Shopping & Reviews

The Best Charcoal Grills for a Smoky Summer of Burgers and Grilled Pizza

Barbecue pros share their picks for as little as $99.

By Gregory Han

Updated on May 30, 2022

Warm weather and sunny skies are beckoning us back outdoors. Is your charcoal grill ready? Whether you have a backyard, balcony, or just a prime spot in the park, charcoal grills are an affordable and portable way to impart flavorful notes of smoky goodness to smash burgers and summer squash. Luckily, modern charcoal grills are also easier to use than ever before, thanks to convenient features like no-mess ash clean-up and temperature control venting. Navigating these options can be overwhelming, so we consulted barbecue and grilling pros to find the best grills for every situation. Whether you’re a total grilling novice or seasoned barbecue enthusiast in need of a new model, the best charcoal grills will serve you well any day of the week.

What to Consider Before Buying a Charcoal Grill

Types of Grills

If you’re looking to grill up some cookout classics—burgers, hot dogs, grilled vegetables—a kettle-style charcoal grill is a good place to start. It’s a relatively modest investment that gets the basics done right, and you can often buy accessories to make anything from rotisserie chicken to grilled pizza. Grills with 22-inch diameters are standard, but there are models with much smaller and larger cooking surfaces to suit any setting, whether it be a wide open backyard patio or a small balcony.

If you’re looking to really experiment with charcoal cooking, consider a kamado. This egg-shaped grill is outfitted with a thick ceramic interior, creating a long lasting indirect heat source that can be used to grill, roast, smoke, stir-fry, and even bake bread. Kamado grills are more expensive and extremely heavy, but are capable of reaching temperatures far higher than the average kettle charcoal grills—some go up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit— making bubbling and crispy grilled pizzas a summer staple.

Ease of Cleaning

Charcoal briquettes produce a lot of ash residue. If you grill often, make sure to purchase a model with an ash catcher and receptacle underneath. Kamado-style grills can also use charcoal briquettes, but are optimized for natural lump charcoal, which produces one-third the ash of traditional briquettes and makes for an easier clean up. Whatever model you choose, investing in a grill cover will extend the life of your backyard cooking companion by years.

Our Top Picks

Weber is practically as synonymous with backyard barbecues as corn on the cob. Their Deluxe model upgrades the classic kettle design with a few extra bells and whistles to combine the convenience of a gas grill with the incomparable flavor of charcoal. The 22-inch diameter grill has enough space to fit 13 burgers at once, and a spacious work top allows for easy al fresco food prep. Best yet, the grill starts up with a push-button ignition to get charcoal properly white-hot—no messy chimney starter required. Ash clean-up is nearly as easy. Just swipe the lever to send the spent remnants down into a handled receptacle for easy disposal. A weather-proof charcoal storage container attachment and built-in backlit LCD timer complete this all-in-one grilling setup.

You can never go wrong with Weber’s most popular charcoal grill. The backyard burger mainstay is beloved for its dependability and affordability. Weber updated this classic with the same One-Touch cleaning system and high-capacity ash catcher as its premium Performer Deluxe sibling. There’s no work top, but it also has the same “up to 13 burgers” grilling capacity, hinged grate, and thermometer built into its shiny porcelain-enameled lid top as its fancier counterpart.

There’s a lot to like about this entry-level, cart-style grill. It has a very generous layout that, well, smokes the competition for the price: 572.75 square inches of cooking space for a little over $100, to be exact. There’s also a built-in thermometer and a convenient side tray. Cart-style grills are a little more involved when it comes to assembly, but this cast-iron model is solidly built. Treat it with care, and it should last for many summers to come.

A compact portable grill with a nesting bento box design, the CUBE is ready for camping, picnics, and beach days. It’s also a compelling option for anyone with a balcony or patio, thanks to a contemporary design that riffs on a Japanese hibachi grill. The powder-coated steel exterior, chrome handles, and porcelain enamel firebox interior keep heat safely in check, and the entire setup is covered by a 10-year warranty.

Best Ceramic Grill: Big Green Egg

Undeniably big and green (and back-breakingly heavy), this kamado-style charcoal grill is for the person who wants to cook anything and everything outdoors. The tapered egg-shaped design and thick, ceramic wall interior allows the Big Green Egg to stay at consistent temperatures—as low as 150 degrees Fahrenheit and as high as 700 degrees Fahrenheit—for an entire day with only a single load of charcoal. Add an ultra-precise vent-based temperature control and you’ve got a cult tool revered by barbecue aficionados for its “slow and low” cooking abilities. There’s a zealous online community of Big Green Egg grillers who share recipes and techniques that will inspire beginners and pros alike. Add a sizable catalog of “EGGcessories” like pizza stones and planchas and you’ve got a grill that’s easy to learn but a challenge to master.

Best Tabletop Charcoal Grill: Toiro Donabe Water Grill Mizu Konro

This portable Japanese charcoal grill set doubles as artful pottery. It’s crafted from clay gathered from the ancient bed of Lake Biwa, the largest freshwater lake in Japan. Meat and vegetables cooked over this delicate grill stay delectably moist thanks to the steam perpetually evaporating from the water-filled bowl underneath. This grill burns on binchotan, a traditional kiln-fired wood charcoal that burns hotter, longer and more cleanly than traditional briquettes to cook foods outside or indoors with sufficient ventilation. The smaller version is perfect for a tableside grilling session for two.

Best Professional Grade: Kalamazoo Shokunin Kamado Grill

If Tesla Motors and Frank Lloyd Wright were somehow asked to co-host a barbecue, they’d be grilling on an architectural Shokunin. Each grill is handmade with ipe wood and marine-grade stainless steel, as much a statement showpiece as a cooking tool. Inside are three layers of laser-cut stainless steel plate grill grates. Each tier is a different temperature cooking zone: the highest for grilling, middle for roasting, and the lowest for slow smoking.

Ask the Experts

What’s the difference between grilling and barbequing?

Remember the fable of the tortoise and the hare? Grilling uses hot temperatures to sear foods like hot dogs, drumsticks and burgers quickly, while barbecue applies indirect, low and slow heat to impart flavor and break down tougher cuts like brisket into succulent and soft bites. You can use both techniques with most charcoal grills, but larger size models are better suited for barbecuing/smoking. The extra space can be used to create multiple “cooking zones” to apply both direct and indirect heat .

“If you own a simple kettle grill, you own a smoker,” says barbecue and grilling cookbook author Steven Raichlen. “You don't have to spend an enormous amount of money or even buy an extra piece of equipment. If you have that kettle grill, the whole secret to getting a lower temperature is to set up your grill for indirect grilling and use only half as much charcoal.”

How do I clean my charcoal grill?

Many charcoal grills have an ash and debris catcher at the bottom; clean this section out regularly to maintain optimal airflow and to prevent ash from dusting whatever you’re cooking with the ghosts of grilling past. Cleaning grates requires a little more elbow grease, but the process can be simplified by preheating the grill to a high temperature before using a stainless steel bristle brush (or a ball of aluminum foil with tongs) to scrape away any charred remains sticking to the grill. And don’t forget to invest in a cover to keep your grill protected from the elements.

Should I invest in a meat thermometer for grilling?

While professional grill and pitmasters can determine the doneness of whatever they’re cooking up with a passing peek or a fleeting touch, you’re likely going to need the accurate aid of an instant-read or probe thermometer to get things right. Not only will using a thermometer ensure those chicken thighs, steaks or burgers are at a safe temperature, you’ll also avoid overcooking them. Check out our picks for the best grill thermometers right here.

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