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Grilling isn't only a type of cooking, it's a lifestyle. Whether you're looking to take your first steps into grilling, or you're already an experienced cook with serious opinions on charcoal vs propane, knowing what charcoal grill will work best for your needs is a must. Like any piece of cooking equipment, there are levels that separate one form of grill from another — and this is especially true when it comes to charcoal cookers. The best charcoal grills utilize a wide array of materials, capacities, and special attributes to ensure that your meal is prepared in the best way possible.
Some may argue that when it comes to outdoor cooking, gas grills are the superior appliance. While there are certainly a few advantages to using gas (they'll provide more even heat, are easier to control, and tend to have a larger surface area), the one thing they cannot replicate is the specific flavor of cooking over coals. And we're guessing that's the reason you're here. Not only does charcoal add a deep, charred flavor to your dinner, but the devices that utilize this fuel source can give you the option for greater experimentation. For example, a charcoal grill can become the training ground in which an amateur barbecuer becomes a certified pitmaster. And, if you're itching to create from-scratch Neapolitan pizzas, the right type of charcoal design can be the first step in a career as your home's very own pizzaiolo. We also love that they're easier to travel with, making them a great extra to have if you use an RV or camp frequently.
What makes the best charcoal grills?
There are three main forms of charcoal grills to consider before you buy. The first is likely what emerges from the smokey depths of your imagination when you think about charcoal cookers. It is the standard ball-shaped grill, which sits atop three or four legs. This is the kettle grill. The design is often the most inexpensive yet the most portable. Typically made from steel or aluminum, kettles are both a great starter grill or a workhorse for the charcoal-initiated. The second design is called a kamado — these are egg-shaped grills made of ceramic. While they have a larger price tag, kamados also come with strong advantages, such as higher heat retention and the ability to function as things like a roaster or smoker. Finally, there is the enamel and steel-coated barrel grill. Thanks to a greater surface area, these grills have more room to cook with, and they're also prime for large smoking projects.
Along with the type of cooker, charcoal grills have some other considerations you should keep in mind. Besides the body of your grill, the cooking grates might vary in material, from stainless steel to porcelain or cast iron. Further, some models are easier to add fuel to than others, while certain designs also have built-in assistance to help you light the coals (like a hinged grate). The amount and positioning of dampers (which control airflow) is also an important factor. Then, you'll want to consider how mobile your grill is — if you plan to take it camping, grab a kettle grill over some of our other picks. Here, we've lined up some of the best charcoal grills out there so that you can spend less time worrying and more time cooking.
1. Our Top Pick for a Kettle Grill
This kettle grill by Weber truly is an original. Although it has been around since 1952, the style has been relatively unchanged since then — and for good reason. With a 22-inch plated steel grate, you can prepare meals for the entire family (and then some). However, it isn't just burgers that can stash under the rust-resistant, enamel-coated steel dome. It is big enough to fit roasts, turkey, or a full chicken. The One-Touch cleaning system releases a drop-down chamber to empty out ash with ease. On the flip side, a hinged grate makes adding fuel a breeze. And, talking about air, the Weber has rust-resistant dampers to help you control flow like you're the wind itself.
2. The Best Kamado Grill
The benefits of a quality Kamado Cooker make it hard for kettle grills to compete. After all, with the Lifesmart kamado, you can sear and grill, sure, but you can also slow roast, braise, smoke, and even bake some dishes. Dual vents located at the top and bottom of the grill offer you a greater range of control over the temperature of your cooker. The high-grade ceramic body allows for you to take your cooking to nearly 500 degrees Fahrenheit. While Lifesmart is good for prepping food low and slow, you should rush to purchase this grill; Not only does it come at a special price, but a pizza stone and electric starter are included in the total package. Thanks to winged shelves along the side, you'll have additional preparation space to go along with your included extras.
3. The Best Hybrid Grill
Kettle Joe's charcoal grill gives you the best of two modalities in one handy backyard appliance. The hybrid shape straddles the line between kettle and kamado, which allows you to get the best of both; a deep ceramic chamber that can retain heat better than most kettles, but a charcoal basket that allows for a quicker heating process than many egg-style grills. There is a two-tiered "Divide and Conquer" structure for cooking multiple types of food at different temperatures (but at the same time). Kettle Joe boasts 350 square inches of cooking space which in food terms translates to 18 burgers, 6 chickens, or 2 pork butts. That's a lot of food, but let the neighbors catch a whiff of this grill, and you'll need it.
4. The Best Barrel-Style Grill
It can be hard to find barrel grills at such a low cost, but that doesn't mean that a smaller price tag results in lower quality — especially not when it comes to the Char-Griller. The powder-coated alloy steel body can take intensely high temperatures for a quick duration or handle low, sustained cooking for long and slow periods. The 950 square inches of cooking space, along with multiple attributes (dual dampers, quick-release Easy Dump ashtray, warming rack), are nearly unmatched across all styles of charcoal grills. However, the most exciting thing about this grill is the potential for additions. While the normal body is already suited for smoking, the proprietary Char-Grill Side Fire Box turns this appliance into a Texas-style offset smoker, which means you can practice different techniques on one cooker.
5. Our Pick for A Charcoal And Propane Grill
We know: You came for charcoal grills. However, we're here to give you options, and sometimes, you want the option to have a freshly grilled dinner without the ashy mess that charcoal can bring. In that case, this dual-use, barrel-style charcoal grill can't be beaten. Charcoal can be your primary fuel source, except on days when you want to go for the convenience of gas grilling — then, the opportunity is there. With this much space, you can keep quick-cooking foods warm while larger, longer dishes bask in their extended cook times. Die-cast wheels keep things mobile, and a potential side-box increases your smoking capacity as well. The Double Play is a charcoal grill that just keeps scoring.
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