The right charcoal grill is an absolute mainstay in the arsenal of any BBQ aficionado. We thoroughly tested six of them, ranging from the budget price bracket to high-end or competition options, to bring you a guide that will help you choose the right one for your home. These are the best charcoal grills that we can recommend for a variety of use cases.
There are quite a few characteristic properties that make a charcoal grill great. First, you would be looking for materials of high quality and construction, preferably backed by a generous warranty. Then, it’s vital to have a properly designed system of airflow so that you can have granular control over the temperature through an extended period of time if needed.
The grill should have quality grates that transfer heat easily and a grill chamber that is properly insulated to prevent heat loss. Size is an important factor as your charcoal grill should be able to cook the amount of food at one go that you require. Finally, it’s crucial to look for extra nice-to-have feature, accessories, and the ease of keeping the unit clean and maintained.
Through our long years of BBQ experience, a lot of grills have crossed our path. Our extensive experience testing charcoal grills allows us to provide you with real insight that you can use to make informed choices when you want to bring home a charcoal grill. We have covered all price points and included a beginner-friendly option to help BBQ beginner get their feet wet.
Our recommendation for the best charcoal grill overall for 2023 is the Weber Performer Charcoal Grill.
We have put a lot of time and effort into testing these grills and coming up with this guide. Please keep reading to learn in-depth about each one.
|Best OverallBest OverallWeber Performer 22"||CHECK PRICE|
|Runner-UpRunner-UpWeber Master-Touch||CHECK PRICE|
|Best High-EndBest High-EndKamado Joe Big Joe II||CHECK PRICE|
|Best CompetitionBest CompetitionYoder 24x 48 Flat Top||CHECK PRICE|
|Most VersatileMost VersatilePK Grills Original||CHECK PRICE|
|Best PortableBest PortableWeber Go Anywhere||CHECK PRICE|
Detailed Round-up – The Best Charcoal Grills
Here are our top picks you can buy across various price points and broken down across important categories so you can find the best charcoal grill for your unique needs.
Our Top Rated Charcoal Grills:
1. Best Charcoal Grill Overall:
Weber Performer Charcol Grill Review
While this is an immensely popular brand and their Weber Original Kettle Premium is one of the first grills to come to mind when you think of BBQ, the stable has its share of surprises still. The Weber Performer charcoal grill is one such pleasant surprise that we are happy to feature in our list as our top pick.
Instantly reminiscent of the old, revered classic Weber Kettle, the Performer screams quality and versatility and can deliver some truly premium results. With impressive features and some signature Weber magic that will remind you of a kettle grill thrown in, this is a formidable proposition whether you are a beginner or an expert.
This Weber grill has used its original kettle grill design and added in a functional cart and some extra features. The classic design of the Weber Original Kettle Premium provides a total cooking space of 363 square inches, enough for a medium-sized cookout. The quality of materials is excellent throughout and the grill seems really well put together. The 22.5-inch plated steel cooking grates have a hinged design, making it really easy to replenish your coals without having to disturb the food. A removable round grate in the center lets you install different cooking surface options, including a pizza stone, a griddle, and a wok.
A star feature of the Performer is the cart, which adds quite a lot of functionality to the product. Built with sturdy material, the cart has a simple, minimalistic design and features two locking casters and two rugged, large wheels. You also have a fold-down side shelf that contains useful hooks for your tools and utensils. Another useful feature is the lid holder, which can safely store the lid while you are checking on your food.
Speaking of the lid, it gets an impressive redesign with a heat-resistant nylon handle that does a great job of protecting your hands during operation. The lid also has a built-in thermometer and the ash retention system makes cleanup a breeze. The ash catcher situated at the bottom does a great job in collecting the ash and prevents it from flying around and getting in your food. If you want an upgrade, the cooking grates are compatible with Weber’s well-known GBS system inserts, available as an option.
One of the best things about this Weber grill is its versatility. You can easily choose a side for the coals to set up two separate heating zones, one with direct heat and the other with indirect heat. If you want to set it up for low-and-slow cooking and smoking as well as grilling, you can invest in tried and tested accessories like the Slow ‘N Sear or the Smoke EZ Grill Conversion Kit, which transform the Performer into a very capable smoker for your brisket and ribs. Overall, it is a well-rounded product that provides great deal and this is why it is our top pick.
