Every year millions of people will grill. Brought out by summer holidays, family get togethers, tailgating events, camping, or just to make whatever you are about to eat far tastier, grills have a place in American culture. The HPBA (Hearth, Patio, & Barbecue Association) has found that 75% of all US households own a grill. Of that, around 37% are currently in the market for a new grill. Buying a new grill is challenging because there are so many different makes and models out there. If this is your first time, then you will want to take the time to carefully consider what your needs are before making a purchase.
The first thing you will have to decide on is what fuel you will want to use. Every fuel source adds something unique to the bbq grill experience. For example, a gas grill using liquid propane or natural gas is considered cleaner, but they are generally more complicated and expensive. Charcoal and wood on the other hand are straightforward, inexpensive, but a little messy. You can figure out what fuel source is right for you by carefully considering your options and the potential experience you want from grilling. With that, let’s take a moment to make the case for charcoal grills.
Charcoal has been used as a fuel source for millennia. Practical, easy to create on your own, and easy to purchase, a charcoal grill doesn’t require much to operate. Before you go deep in this charcoal grill buying guide we would like to state that if you don’t want have the time or don’t want to go through the whole guide we would like to direct you to the top pick tables split into the following three categories based on your budged: Best Charcoal Grills Under $500, Best Charcoal Grill Under $300 or Best Charcoal Grill Under $200. However if you are interested in reading the whole review below we will explore the basics of charcoal grills, how to operate a charcoal grill, various price ranges for grills, quick guide for buying the best charcoal grill and much more then that. Let’s begin!
Jump To Heading
- 1 Charcoal Grill Buying Guide
- 2 What is a Charcoal Grill: The Basics
- 3 Operating A Charcoal Grill
- 4 A Quick Guide To Buying The Best Charcoal Grill
- 5 Why Charcoal Grills Are The Best Option For You
- 6 Conclusion
Charcoal Grill Buying Guide
As we stated at the beginning, charcoal grills will range from $20 to around $3000, with the vast majority in the $50 to $1000 range. Note that the best charcoal barbecue grill is the one that meets your needs and may not be the most expensive model out there. That being said, you get far more selection when you are ready to put down a lot of money. To help you see what is out there, we have 3 different price ranges for grills under $500, $300, and $200 respectively. Your best charcoal grill may be in one of the price categories below.
Best Charcoal Grills Under 500$
The $301-$500 range will give you the largest selection among all the price ranges reviewed. While you may be priced below the luxury and top end charcoal grills, you still may be able to grab one in this price range if you luck out on a deal. For the most part, this price range will get you the best charcoal grill for portable use. It will come with a lot of options, be large, and be designed to last. You can also get a decent standup grill for this price range as well. If you want a charcoal grill that will last but you don’t want to spend a lot of money on unique designs or specific functionality, then the $301-$500 is perfect for you.
Best Charcoal Grills Under 300$
The $201-$300 range includes a lot of decent stand up grills as well as many great portable grills. At this price range, you can still find a lot of variety among models. However, you will want to begin reading the user reviews more carefully as some models may have less than optimal materials used in their construction to help keep down cost. While you lose out on some design and longevity, you will still get a decent grill that will no doubt last you for some time. This is the perfect range if you want something that is of good quality but you are not dedicated to grilling frequently.
Best Charcoal Grills Under 200$
The less than $200 will get you everything from the cheapest least efficient grill out there to models that should be priced much higher due to their quality. Any of the portable models above $100 will be decent while stand up charcoal grills may be less dependable. Either way, you will definitely want to read the reviews and check to see how well the grill holds up over extended use. The less than $200 range is perfect if you are just getting into grilling, are not that experienced with charcoal grills, or need a grill for a one off situation like camping or a holiday. There are still many models to select from at this price range.
What is a Charcoal Grill: The Basics
A charcoal grill is a grill that uses all-natural lumps of charcoal or charcoal briquettes as their fuel source. When they are burned, the charcoals will radiate a considerable amount of heat, cooking whatever food is placed on the grill above them. The charcoal will have to be lit beforehand and may take some time before they are properly prepared. Still, the ability to easily transport the charcoal grill makes it a popular favorite for those who want to cook at their destination.
