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Published Apr. 12, 2021

If napalm in the morning is the best smell in the world, burgers on the grill must be a close second. It doesn’t matter if the yard is covered in freshly cut grass or a foot of snow, sizzling meat over an open flame satisfies an almost primal hunger. We can debate the merits of grills that use charcoal, propane, or wood all day long, but they all make delicious food. One thing that’s not disputed is how easy it is to grill up a masterpiece with good old-fashioned charcoal. This fuel source is inexpensive, efficient, and easy to use. Not having to guess how much propane is left in your tank is a nice bonus. So, once you’ve decided on a charcoal grill, which one is for you? There are several styles and brands to choose from, and we’re here to help make sense of it all.

Imagine your ideal backyard cookout. The grill you’re picturing is probably on this list. Let’s go find it.

This classic charcoal grill from Weber is a mainstay at backyard parties and gameday get-togethers for a reason. The 18-inch grate is capable of serving small groups and small enough that making a meal for yourself wouldn’t be a waste of charcoal. There’s no shortage of knockoffs trying to imitate this grill, but the difference is in the details. Rather than paint, Weber uses porcelain enamel that won’t flake or chip, so the metal is protected from rust. The cooking grate uses plated steel that wipes clean and resists corrosion. A trap door lets you empty ash easily and without making a mess. The adjustable vent on the lid allows you to fine-tune airflow to the flame to control cooking temperatures. There’s even a place to hang the lid when you’re flipping burgers.

Cookouts shouldn’t be constrained to the backyard, so grab an Isumer tabletop grill and take the party on the road. This charcoal grill is the least expensive, comes at a price we’re pleasantly surprised by, and is incredibly compact. If you’ve never woken up to bacon and eggs for breakfast while camping, you are seriously missing out. The steel housing and fold-out legs are lightweight and durable. A removable, plated grate makes cleanup a breeze. The heat-resistant handle protects your hand when removing the hot lid. As with any good charcoal gill, vents let you adjust airflow to control the internal temperature. If you enjoy car camping, this is a must-have item. Anyone with a small apartment deserves to give this grill a serious look, too.

The Kamodo Joe Classic II brings charcoal grilling to an entirely new level. It all begins with the same 18-inch round grate you’re used to, with premium upgrades at every turn. The grate itself is split in half and installed at two different heights so you can cook each item at the appropriate distance from hot coals. Unlike the steel exterior found on conventional charcoal grills, this one uses thick ceramic walls for more efficient insulation and consistent temperatures. Even though the lid is heavy, you’ll be able to lift it easily thanks to the mechanically-assisted hinge. The top vent is built from anodized aluminum and allows precise temperature control from 225 to 750 degrees Fahrenheit. This is by far the most expensive option on our list, but the top-shelf components and features make it an exceptional pick for those who demand the best.

If you have a family to feed or enjoy having company over for dinner, it’s worth stepping up to something like the Char-Griller Outlaw. There are two sizes available, but we recommend the larger option, especially at these prices. The grate is roughly double the size of conventional, round charcoal grills. The 120-pound weight limits portability, even with wheels, but it also makes this a sturdy backyard companion for years to come. Powder coating protects the exterior from the elements. An additional cooking grate is a great place to roast vegetables above your meat to maximize space. Control airflow with an adjustable vent, and keep an eye on cooking temperatures with a built-in thermometer. Two wooden exterior shelves provide a convenient workspace where you can keep your tools, spices, and a frosty beverage or two.

Grillmasters with high-end taste and a tight budget will love this option from Royal Gourmet. The main barrel features a 474-square-inch grilling grate and loads of room for charcoal. A lid-mounted warming rack adds an extra cooking surface for roasting vegetables or toasting buns. Keep serving platters and tools handy on the side-mounted platform and hooks. Monitor temperature with the lid-mounted thermometer. Coated metal and easy-access doors make this grill easy to cook with, clean, and maintain. The adjustable charcoal tray can be raised or lowered to put the right amount of air between your food and the hot coals. An easy-access door makes emptying ashes quick and easy. At this price, getting these features feels like a steal.

Exceptional build quality and incredible value make the Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 a top contender in our book. Instead of opening and closing vents by hand, let this high-tech charcoal grill’s electric fan circulate air for precise temperature control. Just fill the side-mounted charcoal hopper, set your desired temperature on the digital panel, and let the grill do the rest. One load of lump or briquette charcoal can heat this grill for up to 15 hours for those low-and-slow barbecue recipes. Internal temperatures can reach 225 degrees Fahrenheit in seven minutes and peak at 700 degrees Fahrenheit in as few as 13 minutes. Take the guesswork out of grilling with meat probes that let you monitor your progress without opening the lid. Best of all, these advanced controls can be accessed wirelessly using the Masterbuilt app.

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Types of charcoal grills

Traditional charcoal grills use a simple metal bowl, lid, and a steel grate to create what’s essentially a second-generation fire pit. Lightweight construction and effective fuel consumption made these the go-to for cookouts and tailgates for generations. Today, modern takes on this classic design have given us a nice variety of ways to cook with charcoal. Offset smokers, secondary cooking surfaces, and larger main grills put charcoal grills on par with the best propane- and wood-burning alternatives. Some even offer advanced features like wifi connectivity to control your grill’s temperature from a distance. Furthermore, there’s a size for every occasion.

Key features of charcoal grills

  • Capacity: Charcoal grills come with many sizes of grates. Are you cooking for yourself or a group? Do you want to prepare several dishes at once? There’s no need to pay for space you won’t use, but it would be a bummer to have less than you need.
  • Perks: Basic charcoal grills are little more than a metal bowl topped with a cooking grate. High-end grills include offset smokers, multiple cooking surfaces, temperature displays, and even wifi connectivity.
  • Design: It’s important to buy a charcoal grill that meets your needs. A backyard grill looks very different from a campsite grill, but both excel in the right situation.
  • Portability: Charcoal grills tend to be more portable than other types of grills due to their simplicity. Still, the largest options are suited for permanent use on your back porch or patio. The most portable options can be folded up for transportation to a campsite, park, or tailgate.

Benefits of charcoal grills

Each grilling method has its merits. Charcoal grills benefit from stone-simple design principles that have been around in one shape or another for centuries. With little more than a metal container full of hot coals and a cooking grate, there’s not much that can go wrong. There are no gas valves to leak, no tanks to refill, and no wood pellets to soak up water and jam your smoker. All you need is a bag of charcoal and your favorite recipe. As a result of this simplicity, you can also expect charcoal grills to be pretty affordable.

Charcoal grill pricing

One of the reasons behind the popularity of charcoal grills is their low cost of entry. The most basic grills cost as little as $30 and are totally capable of cooking up a gameday masterpiece. Grills at this price are also fairly portable, so they’re great for cookouts at the park or outside your team’s stadium. Larger grills with more features are still relatively inexpensive when compared to grills that use alternative fuel sources. Expect to pay $100 to $150 for these backyard-ready grills. As with many things, the sky is the limit. Loaded grills with all the bells and whistles cost around $500, and premium designer options can cost more than $1,000. That’s a lot of money for a grill–we get that–but for die-hard cooks obsessed with making the perfect meal, they’re tough to beat.

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