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9 best charcoal grills for backyard cookouts

When it comes to flavor, experts say it’s hard to beat a charcoal-fired grill.
The latest charcoal grills offer conveniences like two-zone cooking, auto ignition and apps to control cooking time and temperature.
The latest charcoal grills offer conveniences like two-zone cooking, auto ignition and apps to control cooking time and temperature.Kara Birnbaum / NBC

Charcoal grills are as nostalgic as they are simple, yet they’ve come a long way since George Stephen invented the first kettle grill in 1952 while employed as a metalworker for Weber Brothers Metal Works. Today, Weber’s Original Kettle is still one of the best-selling charcoal grills thanks to its efficiency and simplicity. But a number of companies, including Kamada Joe, Masterbuilt and PK as well as Weber, have continued to iterate on the classic, adding features like two-zone cooking, automatic ash removal, electronic ignitions, height-adjustable surfaces and smokers.

Yet at the end of the day, it’s the ease-of-use and that great charcoal-fired taste that makes these grills so popular, says grilling expert Tom Scarano, a former sous chef with over 25 years of grilling experience and host of the YouTube channel The Gallery Backyard BBQ & Griddle.

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

To help you understand the wide range of charcoal grills, we spoke with Scarano and other grilling experts to learn about their favorites and rounded up a few highly rated options that align with their guidance.

Our top picks

How we picked the best charcoal grills

Whether you’re a skilled pitmaster or plan to fire up a charcoal grill for the first time this season, the best grills have two things in common: They’re easy to use, and they are super-efficient at maintaining the proper temperature. When compiling this list, the grilling experts we spoke to advised we keep in mind the following key factors:

Temperature management: “Controlling the fire is the heart of charcoal grilling, so features that make it easier are important,” says Logan Fisher, a corporate product trainer at BBQGuys, an online resource for grills, accessories and outdoor-living products. Look for features like easily adjustable vents to control airflow or a built-in automated temperature control so you can set it and forget it, he says.

Convenience: Grilling companies are continuously adding elements to make the grilling process easier, such as electronic ignitions, hinged grates so you can swiftly add more coal while cooking, hinged lids so you don’t have to place your lid on the ground, built-in lid thermometers to display the grill’s internal temperature and hooks to hang your grilling tools.

Ease of cleaning: Proper cleaning is key to any charcoal pit’s longevity, says Fisher, who adds that ash left in the bottom of your grill will wreak havoc, especially if the ash is wet, because it becomes high in alkalinity and will eventually eat away at the steel. Ash can also mix with food drippings to create a sticky, flammable mess, he says. Grills that have an easy-clean mechanism, such as an ash basket or drawer that can be pulled out or removed from the grill, can make cleaning easier.

Size: Grate size is about more than how many burgers you can fit at one time, says Fisher. Having a wider grilling surface means you can divide your grilling surface into two distinct temperature zones — one for high heat and one for low heat. This dual-zone grilling setup is essential when grilling foods of various thicknesses, he says.

Best charcoal grills

To find the model that will bring the most joy to your backyard grilling experience, we asked grilling experts for insight on their favorites across all price points, sizes and styles.

Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill

This 22-inch Weber is a favorite among all the experts we spoke to because it’s based on the inventor’s classic kettle design but with a few added improvements: Its grate is hinged, so it’s easy to add coal while grilling, and it has a built-in thermometer in the lid to indicate the internal temperature. It also has a One-Touch cleaning system that catches the ashes for easy removal. It can accommodate up to 13 burgers at one time, and its lid and bowl are made of porcelain enamel for ideal heat retention that won’t rust or peel, according to the brand.

Main cooking surface: 22 inches | Secondary cooking area: No | Body material: Porcelain enamel | Grate material: Plated steel

Dyna-Glo Heavy-Duty Charcoal Grill

This 32- by 18-inch barrel-style, heavy-duty option is large enough to fit 30 hamburgers, according to the brand. It includes a removable ash pan for easy cleanup and sliding grates to let you add coal easily when cooking. Besides a built-in temperature gauge, it has a crank that allows you to adjust the charcoal tray so you can move the coals closer or farther away from your food, giving you even more control over temperature and cooking speed. Its cooking grates are made of enameled cast iron, so food won’t stick, according to the brand, and the grill sits on heavy resin wheels for maneuverability. Another plus: It comes with a stainless-steel bottle opener. The Dyna-Glo has a 4.3-star average rating from over 500 Amazon reviews.

