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The Best Charcoal Grills

Last updated on July 18, 2023
Best Charcoal Grill

Our Review Process

Don't Waste Your Money is focused on helping you make the best purchasing decision. Our team of experts spends hundreds of hours analyzing, testing, and researching products so you don't have to. Learn more.

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Our Picks For The Top Charcoal Grill

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Product Overview
Key Takeaway
 Top Pick

Cuisinart 14-Inch Portable Charcoal BBQ

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Cuisinart

14-Inch Portable Charcoal BBQ

This charcoal BBQ is small enough to sit on a table and is the ideal choice for camping trips and tailgating parties. The chrome-plated cooking rack is able to accommodate a few hot dogs, hamburgers and asparagus stalks at once. Three secure lid locks and a set of non-skid feet add to the functionality of this unit.

Overall Take

Chrome-Plated GrateThe dual venting system in this charcoal grill allows for better temperature control.

 Runner Up

Weber Kettle One-Touch Cleaning Charcoal Grill, 22-Inch

Weber

Kettle One-Touch Cleaning Charcoal Grill, 22-Inch

With a capacity of up to 13 burgers and a large lid for bulkier foods, this charcoal grill is great for cooking for groups. An ash catcher makes cleanup a breeze. Simply remove the catcher after you're finished and dump the ashes inside. Superior heat-distribution control will ensure your food is cooked evenly.

Overall Take

Even Heat DistributionThis charcoal grill features heat-distribution technology to ensure your food cooks evenly.

 Strong Contender

Weber 11.5-Inch Porcelain & Coated Cast Iron Portable Charcoal BBQ

Weber

11.5-Inch Porcelain & Coated Cast Iron Portable Charcoal BBQ

With this charcoal grill, you'll be able to prepare up to six hamburgers at once. The unit is outfitted with a plated steel cooking grate that is super easy to clean. The lid and base are constructed from a porcelain enamel, which does a great job of retaining heat.

Overall Take

Compact and LightweightThe lockable lid on this charcoal BBQ adds to its portability.

 Also Consider

Royal Gourmet CC1830S Adjustable Charcoal Grill, 30-Inch

Royal Gourmet

Adjustable Charcoal Grill, 30-Inch

This grill gives you both a charcoal grill and an offset smoker, letting you both grill and smoke meats at the same time. The porcelain-coated grates and ash pan make cleanup easy, and the sturdy base includes metal grates for extra storage. The attached wheels make it easy to move this grill around.

Overall Take

Offset SmokerThe offset smoker on this grill provides extra grilling space.

Buying Guide

Propane gas may have become popular for its convenience, but true grill masters will tell you that nothing beats the taste you get from cooking on a charcoal grill. With charcoal, you’ll get a smokier taste similar to what you’d find by cooking with wood chips.

There’s a reason for this smoky taste. As your food cooks on a charcoal grill, meat drippings drop onto the flame, creating smoke. As part of this smoke vapor reaches your food, some of it infuses with the meat, giving you that much-desired traditional barbecue taste.

It’s important to note, though, that gas grills have their benefits, as well. As those drippings drop down, the moisture lands on the ceramic or metal slabs that protect the meat from the flame. The result is moister meat.

If you’re buying a charcoal grill, you need to know right away they can be a little messier than gas. The good news is, today’s charcoal grills are built to make up for that. You’ll often get easily removable trays that collect ash, letting you easily discard it after you’re finished cooking.

It’s also important to look at surface area. Gas grills come in a variety of sizes, some more portable than others. If you’ll be moving the gas grill around or taking it on the go, you might want a more portable option. Same if you’re dealing with limited space, such as a small patio behind a condo. What’s most important, no matter what size you buy, is the cooking area. Pay close attention to the dimensions. If you regularly cook for large groups, you might want a grill that gives you enough room to pile in a large number of burgers, hot dogs or chicken legs.

Lastly, there’s the issue of temperature control. You’ll need to be able to easily adjust the heat settings, but it’s equally important that your grill evenly distributes heat across the grill top surface. Otherwise, you’ll find you’re shifting items around to ensure everything is evenly cooked, which could delay mealtime.

What to Look For

  • You’ll need to be extra alert when you’re using a charcoal grill. The wind can exacerbate charcoal fires, causing fires. You also can easily burn your hand on charcoal, which gets extremely hot. Gas grills are safer, especially in windy conditions, but as long as you know the dangers, you can get the benefits of a charcoal grill without the safety concerns.
  • For best results, use a charcoal chimney to light your charcoal grill. Stuff newspaper in the bottom of the chimney before filling it with charcoal. You’ll then put the charcoal chimney inside the grill and light the newspaper.
  • A charcoal grill needs to be preheated, so be sure you allow extra time. Unlike gas grills, which can take just a few minutes, you’ll need to light it and wait about 5 to 10 minutes for the charcoal to be covered in gray ash. Dense vegetables, steaks and burgers can handle high heat, which means you can set them on the grill once it reaches full temperature. This gives you that sear on the outside that makes some grilled foods so desirable. However, if you’re cooking items like chicken and pork chops, you’ll need to wait for the grill to settle down after you’ve initially lit the charcoal. This can take 25 to 30 minutes.
  • There are three major types of charcoal grills: kettle, barrel and ceramic. A kettle grill tends to be smaller, with a kettle-like shape, while barrel grills are larger. With a barrel grill, the coals go in the bottom part and the top part forms the grill top and lid. A ceramic charcoal grill is pricier, but it has better heat control than the two other types.
  • If your recipe calls for marinating your meat before grilling, put the meat and marinade in a bag and leave it in the refrigerator overnight. This lets the marinade fully soak into the meat. If you can’t marinate overnight, simply increase the amount you use.
  • It may take you a while to get to know the temperature of your grill. Use it several times with your own household before relying on it for a cookout involving guests. Over time, you’ll start to learn exactly what temperature does best for different types of food.
  • Although gas grills are easier to use, if you’ve never grilled before, charcoal can be a great way to learn the ropes. Once you’ve cooked on a charcoal grill, which is typically less expensive, you can easily switch to a gas grill. It’s much more difficult to move from a gas to a charcoal grill.
  • Traditional charcoal grills required you to stoke the coals or add more fuel to keep the fire going and control the temperature. But newer grills are available that use air dampers to control the temperature.
  • In addition to your grill, you’ll also need a good set of tools and a barbecue thermometer that will monitor your grill’s internal temperature.
  • It’s important to remove the ash after your grill has cooled. Not only can wet ashes damage the surface of your grill, but they can become a fire hazard if food drippings are mixed in.
  • Avoid dumping your grill’s ashes in the yard, especially if you have pets. Wet ashes tend to take on the same properties found in lye and can be dangerous for pet paws.
  • If you’ll be moving your grill, either by carrying it or rolling it around, look for one that has a lid that locks. This will make it easier and safer to maneuver.
  • Some grills have extra baskets or table surfaces that come in handy for storing your cooking utensils and seasonings.

More to Explore

Charcoal is made by burning wood, animal or plant materials at a high level of heat with reduced access to oxygen. But once formed, charcoal ignites and burns much easier than wood, making it popular for creating fast, easily-controlled fires.

Although charcoal has long been used to generate heat, cavemen discovered other uses for it. As far back as 30,000 BC, charcoal was used as pigment for the drawings found in caves of the time. In 4,000 BC, humans discovered that mixing ore with a charcoal-based fire created pure metal.

Since that time, charcoal has served a wide variety of purposes, including being used for gunpowder and removing impurities from raw sugar and water. Activated charcoal is even used in medical settings.

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