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There’s a lot of debate in the BBQ arena. Dry rub or marinade? Texas or North Carolina sauce? Light beer or hard seltzer? But there’s little arguing that for an authentic BBQ experience (and flavor), nothing beats charcoal. Thankfully, we’ve got the answers you need to find the charcoal BBQ that’s right for you. Go ahead and grill us. Whether you want a backyard unit that has no problem smoking low and slow, or a portable grill that can deliver high heat before the first pitch, we’re here to help you buy the best charcoal grill to meet your needs but assembly and cooking are all you.

Best Charcoal Smoker Grill: PK Grills PK360 Outdoor Charcoal Grill and Smoker Combination  
Best Gas and Charcoal Grill: Char-Griller 50-50 Duo Gas-and-Charcoal Grill
Best Tabletop Charcoal Grill: Weber Go-Anywhere Charcoal Grill 
Best Disposable Grill: Oppenheimer USA Disposable Charcoal Grill  
Best Cheap Charcoal Grill: Weber Original Kettle 18 in Charcoal Grill 

Features to Consider When Shopping for the Best Charcoal Grill

What’s for dinner? Sure, the kids have probably been asking you that since breakfast, but it’s also a useful question when trying to choose between adequate and the best charcoal grill. The grill you go with will differ depending on whether you’re more likely to host big backyard barbecues or limit your grilling to the campsite. So here’s what you need to know:

Grills should be made with rust-proof materials. Stainless steel, cast aluminum, and enameled coatings make for the most durable charcoal grills. Metal heats up fast perfect if you frequently sear meat directly on high heat. But if you need a grill that can smoke meat all day, seek out enamel-coated iron or steel pits to retain heat longer. (True smokers are made with materials like ceramic, which can seemingly hold heat for days.)   

Charcoal grills also come in a variety of styles, with kettle, “built-in” Gaucho, and tabletop charcoal grills being some of the most common. For the kettle, think about the classic Weber charcoal grill. The rounded steel basins are made to heat up quickly with just a moderate amount of charcoal. Built-in models are made for those who love the clean, modern look of a stainless-steel gas grill, but can’t quite shake their devotion to a juicer, more flavorful meats. Built-in models, which tend to be pricey, feature discrete coal drawers that make for easy loading and clean up your BBQ guests may not realize you were using charcoal until that first bite. Gaucho, or Argentinian, grills take their cue from South America, where meats are cooked over a bed of coals on a movable grate that can be raised or lowered, depending on the desired heat intensity. And tabletop options, perfect for small families or tailgaters, are portable charcoal grills that resemble their big siblings but have features like foldable legs and lockable lids that allow you to cook with them almost anywhere.

Now that you’ve got the styles down, it’s time for the sizzle. Adjustable, nonstick, grates will give you the most control when grilling, allowing you to move your cooking surface up or down to get your desired level of heat. And grates with hinges let you add coals while you’re cooking in case your afternoon barbecue runs into the evening. 

Lastly, let’s vent. Dampers regulate airflow, which dictates temperature. So the more vents you have, the more precise you can be. 

Read on for more ideas on how to find the best charcoal grill for you.      

Are You Also a Smoker?

It’s true that just about every charcoal grill could theoretically be used as a smoker. But if you’re serious about finding a backyard grill that’ll work for whatever main course you’re planning, you should consider a charcoal smoker grill, which offers the best of both options. The main difference between grilling and smoking comes down to heat and time. While ribeye steak can be seared quickly over high heat, that rack of ribs needs a lower heat for several hours to get that fall-off-the-bone quality. Controlling the temperature is about regulating the airflow, meaning vents are your friend if you want to move back and forth between cooking methods from one day to the next. Opening vents raises the temps while closing vents lower it makes sense since fire survives on oxygen. 

Materials also matter. Stainless steel, popular for charcoal grilling pits, can heat up quickly, but it doesn’t retain that heat for as long as ceramic, which is used to make many smokers. So when shopping for a charcoal smoker grill, look for material like cast aluminum, or metal with an enameled coating, to get heat quickly and keep it. 

Best Charcoal Smoker Grill: PK Grills PK360 Outdoor Charcoal Grill and Smoker Combination

Grilling and Smoking, Encapsulated

This cast aluminum grill capsule is as durable and functional as it is beautiful and portable. PK Grills

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Four vents define this rust-proof charcoal smoker. Grill over high heat, smoke low and slow, and be in control of it all by using two uppers and two lower vents that help regulate airflow, as well as two cooking zones. Plus, with the Tel-Tru thermometer, you can be confident that the temperature is exactly where you think it is. PK once stood for Portable Kitchen, and the 360 stays true to that, easily detaching from its stand if you want to take the BBQ grill tailgating or camping. On the functional side, the waterproof and heat-resistant shelves include bars for hanging your tools, and an ash-management system makes for easy cleanup. This is a grill that could be in your family for generations, as the aluminum build, backed by a 10-year warranty, is virtually indestructible.

Do You Need to Order the Combo?

Some days you need to sear a few chicken breasts for a quick after-work meal. Other days you’ve got all afternoon to light the coals and crack a beer while you enjoy that “authentic” grilling experience. If your BBQ habits constantly flip or your spouse simply prefers a different method a gas and charcoal grill provides the perfect combination. Two-in-one backyard grills that let you choose between gas or charcoal fuel are understandably pricier and bigger than a standalone charcoal or gas grill. But if you regularly rely on both, it makes sense to have all your barbecue needs in one unit.