Main cooking surface: 32- x 18-inches | Secondary cooking area: Yes | Body material: Iron | Grate material: Porcelain-enameled cast iron

Tagwood BBQ XL Argentine Santa Maria Wood Fire & Charcoal Grill

“Tagwood manages to cram a ton of cooking options into its package,” says Fisher. The main grilling surface is large and you can adjust the height to give you more control over the temperature. There’s a second cooking grate directly above the left-side firebox to allow for two-zone cooking. Tagwood also offers an optional rotisserie kit as well as a warming rack. “If you really want to show off and have it all, then Tagwood is the way to go for charcoal cookers,” says Scarano.

Main cooking surface: 34- x 26.5 inches | Secondary cooking area: Yes | Body material: Stainless steel | Grate material: Stainless steel

Weber Master Touch

“The Master Touch model of Weber’s kettle grill includes all the little convenience features that add up to a durable, well-designed grill,” says Fisher. The one-touch cleaning system funnels ash through the grill’s vent holes and into a large-capacity ash catcher to make ash removal easy, according to the brand. The main cooking grate includes a removable center cutout for some of Weber’s optional barbecue accessories, including a pizza stone, poultry roaster and wok. The lid has a built-in temperature gauge, and there’s a “tuck-away” rack on the side of the grill to hold the lid.

Main cooking surface: 22 inches | Secondary cooking area: No | Body material: Porcelain enamel | Grate material: Plated steel

PK PK300 Grill & Smoker

“Portable Kitchen has been making cast aluminum charcoal grills since before the moon landing, and they’re built to last,” says Fisher, adding that aluminum is a great material for even heating and is incapable of rusting, “so it can live outdoors for a very long time.” PK calls this grill its “new original” because it’s an upgraded version of the classic 1952 model, which now includes features like a tighter lid seal, a newly designed hinged lid for more stability, more shelf space, an ergonomic handle and an interior ash compartment, according to the brand. It works as both a grill and a smoker and also comes with a 20-year warranty. “They’re about as close to bulletproof as a grill gets,” says Scarano.

Main cooking surface: 22 inches | Secondary cooking area: No | Body material: Aluminum | Grate material: Nickel-plated steel

Masterbuilt Gravity Series 800 Digital Charcoal Griddle + Grill + Smoker

Masterbuilt was the first to launch a line of gravity-fed charcoal grills in 2019. “It’s the most exciting feature of the newer charcoal grills,” says Scarano, explaining that it provides the smoky charcoal flavor without the hassle. A gravity-fed grill has a fan underneath with a built-in temperature controller that maintains the cooking temperature while a hopper holds the charcoal and continuously feeds the coals into the fire as necessary.

The Masterbuilt 800 can hold 10 pounds of lump coal or 16 pounds of charcoal briquettes to keep your grill burning for about 10 hours. It reaches 225 degrees Fahrenheit in 8 minutes, 450 degrees Fahrenheit in 10 minutes and 700 degrees Fahrenheit in 14 minutes, according to the brand. “The Masterbuilt Gravity series is a great compromise between pellet grill convenience and charcoal flavor,” says Fisher. This model includes a folding stainless-steel front shelf and two porcelain-coated smoking racks.

Main cooking surface: 62- x 43 inches | Secondary cooking area: Yes | Body material: Stainless steel | Grate material: Cast iron

Weber Smokey Joe Premium Charcoal Grill

The Weber Smokey Joe is a smaller version of the 22-inch Weber Original Kettle, making it not only a more budget-friendly option but, at just 9.5 pounds, it’s one that you can easily take with you on the go. The grill fits five burgers at a time, according to the brand, and the porcelain-enameled lid and bowl comes in six different colors. “The Jumbo Joe ticks both boxes if you’re lacking in patio space or looking for a full-sized grill that’s still portable,” says Fisher. And for those with little ones, there’s a matching Smokey Joe toy version for the tiniest of grill masters to enjoy.

