Getting the charcoal burning, adjusting the air vents, monitoring the temperature and always being present when cooking over fire is something that plenty of us love (including myself). To many people, the entire process is something more than just regular cooking, it’s an interaction, an art form and a performance of skills, which is what I love charcoal grills for.
There is no denying that, when cooking on a charcoal grill, you’re the only one having control over the entire cooking process.
It requires a lot of skills but one has to also remember that a large role in that is played by having the right charcoal grill.
There are many types of charcoal grills, and each of them has its upsides and downsides. You need to know which of them offers better temperature control and convenience and whether it will work for you.
To make the choice easier for you, I have prepared a diverse list of the best charcoal grills, these are my favorite models. I focused on diversity so that everyone can choose something perfect for themselves regardless of their budget.
The 5 Best Charcoal Grills for Every Budget
When looking for the best charcoal grill, you should focus on what you actually need. Make a careful analysis of your needs and requirements then pick the model that best fits your cooking style. If you are a beginner then it’s necessary for you to read the second part of the article where you will find a lot of valuable tips.
Weber is one of the few manufacturers that have earned so much trust and recognition in the world of grilling and smoking. Their flagship model is Weber Kettle, which was first built a few decades ago.
Ever since then, a lot of things have changed, Weber has not only perfected the kettle grill but also introduced plenty of other, equally great grills. The brand is famous for their high quality, solidly built grills that give great results and are available at adequate prices.
Therefore, Weber Original Kettle Premium is a high quality, durable charcoal grill manufactured in USA, it is covered with as many as 10 years of warranty. In practice, it is pretty common to see pictures of owners of a decades-old kettle from weber.
My review relates to the original kettle premium 22” but you need to know that the manufacturer’s offer also includes other sizes. Still, I believe that 363 square inches of cooking area is a universal size that meets the expectations of most people.
It’s a fairly simple yet effective charcoal grill that only comes with a few features but they are very useful.
First and foremost, let me mention the Weber One Touch cleaning system, which has revolutionized charcoal grills, making cleaning incredibly simple, fast and convenient.
The construction of this grill makes it very versatile, especially considering the price. Kettles are great not just for grilling but also smoking, although a separate accessory will be needed such as Slow n’ Sear, which allows to change a regular grill into a charcoal smoker.
Thanks to its well thought-out and perfected over the years construction, the kettle is among the best in terms of temperature control. It is a result of its well thought-out construction and adequately placed control vents.
It’s a grill that every BBQ enthusiast should own and at the same time a great choice for beginners. For such reasonable price you get quality, durability and all the essential features, I could go as far as say that you won’t find anything better at this price.
A huge advantage for beginners is popularity of this model. You’ll find a lot of useful video guides on the Internet that show from A to Z how to prepare high quality barbecue.
The original Kettle Premium 22” is too simple for you? What if I told you that Weber has decided to expand all of what I described above with many extra features, thus creating the Performer model.
At the first glance, it’s a completely different grill, but if you take a closer look, especially at the parameters, you will see plenty of similarities. First and foremost, it is a grill built of the same size of 22” (363 square inches), which was made into a huge table instead of regular legs.
That way, Weber has maintained all the essentials of a regular kettle while adding plenty of solutions that drastically increase convenience.
The huge table offers a whole lot of work space which is undoubtedly convenient. It comes with tool hooks, a charcoal basket and plenty of space under the grill for even more accessories.
That’s not all, Weber Performer Deluxe stands out among other charcoal grills by having the innovative Electronic Touch-N-Go gas ignition system. Getting the charcoal burning can be annoying, but not with a grill that comes with a hidden burner inside the furnace (it runs on small propane tanks), see the example in the video.
On top of that, a lot of less visible aspects were taken care of, like the lid handle for example – never again will you have to look for a place to put the lid away.
It comes with a built-in LCD timer that you can remove anytime you want – something that always comes in handy around the kitchen.
Of course it also comes with the One Touch cleaning system which means ash cleaning will no longer be a problem.
Weber Performer Deluxe is a choice for decided people with a bigger budget. It comes with plenty of useful features and incredibly increases the convenience of cooking, getting pretty close to a gas grill thanks to the ignition system.
For someone who loves charcoal grilling, it is a truly great suggestion. Personally, I love this model and can confirm that it is worth its money. I forgot one important thing, the Performer is also covered with a warranty of up to 10 years depending on the element.
