So you want to be a bit more serious about grilling, and a regular wood-burning fire pit with a grill is not enough anymore? It’s time to move on to charcoal grills. They can provide very high heat for that perfect sear, smoky flavor, and charcoal grills don’t cost a fortune compared to gas grills. Even if you’re on a budget, you can enjoy grilling burgers, steaks, and even slow cook ribs and smoke various meats with some practice. Check out our top 7 best charcoal grills in 2021 to find the best option for you.
Table of Contents
What to Consider Before Buying a Charcoal Grill?
As always, size is determined depending on your needs. If you’re a frequent host of BBQ parties, then you’ll need a big charcoal grill with a large grilling area. For 8-10 or more people, go for 400 square inches or more of cooking area. If it’s just your small household, then even 250 square inches of cooking area should be enough.
Additionally, remember that large grills take up more space and are harder to transport. If you plan to take the grill camping or to a park, get a more portable, smaller one that can fit in your car.
You’ll find that grills can be made from gauge steel, ceramics, aluminum steel, and other material; honestly, there are no bad options. Different materials will differ in price or how hot they can get. For beginners, we suggest going for gauge steel or aluminum as they are budget-friendly and high-quality too.
Accessories and Features
These days there are various accessories and features on charcoal grills like smokers, double or even triple grilling grates, thermostats, work stations, charcoal igniters, etc. However, the must-have features on the charcoal grill are vents and adjustable grill grate height.
Vents allow you to control the airflow to the grill, thus controlling the heat. Having vents will allow you to properly sear a steak on high heat, roast a juicy chicken, or slow cook mouthwatering ribs.
Finally, the adjustable-height grill grate is very handy for beginner grillers to control their cooking heat. If you’re not experienced with charcoal, it’s unavoidable you’ll either have a too high temperature or a too low one. Charcoal heat takes time to adjust; it’s not gas where you can just turn a knob; that’s why an adjustable grate is excellent to quickly lift the grate off of high heat or lower it if the charcoal is dying down.
Best Charcoal Grill Reviews in 2021
Weber 14402001 Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill
Weber grills are one of the most popular grills not only in the US but all around the world. This Weber Original Kettle charcoal grill is perfect not only for beginners but for seasoned grillers who are looking for a portable but high-quality charcoal grill.
The large 363 square inch grilling area will allow cooking 12-13 burgers if you use the whole surface. That should be more than enough space for 4-6 people if you are grilling protein and side dishes.
The Weber Original Kettle grill is famous for its build design. The plated steel grate has a hinged area that you can open while grilling and add more charcoal without lifting the whole grate. The damper at the top of the lid and thermostat allows controlling heat without opening the grill. Finally, the ash bucket at the bottom makes cleaning effortless and very quick.
You also have a lid hanger on the side, but it’s not very convenient and sometimes doesn’t hold the lid properly; this is probably the only minor weakness of the grill.
Other than that, the Weber Original Kettle Charcoal grill is the best charcoal grill for beginners because of its versatility and ease of use.
- 363 square inch cooking surface
- Plated steel hinged grate
- Versatile and easy to operate
- Rust-resistant bowl
- Comfortable ash catcher
- Easy assembly
- The lid hook is not very convenient
Weber 15501001 Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill
Did we mention that Weber makes excellent grills? We did, and that’s why we have another Weber grill on our list. This time it’s a deluxe version of the above-mentioned Weber Kettle Premium grill.
So what is the difference between the two? The deluxe version of the grill has the same 363 square inch cooking surface, same easy-to-clean ash catcher and is made from the same high-quality, long-lasting materials.
The deluxe part kicks in when we start talking about accessories. This charcoal grill is like a spaceship for grillers. First of all, they added a charcoal ignition system so that you wouldn’t need any additional charcoal starters. With one push of a button, you’ll start igniting your charcoal, no more black fingers or paper ash flying around. There’s also a container to keep your charcoal in one place. Secondly, they upgraded the poor lid hook that didn’t work correctly and added a work table to place food, dishes, or your favorite grilling drink. Finally, there’s an LCD timer for those who aren’t good with keeping track of time or who constantly find themselves chatting away from the grill.
