Most charcoal grills are relatively inexpensive and have very few moving parts to break. The best are also versatile: they can sear steaks, roast turkeys, and smoke ribs. Charcoal grills just require a little more skill than gas because you have to control the temperature with airflow instead of a dial or touchpad. Click here to read more about the pros and cons of charcoal vs. gas.
For searing with charcoal, all you need is a charcoal tray with a cooking grate as in a typical hibachi style grill. For roasting and smoking, you need a solid firebox, dampers for air control, a snug lid, and tight construction to prevent unwanted oxygen from leaking in and overriding the dampers. The most important feature is the ability to create a 2-zone setup consisting of a hot direct heat side and a not-so-hot convection heat side. Other key features include easy access to the charcoal and easy ash removal. We know a lot of readers are passionate about their kamados. We love kamados too but think are better at roasting and smoking than grilling and searing because most kamados cannot be set up easily for two heat zones. For that reason, we review kamados in our Pitmaster Awards for Best Value Smokers category, not in the grill category.
Regardless of the price you pay, the dial thermometers attached to the hoods of charcoal grills are almost certain to be of poor quality. It is not unusual for them to be off by 50°F. We strongly recommend that your budget include a good digital thermometer with a probe that can be placed on the cooking surface. Click here to read a checklist of things to look for when shopping for a charcoal grill.
Weber Premium 22" Charcoal Grill $159 – 6th Year On Our List!
If you want a family sized charcoal grill for less than $200 that can cook anything and will last forever, this is it. When George Stephen, Sr. introduced the Weber Kettle in 1952 he set America's backyards on fire. Today's design is not far from the original and it is by far the most popular backyard grill in the world. In 2016, Weber made a few tweaks to this classic kettle and changed the name from One-Touch Gold 22.5" to Premium 22". The actual size has not changed and the grate continues to provide a 363 square inch cook surface. The large arched lid is big enough to accommodate a whole turkey or other roast, but disregard the built in heat indicator. It can be waaaay off. For searing, Weber Kettles put most backyard gas grills to shame. Add a Slow 'N Sear and turn your Weber into a damn good smoker for ribs, pork, brisket and fish.
Napoleon NK22CK-L Charcoal Kettle Grill $189 - 4th Year On Our List!
It's hard to beat a Weber kettle, but Napoleon holds its own and adds a few interesting features like a removable, convex, steel heat diffuser that rests in the center of the coal grate to distribute heat away from the middle of the cooking grate. This evens temperature across the entirety of the round cooking surface. For added stability, Napoleon throws in a fourth leg. Like Weber, it has hinged, steel rod grates so you can replenish coals without removing food and a damper at the bottom that connects to a removable ash catcher.
Portable Kitchen Grill (a.k.a. PK Grill) $369 (shipping included) - 6th Year On Our List!
The Portable Kitchen Grill is another basic, elegant charcoal grill that was introduced in 1952, the same year as the Weber Kettle. Ownership changed over the years, and production stopped for a while, but when they came back recently the design and construction were pretty much the same. They still have the original, thick cast aluminum body which retains and radiates heat efficiently. Due to the aluminum, PKs never rust, and older models often show up at garage sales or get passed along from one generation to the next. The flat bottom, rectangular shape, and unique damper placement of two on the lid and two in corresponding locations under the coals make PK particularly well suited for 2-zone cooking, or even 3 zone cooking, as well as smoking. This grill can be lifted out of its cart for cleaning, camping, or tailgating. PKs continue to win over fans who love the durability, versatility and shiny retro-cool appearance. Sound good? Take a look at the new 2017 PK360 further down on our list of charcoal grill winners. That model costs more, but wait 'til you see it!
Napoleon NK22CK-C Charcoal Kettle Grill $399 - 3rd Year On Our List!
The Napoleon NK22CK-C Charcoal Kettle Grill is another model that pays homage to the classic 22" Weber Kettle, while putting some fresh touches on the familiar and popular design. The lid, cooking grates and coal grates are the most notable differences. The NK22CK-C uses hinged, coated cast iron grates with three height adjustments, allowing you to move the cooking surface right down above the fire for searing or up high for lower temperature cooking. The lid is also hinged with a handle on the front, and it spins in a rotary motion 180 degrees. Charcoal sits on a steel grate with a removable stainless steel heat diffuser and stainless charcoal baskets for indirect cooking. The NK22CK-C sits on a steel cart with a fold out stainless steel shelf and four casters.
Dancook 1900 Charcoal Grill $450 - 5th Year On Our List!
This sharp looking Flying Saucer Grill is about the same size as a Weber 22" kettle. Instead of Weber's single wall bowl with a charcoal grate, Dancook uses a double wall. A stainless steel "liner" floats inside the gray powder coated aluminum bowl shown above. After cooking, one removes the inner liner to dump ash. Dancook has been made in Denmark since the early 1990s. Danes love cooking outdoors and have embraced American BBQ with a passion. In fact, Denmark is Weber's #1 export market per capita. In 2011, Char-Broil bought Dancook and placed it under the care of their Saber division. Dancook's quality construction, great performance and appealing fit and finish are a match made in heaven for Saber's premium grill line.
Weber Performer Deluxe 22" Charcoal Grill $499 - 6th Year On Our List!
Weber's Performer Series is the same great kettle as the Original Kettle Premium 22" Grill mounted in a cart along with some important convenience features. The Deluxe model is the biggest and most sophisticated Performer with a large cart that provides a good sized work surface, lower shelf, a removable LCD timer, an easy ash removal system that keeps your hands clean, a propane ignition system, tool hooks, a lid holder, and a bin to hold your charcoal bag and keep it dry. The timer is a nice touch, but we prefer to judge food's doneness not by the clock by its internal temperature with a digital thermometer. In 2015, Weber made some changes to their line of classic charcoal kettles. Weber's Gourmet Barbecue System, a hinged grate with a removable center that accepts inserts like woks and pizza stones, became standard for all Performers. A small propane burner under the charcoal grate makes firing up the Deluxe almost as easy as starting a gas grill.
Portable Kitchen PK360 Grill and Smoker $870 - 2nd Year On Our List!
The Portable Kitchen PK360 Grill and Smoker takes all the great elements of the classic 1952 PK Grill (above), tweaks and improves the design, beefs up construction and delivers one of the more cosmetically beautiful charcoal grills we've ever seen. With 360 square inches of primary cooking area, the grill box is larger than the 300 square inch Classic model above but retains the characteristic flat bottom and rectangular shape with the unique configuration of adjustable air intake dampers on the bottom left and right and corresponding exhaust dampers on the top left and right, a set up that has always made Portable Kitchen king of two zone heating. Click here to read more about the importance of 2-zone cooking.The heavy cast aluminum construction and marine grade stainless steel cooking and charcoal grates provide superior performance and should last forever.
Napoleon Mirage PRO605CSS Charcoal Grill $1,299 - 6th Year On Our List!
If you're committed to charcoal, but envious of your neighbor's shiny gasser, Mirage may be the answer. Only a few premium and luxury brands offer stainless steel charcoal grills. Mirage is one of the more beautiful models we've seen in this price range. Canadian manufacturer Napoleon produces high quality BBQ equipment with unique features like the rear charcoal rotisserie burner found on this model. The adjustable charcoal grate makes it easy to drop the fire low for smoking and roasting, or position it right below the grates for a screaming hot sear on steaks. This is a good size grill that can handle 29 burgers at a pop or be set up for 2-zone cooking with ample capacity for ribs or roasts on the indirect side.