Best charcoal grills | Full buyer’s guide & top picks

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 15, 2021

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Standing around the grill, sharing food and drinks and laughter… We all have nostalgic memories based around a grill. Great times with friends and family are priceless.

Now it’s time for you to purchase your own charcoal grill. It’s not just a functional item. It’s the thing you’ll build your memories around.

While price is important, buying a quality product will help ensure the meal is just as good as the memories! Adjustable air vents, temperature control, and minimal clean-up are key.

Grilling is not just slapping some meat on a fire and hoping for the best. It’s an art form. You get to decide on the perfect char, the succulent result, and the flavor of each mouthful.

From vegetable skewers to A-grade rump, you’re the master of the grill, and you get to produce a fabulous meal for friends and family. What a privilege!

So how do you decide on the perfect charcoal grill for your needs and your budget?

The Best Charcoal Grills for 2021 reviewed top list full buyers guide

I’m a huge fan of grilling, so I’ve researched 5 of the best charcoal grills available in 2021, and put together a list of their pros and cons below.

I must say, my absolute favorite charcoal grill is one of the simplest, but also one of the easiest to use. You simply cannot go wrong with the Weber Original Kettle Premium.

But for those with a little bit of extra stretch in their budget, or wanting a few more features, the Weber Performer Deluxe and the Kamado Joe Classic II are also winners.

Find out why I love these top five grills in my analysis below.

Best charcoal grill Image
Best overall charcoal grill: Weber Original Kettle Premium Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill

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Best accessories and functionality for the price: Weber Performer Deluxe Best accessories and functionality for the price: Weber Performer Deluxe

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Best charcoal grill for durability and nostalgia: PK Grill & Smoker Best charcoal grill for durability and nostalgia- PK Grill & Smoker

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Best charcoal grill for smoking AND grilling: Kamado Joe Classic II Best charcoal grill for smoking AND grilling- Kamado Joe Classic II

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Best charcoal grill for mobility: Weber Go-Anywhere Best charcoal grill for mobility- Weber Go-Anywhere

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Tips for deciding which charcoal grill to buy

When identifying a quality charcoal grill, there are several factors I look at. Price, accessories, temperature control, clean-up, quality, cooking area, and finally, the warranty.

These help me decide whether or not the product will be a ‘winner’.

The next thing I look at is my needs.

  • Do I need a large cooking area?
  • Do I need a smoker and a grill in one?
  • Do I need something that’s really easy to move around and to take with me on camping and fishing trips?

So the first thing you need to figure out before you start researching your grill is what you’re going to be doing with your grill.

Do you prefer a BBQ, or are you going to be smoking a lot? Do you want a dual-purpose grill or one that has been designed mainly for one purpose?

Then, let’s look at the deciding factors more closely, to help you narrow down your options to the perfect charcoal grill for you and your needs:

Price

Define your budget to help you nail down the right option. There are thousands of charcoal grills on the market, and the range can get confusing.

Narrow down the options by deciding on your budget ahead of time.

The good news is that most basic model, good quality charcoal grills won’t break the bank! When you start adding accessories and features, the budget obviously has to increase.

Check out my roundup of the best BBQ smoker accessories | 22 must-have smoking tools

Air vents & temp control

There are many different types of charcoal grills, each of them with its ups and downs. Check the features and make sure that the grill includes adequate air vents and insulation to allow you to control the temperature.

This gives you more control over how your food is being cooked and will ensure a delicious, consistent product for your plate.

Ash removal

Never mind the mess, ash removal can be a giant time waster! When choosing the best charcoal grill for your needs, check to see whether it has any useful ash-removal features.

You will thank your foresight when it comes time to clean up after a successful BBQ!

Quality & durability

As I said in the beginning, grilling is not just about cooking food. It’s about creating memories.

Choose a product that is going to be with you for a long time, and that’s going to be the center of some of your favorite memories.

Basic cooking area / size

Do you have loads of family and friends to grill for, or do you just want a small, portable option to take with you on camping and fishing trips?

The size of your grill will determine how much food you can cook on it, but also the amount of space it takes up. Around 300 square inches is a useful size for most people.

If you don’t have a convenient storage space for the grill when it’s not in use, then maybe a smaller option would be best.

Warranty

We all want peace of mind when we spend our hard-earned cash. A lengthy warranty not only gives you the impression that the manufacturer believes in the quality of their product, but it also gives you peace of mind.

You know that you’ll always have backup if something does go wrong.

The 5 best charcoal grills for every budget

Here are my top picks for the most common charcoal grill needs, and why I chose these superb products.

Best overall charcoal grill: Weber Original Kettle Premium

Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill

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Weber is one of the best names in grills. They have been manufacturing charcoal grills for over 50 years and have established a solid reputation.