What We Like…
- Stable Frame with four legs
- Counter Space on a Charcoal Grill
- Easy Ash Cleanout
- Multiple Hooks
- Charcoal Storage Bin
What Makes Us Angry…
- Lid Thermometer Accuracy is Debatable
Weber Master-Touch Charcoal Grill Review
Another instant classic from the house of Weber, the Master-Touch charcoal grill is our pick for runner up. This is a simple, functional, and highly effective grill for a great price that is again reminiscent of the classic Weber Original Kettle Premium design and promises to provide excellent bang for your buck.
The Weber Master-Touch charcoal grill brings you back to the simplicity and charm of charcoal grilling with its minimalistic yet efficient design. At the center of the unit is the classic Weber Original Kettle Premium design, replete with a few extra features, that stands on a sturdy tripod leg assembly that features one bare leg for stability and two legs with rugged wheels. The grill itself provides a generous cooking space of 363 square inches.
From the very outset, the unit screams quality, both in terms of materials and the finesse in construction. The seal between the main unit and the lid is a testament to this, aiding in heat retention and keeping all your flavors locked in. The hinged stainless-steel grates allow you to access or add to the coals without having to disturb your food too much.
Once you take off the lid, you can slide it over to the side and it will hold, removing the need to find a space for it. The unit also has quite a few conveniently located hooks where you can easily store all your tongs, spatulas, grill brush, and other utensils and tools for easy access.
Grilling with the Master-Touch is a real pleasure. You can conveniently organize your hot coals in the space provided to create an even heating bed, or stack up your coals to one side to create two separate heating zones for direct and indirect cooking. You can also make use of the upper warming rack to keep your food warm or to toast some bread while your mains are firing away in the grill.
The One-Touch cleaning system can certainly make life easy while using the Master-Touch. This is a dedicated ash catcher located at the bottle of the grill. This prevents the ash from flying all over and gives you one specific location that you need to clean out after use. This container is also removable for easy cleanup. The lid also has specially designed nylon stay-cool handles and an integrated thermometer.
The Master-Touch performs really well if you want a simple grill that can make tasty food. However, the grates are also compatible with the Weber GBS system, and this is where you can expand the functionality of the grill quite a bit further.
The GBS grate has a central circular grate insert that you can remove. This can now house one of a number of Weber accessories, including a poultry roaster, a pizza stone, a wok, a griddle, and more. This dramatically enhances the versatility of the grill and makes it into an all-round solution that can cook basically anything you throw at it.
What We Like…
- Simple Operation
- Versatile Options with Weber GBS Inserts
- Included Charcoal Baskets
What Makes Us Angry…
- Three Legs is Somewhat Unstable
3. Best High-End Charcoal Grill:
Kamado Joe Big Joe II Review
If you are looking for a charcoal grill with advanced features that does it all and gives you granular control over your cooking, look no further than the Kamado Joe Big Joe II. Kamado Joe is a well-loved name in the BBQ community and with the Big Joe II the brand has indeed created a winning combination of quality, versatility, and features.
The first thing that will strike you about the Big Joe II is the bright red color and the excellent quality of materials and construction. The ceramic material that Kamado Joe grills usually come with has properties that make it an ideal choice for heat retention and the Big Joe II is put together extremely well.
The USP of the Big Joe II is the expertly designed ventilation system. The grill features an interesting top vent designed from aluminum that is rust-proof and can operate even in rain. You can adjust the vent to get precise temperature control and easily tailor your smoke levels and general airflow. The grill can maintain an operating temperature ranging from 225F to 750F with ease.
One of the most notable features of any Kamado grill is the gasket, one of the most important components when it comes to providing a good seal. With the Big Joe II, Kamado knocks it out of the park with a precision-designed wire mesh gasket made with tough fiberglass that is not only superior in durability but also provides an air-tight seal. Another poignant feature is the Air Lift hinge, which uses a spring-loaded shock absorber to reduce the weight of the heavy dome and greatly enhance the ease of use. (If you really love this grill but need something smaller, they have a more portable version with a cast iron cart.)