In the end, the grill became a grill cart and took more space while the price increased drastically too. However, all of the extra accessories and features make grill prep, cleaning, and actual grilling so much easier it’s a no-brainer best small charcoal grill for your money.
- 363 square inch cooking surface
- Easy to use ash catcher
- Rust-resistant bowl
- LCD cook timer and thermostat
- Charcoal ignition system
- Charcoal storage container
- Proper hooks for tools
Sun Chief Heavy Duty 613 Square Inches Charcoal Grill
If you’re not looking to spend a lot on a grill but still want one with a large grilling area, Sun Chief Heavy Duty charcoal grill cart is one of the best large budget charcoal grills on our list. You’ll have a cooking surface of 415 square inches perfect for 6-10 people with an additional 198 square inch warming rack. The grill frame also has four vents and a temperature gauge for excellent airflow control without opening the lid.
When you’re done grilling, an ash dump pan allows for a quick and easy clean, and the folding wooden shelves make it a touch easier to store. The name of the grill states it’s heavy-duty, but we didn’t see any reinforced parts or thicker framing compared to other grills. However, the build is solid and definitely worth the price (an excellent price!).
- 415 square inches grilling surface
- Solid build
- 198 square inches warming rack
- Four vents
- Foldable wooden shelves
- Easy to clean ash dump pan
- Temperature gauge
- Inexpensive for the size
- Grate opening to add extra charcoal in a weird position
Royal Gourmet CC1830F Charcoal Grill with Offset Smoker
If you’re looking for an introduction to smoking without spending an extra buck, Royal Gourmet CC1830F is an excellent cheap charcoal grill and smoker combination. The main grill grate has 438 square inches, a warming rack of 179 square inches, and a smoker of 183 square inches for a total of 800 square inches of combined cooking surface.
The grill exterior features a simple metal shelf for extra prep or seasoning space, while the additional warming rack will allow keeping already cooked food resting without getting cold. We love that the main grilling grate height can be adjusted. Combined with a thermostat and air vents, it makes heat control easy even for beginners.
This grill-smoker is excellent for grilling enthusiasts who want to get started with smoking. The build is not very airtight, so controlling heat is more challenging, but it’s a great learning option without spending too much. We noticed that quite a few people had the smoker paint flake; this happens if you don’t cure the grill properly, make sure to follow the instructions, and you won’t have any flaking.
- 800 square inches of combined cooking surface
- Offset smoker
- Front shelf for extra workspace
- Grill grate porcelain coated
- Warming rack
- Adjustable grate height
- Air vent and thermostat
- Paint flakes if not cured
- Build a bit flimsy
Char-Griller E1224 Smokin Pro
Char-Griller is another well-known charcoal grill brand in the USA. They are famous for their versatile grill and smoker combinations while being decently priced.
This great-looking charcoal grill and bbq smoker is perfect for seasoned grillers that also want to smoke from time to time without spending $1500+ on a premium smoker.
E1224 grill and smoker has a 580 square inch main grilling grate and 250 square inches side firebox for a total of 830 square inches of cooking surface. This will allow you to grill for a party of 8+ people or smoke a couple of decent briskets.
The vents at the top and the firebox, along with adjustable grate height and thermostat, allow for easy heat control even for beginners. One weakness we saw is that the vents are not very airtight, making it a bit harder to control heat, especially when smoking and trying to keep a low temperature.
- 830 square inch total cooking area
- Sturdy heavy gauge build
- Side smoker
- Front and side shelves
- Air vents and thermostat
- Decent sized smoker
- Adjustable grill grate
- Easy dump ash pan
- The firebox is not very airtight
Char-Griller E16620 Akorn Kamado Charcoal Grill
A list of the best charcoal grills wouldn’t be complete without a Kamado-style egg-shaped grill. The Char-Griller Akorn grill is the best option for a couple or single griller. It has only a 153 square inch grilling surface meaning you’ll be able to cook a couple of burgers and some veggies at a time.
The Akorn Kamado egg-shaped grill is built from an extremely sturdy 22 gauge steel. It has triple wall insulation to hold heat exceptionally well, making it a perfect option not only for grilling but smoking too. Top and bottom dampers with a temperature gauge on top allow for easy heat observation and adjustment.
