The Best Charcoal Grills to Bring Smoky Flavor to Your Backyard Cookouts

We love the convenience of gas grills as much as the next guy, but there’s something about grilling with charcoal that just feels more authentic. It’s how people cooked their food over fire when backyard grilling originally gained popularity midway through the previous century, after all. Not to mention, charcoal grills can produce higher temperatures while giving your food a smoky flavor that their propane-powered counterparts just cannot recreate.

Not all charcoal grills perform the same, of course. Some retain heat better than others, while some provide significantly better temperature control. There are grills that allow for better airflow, some that do low-and-slow much better, and there are those that make cleaning an easier affair. Not to mention, all the charcoal models out there designed for portable grilling, which are much more compact than our standard backyard fare.

Most of the best charcoal grills tend to be more affordable than similarly-sized gas options. That’s because they’re generally simpler, requiring little more than a fuel bed for the coal to burn in. grates to put your food on, and a lid to lock in the heat. Even with that simplicity, there’s a wide range of things that people can tack on to elevate the charcoal grilling experience.

Many of the best charcoal grills, for instance, come with wheeled stands that make it easy to move them around the backyard, along with adjustable vents that make it possible to manage temperature levels inside the cooking area. There are bigger grills that allow you to cook for larger parties, with some even offering a second layer of grates for keeping food warm. Other elements you can find in modern charcoal grills include shelf storage for keeping supplies within easy reach, worktops for setting down stuff while you work the pit, and ash catchers that make cleanup just that much easier.

These are the best charcoal grills to bring that smoky flavor to your backyard barbecues.

Char-Broil Kettleman TRU-Infrared Charcoal Grill

Pros

  • Unusual design is surprisingly effective
  • Cooks food evenly with minimal flare-ups
  • Easy to clean

Cons

Pros

  • Requires learning curve to figure out

Yes, that name is confusing, almost designed to make you question whether this is an electric grill or a charcoal grill. In truth, it’s a kettle-style charcoal grill with grates that function like an infrared cooking surface. No, the grates don’t use electricity to generate heat. Instead, they draw heat directly from the coals, since the fuel bed is situated just two inches below the grates (seriously, the coals almost touch the grates). The idea is that the grates absorb the heat and use that to cook your food evenly, while immediately vaporizing any drippings and preventing flare-ups. It’s a unique design that works shockingly better than we expected. We were also impressed with the large top vent that allowed for easy adjustments, the accurate thermometer on the lid, and adjustable charcoal grates.

Do note, there’s a real learning curve when it comes to figuring out how to use this grill, especially since it’s quite a challenge to add charcoal in the middle of cooking. Once you get the hang of it, though, it’s a really impressive option for the price.

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Char-Broil® Kettleman® TRU-Infrared™ Charcoal...
  • CHARCOAL GRILL: This grill is fueled by lump charcoal or briquettes, sold separately. It’s...

Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill

Pros

  • Classic, tried-and-true charcoal grill design
  • Heats up fast with no cold spots
  • Beginner-friendly

Cons

  • Needs a better way to hold the lid when opening the grill

Is there any grill more iconic than Weber’s Original Kettle? Probably not. That’s why, it’s continued to last all these years, so much so that many people still swear by it as the single best charcoal grill around. It’s also easy to assemble and easy to move around, allowing you to get set up in short order. The grill is simple and straightforward enough that beginners can easily to take to it without apprehension, especially with its fast heating time and even heat distribution. However, it’s the small details that really make it stand out even for seasoned pitmasters, from the adjustable dampers for managing temperature and the hinged grates for adding more fuel (although we still prefer removing the entire grates to dump a whole batch) to the one-touch cleaning and the built-in thermometer. We’ve found it best used for grilling and smoking, by the way, with searing being a little more challenging.

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Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill,...
  • Holds up to 13 burgers made with a Weber burger press; Built-in lid thermometer. Rust-resistant...

Masterbuilt Portable Charcoal Grill and Smoker

Pros

  • Precise temperature control with built-in fan
  • Very clean, since all charcoal sits in the hopper
  • Lockable lid
  • Whole grill box can be removed from the stand for tabletop use

Cons

  • Need to replace batteries regularly

This cart-style charcoal grill doesn’t cook your food over charcoal like your standard design. Instead, it has a hopper on the right side with a fan blowing through it to spread the hot air throughout the entirety of the cooking area using strategically-positioned vents. This clever design allows you to control the heat levels using a knob similar to gas grills. In this case, though, the knob adjusts the fan speed, so more air fans the flames to stoke the more you crank it up. The knob, by the way, lets you adjust the temperature from 250 to 500 degrees and it does a pretty good job of really getting you very close to that exact temperature. It works excellently. The fan, by the way, can be powered using AA batteries or by plugging to an outlet, so you don’t have to be stuck tethered to one spot in the backyard.

