During the warmer months of the year, there’s nothing quite like firing up the grill and cooking your favorite meals on a backyard barbecue. While there is an endless debate about whether or not gas or charcoal are better for the flavor profile of your food, we aren’t here to settle that definitively.
That being said, we are going to look at the best charcoal grills, as to compare the two would be a bit unfair, depending on where your loyalties lie. Not only are we going to look at these top models, but we’re also going to go over the most important features and benefits that you should consider when making your final decision.
Whether or not you believe that charcoal is the best, these grills will make your backyard cookouts much tastier no matter what.
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When it comes to grilling, many backyard chefs also like the ability to smoke as well. Fortunately, charcoal is ideal for both, meaning that you may want to get a grill that has each capability.
In this case, the egg-shaped design and the placement of the dampers allow you to do both with the Char-Griller Akorn. What we like most about this grill are the material and the shape.
Since the bottom is smaller than the top, you can get a much better grilling and smoking surface, especially because it has both the bottom and top dampers. With the top closed and the bottom slightly open, you can do some incredible smoking. Also, since the grill itself is made of high-quality steel and aluminum, it is built to last.
The other thing we like is how easy it is to clean. This is another benefit of having a narrow base as all of the ash and used charcoal collects much easier than with other models. This way you can remove the ash catcher and clean the whole thing in minutes.
Finally, it comes with two side shelves that fold down for a slimmer profile and a large cooking surface that gives you 314 inches for grilling or smoking, with a 133-inch warming rack. Overall, this is a great compact grill that will work wonders for many years.
Although charcoal purists usually hate the thought of using propane, you can’t argue against the convenience of being able to light up and get cooking within a few seconds, whereas charcoal takes time to heat to the right temperature.
Thus, to get the best of both worlds, this Deluxe Charcoal Grill from Weber is a hybrid design, meaning that you use propane to ignite your coals and get up to temp much faster.
In addition to that time-saving feature, this grill comes fully loaded. First of all, it has a large storage bin where you can keep your unused coals out of the elements (instead of in a large paper bag). Secondly, it has a wide ash catcher at the bottom so that cleanup is a breeze. Finally, it comes with a large side shelf for food prep and condiment storage.
Another great feature that comes with this grill is the LCD timer. Not only will it help you make sure that you don’t burn anything, but it's also removable so that if you have to go inside and leave the grill unattended, you won’t forget about it. Overall, this is a high-quality grill that has a slew of wonderful features.
If you’re looking for something a bit more old-school and robust, then this Grill/Smoker Combo from PK Grills could be an excellent choice. In fact, these grills are made the same way as they were when they first came out in the 1950s, so you are getting a literal blast from the past.
What we like most about this grill is the wide bottom surface that enables you to spread your coals evenly.
This can create a perfect environment for both grilling and smoking, so you can take your pick and still get incredible results. The only downside is that it doesn’t have an ash catcher, so cleaning can be a problem. However, since the whole thing is made of aluminum and steel, the outside wipes down super quickly. Otherwise, this grill delivers awesome results each time.
While the grills we’ve seen so far have been perfect for small families, what if you need extra cooking space for more people? What if you could have a grill that could cook for up to ten people if you needed it, or for four if you don’t?
With this Dual Zone Charcoal Grill from Dyna-Glo, versatility is the name of the game. What makes this grill so unique is that it comes with two charcoal baskets.
This means that you can manage a hotter temperature in one and a lower temperature in the other, or use one for grilling and the other for smoking. Best of all, these basket comes with features that make your job even easier.
First of all, there are side doors so that you can stoke the fire without having to lift the lid and let the smoke or the heat out. Secondly, each basket has rotating handles that adjust the height so you can get closer or further from the grates. Finally, they both have a large metal plate at the bottom that catches all of the ashes. Overall, this is a fantastic large-scale grill that gives you so many options for cooking.
If you liked the Dual Zone model above but don’t think that you need that level of control over your fire, then this version from Dyna-Glo is your better option.
This is practically the same unit; only you get one charcoal basket instead of two. The size and the incredible performance are still there, but you don’t have to manage two baskets with this unit.
Nonetheless, with the features that you get with this grill, you can cook to your heart’s content. With over 800 square inches of cooking space you can cook for up to ten people easily, or you can make up to thirty burger patties at once.
Where this grill really shines is its ability to smoke. Using the rotating handles, you can lower the basket so that your meat is out of direct heat. Then you can adjust the side dampers to control the airflow, and finally, you can use the chimney to ensure that you get the right level of smoke. All of that coupled with the side door for stoking your fire makes this a bonafide high-quality smoker.
