best charcoal grills
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The 5 Best Charcoal Grills for Cooking Outdoors

We like the Weber Original Kettle Premium 22-Inch Charcoal Grill because it has hinged grates and a generously sized cooking surface.
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If you want to kick off grilling season on a high note, the first step is making sure you have the right type of grill. Charcoal grills are an excellent choice because they can reach high temperatures and give your food a distinct flavor. Once you know exactly how to use your grill (make sure you follow these safety tips) you'll be able to get perfectly cooked meat, veggies, and more right in your backyard. 

To find the best charcoal grills, we researched top-performing models and considered factors like cooking area, durability, and versatility when coming up with our recommendations. We also took other features into account, like removable ash catchers (which provide hassle-free cleanup) and hinged grates (which allow you to effortlessly add coal as you need). For expert insight on charcoal grills, we spoke to Josiah Citrin, two-star Michelin chef and author of Charcoal: New Ways to Cook With Fire

Our top choice is the Weber Original Kettle Premium 22-Inch Charcoal Grill because it's a durable, rust-resistant grill that's made to withstand the elements. While there are plenty of fancy models that cost upwards of a thousand dollars, this grill can accommodate large proteins and medium crowds for a fraction of the price. 

Here are the best charcoal grills to take your cookout to the next level.

Our Top Picks

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best charcoal grills
Credit: amazon.com

Best Overall Charcoal Grill: Weber Original Kettle Premium 22-Inch Charcoal Grill

View at Amazon ($233)

Also available at Walmart and Home Depot.

Who it's for: People who want a reliable, easy-to-use grill with a generously sized cooking surface.
Who it isn't for: People who want a versatile grill that works as a smoker and oven, too.

We think this classic charcoal grill from Weber is the best option for most people, especially those who simply need a grill for casual use. We love that it's built to last and easy to maintain: The aluminum dampers and porcelain-enameled lid and bowl deter rust, while the wheels are durable enough to withstand routine wear and tear. There's even a removable ash catcher that gives you a hassle-free cleaning experience that rivals the convenience of gas grills.

The kettle-shaped model has generous grate space (363 square inches, to be exact) that can accommodate enough proteins and veggies to feed a small crowd. It can fit up to 13 burgers at once, which is perfect if you plan on having BBQs this summer. The hinged cooking grate allows you to add more charcoal while you're in the middle of grilling, and the lid has a hook so you can hang it on the side of the grill instead of on the ground. Plus, you can hang your essential grilling tools on the side for easy access.

Product Details:

  • Cooking Area: 363 square inches
  • Removable Ash Catcher: Yes
  • Hinged Grate: Yes
best charcoal grills
Credit: lowes.com

Best Budget Charcoal Grill: Mr. Bar-B-Q 22-Inch Kettle Charcoal Grill

View at Lowe’s ($70)

Who it's for: People who want a budget-friendly charcoal grill that doesn't skimp on essential features.
Who it isn't for: People who want a model with a hinged grate for adding charcoal as needed.

If you're in search of a charcoal grill that won't break the bank, then this budget-friendly option from Mr. Bar-B-Q is a good choice. Even though it lacks some of the bells and whistles of pricier models (like accessory hooks and side tables), this charcoal grill still has all the essential features. It has a spacious, 350-square-inch grate that fits plenty of food and a removable ash catcher that makes cleaning it way easier.

Even though this charcoal grill has a convenient hinged lid, it doesn't have a hinged grate. That means you'll have to take food off the grill and remove the grate if you run out of charcoal while cooking. While it might not be the most durable or high-quality model out there, this grill does come with a one-year limited warranty. It's still a great option for anyone new to grilling or people who only use the grill a few times throughout the season.

Product Details:

  • Cooking Area: 350 square inches
  • Removable Ash Catcher: Yes
  • Hinged Grate: No

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best charcoal grills
Credit: acehardware.com

Best Splurge Charcoal Grill: Big Green Egg 18.25-Inch Large Charcoal Kamado Grill and Smoker

View at Ace Hardware ($1,000)

Who it's for: People who grill very often and are willing to spend more on a versatile, high-quality model. 
Who it isn't for: People who need a relatively lightweight grill that's easy to move around.