Size & Cost
Charcoal grills vary in size, shape, and functionality. The best charcoal grill will be the one that meets your specific needs in a dependable way. Common types of charcoal grills include the brazier, the pellet grill, the square charcoal grill, the hibachi, the kettle, the cart, the barrel, the ceramic cooker, the tandoor oven, and the portable charcoal units. There are also a wide range of hybrids on the market that combine beneficial aspects of the above.
As we mentioned above, portability is a definite benefit of the charcoal grill. All you need is a bag of charcoal, lighting fluid, and the grill. Because of this, you will find a lot of smaller portable units that can be carried and then placed wherever you want to cook. Despite its popularity as a portable cooker, there are also many larger less mobile grills out there. Whether they are full sized commercial charcoal grills or smaller household units that can be wheeled around, you can go as small or as large as you want.
Charcoal grills range from around $20 to $1,000+ depending on the make and model you purchase. The vast majority of grills will be below $500 in cost with only specialty luxury grills above that. Portable units will be on the low end with larger stationary grills on the upper end.
The best charcoal grill will not always be the most expensive model.
The Basics Of Charcoal
There are two common types of charcoal used for charcoal grills. Below we will get into the details of both and compare them with one another to see their pros and cons.
Lump charcoal is a favorite among charcoal grill users who prefer a ‘traditional’ grilling experience. Lump charcoal begins its life as wood that is buried under ground. Covered with a metal sheet and dirt, the wood is lit on one end and left to smolder for a few days. Deprived of oxygen, the fire burns through all the impurities in the wood. This includes insects, water, and sap. After a few days, the wood can be removed. What you are left with is pure carbon.
Lump charcoal is also known as lump charcoal or char. People prefer lump charcoal because it is considered a dynamic cooking experience. Coals spark and crackle as they begin to burn. It usually takes only 10-15 minutes for lump charcoal to reach its hottest temperature. Be aware though that after it hits its high temperature, it will begin losing its temperature rather quickly. Sometimes, it can go from high to medium heat in less than 30 minutes. Fire will need to be occasionally replenished in order to keep the heat at the desired level. This is made simpler by the fact that any new charcoal you add will quickly heat up and helps maintain the correct temperature. When cooking, the food will have the woody scents of the lump charcoal imparted on it improving the taste. Hardwoods are the preferred source of wood for lump charcoal and your typical bag will include a number of different hardwoods.
Pros of Lump Charcoal
- Preferred by charcoal traditionalists
- Heats up very fast
- Can be created by you over the course of a few days
- Scents your food with fantastic woody aromas
Charcoal briquettes are the best choice for those who want a convenient cooking experience. Charcoal briquettes typically include a longer processing time and will not be as pure as lump charcoal due to the addition of certain things to help improve the burning process. A natural starch is usually included to shape the charcoal bricks into compact and even shapes. While they may not burn as hot as lump charcoal, they will last a lot longer and provide a more even burn. You can create a smooth bed of coals and have more control over your grill space.
Some companies that sell charcoal briquettes take them even further. For example, some add mineral char, limestone, and mineral carbon to improve the burning time and longevity of the bricks. For more details on their composition visit the how charcoal briquettes are made article published by MadeHow. They can also incorporate a grooved design on the brick which increases surface area and decreases the amount of time it takes to light them. Casting a subtle smokiness on whatever they are cooking, charcoal briquettes are popular because you can buy them just about anywhere.
Pros of Charcoal Briquettes
- Last longer than lump charcoal
- Provide a nicer more even heat
- Can be purchased just about anywhere
- A lot of choices to select from
How Do Charcoal Grills Work
Charcoal grills can range in complexity. While some swear that the best charcoal grill has to be complicated and come with a lot of options, others swear that the best charcoal bbq grill is basic and straightforward. No matter where you fall on this argument, it helps to know how a charcoal grill works. Unlike gas grills, charcoal grills are surprisingly straightforward.