One feature that contributes greatly to the versatility of the Big Joe II is the patented Kamado Divide and Conquer cooking system, which makes use of circular, double-layered cooking grate. Both areas have separate half-moon grates which are removable. This system allows you to easily set up separate heating zones inside your grill. Moreover, you can remove one or more of the removable grates and substitute them with Kamado accessories for a different cooking surface. Options available include cast iron cooking grates, a cast iron griddle, a ceramic pizza stone, and more.
The grill also features a high-quality deflector plate, making it all the easier to set up multiple heating zones. Coupled with the wide operating temperature range and generous cooking area on offer, this makes for an attractive package where you can cook whatever you want. The AMP firebox design can retain heat for a long time while being tough and durable, and the whole unit can be sealed with a self-locking stainless-steel latch.
You also get a rolling cart, large side tables for prep, and a generous assortment of tool hooks. If you want even more features, the iKamand accessory can add remote operation through wireless control and the JoeTisserie transforms the Big Joe II into a powerful rotisserie.
Kamado Joe is a winner in our books for ceramics, even with strong offerings from Primo and Big Green Egg.
What We Like…
- Extremely Charcoal Efficient from Ceramic Materials
- Consistent Temperatures
- 24″ Diameter handles large cuts of meat
What Makes Us Angry…
- Price. Not for the faint of heart.
4. Best Competition Charcoal Grill:
Yoder 24×48 Flat Top Charcoal Grill Review
If you want the best of the best and want to spare no expense, the Yoder 24X48 Flat Top charcoal grill is our top pick for competition grills. Priced at a premium, this attractive offering from Yoder combines the best in terms of material quality, functionality, feature, and versatility. Read our full long term test review here.
The rugged construction is sure to strike you first when you lay your eyes on the Yoder 24X48 Flat Top. The entire grill is made out of quality stainless steel, with Yoder using 7-gauge steel for the charcoal basket, 12-gauge steel for the lid, and 10-gauge steel for the grill body. The grill is designed and manufactured in the USA in Yoder’s Kansas plant.
In spite of being a big and imposing unit, this is a surprisingly portable grill with sturdy, stocky legs featuring heavy-duty caster and 8-inch pneumatic tires, along with tie-down points for easy transportation.
With the Yoder 24X48 Flat Top, you are not likely to run out of cooking space due to the massive 1,152 square inches on offer. The adjustments begin with the large grill grate in the ample area beneath to put your coals in. You can easily set up direct and indirect heating zones in your cooking surface by piling your hot coals to one side. For even greater temperature control, the charcoal box itself has a five-step height adjustment, allowing you to put your coals as near or as far from your food as you need.
The heavy grill lid is easy to operate with its strong stay-cool handle and quality stainless-steel hinges. You also have access to the two combustion air vents, which are adjustable to a great degree for granular temperature and airflow control, ensuring an even burn of the charcoal every time. In fact, the temperature control is so reliable that you can easily set this grill up as a smoker. The integrated probe port makes it easy to use probe-style meat thermometers if you want to closely monitor your internal temperatures.
The grill also has a convenient, grease and ash catcher that spans the full length of the grill body. This can easily slide out for a quick cleanup. In terms of convenience features, the grill comes with a custom front shelf made of stainless steel that you can use to prep your ingredients or store your condiments. On the left side, there is a large rack and a set of hooks where you can keep your tools and utensils.
The competition cart looks stellar, with prestigious Yoder Smokers signage. You can get this unit in a variety of cart colors including black, silver, and a striking orange, our favorite trim.
In terms of add-ons, you can get a griddle pan accessory and a special grill cover directly from Yoder. Overall, this is the best competition charcoal grill in our experience.
What We Like…
- Grill Grate Height Adjustment Allows Endless Grill Temps
- Over 1100 square inches of grill area
- True Dual Zone Cooking
- Extremely Heavy Built
What Makes Us Angry…
- Price, unless you grill for a living.
- You’ll want a larger family or more friends to justify this unit.
5. Most Versatile Charcoal Grill:
PK Grills Original Charcoal Grill Review
True BBQ aficionados often swear by PK Grills products, and for good reason. The PK Grills Original charcoal grill is, in our experience, the most versatile charcoal grill you can get for your money. The PK Grills brand is steeped in heritage and this model is actually an evolution of the design of their traditional charcoal grills from the 1950s. The USP of this grill is the revered, acclaimed classic design, the superior quality of materials and construction, and its versatile performance when it comes to both grilling and smoking.
