Best Charcoal GrillsBy James Aitchison
Gas or charcoal? It's the question that everyone in the market for a new grill has to ask themselves.
We'll make it simple for you: If you value taste over convenience, there's little question that you should go for charcoal. Gas has its advantages, sure, but nothing beats the smoky taste briquettes or natural wood charcoal can provide.
There, that was easy. But the choice of which charcoal grill to buy? That's a lot more difficult. There are hundreds of models to choose from, and it can be hard to tell what sets one apart from another.
To help make your decision as easy as possible, we took a close look at six of the most popular charcoal grills on the market. We pored over warranty information, digested hundreds of user reviews, and, finally, put each grill through a grueling series of cooking tests to find the best of the best. Read on to find out which grill earned our coveted recommendation.
Updated June 14, 2016
Weber Original 22" Kettle GrillBest Overall
Sometimes, the obvious choice is also the correct one.
The Weber 22” Original Kettle grill has been in production since 1951, and more than 60 years later it still offers the best combination of price, convenience, and performance. It's about as simple as they come, constructed from two curved sheets of steel, but the iconic kettle shape isn't just for looks. The lack of weld points also prevents unwanted heat loss.
The Weber has a large 363-square-inch grilling surface, and the classic domed lid is large enough to accommodate a hefty roast. Quick to set up, quick to heat up, and superbly easy to maintain, this Weber is also covered by the company’s limited 10-year warranty. If all of that that weren't reason enough, it's also available almost everywhere.
Big Green Egg
The increasingly popular Kamado-style grill originated in Japan and offers a degree of versatility not found in your average barbecue. In addition to grilling, Kamados can be used to smoke, roast, and bake food—just like a regular oven.
The Kamado-style Big Green Egg was easily the top-performing charcoal grill in our tests. However, that high performance comes at a sky-high cost. The large model sells for $849, which puts this particular product out of the reach of most casual pitmasters. However, considering the overall quality of the product and its promised longevity, the price may be a good value in the long run.
Unlike most grills on this list, the Big Green Egg is coated in a ceramic material. That means it offers excellent temperature regulation and superior fuel efficiency.
In order maintain its pricing structure, Big Green Egg carefully controls its retail channels, so don’t expect to find this grill online. You can find a list of retail partners at the company's site.
Far from a simple Weber clone, the Kettleman adds a few welcome bells and whistles to the familiar kettle grill formula. For example, the hinged lid is an awesome enhancement—one that means you'll have an extra hand free while flipping burgers.
Most grills feature thin grates that expose food to hot coals. The Kettleman, on the other hand, has what Char-Broil calls a TRU-Infrared grate. The grate acts as a radiant cooking surface and the thin openings prevent flare ups without the need for sear plates. Meanwhile, the inverted v-shaped ridges allow for a greater surface area and more even heat distribution.
But while it's a well-designed, easy-to-use grill, it couldn't match the Weber in performance. The Kettleman took longer to heat up than any other charcoal grill we tested. It also struggled to maintain an even temperature across the grilling surface, particularly at lower temperatures.
Primo Kamado All-in-One
Another example of the popular Kamado style grill, the Primo All-in-One is a sturdy, ceramic-coated grill that—according to user reviews—will last a lifetime. In fact, it comes with a standard 20-year warranty.
In our tests, the All-In-One exhibited excellent temperature regulation as well as impressive heat insulation—unsurprising considering its sturdy construction. Like the Big Green Egg, the Primo is extremely expensive, extremely heavy, and extremely durable. If you’re willing to look past its no-frills approach, it's a good—albeit pricey—option.
Char-Griller Patio Pro
If the Weber Kettle blows your budget, you could do far worse than the humble Char-Griller Patio Pro. These barrel shaped grills are ubiquitous, affordable, and—despite their decidedly cheap construction—offer fair value for money for casual or beginner grillers.
The lid is hinged, which makes flipping food a breeze, and the built-in shelves are useful when you’re juggling trays of meat or veggies. However, it's quite a bit smaller than the 363-square-inch Weber at a mere 250 square inches.
Despite its questionable build, the Patio Pro is a surprisingly effective little griller, with excellent temperature evenness and a quick preheat time.
At first glance, the Weber Performer simply looks like an Original Kettle mounted to a cart, but it has a number of features that set it apart from its downmarket sibling.
One of the most important additions is a gas ignition system that removes the need for nasty lighter fluid and annoying kindling. The Performer also has a removable timer, a handy lid holder, a built-in charcoal storage container, and hooks for BBQ tools. The cooking grate has side flaps that can be lifted if more coals need to added to the fire, and the center of the grate is removable.
Since the kettle and grate design is more or less identical, the Performer didn't actually outperform the Original Kettle in our tests. Preheat speeds were snappy and cooking was even, but we didn't come away convinced that the extra features are worth the price premium over the classic model.
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