You start with having to heat the coals. The coals are your fuel source and they need to be activated and heated prior to use. Some use a chimney starter for this while others simply douse the coals in lighter fluid. Either way, you will want to get them very hot to the point where they begin to glow. Spreading them out below your cooking surface, you can do the hand test to see where the heat is coming from and where you may need to reposition the coals. Once the coals are ready, you can begin cooking! An air vent on the bottom helps to control the amount of oxygen coming in while an air vent in the hood controls how much heat can escape. It is common to leave the hood on while food is cooking to ensure a better more evenly distributed cook. Also be aware that fat dripping from food can ignite when it comes in contact with the coals, occasionally causing flames to burst forth. While some prefer this because it can add taste to the food, be aware that it can also prematurely burn your food as well. Like anything relating to grills, the best thing you can do is to experiment. The more experience you get with your charcoal grill, the better you will get at operating it. In addition, you will also have a firm understanding of what you might want when it comes time to purchase your next charcoal grill.
Operating A Charcoal Grill
The best charcoal barbecue experience will come when you have a firm understanding of what your charcoal grill is capable of doing. To help further explain aspects of the charcoal grilling experience, we get into some of the most common questions asked when people are operating their charcoal grill.
What Is The Correct Way To Light A Charcoal Grill?
This is a good question and commonly asked. Many of us have seen home videos of people lighting charcoal grills only to see a large mushroom cloud of fire shoot out from their grill. Preventing this is the best way to preserve both your health and the quality of the charcoal grill you have.
The correct way to light a charcoal grill starts long before you light it. Your first step is to clean your grill and remove anything that may be flammable like leftover grease. The next thing you will want to do is open up the vents below the charcoal grill. You will next want to pack the charcoal on the grill. This is where you put it into a mound. Once in a mount, it is time to light the charcoal.
There are several different safe methods to starting a charcoal fire. The first includes self starting charcoal bricks. These will only require a flame that can come from either a match or a burning piece of paper inserted into the pile. You can also get a charcoal fire starter brick. These are designed to produce a lot of heat and burn enough to activate the charcoal bricks. The last option includes using lighter fluid. Covering the pile in lighter fluid as instructed, you can throw a match on the pile and watch as the lighter fluid activates the charcoal bricks.
Once the charcoals are activated, you will want to let them burn. You will want to burn the charcoals under about a third of brick is white and the charcoal is not smoking. This typically requires 10 to 15 minutes.
How To Control The Temperature On A Charcoal Grill
There are a few ways that you can control the temperature on your charcoal grill. The first involves the use of air vents. Your typical charcoal grill will include an air vent at the base of the grill below the charcoals and an air vent built into the hood of the charcoal grill that is typically placed over the grill as things are cooking. The air is sucked in from below, providing the necessary oxygen to fuel combustion before being turned into CO2 and being expelled from the top. By regulating the amount of oxygen coming in from below, you can decrease the amount of burning and as a result decrease the heat of your charcoal grill. This will take some trial and error to get right, as you do not want to risk depriving the coals of all oxygen.
Another way that you can manage the temperature of your grill is to spread out the charcoal bricks. If an area needs more heat, then you can move more bricks there. If an area requires less heat, then you can move the charcoal bricks away. With charcoal grills, the coolest zones will be those on the periphery and higher up while the hottest zones will be right in the middle. Because of this, most people cook things in the center and keep cooked food warm by placing on the sides.
Advanced charcoal grills will offer even more features that can help to control what the temperature is. These features will change depending on the make and model. You will want to carefully review these features when selecting among the best charcoal bbq grills on your list.
How Do I Cook With A Charcoal Grill?
Charcoal grills are surprisingly straightforward to cook with. Once it is setup, all you have to do is place what you want cooked on top and wait. Flip it over to ensure that both sides are evenly cooked before eating. Many people will include things like rubs or sauces on their meat. This improves the flavor of the meat. Other people add pieces of hardwood to the charcoal to get a smokiness imparted onto their food. Letting meat marinate the night before can also do a lot to improve the flavor.