From simple charcoal kettle grills to high-end, premium gas grills, Weber is a name you’ll never be disappointed by.

The Weber Original Kettle Premium is my top pick on this list because it ticks every griller’s top features list.

It’s affordable, functional, durable, you can easily control temperature through air vents, and it’s really easy for beginners to use.

This is the brand’s flagship model, and you can see why. It also comes with a 10-year warranty.

While this particular product is the 22”, the grill comes in a range of sizes. However, this is my preferred size for grilling for friends and family.

The simple grill has just a few features, but it does include the brilliant Weber One-Touch cleaning system, which has revolutionized charcoal grills, making cleaning incredibly simple, fast, and convenient.

The construction of this grill makes it very versatile, especially considering the price. Kettles are great not just for grilling but also for smoking.

However, you do need a separate accessory to turn your charcoal grill into a smoker. Try the Slow n’ Sear for best results. This product turns your regular grill into an effective charcoal smoker!

The Weber Original Kettle Premium also has easy temperature control through well-placed vents.

This model is an excellent choice for pros and beginners alike. If you’re not yet familiar with grilling techniques, or you want to learn a few tips and tricks to up your charcoal grilling game, then you’ll find loads of useful video guides online relating to the Weber Original Kettle Premium.

To get you started, here’s a video on how to assemble your grill:

Pros

  • Price – Very affordable, especially for the quality and durability of the product
  • Air vents & temp control – The excellent design and placement of the vents allows for easy temperature control
  • Ash removal – This model features the Weber One Touch cleaning system
  • Quality & durability – Porcelain-enameled lid and bowl and won’t rust or peel. It features Rust-resistant aluminum dampers
  • Basic cooking area – 22”
  • Warranty – Weber offers a 10-year warranty on its charcoal grills

Cons

  • Accessories – Besides the built-in thermometer, this does not have many additional accessories, but it is still extremely functional. Any accessories you would like to add to the basic model are affordable and easily available online.

Check the latest prices here

Best charcoal grill with accessories and functionality for the price: Weber Performer Deluxe

Best accessories and functionality for the price: Weber Performer Deluxe

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Maybe you started out with the original Weber Kettle Premium 22” above, but now you want the same quality and functionality with a few more features.

The Weber Performer model is exactly the upgrade you’re after!

The actual grill is the same size as the ‘Original’ but it includes several features that take it to the next level.

One of my favorite parts of this grill is the huge table – it’s perfect for prepping your food.

You can also have your serving dishes on hand – taking the food straight off the grill and into the dish rather than risking a singed sausage while you’re searching for a tray!

In this model, Weber has maintained all the essentials of a regular kettle while adding plenty of solutions that drastically increase convenience.

The grill also comes with tool hooks, a charcoal basket and plenty of space under the grill for even more accessories.

That’s not all. No more fiddling with fire-lighters, or burning your fingers with matches. The Weber Performer model features the innovative Electronic Touch-N-Go gas ignition system.

This is little a hidden burner inside the furnace (it runs on small propane tanks) to help ignite your charcoal in record time!

Also read: these are the differences between electric, charcoal, and propane gas grills

Another useful feature is the handle for the lid – so you don’t have to find a spot for the lid while your turning your chops and roasting your chicken.

It comes with a built-in (but removable) LCD timer to ensure every meal is cooked to perfection.

The Weber One-Touch cleaning system makes clean-up a breeze, and the 10-year warranty gives you peace of mind.

Here’s how the One Touch cleaning process looks:

While you’ll need a bigger budget for the additional accessories, I still believe you get a lot of ‘bang for your buck’ with this model.

Pros

  • Price – Very competitive price considering all of the features
  • Air vents & temp control – The excellent design and placement of the vents allows for easy temperature control
  • Ash removal – This model features the Weber One Touch cleaning system
  • Quality & durability – Porcelain-enameled lid and bowl and won’t rust or peel. It features Rust-resistant aluminum dampers
  • Basic cooking area – 22”
  • Warranty – Weber offers a 10-year warranty on its charcoal grills
  • Accessories – LCD timer, Weber One Touch cleaning system, removable, high-capacity, aluminum ash catcher, CharBin storage container to protect your charcoal from the elements, sturdy painted metal table, wire bottom shelf, no-rust aluminum vent and a glass-reinforced nylon handle

Cons

  • Price – While it’s still a competitive price for the number of features, it is significantly more than the basic model.

Check prices and availability here

Best charcoal grill for durability and nostalgia: PK Grill & Smoker

Best charcoal grill for durability and nostalgia- PK Grill & Smoker

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This is one for nostalgia! The older generation will recognize this grill shape very fondly. Don’t let its simple design fool you.

