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Charcoal grills are a staple for home chefs because charcoal is a relatively inexpensive fuel source that gives your food a beautiful, smokey flavor, from hot dogs and hamburgers to pizza and pulled pork. Charcoal grills also tend to be less expensive than gas or pellet grills, so you can cook outdoors, even if you’re on a budget.
Rigorous testing happened by our experts in checking out these charcoal grills, and the top spot was awarded to the Weber Original Kettle Premium 22-Inch Charcoal Grill since it's easy to use for both beginners and seasoned grilling buffs. For a lower price point and a little less grilling space, check out the Weber Original Kettle 18-Inch Charcoal Grill.
Compared to gas grills, the anatomy of charcoal grills is quite simple. They're essentially containers for coal with racks and lids. That said, some models are certainly better than others. To help you choose the right one, we sent a few of the most popular models to the homes of our testers. They spent weeks cooking outside to properly test a grill's temperature control, heat retention, and post-dinner cleanup. They also assessed how easy it is to set up out of the box, and if any features help or hinder getting your barbecue experience.
Here, the best charcoal grills to buy.
Best Overall: Weber Original Kettle Premium 22-Inch Charcoal Grill
Classic, compact design
A cost-conscious option
Ash catcher makes cleanup a breeze
Small to medium cooking space
Wheels are small
Whether you’re replacing a well-loved grill or buying your very first one, you can’t go wrong with the Weber Original Kettle Premium 22-Inch Charcoal Grill. While widely viewed as the best charcoal grill you can buy, this thoughtfully-designed grill is also quite affordable, costing hundreds less than high-end models. Plus, our reviewer said it took him less than 15 minutes to put it together.
This Weber grill features a porcelain-enameled lid and bowl for optimal heat retention, and the cooking grate can hold up to 13 burgers at once. Our reviewer tested this model by cooking everything from pork to pineapple and found that it's consistently a great choice for beginners and seasoned pros.
There’s a built-in lid thermometer and dampers on the lid that allow you to monitor and adjust the inner temperature. The plated steel cooking grate includes a hinge that allows you to add charcoal while you’re cooking, and the angled lid hook lets you hang the top of the grill on the side of the unit, keeping it off the ground.
When you’re done cooking, the Weber grill has a one-touch cleaning system that lets you sweep ash and debris into the removable ash catcher for disposal.
Dimensions: 39.5 x 22.5 x 27 inches | Total Cooking Area: 363 square inches
"Once you factor in price, performance, and design, the Weber is the heavy hitter in the arena of charcoal grills." — Nicholas McClelland, Product Tester
Best Budget: Weber Original Kettle 18-Inch Charcoal Grill
Made of durable material
Handle stays cool from heat shield
Easy to assemble
Spring clips for the ash catcher are tricky to attach
Cooking area can feed only two people comfortably
If you’re not looking to spend as much on a grill, you might consider a pared-down version of our top pick: the Weber Original Kettle 18-Inch Charcoal Grill. It’s smaller and lacks some of the features of the Premium model, but this affordable Weber Kettle Grill still delivers delicious grilled foods infused with the smoky flavor of charcoal.
This grill can hold up to nine burgers on its plated steel cooking grate, and it features an enameled porcelain lid and bowl, lid hook, and easy-to-adjust dampers. It has durable wheels for easy transport, and you can clean up quickly using the one-touch cleaning system, which sweeps ash and debris into the rust-resistant ash catcher.
Dimensions: 36 x 18.5 x 23 inches | Total Cooking Area: 240 square inches
"Although charcoal does add flavor to food, wait until it burns clean or clear smoke before you start cooking. If you can see black smoke, your food will taste like black smoke. Wait a few minutes until the smoke clears for best results." — Paul Sidoriak of Grilling Montana
Best with Smoker: PK Grills Original PK Grill & Smoker
Excellent heat retention and control
Portable for tailgating
Built-in side table
Lid does not securely attach
No built-in thermometer
Grilling cooks food quickly using high heat, while smoking uses indirect heat and lower temperatures to cook food slowly. If you like to switch up your cooking style once in a while, you’ll love The Original PK Grill & Smoker. This model delivers the best of both worlds, and it’s perfect for both casual grillers and professional chefs.
This grill is made from cast aluminum for superior heat conduction, and its unique shape and four-point venting system make it ideal for both grilling and smoking foods. It has over 305 square inches of cooking surface—that’s big enough for a whole turkey!—and two work shelves where you can prep food. Plus, it's lightweight and easy to set up if you need a portable option for outdoor parties or tailgating.
