Best Charcoal Grills For 2021
We fired up models from Nexgrill, Weber, Napoleon, KitchenAid, Char-Griller and more to find out which charcoal grill is king of the cookout.
Summertime is prime grilling time, which means it’s time to up your outdoor cooking game with the right grill. A charcoal grill might sound less luxurious than a;gas grill, but when it comes to flavor, the best charcoal grill absolutely competes. On top of that, charcoal grills are often more affordable than their gas counterparts, making them a good option for tight budgets and beginner grillers. They’re typically easier to set up than a gas grill, too. All you need for charcoal grilling is a lighter, a bag of charcoal and your favorite ingredients. In no time you’ll be reaping the rewards of an easy meal with true smoky flavor.;
From cart-style to kettle-style, feature-filled to bare minimum, we tested nine charcoal grills with chicken, ribs and steak to find out which are the best bets for your next backyard barbecue. We’ll update this list periodically.
Accessories And Additional Features
Dampers, vents, drawers for charcoal, cover, side tables, temperature probe holes, ash catchers and more are the bells and whistles of charcoal grills. There are tons of grilling accessories available. Some you wont need, some you wont want to live without.
Think about your own habits. Hate mess? Get an ash catcher. A little OCD about temperature? Be sure theres a temperature probe hole. Like everything at hand? Pick a model with a built-in side table. Lets look at some of the accessories we at FoodFireFriends recommend for charcoal grilling before you go.
How Do You Light Lump Charcoal
There are several methods you can use to light lump charcoal for your grill. Perhaps the easiest option is using a charcoal chimney, which uses crumpled newspaper to get the charcoal going. However, other options include stacking the charcoal in a pyramid and using lighter fluid to start the fire, or employing an electric charcoal starter.
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Best Charcoal Grills Of 2021 According To Experts
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The first thing someone looking to buy a new grill might notice is the sheer number of seemingly great options available. But whats ideal for one grill masters backyard might not be for another especially given that grills tend to come in three main styles: pellet grills, charcoal grills and gas grills.
Grills are built with speed, convenience, price and quality in mind, but when it comes to flavor, its hard to beat a charcoal-fired grill, according to Chris Lilly, a world championship pitmaster and spokesperson for Kingsford. When fat renders from meat slowly simmering over the fire, the juices hit the hot coals and create a charred moisture, he said. This directly affects grilled food flavor that you cant replicate in any other grill type. Food over fire equals flavor and charcoal maximizes the grilled taste in foods.
The Best Charcoal Grill Under $: Weber Original Kettle Premium 22 Charcoal Grill
Courtesy of Weber
If you want a family-sized charcoal grill for less than $200 that can cook anything and will last forever, the Weber Original 22-Inch Kettle Grill is it. When George Stephen, Sr. introduced the Weber Kettle in 1952, he set America’s backyards on fire . Today’s design is not far from the original, and it’s by far the most popular backyard grill in the world.
For searing, Weber kettles put most backyard gas grills to shame. Add an inexpensive Slow ‘n Sear smoker conversion kit, and turn your grill into a damn good smoker for ribs, pork, brisket, and fish. The large, arched lid is big enough to accommodate roasts and turkeys. There are also several upgrades to the base kettle, including tables, propane ignition, and more. And it’s made in the USA!
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How Do You Clean A Charcoal Grill
Upon extinguishing the coal and allowing the grill to cool down, you can;clean the grates;using a scraper or wire grill brush. If needed, you can take the grates off and soak them in soapy water for a few hours to loosen up burnt-on food and grease. Once they’re clean, make sure to oil them using a rag or paper towel to prevent rust.
You’ll also want to wipe down the inside of the lid and bowl using a mild soap. Finally, empty your grill’s ash catcher.
Best Flavor: Fogo Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Not ideal for long smoking sessions
If you want to impart the most flavor into your steaks, ribs, and other grilled foods, the Fogo Premium Hardwood Lump Charcoal is well-regarded for its superior flavor. This lump charcoal is made from hardwood oak trimmings with no other ingredients added, and you can definitely tell the difference in the taste of your food.
This lump charcoal lights up easily and is generally hot enough to grill in 15 minutes. It provides a long burn time that’s ideal for everyday grilling and short smoking sessions, and its pieces come in two different sizes70 percent of each bag is made up of medium-sized pieces that are 2 to 3 inches in size, and the remaining 30 percent are small pieces between 1 and 2 inches in size.
Wood Type: Oak | Weight: 17.6 lbs.
We chose the Jealous Devil All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal for the top spot due to smooth, inoffensive flavor and how quickly and consistently it heats up. Plus, it doesn’t spark as much as other products. If you’re on a budget or are new to charcoal grilling, go for the Royal Oak All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal . It’s easy to light, burns hot, and produces a great smoky flavor.