Kamado-style charcoal grills, like this one from Big Green Egg, are a favorite of Citrin's. With thick ceramic sides, these grills can quickly reach high temperatures and maintain them for a long time. They use consistent convection heat, so they tend to burn charcoal more efficiently and cook food more evenly than plated steel grills. Citrin considers kamado-style grills "the best and most versatile" because they can function "as a grill, a smoker, and even an oven."

What sets the Big Green Egg apart from other ceramic grills are its patented airflow systems and high-quality temperature gauge. These features provide accurate readings up to 750 degrees Fahrenheit while also allowing for precise temperature control at low heat over long periods of time. Just note that the grill itself is very heavy at 162 pounds, so it can be difficult to move around on your patio. Another thing to keep in mind is that the cooking islands and tables are sold separately.

Product Details:

  • Cooking Area: 262 square inches
  • Removable Ash Catcher: No
  • Hinged Grate: Not listed
best charcoal grills
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Best Portable Charcoal Grill: Everdure Cube Portable Charcoal Grill

View at Amazon ($199)

Also available at Williams Sonoma and Food52.

Who it's for: People who want a compact grill that they can take on camping trips or to tailgates.
Who it isn't for: People who want a grill that comes with a stand so they can keep it out on the patio.

Whether you need to cook a small meal for two or grill shish kebabs for the football tailgate, this portable charcoal grill from Everdure does the trick. Not only is it very compact (just under 17 inches on its longest side), but this grill is also thoughtfully optimized so no space is wasted. It's unique because it enhances the portability of your food, grilling accessories, and utensils, too. The lid is actually made up of a food-grade storage tray and bamboo prep board that sit within the porcelain enamel firebox.

Plus, the portable charcoal grill has a heat-protective base so that you can safely use it on any surface—even tabletops. Its chrome handles stay cool enough to touch while cooking, and everything latches together so it stays secure during transportation. We also love its cool minimalist aesthetic and unconventional color options.

Product Details:

  • Cooking Area: 115 square inches
  • Removable Ash Catcher: Yes
  • Hinged Grate: No
best charcoal grills
Credit: homedepot.com

Best Charcoal Grill for Small Spaces: Vision Grills Icon Cadet 101 15.5-Inch Kamado Charcoal Grill

View at Home Depot ($500)

Also available at Lowe's.

Who it's for: People who need a two-in-one charcoal grill that fits on small patios.
Who it isn't for: People who need a grill to regularly cook for large groups of people.

This small kamado grill is actually a two-in-one appliance, so it's great for people who have limited space in their backyards. It can be used as a portable grill, but it also works right on your deck or patio when placed in the included cart. The cart is super easy to assemble (it only takes a few minutes) and it's complete with wheels, side shelves, and hooks to hang tools and accessories. Even though the charcoal grill is compact, it has 214 square inches of cooking space that can accommodate up to four burgers at a time.

Beginners will especially appreciate that this model has color-coded heat zones, which provide superior control and are more intuitive than straightforward temperature gauges. Keep in mind that while this charcoal grill is great for small spaces, the cooking surface is not big enough for large gatherings. So if you end up having quite a few people over for a cookout, you'll probably need to grill the food in batches.

Product Details:

  • Cooking Area: 214 square inches
  • Removable Ash Catcher: Yes
  • Hinged Grate: Not listed

Final Verdict

We think the Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill is the best choice for most people, especially those who want something convenient for casual summer grilling. It's reasonably priced and easy to use, and it consistently outlasts its warranty. But if you're aiming to be the next seasoned pitmaster, a kamado-style grill like the Big Green Egg is a good investment: It heats up faster than conventional steel grills and boasts superior heat retention and convection capabilities (so it burns charcoal more efficiently, too).