Main cooking surface: 14 inches | Secondary cooking area: No | Body material: Porcelain enamel | Grate material: Plated steel

Kamado Joe Konnected Joe Digital Charcoal Grill and Smoker

Kamado grills are popular due to their airtight seal and are typically made of ceramic to keep in the heat, which provides grillers with a more precise temperature control, says Scarano. “Kamado Joe’s new Konnected Joe took the already feature-rich Kamado Joe and added a temperature controller to run the grill when you’ve got other things to do,” says Fisher. It has an auto ignition, and you can manage the temperature and cooking times via the Kamado Joe app. It also has an air-lift hinge for the dome lid that makes opening and closing the lid easy and allows it to stay in place at any angle.It also has folding aluminum side shelves, and the grill is two-tiered, so you can cook foods at different temperatures. All of the accessories that fit the Kamado Joe Classic II, like the Joetisserie and DoJoe pizza accessory, also fit the Konnected Joe.

Main cooking surface: 18 inches | Secondary cooking area: Yes | Body material: Ceramic | Grate material: Stainless steel

Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Charcoal Grill

This grill and smoker can cook up to 27 burgers at once, according to the brand. Its triple-walled, steel-insulated design and locking lid keeps in the heat, and it has a removable warming rack, bottom storage shelf and foldable side shelves. It has a 4.6-star average rating from over 3,400 reviews on Amazon.

Main cooking surface: 20 inches | Secondary cooking area: Yes | Body material: Powder-coated steel exterior, porcelain-coated steel interior | Grate material: Cast iron

How to shop for the best charcoal grills

When it comes to shopping for a charcoal grill, there are several factors our experts said you should consider to cut down on time and effort when barbecuing with friends and family.

Consider the size. “You can always load up more coal, but you can never make your grill bigger if unexpected guests show up,” says Fisher. When deciding what size grill you want to buy, think about your typical gatherings and plan ahead. A grill with grates under 26 inches wide is considered small and is perfect for couples and smaller families, says Fisher, adding that they also make great on-the-go grills at tailgates. Medium charcoal grills have grates that measure between 27 and 33 inches in width, allowing you to cook both main dishes and sides at the same time. Large charcoal grills have grates that are at least 34 inches wide and offer enough surface space to cook about 20 steaks at once, says Fisher.

Know your menu. For grillers who just want to fire up some burgers and hot dogs on the weekends, our experts say a basic model will suffice. But if you want to do more specialized cooking, like spatchcocking chicken or slow cooking a brisket, a kamado or gravity-style grill might be more suitable so you don’t have to manually control the grill’s temperature for the entire cooking time.

Look for multiple air vents and adjustable grates. These help you control the temperature, says Scarano.

What are the benefits of a charcoal grill versus a gas or pellet grill?

Compared to gas or pellet grills, charcoal grills give food the strongest barbecue flavor, say our experts. . These grills also give users more control over the temperature: They can add more coals, adjust the grill’s surface so it’s closer to the coals, and open and close the dampers, or vents, on the lid and bottom of the grill. “It’s time-consuming and it’s messier, but it’s how we all remember our parents barbecuing. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, everybody had a kettle in the backyard,” says Scarano.

Meet our experts

At NBC Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

Tom Scarano is a former sous chef with 25 years of grilling experience and host of the YouTube channel The Gallery Backyard BBQ & Griddle.

Logan Fisher is a corporate product trainer at BBQGuys, an online resource for grills, accessories and other outdoor-living products.

Why trust NBC Select?

Barbara Booth is an editor at Select who has published several guides that offer tips on best products for self-care, the home and the gym, including best exercise bikes, best cordless vacuums, and best mineral sunscreens. For this piece, Barbara interviewed a corporate product trainer in the grilling industry to gain insight on the best charcoal grills on the market today.

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