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The best charcoal grills for cookouts in 2022

When it comes to flavor, experts say it’s hard to beat a charcoal-fired grill. Here are some models recommended by experts.
Check out these expert-recommended charcoal grills from brands like Weber, Masterbuilt and more.
Check out these expert-recommended charcoal grills from brands like Weber, Masterbuilt and more.Hinterhaus Productions / Getty Images ; Weber ; Amazon

If you’re looking to host a big gathering, or just fire up some burgers with friends and family, a grill is a must-have for any outdoor cookout. But where to start? What features should you look for amongst dozens of seemingly great grills online? What’s ideal for one grill master’s backyard might not be for another — especially given that grills come in several different styles, including pellet grills, charcoal grills and gas grills.

SKIP AHEAD Best charcoal grills | How do charcoal grills compare to gas and pellet grills?

Charcoal grills cook food by burning lumps or briquettes of charcoal, which create heat and give meat or veggies a unique smoky flavor. Compared to gas or pellet grills, charcoal grills impart the strongest barbecue flavor, said Tom Horsman, a grilling YouTuber with over 30,000 subscribers. These grills also provide a high level of user control, since you can control the temperature by adding more coals, or lowering the grill’s surface closer to the coals. If you love that distinct smoke, coal-fired flavor and like the temperature versatility coals bring, we recommended 11 top-rated coal grills based on expert advice and testing by product review publication Consumer Reports.

How to shop for the best charcoal grills

Barrel- and kettle-shaped charcoal grills are fairly basic in design, but there are also more specialized charcoal grills like gravity grills or kamado grills. Gravity grills have a side charcoal hopper, with a blower on the bottom to blow the fumes — and therefore heat — into your cook chamber, according to Horsman. Kamado grills, like the popular Big Green Egg, are a type of airtight charcoal grill, typically made of ceramic. Kamado grills are “the gold standard” of grills, according to Consumer Reports, and offer grillers precise temperature control.

Though at the end of the day, all of these grills work fairly similarly: You burn charcoal, which creates the heat to cook your food and you can add or subtract charcoal to adjust the heat level of your grill. Dampers, which are like vents you can open or close at the bottom of the grill, can control airflow — if you let more air in, the fire will give off more heat. For grillers that just want to fire up some burgers and hot dogs on the weekends, Horsman says that a basic model will suffice. But if you have more specialized grilling needs, like spatchcocking chicken, or slow cooking a brisket, a kamado or gravity style grill might be more suitable.

The testers at Consumer Reports say that there aren’t as many variations between charcoal grills compared to gas or pellet grills, but there are some heat control features worth noting. They highlighted “multiple air vents and adjustable grates”as features to look for, since they can help you better control the temperature, one of the main selling points of a charcoal grill vs. gas or pellet.

Best charcoal grills

To help find the best model that will bring the most joy to your backyard barbecue, we consulted grilling experts and Consumer Reports product testers for recommendations on the best charcoal grills. Consumer Reports rated grills using the following criteria:

  • Convenience: They tested “how easy it was to add coals, adjust the coal tray and vents, move the grill and lid opening.”
  • Cleaning: They rated the “ease of removing ash from the grill.”
  • Cooking Evenness: “Evenness of heating over the grill's surface at the highest and lowest setting with the charcoals evenly spread on the charcoal tray.”
  • Indirect Cooking: They tested “how well the grill will slow-cook foods when the food isn't placed directly over the charcoal.”

You can read more about Consumer Reports’ testing procedures here.

Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill

Consumer Reports described the 22-inch Weber kettle-style model as “a classic kettle grill” and awarded it a “Very Good” rating in their test for “Even Cooking.” This grill has a porcelain-enameled lid which the brand says helps the grill “retain heat.” It also has a hinged, 363 square inch cooking surface that makes it easier to add charcoal while grilling,as well as a thermometer that lets you know how hot your grill is. Consumer Reports also pointed out the ash catcher, cleaning system and dampers that help control airflow as key features.

Dyna-Glo DGN576DNC-D

A barrel-style charcoal model, this steel grill from Dyna-Glo was rated “Very Good” in Consumer Reports’ testing for “Indirect Cooking.” It has a cooking surface that’s 576 square inches, which the brand says is enough to fit 30 hamburgers. The grill has a crank that you can use to move the coals closer or further away from your food to control the temperature and speed of your cooking.