The first thing that will strike you about the PK Grills Original is the classic, retro design rendered in quarter-inch cast aluminum. The material is thick, sturdy, and durable while also being light, contributing to the portability. It is also rust-proof and has significantly better heat conductivity than steel. The total cooking area on offer is 310 square inches. The lid is set on a hinge to the side, allowing for easy operation. It also seals remarkably well, aiding in temperature retention. This gives the grill an operating temperature range of 180F to 750F.
The fuel grate can be flipped up, which makes it a lot easier to add and adjust your coals. One salient feature of the PK Grills Original is the remarkable four-point venting system which allows for precise control of temperature and airflow. The grilling capsule has two adjustable vents on the top and two at the bottom. This means that you can finely tune the entry and exit of air from the capsule and adjustments can be made at any point in time, even during the cooking process.
The vents also make it easy to set up multiple heating zones or to equip the grill either for grilling or smoking duties. During usage, the grill is surprisingly capable and yields excellent results. The thermal conductivity of the aluminum material means that the grill gets up to temperature quickly. From there, you can either increase the airflow by adjusting the top and bottom vents to create a hotter interior suitable for grilling or choke off the air to create more smoke for a low-and-slow session.
You can even use a combination of open and closed air vents on alternating sides to creating interesting heating profiles that can help with particular ingredients. On top of all this versatility, the grill is really portable too. Even though this is a cart-style charcoal grill, the cart and the capsule are separate units and can be completely detached, making it easy to carry. The cart itself is also equipped with two rubber wheels, letting you move it around even while completely set up. The grill stand also includes a large shelf right underneath the capsule where you can store your coals or wood, and a small side table which can help you prep while also storing your tools and condiments.
Since the unit is easy to take apart, cleaning is also simple and intuitive.
What We Like…
- So Ugly It’s Cool
- Aluminum Material is an Excellent Conductor of Heat
- Two Real Zones: Grill or Smoke
What Makes Us Angry…
- So Ugly It’s Not Cool?
- No Thermometer
6. Best Portable Charcoal Grill:
Weber Go Anywhere Charcoal Grill Review
If you are looking for the ultimate portable charcoal grill, we once again come to the house of Weber with its excellent Go Anywhere grill. This unique charcoal grill can be a great option for tailgates, beach parties, or camping runs. Supremely portable, you do not have to give up or compromise on standard grill features and usability if you open the door for the Go Anywhere grill. It’s also a serious contender for the best affordable charcoal grill you can get.
The Weber Go Anywhere charcoal grill is lightweight and easy to carry, turning the scales at just 14 pounds. In that little space, it manages to squeeze in a massive 160 square inches of cooking area with cutting-edge features to boot. In fact, the cooking area is large enough that you can even set up dual heating zones inside the grill, or even think about doing a bit of low-and-slow smoking. This speaks volumes about the versatility of the grill in spite of its diminutive size.
The construction of the Weber Go Anywhere charcoal grill screams quality, with a sturdy cooking grate made of plated steel and porcelain-enameled body and lid, all of which contribute to excellent heat retention and transfer. The square design and the muted color also make this one a looker. On the top, you get a pronounced handle that stays cool to the touch during cooking.
The lid also features built-in lid hangers. This means you can put the lid away securely without having to drop it to the floor. It also comes in handy in windy conditions, where you can use the lid hangers to position the lid to block the wind.
The lid and body are made from quality material and are rust-resistant. Even in this size, Weber packs in two adjustable dampers in the grill which you can use to precisely control and heat and either speed up or prolong your cook times. One of the most innovative features of this grill is the design of the legs, which serve multiple functions. While in use, they provide a sturdy base for the grill. However, you can also flip them up when packing up the grill, and they double up as a lid lock when the lid is closed.
To aid portability, the grill also comes with three grab handles, making it extremely easy to move this grill around. In our list of the best charcoal grills, the Weber Go Anywhere definitely cements its place as the top portable choice.