The grill is just 25 inches tall and 21 inches wide, so you can take it to a park or camping without taking too much space in your trunk.
Overall, a great charcoal grill and smoker for a single person or a couple for an occasional grilling or smoking.
- 153 square inch grilling surface
- Holds heat very well
- Extremely sturdy 22 gauge steel body
- Dual damper and temperature gauge for precise heat control
- Easy to clean ash damper
- Cheap for a Kamado style grill
- Small cooking surface
PK Grills PK360 Outdoor Charcoal Grill and Smoker Combination
Finishing off the best charcoal grill list with a bang is a premium charcoal grill and smoker PK360 from PK Grills. This triple-walled cast aluminum grill is exceptionally sturdy and is rustproof; no more crying over flaking paint!
The cast aluminum construction and the patented four vent system allow for precise heat control, making it a great smoker for beginners and experienced smokers.
You’ll find a glass-fiber reinforced polyester shelf on each side of the grill to rest your tools, season, or place already cooked food. The shelves are highly heat resistant and super sturdy.
Yes, it’s not a big grill, but the build quality, sturdiness, heat retention, and control make it an exceptional product that will last you years. The only downfall for us is the thin legs that aren’t very stable on soft landscaping material and a steep price point.
If money is not a problem, then the PK360 is definitely the best luxury charcoal grill on our list that money can buy.
- 360 square inch cooking area
- Cast aluminum construction
- Great heat control
- High-quality thermometer
- Two heat resistant side shelves
- Four vents
- Ash vent for an easy cleanup
- Legs are not very stable on a soft surface
Tips for Beginner Grillers
Set aside some time to light the charcoal
Unlike gas, charcoal takes quite a bit of time to heat up. If you don’t want to keep your guests hungry, make sure to add 15-20 minutes just for heating the charcoal. You want to have all the charcoal in a gray ash color. If your charcoal is not heated evenly, you’ll have a hard time controlling the heat since different pieces of charcoal will start reaching their optimal grilling temperature at different times.
Separate your grill into several heat zones
We know some of you want to split the hot charcoal evenly throughout the grill. That’s a rookie mistake. You want to have 2-3 different heat zones on the grill if it’s big enough. This will allow you to set aside cooked food to a lower temperature area if it’s burning and, in general, cook different types of dishes if they require different cooking temperatures.
Put your food on a hot grill.
Like using a pan, make sure your grill is hot before putting your food on the grates. When you have ash white charcoal, close the lid and let the grill heat for 5 minutes. You want your food to sizzle when you throw it onto the grate to get that beautiful sear and keep all the juice inside, whether it’s protein or veggies.
Learn to use your vents! You can’t imagine how big of a difference good airflow control makes. If your grill is not hot enough, open up the vents to get more air to burn the charcoal. If you want to lower the temperature, close all the vents and see how the temperature starts to drop slowly. In time you’ll use the vents not only to increase or decrease the temperature, but you’ll also use them to master different cooking techniques like searing, roasting, and smoking.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to properly start a charcoal grill?
You’ll need a charcoal starter to heat your charcoal. Whether using an electric charcoal starter or a chimney starter, the most important thing is to heat the charcoal properly. You want your charcoal to be fully ash gray in color. This will allow for an even burn and even heat.
We don’t advise using a lighter fluid unless it’s made from biofuels or alcohol. Otherwise, you’ll end up with an unwanted taste and smell in your food.
How to heat control in a charcoal grill?
You need to learn how to use vents on your charcoal grill. For more heat, open up the vents; for less, close them. We advise getting a grill with adjustable grate height for a quick-cooking temperature change if you’re a beginner.
How do I safely put out a charcoal grill?
The easiest and safest way to put out a charcoal grill is to suffocate the fire. Close down the grill lid and shut all the vents. This does smother the fire, but it will take a good 12 hours or more for the ash to cool down. Another way is to spray some water on the coal for a quick smothering. If you’re going to use water to put out a charcoal grill, make sure to use small amounts of water to cool the ember slowly, a large dose of water might create a huge ash ball coming to you or even make the ember jump out of the grill.