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Types Of Bbqs And Grills
There are many options to consider when choosing the perfect BBQ. Gas or charcoal? Propane or wood? How about a Kamado? What is a BTU? Well help you choose the best grill for your space and help you understand the differences between each, including their features and benefits, so you can make an informed decision before buying.
Snow Peak Takibi Fire & Grill
Snow Peaks Takibi Fire & Grill is an incredibly versatile and compact item that breaks down to a 22 x 25 x 6 form that can be assembled or disassembled in around a minute. Made from heavy-duty stainless steel, the grill features an adjustable cooking grate with three heights and can double as a fire pit. In addition to a carrying case, the grill is also sold with an included baseplate that affords extra stability while cooking in the dirt and mitigates the likelihood of hot embers finding their way onto the ground.
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The Best Splurge Gas Grill: Landmann Ardor 5
Courtesy of Landmann
Now we’re getting into the higher priced, luxury models, which are often used for expensive outdoor kitchens. This grill is the centerpiece of Landmann’s premium modular outdoor kitchen system, allowing the owner to add such other elements as a separate side burner, a drawer unit, a double door set, and a rotisserie. They also offer an Ardor kitchen island with integrated worktop, allowing you to customize your own dream kitchen outdoors.
The burners feature Landmanns Precision Temperature System which was German-engineered to distribute heat evenly and efficiently across the entire cooking surface. According to Landmann, the system works in part by increasing the fuel output of the outside burners and angling the heat shields slightly up in the front to promote heat distribution to the outside edges and front of the grill, which is where most grills experience a temperature drop.
Cooking Area: 662 square inches
Heat Flux: 105.74 BTUs/square inch
Is It Okay To Use Regular Charcoal Briquettes
Many kamado manufacturers recommend or even dictate that you use more expensive lump charcoal rather than briquettes. They argue that briquettes produce more ash than lump, and the ash can block airflow as it builds up over long cooks. Most kamado manufacturers also sell private-label lump charcoal, so they just might have a conflict of interest. Generally, we recommend using Kingsford Original Briquets in charcoal burners, because they’re affordable, consistent, and readily available. Lump charcoal, especially the bargain-basement varieties, can be inconsistent. We’ve seen bags that were half pulverized charcoal dust and half large chunks of construction material. It’s not unusual to find metal and plastic debris mixed in. Nonetheless, I personally prefer high-quality lump in a kamado over briquettes, because it’s lighter and easier to stir around at the bottom of the deep firebox, while briquettes tend to get compacted.
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The Best Affordable Gas Grill With Extras: Cuisinart 3
Courtesy of Cuisinart
Cuisinart’s 3-in-1 Stainless 5 Burner Gas Grill is a pretty nice package deal for a pretty low price. It’s called 3-in-1 because it’s a gas grill that comes with a smoke tube and a cast iron griddle. When grilling, the heat profile of 3-in-1 is remarkably even and has an impressively high temperature range. The smoke tube, however, is nothing to get excited about. As with all gas grills, 3-in-1 is so well ventilated for safety reasons that the little bit of smoke from wood chips in the tube blows out the large opening in the back without much effect on the food. But the big, heavy cast iron griddle is an attractive extra. If you haven’t tried outdoor griddling, you should. It’s not just for bacon and eggs. Griddles excel at sizzling meat and veggies. Shrimp don’t fall through the grates and griddles put a delicious brown finish on fish, burgers and chicken breasts.
This is a great gas grill for a nice price and the included cast iron griddle makes 3-in-1 a compelling choice. Just remember to keep the lids glass window clean. A little windex between uses does the trick.
Cooking Area: 442 square inches
Heat Flux: 108.60 BTUs/square inch
Temperature Control And Stability
If youre already a pro at taming the flame, great. You can handle quirks and inconsistencies with temperature. But for many, assurance that the grill will respond to your touch and maintain steady heat when necessary is a huge bonus.
The design of some grills will give you more assistance with this than others. And many models feature a built-in thermometer.
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All Hands On Deck: Char
Char-Broils Kamander Charcoal Grill, despite the name, is actually a kamado . In keeping with Char-Broils aim of removing consumer pain points, the Kamander has a list price of just $349.99far less than a basic Big Green Egg with a stand, which runs about $1,000. That makes it one of the lowest-cost kamados on the market, potentially lifting the biggest barrier many consumers have to buying one of these cookers. The Kamander is heavier and sturdier than the cheaper Akorn and features a unique airflow design, with the air intake vent at cooking-grate level rather than on the bottom of the cooker . The large removable ash pan makes dumping ashes easy, and the ring of air intake holes around it aids in uniform air circulation.
Of course, a few corners have been cut to achieve the Kamanders wallet-friendliness, but it delivers a solid kamado cooking experience at a price point way below that of most other brands.