What We Like…
- Lightweight, durable and easy to carry
- Innovative legs double up as lid lock
- Adjustment with two dampers
What Makes Us Angry…
- No Thermometers
- No Easy Ash Cleanout
The Best Charcoal Grills – Buying Guide
Now that you know about our top picks for the best charcoal grill you can buy, let us delve a little deeper. With this information, you will be able to easily find the grill that fits your needs, whether that’s an affordable charcoal grill or one chosen specifically for its design, like a classic Kettle grill.
Charcoal Grills Explained
Here are some basic aspects you need to understand.
How do Charcoal Grills Work?
Charcoal grills operate on a very basic principle. Every charcoal grill has a place which houses the coals. Over the lit coals sits a cooking grate. You light up the charcoal, place the cooking grate on top, and place the food on top of the grate. The heat from the charcoal cooks the food.
You can control the heat by modulating the amount of charcoal you use and controlling the dampers or air vents to adjust the airflow, which also controls the heat and the cook time. The more familiar you get with these elements, the more you can do with your cooking surface, setting up direct heat and indirect heat or playing with the temperature at which your grill cooks certain foods.
Charcoal Grill Types
While the basic operation of these grills remains the same, there are several grill types and designs. These types are usually defined by design choices, material choices, or signature shapes and sizes.
One of the most classic types is the Kettle grill. Originally created by Weber, the Kettle grill is a round charcoal grill with a lid which houses the charcoal box at the bottom and the cook area on the top. Simple to use and convenient, the Kettle grill design has proven to be popular over time.
Another signature grill type is the Kamado grill. Kamado grills are usually made with ceramic material, which is rust-proof and heat-resistant. The ceramic material also does an excellent job as retaining heat. As a result, Kamado grills take less time to come up to temperature and can maintain temperature for longer.
A classic charcoal grill type is the original PK Grills model, which utilized a rectangular shape with rounded corners. The USP of this style is that it uses cast aluminum construction. Apart from being naturally rust-resistant, aluminum is also much better at retaining and radiating heat while also being significantly lighter than stainless steel, making these grills easily portable.
Over the years, manufacturers have put their own spins on each of these grill designs, though beginners may be most familiar with the Kettle grill. They continue to innovate to this day, integrating modern, innovative features and designs into their models.
Do Charcoal Grills Make Better BBQ?
You knew we’d get to the gas and charcoal grills comparison. Most of the time, you will get better tasting BBQ from charcoal compared to gas grills. The flavor generated from charcoal fire is the signature taste BBQ aficionados love. Gas grills simply can’t achieve that.
Another way they can help you make better BBQ is that you can easily add in some wood to your coals. The natural favor of wood smoke is highly desirable, especially when cooking meat. Different types of wood lend different flavor profiles and having a charcoal grill leaves you ripe for experimentation.
Guide to Buying the Right Charcoal Grill
Here are the most important things to keep in mind while buying a charcoal grill.
Materials and Construction
The first thing to look for while choosing a charcoal grill is the quality of materials and construction. High-quality grills use high-quality materials, most often stainless steel, ceramic, or cast aluminum. Ideally grill accessories should also be made of high-quality materials, including cast iron. Note the thickness and finish of the material before you buy. Thicker walls mean better heat retention and reduced internal temperature fluctuation. Better and thicker material also means more resistance to wear and tear and better longevity for your grill.
Of course, it is also a good idea to choose a grill that is backed by a generous warranty. When you can, it is also prudent to go for a product that is made in the USA as this usually means better quality.
Coal Box and Cooking Area
When choosing a charcoal grill, this is the most important part you need to consider. For the cooking area, make sure there is enough space within the cooking chamber for your planned use if you want to avoid having to fire up your grill multiple times for a single cook. A model with a warming rack or multiple grill surface options can provide better versatility.
Check out how well the lid seals with the body, as this is guarantee minimal heat loss and more efficient cooking. It also makes it easier to accurately maintain temperature. Adjustable vents can help you control airflow and built-in thermometers can make monitoring temperature easier.
Pay attention to the way heat flows in the grill. You might be better off choosing a grill where you can easily create two separate temperature zones for cooking different ingredients or cooking with indirect heat. This is also crucial if you plan to use your charcoal grill as a smoker too.
