The Best Charcoal Grills, According to the Best Experts

published May 3, 2019
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Credit: J.R. PHOTOGRAPHY/Stocksy

Raise your hand if you think hot dogs and hamburgers taste better when cooked over charcoal (instead of gas). That’s nearly all of you, it looks like. So if you don’t already have one, it sounds like you need a charcoal grill! We took a look at some of the top food and gear sites to see which charcoal grills they all recommend. Weber dominated these lists for a bunch of reasons (which we’ll get into below), but for now the biggest thing you need to know is that all of these grills make it incredibly easy to cook with charcoal. Meaning: If that’s the one thing that’s been driving you to grill with propane, you might be pleasantly surprised.

The Best Charcoal Grills

The Best Charcoal Grill, According to Wirecutter

When you picture a charcoal grill, this is likely, more or less, the grill you imagine. It’s that iconic because it’s that good. Really. Even Wirecutter agrees, saying this grill cooks everything perfectly — including burgers, slow-smoked ribs, chicken, and more. While there is also a standard 22-inch kettle grill from Weber, this one has an enclosed ash catcher, which is helpful for cleanup and eliminates safety concerns over stray embers. It’s easy to assemble and operate, and gave Wirecutter testers the most consistent results compared to any other option.

The Best Charcoal Grill, According to Cook’s Illustrated

To be fair, Cook’s Illustrated picked the same grill that Wirecutter picked — this model just includes a rolling cart that has a charcoal storage bin, a lid holder, and plenty of bonus work space. It also has a gas ignition system, which lights coals without the need for a chimney starter. Are these additions worth spending an extra $274? Depends on your grilling style. If you’re hoping to grill during busy weeknights, that ignition system might be really nice. And that extra workspace will also come in handy when you’re making food for a crowd.

The Best Charcoal Grill, According to Consumer Reports

Dyna-Glo DGN576DNC-D Grill, $230 at Home Depot

The top three grills from Consumer Reports‘ testing were all barrel-style (versus kettle-style). The major differences with barrel styles are that they usually offer more cooking space and are often preferred among grillers who like to smoke meats with wood chips or logs. This grill won because the fire is easy to control and you can even turn a crank to raise or lower the coal bed (move it close for searing or lower it for indirect cooking). The flue even has its own crank, which results in good airflow and a consistent, easy-to-control temperature inside the grill. If you’re wondering, the top kettle grill was, of course, the Weber Premium 22-Inch Grill.

The Best Charcoal Grill, According to Serious Eats

The folks at Serious Eats called this popular pick the best reliable standby, adding that it’ll last forever. There’s just one thing to note: Even though there’s a built-in thermometer on the lid, Serious Eats says to ignore it and get a meat thermometer. (Ideally this one from Thermoworks.) And this goes for any grill because these thermometers can be off by 50 to 100°F and they don’t actually measure the temp of your food, which is what’s more important.

The Best Portable Charcoal Grill, According to Epicurious

Sometimes, you just need your grill to be portable. (Maybe you’re headed to the beach? Or a vacation rental? Or trying to sneak a cookout onto your apartment building’s roof?) That’s why Epicurious ran some tests to find the best portable gill. The Weber Smokey Joe won for many, many reasons. First of all, it’s downright adorable. At just 9.5 pounds, it still has enough cooking space for four burgers, a few hot dogs, and some onions — at the same time. Or a whole chicken, a rack of ribs, or large steaks. The grill is easy to assemble and just as easy to light. It has a heat-proof lid handle and tray that’ll catch the ashes, which can’t be said for all of Smokey Joe’s competitors. Plus, you can usually find it on sale for less than $40 and the thing still comes with a 10-year warranty. If you’re wondering, the Weber Liquid Propane Grill won for the best portable gas grill.

Kitchn’s Thoughts on the Best Charcoal Grill

We wholeheartedly agree that the Weber Original Kettle Premium 22-Inch Charcoal Grill is the best option. We’ve seen people opt for the cheaper Original Kettle, and while it’s still a great grill, these bargain hunters almost always regret not shelling out the extra $60 to get that built-in ash catcher. This top model is still just $165 and between the warranty and the sturdy materials, it really will last you a long time — if not forever.