We’ve already seen the Akorn Charcoal Grill from King-Griller above, but if you wanted to have that same level of cooking ability and efficiency with more prep space and an easy to maneuver rack, then this is the version for you.
As far as performance goes, it comes with all of the same benefits, but now you can have a wider space for cutting or holding your meats and a larger rack that is easier to move and hold in place.
That being said, we love the design and components of this grill. Being oval means that all of your coals stack together to create more heat in less space, and the insulated interior holds your temperature better than most compact grills. We also like the dampers on the top and the bottom which make this a wonderful smoker as well as a grill.
Other features we like are the front temperature gauge and the bottom ash catcher that makes cleanup a breeze. Overall, if you want something that is easy to use and will last a long time, this a great buy.
If portability is important to you, then you might want to get something small and simple like this Kettle Grill from Weber.
You are probably already familiar with this type of grill, as many households have it as a great cooking option for camping or barbecuing on the go. The small size and contained design of this grill make it ideal for transporting to and from events.
As far as performance goes, the shape of the grill helps maintain the optimum temperature, and a top damper allows you to control the airflow better. Best of all, cleanup is a breeze as it comes with an ash catcher at the bottom and a one-touch cleaning system that removes all coals and ashes the first time. Overall, this is a fantastic little grill.
While these other charcoal grills have a lot of extra features, if you’re in the mood for something simple and easy to use, then this model from Kingsford can be an excellent choice. It’s a barrel-style grill, meaning that you can use it for either cooking or smoking.
The only downside to getting a grill like this is that you have to know what you’re doing to get the best results.
While other models have options like bottom and top dampers for controlling airflow, this one does not. However, it comes with plenty of cooking space, and it’s built to last. Plus, the chimney on top is perfect for smoking your favorite meats.
For those who want an upgraded version of the Kettle Grill from above, this is the next step up. While it comes with a lot of the same features as the original, it has some important distinctions that make it a better overall choice for discerning cooks.
First of all, it has air holes all around the bottom so that you get a more even distribution of heat.
Secondly, it has a hinged lid so that you don’t have to hold it in your hand while you make adjustments. Finally, it has a more intricately designed cooking grate that will hold your food in place and prevent material from falling through the cracks. As for cleaning, it still uses the same one-touch system, making this the gold standard for portable charcoal grills.
We’ve already seen grill models that can double as a smoker if needed, but this next unit from Royal Gourmet has a side smoker that gives you the option to use either or to get the best results possible.
While the main grill has all of the standard refinements such as a wide cooking surface (782 square inches), the side smoker can adjust the height of the coals, use dampers to create more smoke, and a separate opening so that you can stoke the fire without losing heat.
The other great thing about a side smoker is that it can also be used as a warmer or extension of the grill itself. Thus, if you want more surface area on which to cook, you can use the side option for vegetables or meat. Overall, this is a great choice if you want a dedicated space for smoking but don’t need a huge grill for it.
Depending on how many people you plan on feeding, you need a grill that can keep up. For the most part, if you have at least 350 square inches of cooking space you can prepare food for up to three or four people. If you are grilling for a crowd, however, then you will need at least 750 square inches as that can feed up to ten hungry mouths without any issues.
The other thing to consider is the size of the grill itself. If you want something more mobile and portable, then you will have to choose a smaller unit. If you have any space constraints, be aware of how big your grill is first.
For many backyard chefs, grilling is just one part of the whole experience. Smoking is where you can get the best results, which is why many of them want to get a grill that can do both. Since wood or charcoal is necessary for smoking, it’s imperative that you get a charcoal grill as propane won’t cut it.
To ensure that you can get the right amount of smoke, you’ll need top and bottom dampers. The top can be in the form of a chimney, but you need both to get the right level of heat and smoke for your meats. Some grills have side smokers as well for that specific purpose.
It’s never fun to clean a grill after using it, and it’s even worse when you have a lot of charcoal ash to remove. Thus, try to get a model that comes with an ash catcher so that you can collect all of the dirt and debris at once with minimal mess. Also, make sure that the grating is easy to clean as well, so you aren’t spending too much time scrubbing.
Watch the video below to choose the best charcoal grill:
Video source: You Tube
When trying to decide the best charcoal grill, we are going to split it up into large and small models so that you can pick the right one for your needs. As far as smaller grills go, the Akorn from Char-Griller is the best option as it has the best features and design profile. If you need to feed more people, however, either Dyna-Glo Grill is a must have, but we like the Dual Zone model since it gives you far more control over your cooking methods.
A passionate blogger! Editor at Chooserly, and a regular author at HuffingtonPost, LifeHacker & Forbes!