This is one tough product, and it is number three on my list for a very good reason: The PK Grill & Smoker is one of the most durable grills ever made.

First manufactured in the 1950s, it was one of the most popular brands of the time, and thankfully it’s gaining more and more traction in the 21st century as grillers around the world realize what an incredible product it is.

It’s also fast becoming a competition favorite:

So why is it so durable? This PK Grill & Smoker is made of aluminum, so it’s nearly indestructible and 100% resistant to corrosion. If you’re looking for something that will last for generations to come, then this is your model.

The construction has been well designed for great air flow and temperature control. There are four vents located in each corner of the grill (two at the bottom and two on top).

The only ‘negative’ or down side to this grill is the lack of accessories and gadgets. The stand and small side table are helpful, and the little shelf below the grill can hold a tray or be used to store your coals.

The grill also detaches from the stand, making it easily portable to be used for Tailgating, camping, fishing/hunting cabins.

This grill comes with a whopping 20-year warranty! The company warrants the cast aluminum bowl and lid for a period of twenty (20) years.

Pros

  • Price – For the quality and durability, the price is very fair
  • Air vents & temp control – The unique capsule shape and 4 vents make it easy to grill hot and fast or low and slow.
  • Quality & durability – There’s no denying the quality and durability of this grill. Very few other brands can stand up to its excellence
  • Basic cooking area – 300 square inches of cooking surface
  • Warranty – 20-Year limited warranty

Cons

  • Accessories – There are fewer accessories for this grill than with other brands. However, the stand and small side table are useful.
  • Ash removal – There’s no easy ash-removal system, so clean-up can take a little longer than with other charcoal grills with built-in systems.

Check the latest prices here

Best charcoal grill for smoking AND grilling: Kamado Joe Classic II

Best charcoal grill for smoking AND grilling- Kamado Joe Classic II in the garden

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When it comes to versatility, Kamados are a fantastic choice.

If you’re going to be grilling AND smoking (and even roasting) you simply can’t go wrong with a Kamado. However, they do come at a hefty price!

The Kamado Joe Classic II looks very sleek and modern. A completely different look to most conventional charcoal grills. This is because it is a ceramic grill.

If you haven’t worked with a ceramic grill before, it might take a little practice to perfect your grilling and smoking techniques, but once you’ve got the hang of it, you definitely won’t be disappointed.

Ceramics have great insulating properties which means you can cook low and slow for a very long time. Perfect for smoking!

The effective insulation also cuts down on the need for charcoal, so you’ll save on the fuel.

Find is the best lump charcoal reviewed here to power your grilling!

While the standard Kamado Joe Classic II only features 256 square inches of grilling area, there are a number of additional accessories that you can include which expands the grilling space to an impressive 660 square inches.

I picked Kamado Joe for my list of best charcoal grills because it’s one of the best ceramic grills on the market.

Here’s Chef Tom explaining why it’s such a fantastic unit:

It has a useful ash removal system, and an airlift that helps you open and close the dome smoothly.

Ceramics are also very durable when it comes to resisting corrosion, but can be heavy and prone to cracks – so extra care needs to be taken when transporting these grills. They also aren’t very portable.

Pros

  • Air vents & temp control – The Control Tower Top Vent lets you control airflow for precise temperature control. Perfect for smoking from 225F all the way to searing at 750F.
  • Ash removal – With a slide-out drawer, cleanup is easy.
  • Quality & durability – Ceramic construction means it is resistant to corrosion but can be prone to cracks, stainless steel cooking grates won’t corrode.
  • Basic cooking area – 256 square inches of grilling area can expand to 660 square inches with accessories.
  • Warranty – Limited lifetime warranty on ceramic parts, 5-year warranty on metal parts

Cons

  • Price – Hefty! Compared to the other charcoal grills on this list, this is one of the most expensive. However, the ceramic construction allows more heat retention so you will save on fuel costs
  • Accessories – This grill does not come with many accessories. Besides the small stand and side flaps, it includes the 2-tier divide & conquer grill system, and a built-in thermometer. There are many accessories available for this product, but they all come at an additional cost.

Check prices and availability here

Best charcoal grill for mobility: Weber Go-Anywhere

Best charcoal grill for mobility- Weber Go-Anywhere

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Road trip time? Or how about a fishing trip, or tailgating party?

Featuring the Weber quality combined with mobility, this is one of the best small charcoal grills on the market. I love the functional design of this product.

The Weber Go-Anywhere is characterized by its well-thought-out construction and lightweight. It’s so light you can carry it with one hand by the nifty handle on the lid.

The aluminum legs perform two vital functions. They keep the grill off the ground, and they fold up after use – locking the grill’s lid in place for safe transport!