Best Gas and Charcoal Grill: Char-Griller 50-50 Duo Gas-and-Charcoal Grill

Double Duty

Gas and charcoal cooking stations, side-by-side.
Char-Griller

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For the gas fans out there, three stainless steel burners, with electric ignition, produce 40,800 BTUs, meaning this BBQ grill can ramp up to 500 F to get that steak sizzling. Plus, keep food warm on a 12,000 BTU side burner. Charcoal purists will appreciate the adjustable pan that helps control the cooking temperature, as well as a double-insulated base that reduces the amount of coals or bricks you’ll need. Both sides can agree that the stainless steel construction is sturdy and durable, and the non-stick grates are easy to scrape clean. And no one will argue with amenities like racks for condiments and utensils.

Are You Looking for a Portable Charcoal Grill?

Cooking burgers before kickoff? Tabletop charcoal grills let you take your home cooking anywhere. Many portable charcoal grills are truly just miniature versions of bigger grills. Foldable legs and locking lids or cork lids that can double as a kind of trivet underneath the grill add to the portability. But, otherwise, shopping for tabletop charcoal grills requires the same considerations of materials and airflow that you want to keep in mind when buying a grill of any size. Oh, but the smaller grill will translate to a smaller price tag (and less charcoal used). So even if you don’t need to take your cooker anywhere, a tabletop model could be the best option if it’s just you and your spouse barbecuing on the back deck.

Best Tabletop Charcoal Grill: Weber Go-Anywhere Charcoal Grill

BBQ To Go

This Weber charcoal grill is light and compact. Weber

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Lid locks and foldable legs make this 15-pound tabletop charcoal grill truly portable. Yet it packs in plenty of grilling prowess. The BBQ grill features two 3-hole vent dampers for temperature regulation, a rust-proof porcelain-enameled body, and a durable plated steel cooking grate. Sure, it can only cook six burgers at once and doesn’t have a lot of space between the cooking grate and the grate, but if you aren’t feeding the whole team, and aren’t too concerned about catching drippings, this Weber grill is perfect for heating up a pack of hot dogs before heading into the stadium.

Sometimes Campers Need to Ditch the Grill After Dinner

The camping trip is over and the trunk is all packed up—including your portable charcoal grill. The dirt road leading back into civilization is pocked with deep ruts, and the big bumps toss your gear side to side, toppling that dirty grill onto all your camping gear. Right about then is when you probably wish you had gone with a disposable grill. There’s nothing fancy about the aluminum trays. (Don’t expect much room between your coals and cooking surface.) But if you’re on the go and could benefit from dumping your grill when you dump your coals, plan on a pan.

Best Disposable Grill: Oppenheimer USA Disposable Charcoal Grill

Trashable Pan

A grilling tray that you can throw away. Oppenheimer USA

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This disposable grill includes a wire rack and charcoal that lights with one match, ideal for camping couples looking to make no-muss, no-fuss shish kabobs or sausage. And at 4 pounds and 13-by-8-by-2 inches, this portable charcoal grill could reasonably fit into a pack, giving you that rich, smoky flavor on shorter backpacking trips.

Hoping Not to Burn Cash? Find a Cheap Backyard Grill for Under $100

At the end of the day, even the best charcoal grills are just updated versions of the caveman’s cooking fire. If all you need is a charcoal pit to grill up some burgers and kielbasa on the back patio, you don’t have to spend hundreds. Even cheap grills include features like vents for airflow, and they are often made with the same heat-conducting metal as more expensive backyard grills.

Best Cheap Charcoal Grill: Weber Original Kettle 18 in Charcoal Grill

Classic Cooker

With grilling, simplicity often reigns supreme. Weber

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They still make it like they used to. This Weber charcoal grill features the same materials and reputation that Weber has relied on to make some of the best charcoal grills since 1893. The Original Kettle doesn’t come with amenities like work shelves or multiple racks, but if all you need is 18 inches of grate to grill up some damn fine steaks or chicken, this BBQ grill does it and more. The porcelain-enameled steel lid and body will retain heat and won’t rust, the dampers on top and underneath let you control airflow, and the lid conveniently hooks to the side of the grill, so you don’t have to lay it on the ground when you’re tending to your food.

Charcoal Grill FAQ: people also ask

What is the hottest burning charcoal? 

Lump charcoal is the hottest burning charcoal, reaching temperatures of 1,400 F. On the other hand, briquettes made with a binding agent to create uniform pillow shapes, provide a more even heat over a longer period of time.

How to start a charcoal grill?

Starting a charcoal grill is not as easy as dumping the bag of briquettes onto the grate and lighting a match. First, arrange the coals in a pyramid shape. Next, pour lighter fluid evenly over your stack. Then wait 30 seconds for the coals to absorb the lighter fluid before igniting. When the coals turn white, spread them out, and you’re ready to grill. You can also use a chimney to start the grill. Fill the chimney with coals, place a starter like newspaper in the bottom of the chimney, and light. When you see flames, pour the coals onto the grill and wait for them to turn white.

How to clean a charcoal grill?

Clean a charcoal grill throughout the grilling season. In the spring, start with a fire to cook off any debris. When the grill is cool, remove the cooking and grates, and brush off big chunks of charcoal (soak if necessary). Wash the inside with soapy water and a scrubber brush (or a steel wool pad), then scrub the grates with your grill brush and a rag that’s been dipped in vegetable oil. Throughout the summer, be sure to remove excess ash as needed you don’t want to block any vents and continue brushing your grates and applying olive oil so your next meal won’t stick.

A Final Word on Shopping for the Best Charcoal Grill

Do you need a gas and charcoal grill combo? A grill that’s also a smoker? A grill that you can throw away? Start with the steak, then worry about the sizzle. In other words, knowing how, where and when you plan to do your grilling are the first and most important factors to consider when selecting which models will make the best charcoal grill for you.

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