If the exterior of the food is cooking too quickly, then you can spread out the coals more to slow down the process. You can also move the food to the sides of the grill. Closing the hood will increase the temperature within the grill and help to cook the food more thoroughly.
Cleaning & Storage
Charcoal grills can be used any day of the year. That doesn’t mean however that people will want to use their grills in the dead of winter. There are many reasons why properly cleaning and storing your grill is important. First, it prevents your grill from attracting critters that will make a mess and potentially damage the grill. Second, it improves the overall quality of the grill and reduces the chance of things like rust from forming.
The most important thing you can do for your charcoal grill is to brush the cooking and charcoal grates. You will want to brush them until they are clean. You can use a putty knife to dislodge anything and let it collect in the ash catcher below. Once you are done scraping and brushing, remove the ash catcher and clean the bottom of the grill. While this may take hours, the alternative of finding an unwelcomed critter using your grill as its winter home is far worse.
You may want to take steps to clean and protect the exterior as well. Wash down the outside with a simpler cleaner to remove any staining from grease or food. Once clean, you can put a cover over the grill if it is too large to take inside or bring it into a basement, shed, or garage. Never store a charcoal grill with charcoal still in the grill.
A Quick Guide To Buying The Best Charcoal Grill
So we’ve reviewed a lot of the basics of charcoal grilling and now you are ready to find the best charcoal grill on the market. As we’ve said before and will say again, the best charcoal grill will be the one that meets your needs directly. That is why it is so important to carefully go through charcoal grill reviews to see what experiences past customers had with their grill. Below we have organized a quick charcoal grills review to finding the best charcoal bbq for you.
Establish Your Need
How often do you plan to cook? What is the size of the cooking area you need? How many people will you cook for when you cook? Do you need a lot of options or can you do more with less? Are you just starting out or are you already experienced with charcoal grills? Another question to consider is whether or not you want a portable unit or a unit that is larger and mostly remains in place. Yes this is a lot of questions. However, by establishing your need ahead of time, you can get a sense for what your price range will be. You can also begin taking steps to compare different makes and models. Also, if you have no idea about size, then go one size smaller than what you were thinking. You can often do a lot with less when it comes to charcoal grills. A few hours of work can save you ten times that amount of time looking online or in stores.
Use Charcoal Grill Reviews
You will never be able to tell what the best charcoal grill is based on the information provided by the company. Rather, that information will come out as you use the grill over time. User reviews give you the most important information and make you aware as to whether or not the charcoal grill in question is worth getting. When using charcoal grill reviews, there are a few things that you will want to pay attention to. First, there is the easy of setup and installation. Second, there is the preparation of coals and how easily you can control the temperature. Finally, there is the ease of cleanup and storing. On top of all of this, you will want to look for people complaining about their grill giving up early on them. Things like grill legs and poor quality metal trays are often things that people will complain about if they are poorly made. When you find a grill that is generally well liked and it serves your needs, then the next step is to begin cross referencing products for the best price.
Cross Reference For A Better Price
Regardless of the price of the charcoal grill, you can save money by cross referencing a charcoal grill and looking at how much every distributor chargers. You may be surprised to learn that a day worth of searching can save you hundreds of dollars.
Making The Purchase
Before you make the purchase, be sure that the grill has the features you want. Be aware that purchasing a grill online may mean that assembly as well as shipping costs will apply. Also check to see what kind of warranty is included with the product. You may be able to extend the warranty at purchase, providing even more protection for your charcoal grill.
Why Charcoal Grills Are The Best Option For You
Ok, so we’ve established how to use charcoal grills, what the price range is for the grills, and how to better manage the cooking process. And yet, we’ve seemed to miss an important question. Why go with a charcoal grill in the first place? Why is charcoal superior to gas or other forms of fuel? Below we make the argument as to why the best charcoal grills are better than the rest.