Weber Smokey Joe Premium Charcoal Grill

A smaller version of the 22-inch Weber Original kettle, Horsman highlighted the Weber Smokey Joe grills as a more affordable option. The cooking area is 147 square inches — Weber says the grill fits six burgers at a time — and the porcelain-enameled lid and bowl comes in six different colors. And for those with little ones, there’s a matching Smokey Joe toy version for the tiniest of grill masters to enjoy.

Weber Jumbo Joe Charcoal Grill

The Jumbo Joe kettle grill from Weber is a happy medium. 18 inches in diameter, it’s larger than the Smokey Joe, but smaller than the classic Weber 22-inch kettles. It has a cooking area of 240 square inches and features a carry handle for portability, the brand says. The grill has steel cooking grates and dampers that help you control the temperature inside the kettle, according to Weber.

Nexgrill 810-0025

While Consumer Reports testers acknowledged that this grill lacks some specialized features, it made up for it in testing performance, receiving a rating of “Excellent” for “Ease of Cleaning” and “Very Good” for “Indirect Cooking.” The barrel-style grill has a 549 square inch cooking area and ash catcher as well as front, side and bottom shelves. It also includes a thermometer that measures the temperature inside the barrel and wheels for transport.

Masterbuilt Gravity Series 560 Digital Charcoal Grill + Smoker

Gravity grills have been around for a long time, but Masterbuilt was among the first brands to make them “more affordable for guys like me,” Horsman said. This gravity-style grill’s hopper can hold enough charcoal for 12 hours of cooking 10 pounds of lump charcoal, for example or 16 pounds of charcoal briquettes) and can heat to 700 degrees Fahrenheit within 13 minutes. You can use the digital controls to set the temperature.

Kamado Joe Classic II 18" KJ23RHC

“The Kamado Joe Classic II is the best kamado we’ve seen,” said Consumer Reports testers, highlighting its “countless features that make grilling and smoking easier than with other models,” including its double tiered rack system, adjustable dampers and a lid that stays partially hinged open if you want to flip any burgers without losing too much heat. The grill also received a “Very Good” rating for “Ease of Cleaning,” partially because “it’s one of the few models that features a pullout ashtray.”

Char-Griller E56720 AKORN Kamado Charcoal Grill

In addition to 314 square inches of cast iron grill space, this porcelain-coated steel grill also has a removable 133-square-inch warming rack and two folding metal trays. The grill’s body is made from 22-gauge steel with a double wall insulation and porcelain-coated interior that can cook between 200 to 700 degrees Fahrenheit. There’s also adjustable top and bottom dampers, an ash pan and locking wheels for portability. It has a 4.7-star average rating from over 2,700 reviews on Amazon.

Royal Gourmet CD1824A

While this grill is more budget friendly, it is still a high performer, according to Consumer Reports, which gave the grill “Very Good” ratings in all of their cooking tests. It has a main cooking space that’s 391 square inches, and a charcoal pan that can adjust to six different height levels and hold up to 4.5 pounds of charcoal. To add more coals, you can use the charcoal door instead of opening the lid.

Vision Kamado Professional S-T4C1D1

One of the cheapest ceramic kamado grills Consumer Reports tested, this Vision Kamado was also among the highest rated — it scored a “Very Good” in their “Convenience” test. The grill’s main cooking area is 604 square inches and it comes with side shelves, wheels and a space for firing coles with an electric starter. It also has two dampers, whereas most kamado grills have just one, according to Consumer Reports.

Char-Broil Kettleman 16301878

Consumer Reports described this grill from Char-Broil as “a modestly priced kettle grill with some nice features,” rating it “Very Good”. This kettle grill has a 360-square-inch cooking space, hinged lid, ashtray and what Consumer Reports calls a “large” damper. It also has two wheels for transport.

How do charcoal grills compare to gas and pellet grills?

Charcoal grills are simple: You burn coals, which produce heat to cook your food. The coals, unlike gas grills, for example, impart a “medium to high” level of smoky flavor to whatever you’re grilling, Horsman says.

Pellet grills work somewhat similarly to charcoal grills, except they burn wood pellets. Like gravity charcoal grills, pellet grills have a separate hopper that stores and gravity causes the pellets to drop into the “burn pot,” where a fan circulates the heat, cooking your food. The wood does impart flavor to the meat, like charcoal, and you can substitute different types of wood to adjust the taste — but the flavor level is “medium to light,” according to Horsman.

Gas grills are mainly for convenient, quick cooks — they work “hot and fast,” says Horsman, great for firing up hot dogs and burgers after work. The grills work similarly to a gas stove, with knobs that allow you to adjust the heat and cooking temperature. But these grills don’t impart smoky barbecue flavors to your food like pellet and charcoal grills can.

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