How to Shop for Charcoal Grills

Cooking Area

The grill size you should select largely depends on how you intend to use it. You can get away with a smaller grill if you plan on sticking to intimate date nights and small family gatherings. But if you anticipate having backyard gatherings for friends and neighbors regularly, then you'll likely need a bigger grill. Choosing a model that's too small will overcrowd the grill, so food will take much longer to cook and it won't taste quite as good. On the other hand, choosing a grill that's too large will be much less efficient and require unnecessary maintenance. 

A four-person household should opt for a grill with a surface area between 250 and 300 square inches. People with large families and anyone who plans on entertaining often should opt for a grill with 600 square inches of cooking area or more.

Maintenance

Do you remember the last time that you were eager to clean the grill? It might not be your favorite part of the process, but maintenance and cleaning requirements are important to consider. Even though charcoal grills aren't as easy to clean as gas models, many manufacturers have started including handy features like removable ash catchers that make cleaning your charcoal grill more efficient. 

Special Features

Certain features can make grilling (and the subsequent cleanup) easier. Hinged grates or side charcoal doors are convenient because they make it easier to add charcoal throughout the cooking process. But other features, like built-in dome thermometers, are less necessary. They're rarely accurate because they're better at measuring the temperature of the air above the food rather than the actual cooking surface. A simple meat thermometer can deliver more accurate results.

Questions You Might Ask

What are the benefits of a charcoal grill over a gas grill?

The main differences between these two types of grills are that charcoal grills generally provide greater flavor, heat, and versatility. "Charcoal imparts a distinct, smokey flavor that gas grilling lacks," says Citrin. "What makes charcoal grills unique is that you [can] incorporate different kinds of wood like cherry, apple, or mesquite, which means you can add complexity of flavor to whatever you're grilling." 

The other concern is the heat factor: "When you buy high-quality lump charcoal and use something like a ceramic style grill, it can burn at temperatures as high as 700 degrees, whereas a standard gas grill is much lower in temperature," Citrin adds. "Plus, with kamado-style grills, you can transform your grill into both a smoker and an oven, which a gas grill simply cannot do."

How do you start a charcoal grill?

For cooking purposes, you don't want to use lighter fluid to start a charcoal grill. (After all, no one ever encountered a fuel-like aftertaste and thought "yum!") But the good news is that the easiest and safest ways to start a charcoal fire don't require lighter fluid anyway. 

First, select your medium: Lump charcoal gives you a hotter, faster burn, while briquettes give you a cooler, slower burn. Ideally, you'll place your charcoal in a charcoal chimney (also called a "chimney starter"). The amount of charcoal that you'll use depends on your heat and duration needs. Use less charcoal for cooking slowly on low heat, and more charcoal for cooking fast at hot temperatures. 

For low heat, fill your chimney 1/4 full; for medium heat, 1/2–3/4 full; and for high heat, fill the chimney to the top. Then place newspaper, paper towels, and a bit of cooking oil beneath your chimney and light your pile using a long lighter. When you notice the top layer of your charcoal has turned gray (it'll take roughly 10–15 minutes), it's time to pour your lit charcoal into the grill.

How do you clean a charcoal grill? 

Before you start cleaning your charcoal grill, you should preheat it. Once it's hot, take a long-handled stiff wire brush to the grate and give it some elbow grease. If you don't have a brush, you could also use a ball of tin foil or even a sliced onion half. When you're done cooking, repeat this process. You might also consider oiling the bars of the grate before grilling (to prevent food from sticking) and again once you're done (to help prevent rusting.) Don't forget about seasonal maintenance, like removing the ashes and covering the entire grill with a cover.

Take Our Word for It

This article was written by Leslie Joblin, a contributing writer for Real Simple with two years of experience writing product reviews and lifestyle content. To compile this list, she thoroughly researched the most popular charcoal grills on the market and considered factors like cooking area, maintenance, and special features. Leslie also received expert advice from Josiah Citrin, chef and author of Charcoal: New Ways to Cook With Fire.