The 8 Best Charcoal Grills for Smoky Meats
Grilling is a beloved summer pastime for good reason—there's nothing like a good sear on a steak, piece of fish, or vegetable to bring a bit of extra flavor to your meal. And whether you're not interested in dealing with a propane tank or you just prefer to flavor of a meal cooked over charcoal, there's no denying there's a benefit to the classic grill style.
"The flavor from charcoal is so much better than gas," says Pete Kindem, co-owner of the grilling site Original Grills. He explains that by including different types of wood chunks in with your coals, you can create distinct wood-y flavors and truly up your grill game. And because the food drippings "instantly vaporize," adds Kindem, the smoke produced as a result enhances food flavors even more.
For our top charcoal grill pick, we went with Weber's Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill, due to the unit's classic design, large cooking space, and low price for a grill of its size and quality.
Below, we've rounded up the best charcoal grills you can buy right now, organized by price range, size, and much more.
What We Recommend
- Best Overall: Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill
- Best Budget: Weber Original Kettle 18-Inch Charcoal Grill
- Best Splurge: Napoleon PRO605CSS Professional Charcoal Grill
- Best Charcoal/Gas Combo: Char-Griller 5050 Duo Gas-and-Charcoal Grill
- Best Smoker Hybrid: Large Big Green Egg
- Best Small: Weber Jumbo Joe Charcoal Grill
- Best Large: Dyna-Glo X-Large Heavy-Duty Charcoal Grill
- Best Portable: Weber Go-Anywhere Portable Charcoal Grill
Best Overall: Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill
Best Budget: Weber Original Kettle 18-Inch Charcoal Grill
Best Splurge: Napoleon PRO605CSS Professional Charcoal Grill
Best Smoker Hybrid: Large Big Green Egg
Best Small: Weber Jumbo Joe Charcoal Grill
Best Large: Dyna-Glo X-Large Heavy-Duty Charcoal Grill
Best Portable: Weber Go-Anywhere Portable Charcoal Grill
The Bottom Line
Weber's Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill is the best for most people, great for newbies and experienced grillers alike and far more inexpensive than similar models.
What to Know About Charcoal Grills Before Shopping
Bigger isn't better if you're not going to be filling the grill when you cook. The important thing to look for in a charcoal grill's size is the ratio of airflow to burn, says Pete Kindem. "Too big a grill for the size of meat can create dryness," while "lots of meat in a small space with good convection of heat can yield tenderness," he explains.
Cook surface size
On average, charcoal grills have around 200 to 300 square inches of cooking space (enough to fit 10 to 12 burgers), but if you typically cook for large gatherings, you may want a grill with a far greater cooking area. Keep in mind, though, that the "larger the grill, the more coals needed to warm up the grill," says Paul Kindem.
Grills made out of powder coated steel are more prone to rust, says Paul Kindem, while those made of cast aluminum are less likely to rust and also more durable (even more so than steel). The benefit of steel, however, is that they tend to be larger and well-insulated. Some kamado grills are made out of ceramic instead of metal, which won't rust at all, but also means you can't use lighter fluid to start your charcoal.
Your Questions, Answered
Is a charcoal or gas grill better?
It completely depends on your needs and preferences. Charcoal grills may produce better sears and flavor, but they're more complicated to use than gas grills and take longer to heat up. In other words, "gas is convenient. Charcoal requires more finesse," says Pete Kindem. As a solution, some people who grill often go for both types of grills so they can go back and forth between options.
How do you clean a charcoal grill?
Focus on the cooking grates, ash bin, and vents, advises Paul Kindem. "Most of the grease and food drippings fall onto the coals," he explains, meaning that it's crucial to remove both the ash and food drippings from the grill after use. Clean out the fire bin and ashbin prior to cooking, using a scraper or shovel to get everything out.
How does a charcoal grill impact the flavor of food compared to gas grills?
Charcoal grills produce more smoke and, often, stronger flavors than gas grills, due to the wood smoke being "a flavor by itself" and like "another level of seasoning," says Pete Kindem. Different types of wood create different flavors, so you can pick the ones that you're most interested in experiencing.
Who We Are
Rachel Simon is a writer for Better Homes & Gardens, The New York Times, Real Simple, and many other publications. She frequently covers home products and did significant research on grills to create this list, including speaking with Paul and Pete Kindem, co-owners of the grilling site Original Grills.