After a few weeks of cooking on it, our home tester said the grill "blew [them] away." The coals got hot quickly with the tight-sealing lid keeping the heat inside, and the built-in vents were simple to adjust during cooking. The oval shape of the grill made it easy to cook multiple types of food, from skewers to roasted corn. After she was done testing, cleanup was a breeze, whether using a grill brush or removing the grate to clean in the kitchen sink. A couple of downsides discovered during testing were that the lid can detach while cooking and the lack of a built-in thermometer means you'll need to have your own.
Dimensions: 34.75 x 36.38 x 19.5 inches | Total Cooking Area: 310 square inches
"This grill offers 310 square inches of cooking surface—plenty for my large family of seven." — Sarah Vanbuskirk, Product Tester
Best Kamado: Char-Griller E16620 Akorn Kamado Charcoal Grill
Great heat retention
Budget-friendly compared to competitors
Easy to clean
Hard to cool down
Grate needs initial seasoning
Kamado-style grills originated in Asia more than 3,000 years ago, and these oval-shaped cooking vessels have become increasingly popular in the U.S. thanks to their superior versatility. Kamado grills, like the Char-Griller AKORN Kamado Charcoal Grill, are used for smoking and baking. They heat up quickly and impart more flavor to food.
This particular kamado grill has triple-walled steel construction and features 314 square inches of cast-iron grill space, as well as a removable warming rack. It includes a built-in thermometer and can be used to cook at temperatures ranging from 200 to 700 degrees. The grill has two convenient folding side shelves and utensil hooks.
Our home tester used this to cook up barbecue classics like chicken wings and ribs, and she was highly pleased with its performance. Once she learned how to get the grill to the right temperature, the temperature inside the grill remained constant no matter what was happening outside, It is important to get the initial temperature right since this takes a while to cool down. Other aspects she liked were that the grates became more nonstick as the testing went on and the warming rack proved itself to be the perfect bun warmer.
Dimensions: 45 x 31 x 47 inches | Total Cooking Area: 447 square inches
"Once the grill’s temperature stabilized, we found that it stayed remarkably consistent throughout the cooking time." — Donna Currie, Product Tester
Best Portable: Weber 10020 Smokey Joe 14-Inch Portable Charcoal Grill
Can be assembled in less than 15 minutes
No side handles
Not much airflow with cover on
Looking for a charcoal grill that you can bring to the big game or on your next outdoor adventure? Then you should consider the Weber Smokey Joe portable charcoal grill. Just like full-size models from the brand, this 14-inch grill has a porcelain-enameled lid and bowl, as well as steel grates and an ash catcher down below.
This portable charcoal grill can hold up to five hamburgers at a time, and the lid’s glass-reinforced nylon handle stays cool during use. Reviewers say this product is an unbeatable value, as it’s easy to tote around to various events and delivers the same caliber of high-quality food as full-size Weber grills.
Dimensions: 17 x 14.2 x 14.5 inches | Total Cooking Area: 147 square inches
Best Splurge: Weber Performer Deluxe 22-Inch Charcoal Grill
Built to last
Large side area to prep and store food
Has easy gas ignition system
Great customer service
Two interior screws can get in the way of inserting/removing grate
If you haven’t noticed by now, Weber is one of the top charcoal grill brands today, and it also makes the splurge-worthy Performer Deluxe 22-Inch Charcoal Grill. This model has a wide variety of useful features that any grill master would love, including things like a Touch-N-Go gas ignition system and work table for food prep.
This charcoal grill can hold up to 13 burgers at a time, and you can monitor the internal temperature using the built-in lid thermometer. This Performer Deluxe grill has an electronic charcoal ignition system and a removable timer that mounts to the side work table. Additionally, there’s a convenient charcoal storage bin integrated into the design, as well as the brand’s one-touch cleaning system. Reviewers say the quality of this product is great and that the grill will undoubtedly serve you well for years to come.
Dimensions: 43.5 x 48 x 30 inches | Total Cooking Area: 363 square inches
Best Cart-Style: Char-Griller E1515 Patio Pro Grill
Easy to move
Ideal for small spaces
Small cooking surface
No temperature guage
Cart-style grills have a handle and wheels that make them easy to move around, and the Char-Griller Patio Pro BBQ Grill is a compact and budget-friendly option for your deck or patio. It features a modest 250 square inches of cooking space, but it has all the features you need to whip up a delicious meal.
For instance, the grill is equipped with cast iron cooking grates, as well as a convenient side drawer for adding charcoal. It even has a built-in wooden side shelf where you can keep tools and serving dishes. The handle on the lid stays cool to the touch, and there's an adjustable air vent on the side of the unit to help you regulate temperature. The whole grill is powder-coated for durability, and when it's time to clean up, simply remove and dump the ash pan.