In most cases, young people won’t recognize this grill, whereas those much older should have no problem remembering it. At the first glance, it doesn’t look as great as the latest charcoal grills, but don’t let that fool you.
PK Grill & Smoker is one of the most durable grills made so far and one of the few that are still being manufactured in USA. It used to be popular in the 1950s, but at some point it went off the radar and could only be seen around people who bought it back in the day.
Luckily, it is available again now and, what is most important, it represents the same high quality if not higher.
The PK Grill is made of aluminum which makes it nearly indestructible and 100% resistant to corrosion. It is not uncommon to meet someone who’s been in possession of such grill for as long as several decades and, what is most important, it is still operational.
It offers a lot of cooking area, 300 square inches is more than enough for grilling and smoking.
The interesting and rather unique construction ensures great air flow and control of as many as four air vents located in each corner of the grill (two on the bottom and two on the top).
The PK Grill and smoker is a solid and very durable option where the only downside is not having any gadgets. It has all the essentials including a lot of room for accessories and some work area.
It certainly stands out with how durable this grill is – it’s covered with 10 years of warranty although I’m sure that in good hands it can last for much longer. For those of you who remember it from old days or from your parents/grandparents’ stories I have good news – the PK grill is still as great as it used to be.
Kamados are among the most versatile charcoal grills, sadly this is an option only for those with a thick wallet. A grill of this type is characterized by great insulation and versatility while also being great for grilling, smoking or even roasting without additional accessories.
The Kamado Joe Classic II is quite impressive with its look, but I suggest focusing more on the cooking style. It is completely different from a regular charcoal grill which is why I recommend it for experienced people looking for something new.
Ceramics have great insulating properties which makes it easy to maintain a low temperature over a long time. Of course it requires some experience and skills, but you still have it ahead of you.
Ceramic grills, on top of being durable and versatile, are also characterized by their effectiveness. Great insulation means that you don’t need as much charcoal as with a regular grill.
The basic cooking area is only 256 square inches but additional accessories allow to easily expand this area up to 660 square inches.
I picked Kamado Joe due to its innovativeness and quality that it introduced to the world of ceramic grills. You can be sure that you won’t be disappointed in these regards, but sadly it all costs and it costs a whole lot.
The ash removal system (removable drawer), the air lift hinge that minimizes the dome’s weight and the attention to detail are something you won’t experience with most kamado manufacturers.
The advantage of ceramics is durability against external factors and resistance to corrosion, the disadvantage on the other hand is its very large weight and being prone to cracks when it comes to mechanical damages.
If you’re interested in this type of grill, but are looking for a smaller alternative to Kamado Joe Classic II, you should check out my guide to the best kamado grills, you are bound to find something cheaper.
You’re thinking about cooking away from home, like when camping or somewhere on the road for example? This model will be perfect, it was built with mobility in mind and as for now it is difficult to find a worthy competitor.
Weber Go-Anywhere is characterized by its well thought-out construction and light weight. Its weight is so low that you can easily carry it in one hand holding it by the handle.
It comes with aluminum legs with two very important upsides. The first is separating the hot grill from the surface whereas the second are the legs that, when folded, lock the grill’s lid and make it possible to transport it securely.
Another huge advantage are side handles that plenty of manufacturers of mobile grills forget about. When away from home, it is pretty common to have to change your spot which tends to be bothersome if the grill is already hot and there are no handles (this is why I rejected Weber Smokey Joe).
When it comes to the downsides, on the other hand, one should definitely mention the small distance between the grill grates and the furnace. Because of that you need to use the right amount of charcoal so that the temperature isn’t too high or else the food will get burned.
Temperature control isn’t the best either, but I am aware that it is caused by the type of construction in this grill. One alternative could be a mini kettle or Weber Smokey Joe but it isn’t quite as mobile and convenient to travel with as Weber Go-Anywhere.
Tips for buying a new charcoal grill
Budget – Define your budget to make choosing easier, the price range is pretty big but the good news is that a solid charcoal grill doesn’t cost much. More functional or versatile models cost much more so if you have a limited budget go for simplicity.
Type – There are many types of charcoal grills, each of them with its upsides and downsides. Certain models are characterized by versatility that makes it possible to grill or even smoke at equally high levels. Each is great for grilling, but some models offer more which makes it worth considering.
