This article is part of our Best Product Reviews series, a collaboration with Consumer Reports. Select and Consumer Reports are editorially independent. If you purchase something through our links, we both earn a commission. Pricing and availability are accurate as of publish time. Learn more about Select and Consumer Reports.
The taste of food cooked over an open flame is one of the great joys of summer. Charcoal imparts a unique taste on food while also offering the utmost in control.
With charcoal, the more coal you add, the hotter the fire. If you know what you’re doing, you can control the cooking surface to masterfully grill anything from a quickly seared steak to a slow-smoked pork shoulder—and rule the backyard barbecue all season long. (If you’re really serious about grilling and smoking, you might consider trading up to a kamado-style grill, which combines charcoal with an airtight design to give you even more control.)
Today charcoal grills account for nearly 40 percent of all grills sold—not quite on a par with gas grills, but still far outpacing the sales of pellet grills or kamado grills. Below, we’ve compiled a list of the very best charcoal grills, based on our latest tests.
Not sure where to start? Check our grill buying guide for a run-down of all your options.
SEE ALL Consumer Reports product reviews
On a charcoal grill, everything from evenness to temperature range is largely controlled by the charcoal itself. That led us to heavily weight design and convenience in our testing protocol. “The differences between charcoal grills are less pronounced than with gas grills, and far more depends upon how the user cooks with the grill,” says Cindy Fisher, CR’s lead grill test engineer.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t differences between models.
Features like multiple air vents and adjustable grates play an important role in turning out great food, because they let you control the heat. Below, we’ve highlighted some of the very best charcoal grills from our tests. CR members can read on for those selections, in both barrel- and kettle-style grills, or jump right to our charcoal grill ratings.
Best Barrel-Style Charcoal Grills
CR's take: This barrel-style Dyna-Glo DGN576DNC-D lets you control the fire and get great results with ease. Once you’ve filled the grill with lit coals, you can access the charcoal bed in the bottom of the grill via a charcoal door (so you can add additional coals without taking food off the grates). A crank can also be used to raise and lower the coal bed, so you can get the coals close to food for searing or drop them farther down for slower, indirect cooking. And the flue has its own crank to open or close a damper inside, which regulates airflow and, in turn, the temperature inside the grill. That feature, in particular, helped this model earn a rating of Very Good for indirect cooking.
CR’s take: The Royal Gourmet CD1824A is a solid all-around performer with ratings of Very Good in each of our tests. Despite its lower price, it’s got nice features found on other barrel grills, including variable-height cooking grates and a charcoal door for easily adding more coals while you cook. It includes a built-in bottle opener and temperature gauge in the lid.
CR’s take: If you’re not hung up on having lots of features, the Nexgrill 810-0025 is a solid choice that still offers strong performance. It earns a rating of Very Good for indirect cooking and Excellent for cleaning. And while it lacks adjustable grates or a charcoal door, it does include essentials like a single side shelf and built-in temperature gauge.
Best Kettle-Style Charcoal Grills
CR's take: The Weber 22" 14402001 is a classic kettle grill that has retained its basic features for decades. It’s easy to see why. In our tests, the shape helped the coals stack neatly inside, earning the grill a rating of Very Good in our evenness test. Our engineers also liked the one-touch cleaning system, which allows you to catch and remove all the ash and coals in a removable aluminum bucket after cooking. (Weber calls it an ash catcher.) Dampers on the bottom and in the lid of the grill help regulate airflow and temperature. Allowing less air in helps moderate cooking temperature.
CR's take: The Char-Broil Kettleman 16301878 is a modestly priced kettle grill with some nice features. The lid is hinged, so you don’t need to remove it entirely to add food, and it can be locked down for moving the grill. It also has a large damper. Those thoughtful touches help the grill earn a rating of Very Good for convenience even if it lacks the cleaning conveniences of the Weber, above.
Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2022, Consumer Reports, Inc.