Although a charcoal grill is simple and low-tech compared to oneCharcoal grills still compete when it comes to usability, taste, and price. They’re great for a real smoky taste, easier to assemble and set up than a gas grill, and you don’t need much more than your favorite food and a bag of charcoal to prepare a quick meal in the great outdoors.
Even if you chose this option over a model filled with propane, you still have dozens of options to browse to find the best charcoal grill. We tested eight charcoal grills with steak, chicken, and ribs to find out which ones are best for cooking and grilling in your cookout.
Tyler Lizenby / CNET
Weber’s original $ 109 kettle grill has continued to prove its worth. In our high-temperature searing tests, Weber provided the best balance between seared outside and medium-rare inside steak. The weaver also gave us delicious chicken with crispy chicken skin. The weaver can smoke low and slowly even at stone-solid temperatures. This resulted in seriously aromatic ribs.
Simple construction means that you don’t have to assemble too many parts or handle too many functions when cooking. A vent on the lid controls the airflow and a well-designed ashtray under the grill makes cleaning easier.
We tested the 22-inch model in black, but Weber also offers an 18-inch version of its original kettle design. There are certainly fancier and more expensive grills, but you can’t go wrong with this classic for a balance between affordability and quality. This is the best charcoal grill overall.
Chris Monroe / CNET
If you’d rather find the best cart-style charcoal grill, the $ 99 nex-grill charcoal grill in cart style has proven to be a worthy challenger for the weaver in our tests. The design of the trolley gives you a helpful side shell and a slightly larger cooking surface with a cooking area of 390 square inches compared to Weber’s 363 square inches.
Nexgrill definitely burned well, although the meat inside was a little too ready for our preferences. In our chicken tests with medium indirect heat, Nexgrill delivered aromatic, juicy meat in less than a second behind Weber. The ribs were tender, juicy and finished in about 4.5 hours. Nevertheless, the weaver had superior temperature control during these low and slow smoking sessions.
Cooking and grilling in a cart style is not for everyone. It is bulky with a more complex assembly and you will probably need more fuel to keep the larger room at a high temperature. However, our results were almost as good as those of the weaver in the boiler style. So if you’re interested in a car-style model, this is your best bet.
Chris Monroe / CNET
At $ 279, the Napoleon charcoal grill is expensive. However, during our chicken tests it kept its temperature better than any other model. The resulting chicken was delicious, and the grill has really nice cast iron grids on its 365 square inch hob. The lid contains a temperature display and a practical hinge that makes it easy to add charcoal.
Napoleon gave excellent results in our rib test. A tender and juicy rack was prepared in just 4 hours and 30 minutes. In our chicken test, it was kept at a high temperature longer than any other grill in the lineup. The scorching test was average, but satisfactory. This grill just feels very well built. It has three heights for your grids so you can control how much direct heat your food gets when cooking and grilling. If you’re looking for the fanciest kettle grill out there, this might be the one for you.
How we test
Testing charcoal grills means a lot of practical experience. Depending on the time of year and how your grill is set up, your cooking and grilling experience will likely be very different from ours. For example, a kettle-style grill that stands in the July sun all day runs much hotter than a grill in the cooler spring months.
First a note about grill thermometers. None of the hood thermometers built into these grills reflected the temperatures recorded by our own thermocouple and data software. It is not uncommon for grill thermometers to show a high value. We therefore recommend that you keep an oven thermometer or a Bluetooth thermometer within reach when grilling, either for your meat or for the grill temperature.
Sear with steak over high heat
To test the high heat, we fried two steaks on each grill. The charcoal was measured in a chimney in grams and in a ratio for the specific surface of this grill. We lit the charcoal in the chimney and let it burn until the smoke dissolved and the coals turned gray-white. Then we put the charcoal in the grill. Let the grill heat up for 10 minutes and the steaks are ready to hit the grids.
We placed two steaks on each grill near the center and roasted for five minutes before turning them over and frying for another five minutes. In a good, reliable grill, you’ll get a steak with a seared outside and a medium, rare to medium middle. Of course, if your taste is meat that is done more, you can extend or fry the cooking time and finish cooking in an oven.