On top of that convenient temperature adjustment, it’s a very well-designed grill. The hopper, for instance, is removable, so you can easily take it out for filling or cleaning, while the foldable legs allow you to streamline it for moving around a lot easier. You also get a work shelf on the left, a second shelf with two cupholders on the right, a temperature gauge (the probe is on the furthest side from the hopper), and even a lockable lid. We do wish the hopper was a little bigger, so we can put a bit more charcoal for longer, slower cooking sessions.

Masterbuilt® Electric Portable Charcoal Grill and...
  • Charcoal MiniHopper: holds 1.5 lbs of briquettes or 1lb of small lump for up to 4 hours of use

SNS Grills Slow N Sear Kettle Grill

Pros

  • Handy charcoal insert for searing and low-and-slow cooking
  • Side shelf is very useful on a kettle-style grill
  • Good temperature management

Cons

  • Ash catches a little tough to take out
  • Plastic parts can get damaged (e.g. the lid cradle)

Yes, it’s another charcoal grill that looks like a classic Weber. However, there are some things included here that might make it a more interesting choice. We love the speed that it heats up and the consistent heat it provides, both of which should help making cooking your burgers, steaks, and sausages a breeze. It also comes with a handy insert for one side, where you can put charcoal closer to the grates, an element that really comes in handy either for searing or for low-and-slow cooking with full indirect heat. There are a bunch of really nice details here, such as the smoke hole (very useful for controlling airflow), the side shelf (yes, this kettle grill has a worktop), and the stable cradle that holds the lid open (would be better if it wasn’t plastic, so you’ll probably want to wrap a piece of cloth on top). We also like the four-legged design, which we find to be a more stable, although we do wish the ash catcher was a bit easier to remove.

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SnS Grills Slow ‘N Sear Kettle Grill with Deluxe...
  • Two Grills in One: All the characteristics of a traditional kettle grill but with superior features....

Char-Griller Akorn Kamado Charcoal Grill

Pros

  • Affordable for a kamado grill
  • Triple steel walls retain heat well
  • Plenty of shelves and hooks

Cons

Pros

  • Cast iron grates need to be seasoned

Ceramic kamado-style charcoal grills are great. Problem is, they’re expensive as heck. As such, our kamado grill of choice is this stainless steel model, which swaps out the ceramic in favor of a triple-walled steel construction. Does it retain heat as well as ceramic models? Not quite. However, that triple-wall design is no slouch, either, so this can retain heat at excellent levels as well, all while being able to heat up to 700 degrees Fahrenheit. It has dual adjustable dampers for controlling heat, as well as built-in thermometer for monitoring temperature. Do note, this thing retains heat at insane levels, so if your cooking area gets too hot, it will take a while to get it down to your desired levels. Yeah, that’s not fun. Other nice elements include a warming rack (perfect for bread or veggies), foldable dual side work tops, a handy bottom shelf (we wish it was just a little higher), storage hooks, locking casters, and an easy-to-dump ash pan.

Char-Griller® AKORN® Kamado Charcoal Grill and...
  • KAMADO CHARCOAL GRILL - Kamado style BBQ Grill & Smoker perfect for both high heat grilling and low...

PK Grills PK300 Grill and Smoker

Pros

  • Aluminum build is lighter and produces better heat
  • Whole grill box can be removed from the stand for tabletop use
  • Four-point venting system allows excellent temperature control

Cons

  • No built-in temperature gauge
  • Venting system takes getting used to
  • Hard to clean

Yes, it feels a tad too expensive for a charcoal grill with only 316 square inches of cooking surface. However, once you realize how fast this thing can heat up, how hot it can get, and how well it cooks, combined with how solidly-built it feels, you do realize you’re paying for real quality here. It comes with four dampers for controlling the airflow and it allows for plenty of room to really adjust the amount of heat under the lid, so much so that if you don’t watch closely, you could end up getting things just a little (or a lot) hotter than you’d probably like. The wide cooking area also makes it ideal for dual-zone cooking, with those dampers coming in handy to maintain lower cooking temperatures. Other excellent details include a hinged lid, a foldable work top, an access door for inserting a probe, a hinged section on the grates for adding charcoal, and rubber wheels with aluminum rims.

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PK Grills PK300-BCX Portable Charcoal BBQ Grill...
  • PORTABLE BBQ GRILL AND SMOKER: PK grills charcoal grill with smoker combo is reengineered with a new...