.
Question: What is the best charcoal grill to buy?
Again, this is going to be a matter of preference. How much space you can dedicate to grilling, portability, size, and what features are desirable will vary from person to person. Generally speaking, pay attention to specifications for things like square inches of cooking space, wheels, or other mobility helpers such as handles, and added features like a rotisserie, multiple cooking surfaces, and storage. The best BBQ charcoal grill will be one that fits your budget and serves your needs. A grill that is much larger than your general needs will likely be more expensive and also waste charcoal as well as time heating up.
Question: How do you use a charcoal grill?
Most charcoal grills are fairly simple to set up and use. Place the charcoal (lump or briquette) in the designated area, ignite using a built-in starter or lighter fluid, and you’re pretty much good to go. Always read and follow manufacturer instructions.
The article was updated on 9/1/2021
Charcoal BBQ grills are not only a great way to cook food outdoors, but also an excellent way to bring together family and friends. Whether you choose a basic model that can come with you to the beach or a top-of-the-line grill that will be the star of your outdoor kitchen, there is a great charcoal BBQ at every price point.
Have you started grilling with charcoal yet? Let us know in the comments!