The Best Charcoal Grills for The Money (Get That Smoky Flavor)

We hope you love the products we recommend. SeriouslySmoked.com may earn a commission on qualifying purchases from Amazon Associates or other vendors. Read more here.

Last Updated on August 4, 2021

Are you looking for the charcoal grill that will help you become the ultimate grill master? If that sounds like the kind of adventure you want to embark on, then this buying guide should be a great first step down that road.

Charcoal grilling is more of an art than a science. There are no conveniently pre-made hot spots, or even consistent set temperatures to go by, you need to wing it all the way and go by feel through most of the cooking process.

Jim Bob
A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.
delicious smoked ribs

This makes charcoal grilling easy to fail at, producing food that is closer in consistency to the fuel used to cook it than anything edible, but also rewarding and delicious when you get it right.

If that sounds like the kind of adventure you want to embark on, then this buying guide should be a great first step down that road.

Features to Consider When Buying a Charcoal Grill

Charcoal grills, like any grill, share the same basic things you’re looking for. You want to look at how large the grill is and what it’s made of first and foremost. Other than that, anything else is extra…but you want a lot of these extras.

First, the basic:

Construction

You want sturdy materials that retain heat well and can stand up to the elements. Steel is good, and aluminum is acceptable. Cast iron (whether they’re coated with porcelain or not) for the grilling bars is the metal of choice here.

You want a good seal on the lid to keep the smoke in, but enough ventilation that your meat and sausages doesn’t end up tasting like nothing but smoke.

Finally, although a backyard grill is not like an RV grill that’s easy to move around and sturdy, there are a lot of backyard grills that are portable which you can easily move around your home.

Other than that, for a charcoal grill everything else is a plus. They’re pretty simple that way. The main one I want to go into detail on is the big one though:

Easy To Clean

There are a lot of bonuses to charcoal grilling once you get the hang of it, but the one thing that will always stay a downside is the cleanup. The mixture of ash and grease that accumulates in the bottom of a charcoal grill is its main sticking point. You want to make sure you’ve got a grill that you can easily drop the ask out of and doesn’t require too much scrubbing to clean up after.

Other Extras

Smoker attachments, tool racks, table space, storage shelving, and other similar extras are all optional but nice to have.

A charcoal grill is pretty simple overall; it’s a rounded chunk of metal with some legs on it for the most part. This makes them fairly cheap on average, so adding extras isn’t going to hit your wallet as much as other types of grills. You may as well look for one that will make your life easier if you can find it.

Our Top Choice

  • Cleaning up was so easy. Perfect for beginners
  • The grill is ready within about 20 minutes
  • Quality product. Even better warranty
  • Perfect for camping, tailgating and outdoor activities
The Process

Image

Product

Price

Weber Original Kettle

Weber Original Kettle

BEST CHOICE

  • Cleaning up was so easy. Perfect for beginners
  • The grill is ready within about 20 minutes
  • Quality product. Even better warranty.
  • Perfect for camping, tailgating and outdoor activities
Check on Amazon

Weber Charcoal Go-Anywhere Grill

Weber Charcoal Go-Anywhere Grill

RUNNER UP

  • Portable and lightweight for grilling on the go
  • Perfect for slow and coal flavor infusing cooking
  • Best choice for urban grillers
Check on Amazon

ThermoPro TP-17 Dual Probe

ThermoPro TP-17 Dual Probe

VALUE CHOICE

  • Easy to carry, clean. Perfect for a small group
  • Weber quality and highly portable.
  • Grill tender and flavorful meats.
Check Price on Amazon

Top 9 Best Charcoal Grills Reviews (Updated List)

1. Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill

Why you’ll love this:

This is a classic kettle grill with a twist, coming absolutely loaded with quality of life features. From the fold up grating allowing easy access to the coals to the easy to remove ash catcher, this grill is focused on making your experience as simple and easy as possible. In addition to those nice extras, this grill goes the extra mile on making all the standard elements better.

The heat shielded lid handle, handy tool hooks on the side handles, and precision heat control dampers, combined with the high quality lightweight construction makes this the ultimate tailgate grill.

Read full review here.

The Original is everything you need in charcoal grills and nothing you don’t. While it would be nice to have an attached smoker or side tables, you can make do without both. The lack keeps the cost low, and allows the grill to focus on the basics.

For beginners here’s how to use a kettle bbq.

What We Liked

  • Large grilling surface of 363 square inches. Fits about 13 burgers.
  • It’s made of good quality materials, sturdy but still lightweight, large without being overbearing, and focuses mostly on quality of life features as it’s extras.
  • Dampers provide precision heat control, whether you need to heat things up, cool them down, or kill the embers outright.
  • Cooking grate is hinged at one end to make adding more charcoal easy. You don’t need to lift the whole grate.
  • The lid hook is nice, and something more grills of this type could easily implement but choose not to. The biggest draw here is the easily removable ash catcher, which makes the chore of cleaning ash and soot out of the grill as easy as humanly possible without moving away from charcoal altogether.

What We Didn’t Like

  • Simplistic design makes a table and other storage necessary; is not an all in one grilling station.                          
  • Lid height is a little snug. Not ideal for cooking larger meats or smoking.
  • Light weight makes indoor storage necessary.