Some Basic Stats About Grill Use
Charcoal grills are the best option for you because Americans love grilling and you will often find yourself in a situation where you may want to grill. The majority of homes in the US have a grill and use that grill at least once a year. The most common states to BBQ in include Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, Alabama, North and South Carolina, and Georgia. The most common holidays to use a grill include Independence Day and Memorial Day. People use charcoal grills just about everywhere. Using a charcoal grill yourself means joining the crowd and getting that quintessential American experience.
What People Report As Their Favorite Reasons To Use Charcoal Grills
When doing research on grill use, the Hearth, Patio, & Barbeque Association asked what people love most about the grilling experience. Of all those asked, 71% reported that what they loved was the unique flavor that is imparted on food that is cooked with a grill. Charcoal grills in particular are known for providing that improved flavor that many people seek. In second place with 51% of respondents was personal enjoyment. Simply put, a charcoal grill is a fun and engaging way to cook with other people. An additional 42% said that it was a great way to entertain friends and family. About 1 in 3 said that grilling was done because it is convenient. Finally, 23% of correspondents said that they grilled because it is a hobby and lets them experiment with food. A charcoal grill can help you do all of these things and more.
One reason why charcoal barbecue grill reviews place charcoal grills at such high marks is because they are convenient. The majority of charcoal grills can be moved. There is an entire line of portable units. Charcoal grills can be packed away to reduce the amount of room they take up. They only require a separate bag of coal and some way to light it in order to get it working. Lightweight, practical, affordable, and easy to transport, charcoal BBQ win the competition for being the most portable. Whether you are bringing your charcoal grill to the park, to the game, to your neighbor’s house, or outside your own house to cook, charcoal grills provide a great deal of versatility.
Minimal Complexity & Cost
Sometimes you need a simple grill that will get the job done. Gas grills are more expensive and will have way more parts in order to work. Charcoal grills on the other hand can be bare bones and still work well. You have less pieces to worry about, less things you can damage, and less cost associated with repairs when it comes to your charcoal grill. Things like pricey igniters, nobs, and gas lines are of no concern to the charcoal griller.
An Unbeatable Experience
If nothing else, charcoal grilling is known to provide an unbeatable experience. There is a communal aspect to grilling that charcoal grills bring out that gas grills just can’t match. There is the smell of the charcoals and the flavor that the charcoals impart onto the food. There is also the amazing aroma of fat from meat dripping and burning on the coals. Capable of stirring the stomach of even the most stalwart vegetarian, charcoal offers an unbeatable experience that is impossible to duplicate and well worth the cost of the charcoal grill.
Need a cheap charcoal grill right now? You can pick one up in just about any general big box store. Need charcoal? Practically every convenient store will have something that you can use? Need matches or lighter fluid? You are also well covered. Charcoal grills make grilling easy and allow you to act in the moment without any supplies lined up beforehand. How fantastic is that?
Why Charcoal Grills Are The Best
- Can be easily accessible and purchased at the last moment
- Supplies can be found jut about everywhere
- Provides an unbeatable communal experience
- Fills your space with wonderful smells of cooking food
- Is far less complicated than gas grills
- Will cost you a lot less than gas grills
- Is easily portable and can go the majority of places you go
- Improves the flavor of meat
- Is a great hobby and way to experiment with food
- Is convenient
- Is a great way to entertain your family and friends
- Is an iconic part of the American experience
As we’ve said again and again, the best charcoal grill is the one that meets your needs and provides the experience you are looking for. This can be a $20 cheap portable grill or a $2,000 stationary super grill. Either way, charcoal grills offer the versatility and choice that many people need when choosing the right charcoal grill. While they have their downsides, like having to clean after use, they are more often than not the superior choice. Preferred by chefs the world over, using a charcoal grill is an awesome experience to share with friends and family.
The most time consuming part of charcoal grills is picking out the model you want. While it may take some time, it is definitely worth it. Using the guide above, you can reduce the amount of time spent searching and optimize your enjoyment of your charcoal grill. Best of luck as you look through charcoal grill reviews on your search for the best charcoal grill!