Cooking Area: 327 square inches
How Do You Use A Charcoal Grill
Cooking on a charcoal grill is a bit more complicated than using a gas-powered model. First, you’ll need to measure out an appropriate amount of charcoal briquettesthis will depend on the size of your grill, what you’re cooking, and how hot you want the grill to get. Next, you have to light the charcoal using a chimney starter or other tool.
From here, you’ll want to clean and oil your cooking grates and preheat them for several minutes before placing food on the grill. As you cook your food, control the grill’s temperature by using the upper and lower vents. For the hottest fire possible, you’ll want to open both vents all the way, or for a lower temperature, close the upper vent to a half or quarter.
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Best Budget: Royal Oak All Natural Hardwood Lump Charcoal
Quality is inconsistent
Royal Oak Lump Charcoal is affordable and is great for new users who are just getting used to the fuel, and its also popular with experienced grillers who like the smoky flavor. This is made from oak, hickory, maple, and walnut.
This offers more smoke than some other brands, can be easier to light, but it also can burn slightly faster. Some users have found that the quality can be inconsistent with bits of rock or metal appearing in the bottom of the bag, although many other users have had no issues at all.
Wood Type: Oak, hickory, maple, and walnut | Weight: 15.4 lbs.
Charcoal Bbq Grill Types
What style of grill youd 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 , 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 theyre 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 youre feeding at a time.;
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The Pros And Cons Of Charcoal Grills
The number one biggest benefit to cooking with a charcoal grill is the flavor it gives food. You can’t beat charcoal-grilled flavor, said McManus.
But, a close second is the heat and airflow control a charcoal grill gives you. With gas grills, usually all the vents are across the back of the grill, so heat and smoke flow out the back and there’s nothing you can do about it, McManus said. Gas grills give you far less control over where the smoke and heat goes than with charcoal.
Other pros that Shoults appreciates include the diverse price points and sizes. Charcoal grills come in every price range, making it easier for to find their perfect fit, he said. You can also buy a countertop grill for easy portability while folding grills are excellent for camping or hunting trips and kettle grills are great for apartment balconies.
A potential downside is that charcoal grills are a bit slower to get started. You have to set up the chimney, start the coals and wait 20 to 30 minutes before you can cook, she explained. With gas, you just switch it on like a stove. However, she noted that with both styles, it’s best to preheat the grates for about 15 minutes with the lid down to get the whole grill box good and hot. And scrub the grates every time otherwise your food will taste like soot and you will not get great grill marks.
Charcoal Grill Features To Shop
A charcoal grill is similar to a gas grill in that its typically used for direct grilling, where food is cooked directly over high heat, explained Robbie Shoults, co-owner of Bear Creek Smokehouse. The main difference is the heat source: A gas grill uses several gas burners, while a charcoal grill is powered by charcoal. But that doesnt mean all charcoal grills are built the same there are many other standout features to keep in mind while comparing different models:
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Best Portable: Weber 10020 Smokey Joe 14
Can be assembled in less than 15 minutes
No side handles
Not much airflow with cover on
Looking for a charcoal grill that you can bring to the big game or on your next outdoor adventure? Then you should consider the Weber Smokey Joe portable charcoal grill. Just like full-size models from the brand, this 14-inch grill has a porcelain-enameled lid and bowl, as well as steel grates and an ash catcher down below.;
This portable charcoal grill can hold up to five hamburgers at a time, and the lids glass-reinforced nylon handle stays cool during use. Reviewers say this product is an unbeatable value, as its easy to tote around to various events and delivers the same caliber of high-quality food as full-size Weber grills.;
Dimensions: 17 x 14.2 x 14.5 inches | TotalCooking Area: 147 square inches
Flaws But Not Dealbreakers
The 22-inch Weber Original Kettle Premium is short. The grates are just 27 inches from the ground. Compare that against the standard kitchen-counter height of 36 inches, and you quickly grasp the reality we experienced: Its a literal, if passing, pain in the ass to spend a lot of time working over the grates. Granted, you spend 90 percent of your grilling time standing around waiting for stuff to cook, not leaning over the coals. But the Napoleon, which we otherwise didnt love, is a generous 34 inches in height at the grate, and that made it a pleasure to work on. Given Webers attention to engineering details, we suspect the low height is by design. For the same reason, we believe Weber could do things differentlyand better.
The Weber grill has three legsan inherently stable design, because having three points of contact means the legs will automatically find their level even on bumpy ground. That said, the Napoleon models four legs felt just as stable, and more stiff, on a garden-variety concrete patioand also allowed Napoleon to install a big, square shelf underneath the grill. The Weber grill has a smaller, triangular shelf, but its far less useful.
Finally, the Weber model doesnt come with a grill cover. We think every grill should, even though most dont. Weber sells one for its 22-inch kettle for about $40.
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