Another big plus in terms of the grill’s design is the side handles that allow you to move the grill around even while it’s still hot.

Many small grills don’t come with this key feature (it’s one of the reasons I didn’t add the Weber Smokey Joe to this list of best charcoal grills for 2021.)

While the grill is very functional, portable, and durable, there are some negatives.

There’s a very small gap between the grill grates and the furnace so you need to be very careful about the amount of charcoal you use. Too much, and you’ll incinerate your food!

Because of its small size, and compact design, it’s not very easy to control the temperature.

Still, cooking a complete rack of lamb is still completely possible on this portable yet functional grill:

An alternative could be a mini kettle or Weber Smokey Joe but it isn’t quite as mobile and convenient to travel with as Weber Go-Anywhere.

Pros

  • Price – Very affordable for the quality and durability
  • Quality & durability – Porcelain-enameled lid and base retain heat, and won’t rust or peel
  • Warranty – Weber offers a 10-year warranty on its charcoal grills

Cons

  • Accessories – The design is minimalist and there are limited accessories to go with this grill
  • Basic cooking area – The small portable grill has a 160 square inch cooking area
  • Air vents & temp control – Limited control due to the compact design
  • Ash removal – This does not feature the Weber One-Touch cleaning system, but the grill is small and portable enough to just tip the ash out once it’s cooled down.

Check the latest prices here

Charcoal grill Q&A

What kind of charcoal grill should I buy for if I’m mainly going to be grilling?

Before you choose a new charcoal grill, you should carefully analyze your needs and cooking style. If you are a grilling enthusiast, then pretty much every model from this guide will live up to your expectations.

What kind of charcoal grill should I look at if I want to do a bit of smoking too?

If you smoke once in a while, it’s a good idea to consider buying a versatile grill that will work great for both styles.

However, if you’re going to be doing more smoking than grilling, you may want to invest in a dedicated smoker.

These are a bit more pricey than conventional grills but will give you better control over temperature.

Find out more here in my guide to the best BBQ smokers.

What’s the difference between a charcoal and a gas grill? Which is better?

This is a contentious topic! There are loyalists on both sides, but I’ll share my non-biased opinion.

There are positives and negatives of both charcoal grilling and gas. Take a look at the pros and cons of charcoal grills below, and decide for yourself what would best suit your needs.

Personally, as someone who loves barbecue and grilling, I prefer using everything that technology has to offer.

In that situation, my opinion is that if you take BBQ seriously, there’s nothing stopping you from having both types of grills (gas and charcoal)!

Pros of charcoal grills

  • Flavor – The characteristic flavor of food from a charcoal grill has no match, especially when it comes to grilling thick slabs of meat.
  • Easy to use – A charcoal grill does require a little more time and involvement when it comes to temperature control and adjusting the air vents. However, the modern grills are so well designed, and include great accessories and features that help even the most inexperienced griller to produce a succulent steak like these.
  • Versatility – Every model was made with grilling in mind, but there are many options that make effective smoking or even roasting possible by utilizing adequate accessories and techniques.
  • Durability and warranty – A charcoal grill the most durable type of grill. Manufacturers have perfected the quality of the entire construction.
  • Price – There is no arguing that charcoal grills are among the most affordable. For around $200 you can buy a solid, durable and effective grill which will bring you many happy memories in the years ahead.

Cons of charcoal grills

  • Cleaning – Grates need scrubbing and ash needs to be removed. The good news is that most modern grills come with an ash removal system that makes this task much easier.
  • Temperature control – Temperature control in a charcoal grill requires some experience. However, most grills are expertly designed to help even the most inexperienced griller get the perfect sear on their meat. The majority come with a built-in or removable thermometer to help you decide when to add more coals or open a vent.
  • Getting the charcoal burning – Before you start grilling your food, you will need at least 10-15 minutes to get the charcoal burning and then just as much to get the right temperature. Some models come with an ignition system. If you don’t have a built-in ignition system, I would recommend a charcoal chimney starter which gets the charcoal burning easily and evenly (it is the best method, free from toxic fire starters, etc).
  • Patience – The time needed to get charcoal burning, achieve the right temperature, having to control the amount of charcoal, and adjust the air vents. All those responsibilities require time and interaction with the grill. But isn’t that part of the fun?

Just to compare, check out these 2 best Gas BBQ Smokers reviewed + what to look out for when buying

Conclusion

Now you know about five of my favorite charcoal grills on the market, and the best features of each of them. I’m sure by now you have a good idea of the best charcoal grill to you’re your needs.

All of these grills promise years of happy memories, just a click away. So what are you waiting for?

Looking for a BBQ Smoker with Rotisserie? Find my absolute top 6 reviewed here

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.