The ease of setting up and moving your grill can mean a lot in certain use cases, especially if you are looking for a grill you can camp out with or take along for beach parties or tailgating. In such cases, carefully consider how easy it is to assemble the unit and take it apart after use. Also, look for lightweight materials since they make for more portable grills. Your grill, while completely packed, should not have any loose parts and should ideally have carrying handles or tie-down points for easier travel.
For ease of moving while set up, look for the quality and articulation of the supplied wheels. All-weather wheels and locking casters are good to have for such cases.
Cleaning your grill after use should never be a chore. To ensure this, look at the cleaning features of your grill. An integrated grease and ash pan that you can detach and clean is ideal, as are cooking grates that are easy to clean. Some models even come with a one touch cleaning system. Even if it doesn’t, having and consistently using a grill brush can go a long way.
Paint and Finish
Finally, it is important for your grill to look good and preserve its structural integrity over time. To ensure this, look at the quality of the paint and finish. Heat-resistant painting done with high-quality materials should last you a long time. In stainless steel grills, the quality of the paint can also help prevent rusting in the long run. The use of rust-proof materials should inspire confidence. You can also look into the ease with which you can touch-up paint chips and dents should the need arise and the availability of the materials and tools you will need for this purpose.
Advantages of Charcoal Grills
Using a charcoal grill comes with many important advantages. The first and most important is that you end up with food that smells and tastes great. Burning charcoal lends a certain flavor to the food which complements savory, umami flavors to a great degree. For this reason, charcoal grilling is particularly suited to certain ingredients like cuts of beef or pork, briskets, ribs, and steak. Korean BBQ grills typically utilize charcoal as a fuel source as well.
Another great advantage of charcoal grills is the portability and mobility on offer. If you are planning for outdoor use or want to take your grill along for camping and beach parties, charcoal grills can be a great choice.
Finally, charcoal grills allow for simple and reliable operation. With a gas grill, you would have to depend on natural gas lines or propane tank refills (and the propane ignition button on gas grills can break). With electric grills, you would be at the mercy of power outages. None of these considerations apply for charcoal grills.
Disadvantages of Charcoal Grills
A big con of charcoal grills is the fact that using one is an involved process that can sometimes be less beginner-friendly. Charcoal grills take a long time to heat up. It is more difficult to maintain a steady temperature since you have to modulate your lit charcoal and your vents to achieve this. But they do get easier to use with experience.
Many charcoal grills offer no modern or high-tech features like those you get with a modern electric, gas, or pellet grill. Although you can get a digital charcoal grill that comes with a built-in thermometer and heat regulation if you want modern features and the flavor from charcoal briquettes.
These grills also require regular cleaning unless you’re looking for a digital charcoal grill with a one touch cleaning system. Charcoal ash can accumulate inside traditional models, and you have to take them apart to clean it out thoroughly.
To sum it up
With this guide, it should be a breeze to understand how charcoal grills operate and choose one that fits your needs exactly. While our top pick is the Weber Performer charcoal grill on account of its great balance of features, performance, and excellent deal, you should be fine purchasing any of the other choices as well, according to your needs and budget.
Charcoal Grill FAQs
How do you light a charcoal grill?
You can light a charcoal grill by making a pile of charcoal briquettes in the middle of the bottom of the cooking chamber. A mound or pyramid shape works well. Add a moderate amount of lighter fluid and light it immediately. The charcoal is ready when the outside is white. But you can also buy a chimney starter to help keep the briquettes in a cluster and get your grill up to temperature.
While you don’t need a chimney starter, it makes things a lot faster and easier, especially when you first start cooking with charcoal. (There are other types of charcoal starters, too.) You will likely need to buy your chimney starter separately.
Are kettle grills the best type of charcoal grill?
Not necessarily. While you will see a lot of kettle grills on the market, that doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for your needs. Consider how much cooking space you want, how portable you need your grill to be, and whether charcoal’s even right for you. There’s nothing wrong with going with a good gas grill if it fits your lifestyle better.
Who makes the best charcoal?
There are five brands of lump charcoal we think are the best. Our top pick for natural charcoal is Jealous Devil, but you can find our other picks for the best lump charcoal here if you’re looking for something more budget-friendly or long-burning.