Dimensions: 31 x 21 x 44 inches | Total Cooking Area: 250 square inches
Best Digital: Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 Digital Charcoal Grill
Precise temperature regulation
Gravity-fed fuel hopper
Can be used for smoking
Expensive for a charcoal grill
If you want the delicious taste of charcoal-grilled food along with the high-tech features usually reserved for gas grills, the Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 Digital Charcoal Grill + Smoker is quite the innovation. This charcoal grill has Wi-Fi capabilities, allowing you to control its temperature and cook time right from your phone (or the grill's digital control panel), and it even has a fan inside that regulates the grill's temperature, helping it reach up to 700 degrees in as little as 13 minutes.
This high-tech model offers 560 square inches of cooking space, and its reversible cast iron grates can be used for both smoking and searing. Plus, there's a gravity-fed charcoal hopper on the side of the unit, and it can hold up to 10 pounds of lump charcoal or 16 pounds of briquettes, allowing you to cook all day without ever adding more fuel.
Dimensions: 24.65 x 54.13 x 51.97 inches | Total Cooking Area: 560 square inches
If you're looking for an affordable, all-around great charcoal grill, the Weber Original Kettle Premium 22-Inch Charcoal Grill should be your go-to choice. Our reviewer liked that it worked well for all skill levels. If you want to spend a little less, you can downsize to Weber's 18-Inch Kettle Grill and still experience the brand's quality.
What to Look for When Buying a Charcoal Grill
When deciding what size grill you want, think about how many people you expect to be serving on a regular basis and how much cooking space you’ll need. Also, keep in mind that smaller grills are more portable—whether you’re moving your grill across the yard or to the park—while larger grills are heavier and harder to transport.
From enameled steel to stainless steel to ceramic, grills are made from a wide variety of materials, and each has its pros and cons. But that’s not all—grill grates can be made from cast iron, stainless steel, or other material. No choice is wrong; it just depends on how you prefer to cook.
Some grills are equipped with a variety of special features. Certain models double as smokers or have integrated thermometers. Others have side tables or are designed to be especially easy to clean. It’s your grill and your food, so decide what’s most important to you.
How do you start a charcoal grill?
There are several ways to light a charcoal grill, but the best option is to use a chimney starter. All you do is place crumpled newspaper in the bottom of the tool with charcoal on top, and after you light the bottom, your charcoal will be ready to add to the grill in around 10 minutes.
Another option is to use an electric charcoal lighter, which you put on the grill along with charcoal to bring the coals up to temperature.
How do you use a charcoal grill?
Cooking on a charcoal grill is a bit more complicated than using a gas-powered model. First, you'll need to measure out an appropriate amount of charcoal briquettes—this will depend on the size of your grill, what you're cooking, and how hot you want the grill to get. Next, you have to light the charcoal using a chimney starter or other tool.
From here, you'll want to clean and oil your cooking grates and preheat them for several minutes before placing food on the grill. As you cook your food, control the grill's temperature by using the upper and lower vents. For the hottest fire possible, you'll want to open both vents all the way, or for a lower temperature, close the upper vent to a half or quarter.
How do you put out a charcoal grill?
After cooking, the best way to put out hot coals is to close the lid and shut both the upper and lower vents to cut off the oxygen supply. Closing the lid and vents will extinguish the coals, but it may take a while for the coals to cool down.
How do you clean a charcoal grill?
Upon extinguishing the coal and allowing the grill to cool down, you can clean the grates using a scraper or wire grill brush. If needed, you can take the grates off and soak them in soapy water for a few hours to loosen up burnt-on food and grease. Once they're clean, make sure to oil them using a rag or paper towel to prevent rust.
You'll also want to wipe down the inside of the lid and bowl using a mild soap. Finally, empty your grill's ash catcher.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
This roundup was written by Camryn Rabideau, product tester and grill expert for The Spruce Eats. She's done firsthand testing of the Weber Q2200, Masterbuilt Bluetooth Digital Electric Smoker, and more.
Nicholas McClelland is an expert on all the topics that will help you have a great summer, from grills to whiskey to golf. He graduated from The Missouri School of Journalism and has been testing products and writing for The Spruce Eats since April 2019.
Sarah Vanbuskirk is an accomplished writer who tested her grill out on her family of seven to see if it could live up to the rigors of feeding a large family.
Deanna McCormack has reviewed dozens of products for The Spruce and thoroughly tested her portable grill out in her backyard and a beach campsite.