Size – Analyze your needs and how much you cook. I believe that about 300 square inches is a universal size that should meet the expectations of most people.
Cleaning – Check out whether the grill you’re interested in comes with a cleaning system. If it doesn’t, you are going to have to spend more time removing ash after each cooking which to be honest is annoying. It is better to pay a little more for a model that comes with an ash removal system and enjoy the convenience.
Features – They are not most important but if you have a bigger budget then plenty of solutions are very useful. It is obligatory to check the ash removal system, the rest isn’t quite as significant.
Warranty – Of course every investment should be protected with an adequate warranty. If you spend a lot of money and you want something to serve you for years to come, you should especially pay attention to the warranty. It doesn’t matter how expensive the product is and from which manufacturer, even the most valued ones can have flaws from manufacturing or transport.
Grilling or smoking ?
Before you choose a new charcoal grill, you should carefully analyze your needs and cooking style.
If you are a grilling enthusiast then pretty much every model from this guide will live up to your expectations. If on the other hand you smoke once in a while, maybe it’s a good idea to consider buying a versatile grill that will work great for both styles.
It will allow you to save a lot of money but if you’re more into smoking then it’s better to go for a dedicated smoker as no versatile grill will give you a better temperature control ( My guide on the best bbq smokers will be helpful ).
Charcoal vs Gas Grill
It is one of the hottest topics with loyal fans on both sides who won’t change their mind. Luckily for you, I am objective and will simply present you with the key upsides and downsides of both types.
Your job will be to carefully familiarize yourself with that and make the choice of what suits you better. Remember, what matters the most is what you feel, think and like, which is why you should think for yourself instead of listening to fanatics.
Upsides of gas:
Convenience and speed – All it takes is turning a burner knob, waiting for 10-15 minutes and then you can start cooking.
Temperature control – Adequate adjustment of burner power is usually all you have to do. That way it’s easy to more or less maintain a fixed temperature, you don’t need to adjust air vents or amount of charcoal.
Upsides of charcoal:
Flavor – A characteristic flavor that can’t be copied. It is so characteristic and authentic that no other type of grill can compare in this regard.
Easy to use – A charcoal grill requires more time and involvement when it comes to temperature control and adjusting the air vents. I have to admit, though, that plenty of manufacturers that have been around for decades have lead to a situation where a charcoal grill these days comes with many interesting solutions and features that make cooking much easier.
Personally, as someone who loves barbecue and grilling, I prefer using everything that technology has to offer and I am open to everything. In that situation, my opinion is that if you take BBQ seriously, there’s nothing stopping you from having both types of grills (gas and charcoal).
The pros and cons of buying charcoal grill
Flavor – The characteristic flavor of food from a charcoal grill has no matches, especially when it comes to smoking thick slabs of meat.
Versatility – Every model was made with grilling in mind, but there are many options that make effective smoking or even roasting possible by utilizing adequate accessories and techniques.
Durability and warranty – A charcoal grill is the least malfunctioning and also the most durable type of grill. In practice, it is a pretty simple grill which allowed manufacturers to perfect the quality of the entire construction.
Price – There is no arguing that charcoal grills are among the cheapest. For just around $200 you can buy a solid, durable and effective grill which is impossible when it comes to other types of grills.
Cleaning – Charcoal leaves ash behind that has to be removed after each cooking. On top of cleaning grill grates, you also have to take care of ash removal which might be bothersome. The good news is that most modern grills come with an ash removal system that makes this task much easier.
Temperature control – Sadly, maintaining a fixed temperature isn’t the easiest task. Temperature control in a charcoal grill requires some experience, you need to gain skills to effectively control the cooking process.
Getting the charcoal burning – You have to get the charcoal burning every time, which is time-consuming. To start cooking, you need at least 10-15 minutes to get the charcoal burning and then just as much to get the right temperature. Some models come with an ignition system but in most cases you are on your own. In such situation, I especially recommend to buy a charcoal chimney starter that allows to get the charcoal burning easily, quickly and most of all evenly (it is the best method, free from toxic fire starters etc).
Patience – The time needed to get charcoal burning, achieve the right temperature, having to control the amount of charcoal and adjust the air vents. All those responsibilities require time and interaction with the grill, which to many people isn’t the best news.