The best charcoal grill for frying steaks in our product range was the Weber Classic Kettle. The steak had nice grill marks, while the inside was medium cooked. The worst part was our Tacklife tester, which didn’t hold much heat and didn’t burn when cooking. The steak on this grill took another 5 minutes to reach a temperature of 135, the minimum for medium rare.
Chicken and indirect, medium heat
Next, we tested the cookability of each grill over medium heat by roasting whole chickens. The trick is to keep the grills at a temperature that is hot enough to cook a chicken for more than two hours. Each grill had a full charcoal chimney and we placed a six pound chicken on each grill opposite the coals for indirect heat.
Cooking over charcoal took longer than cooking with a gas grill, and we had to add more fuel to keep our grills above 300 degrees. Our favorite bird from this batch was the one that was cooked on the weaver, although it was a tough call. The cart-style nex grill came right behind it, a brief second in terms of taste and texture.
The main difference between the two was the crispness of the skin, with Weber being superior. Meat from the Nexgrill was delicious, with a little more taste than the weaver. Between the two, I would say that it largely depends on your budget and what type of grill you prefer for other meats like burgers or steak. Weber certainly had the superior Sear in this category.
Low and slow ribs
Our last test is about grill ribs, especially pork ribs with baby backs. This type of cooking requires strict temperature control over a period of several hours. Ideally, a high quality charcoal grill (or a smoker) will keep its fire at 107.2 ° C (225 ° F) for as long as possible.
For this purpose we have every grill for a low and slow combustion with the. In boiler models, we arrange coals in a semicircle around the inside wall of the grill. The charcoal briquettes (Kingsford Blue) form a line that is two coals wide and two coals deep. We also drop a few pieces of smoked wood on the snake (also known as a fuse). For car-style grills, we modify the snake so that it runs at right angles to its rectangular fireplaces.
Next, we light the coil of each grill at one end of the chain with five burning briquettes (tumbleweed fire starters also work). We put all ventilation slots on each grill (top and bottom) in the half-open position. Finally, we put a rib on each grill to cook indirectly (not directly over the coals).
The weaver was the undisputed king in this test. No other grill in this group could keep up with the solid temperature control of this legendary stove. The measurements from our own thermocouples and a digital pit thermometer confirmed this. During the weaver’s 6-hour, 32-minute cooking time, the grill’s internal heat never wandered beyond 25 degrees of our target (225 F). In fact, the temperature was between 220 and 230 degrees (F) most of the time. As a result, the ribs cooked in the weaver were tender, juicy and smoky.
The Napoleon grill was the second best in this test. The inside temperatures fluctuated more and jumped up to 300 degrees (F) during the cooking time. The rib frame was finished in just 4 hours and 30 minutes. And while the ribs were tender and juicy overall, the outer bark had some burned spots.
We noticed similar temperature performance from the NexGrill and similar fin results. The slow and slow cooking of the ribs on the NexGrill only took 4 hours and 30 minutes. His frame also came out well, although like the Napoleon, his bark was more pronounced than what the weaver produced.
Our rib experience with some other grills was far from ideal. The TackLife was particularly bad. Sometimes the inside of this grill reached temperatures of up to 400 degrees (F). And unfortunately the ribs it produced came out burned, charred, and exaggerated.
We tested other grills
The CNET Smart Home editors have been supplying grill data for several years. In addition to the models recommended above, here are the other charcoal grills we tested:
- : KitchenAid’s $ 249 charcoal grill features sturdy cast iron grills and two foldable side shells for extra work space. It didn’t impress us in any of our tests, but it wasn’t bad either.
- : This cart-style charcoal grill for $ 139 was average in our tests, but it’s compatible with a side smoker, sold separately, if you’re looking for a great-versatility charcoal grill.
- : This 18-inch, kettle-style grill costs $ 100 and has all the basic features you’d expect. It couldn’t beat the Weber for classic kettle cooking, but it’s a solid second choice for an affordable kettle grill.
- : Tacklife did the worst in our tests. It only costs $ 30, and while the price doesn’t always reflect performance or quality, it did in this case.
- : This Dyna-Glo car-style model is more expensive at $ 200 and has a stunning appearance, but only a fair performance.