2. Weber Charcoal Go-Anywhere Grill

Why you’ll love this:

“Tiny, but mighty” is the perfect descriptor for this portable charcoal grill. Everything about this grill is on focusing as much grill quality into as small a space as possible. Roughly the size of a lunchbox, it still manages to pack 160 square inches of cooking space into its durable porcelain coated steel form, and is perfect for the griller on the go.

While its small size might not be great for everyone, it’s more than good enough to be the best around in portable charcoal grilling.

Tiny and immensely maneuverable.

A great choice for quick and convenient cooking comes from Weber. As the name implies, the Go-Anywhere is a grill that goes anywhere you do. It weighs less than 15 pounds and is easy for just one person to carry.

What We Liked

  • With an impressive 160 square inches, this grill can cook steaks and other dishes, including up to six hamburgers
  • The grates offer 160 square inches of cooking space and can easily hold and cook both chicken and seafood as well as other foods. 
  • Though the grates use steel, they also have a special coating that keeps food from burning or sticking to the grates. That coating also makes the grate easy to clean.
  • Very small and portable, roughly the size of a large lunchbox and only 14.1 lbs.
  • Comes with the convenient locking lid, which helps you grill faster. Also perfect place to store your extra supplies when not in use. 
  • Extremely affordable.

What We Didn’t Like

  • Plated steel legs are made of a good material, but the construction and design is likely to wobble and may be frustrating if not properly anchored.
  • Does not come with any fold out arms or tables to make set up and use easier; all but requires another tabletop for proper use.
  • Lid locks but is not hinged, meaning it needs to be set on the ground when taken off the grill.

3. Weber Smokey Joe 14-Inch Charcoal Grill

 Z GRILLS ZPG-7002E

Why you’ll love this:

The Smokey Joe cuts a classic image, being essentially the perfect picture of what people think of when they talk about kettle grills. That image is completely accurate to what the Smokey Joe offers: solid performance, but no real surprises. It has decent capacity and good construction, all in a lightweight and easy to store package.

Best of all: it’s cheap. You can pick up one of these for about a third the price of a much better option, which is great if you don’t want anything fancy. This makes a great starter or backup grill.

See our full review

Small, simple, and cheap as they come. The best small charcoal grill and one that you can use on the tiniest of patios or decks is the Smokey Joe from Weber, which is just 14-inches across. Don’t assume that the small size will limit your cooking though. It has plenty of room for cooking.

What We Liked

  • 14 inch grilling space is perfect for meals for a small group of people. It has plenty of room for grilling hotdogs, pork chops or chicken breasts and can cook up to six burgers.
  • Very lightweight (under 10 lbs). Easy to pick up and move.
  • Porcelain enameled shell retains heat and doesn’t chip or peel.
  • Steel grate is easy to remove and clean.
  • Very cheap, under the price of an average meal at a restaurant.
  • Handle is heat resistant for easy grilling.

What We Didn’t Like

  • Ash catcher and grease tray are rudimentary and difficult to empty and clean.
  • No attached table or side handles, making it the worst of both worlds in terms of portability and utility. 

4. Dyna-Glo Signature Series DGSS730CBO-D Barrel Charcoal Grill

Why you’ll love this:

This barrel style charcoal grill is a great choice when you need a high capacity grill. Whether you’re cooking for a large crowd, or just a big piece of meat, the spacious interior of this grill is more than enough to get the job done.

Even better, the offset firebox means it’s great for smoking as well, making it a versatile option for the price. Combined with a sturdy steel body, this grill is designed to be a strong contender for your “forever grill”…if you can get past its quirks and the frustration that comes with its size and shape.

What We Liked

  • Suitable for both grilling and smoking with an attached firebox that is easy to use. It has a steel construction that keeps the interior hot. That metal helps regulate the temperature and prevents hot spots too.
  • Comes with 443 square inches of primary cooking space and it also has more than 280 square inches of offset cooking space for foods that you want to cook slow and those you need to keep warm.
  • The included firebox turns this into the perfect smoker for meats and seafood too. 

What We Didn’t Like

  • The ash box and some of the other features are often hard to clean
  • As there aren’t any handles other than the one on top, it might be harder to move than you expected.   

5. Weber 15502001 Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill

green mountain davy

Why you’ll love it:

This grill is chock full of advanced features, kind of awkwardly grafted onto a grill essentially identical to our winner. Touch start gas ignition compliments the charcoal nicely, and it comes with a cart that has a ton of room to act as your preparation table.

Unfortunately, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not much better than our winner…and is about 3 times the price. This is mostly good as an option if you find it on a steep sale, or really like the extra bits it comes with.

Essentially the Weber Original with all the extras; it’s the same base grill with a lot of add ons. Another model that has a set up like this is the Weber Summit Charcoal Grill.

What we liked

  • It mimics the design of egg grills with a large copper bowl that sits on one end of an attached table. That bowl measures 22 inches and has space for burgers, chicken breasts and more with 363 square inches of cooking space.
  • Comes with the attached table that give you space for prepping and has even more storage space below.
  • Include the thermometer and LCD timer

What we didn’t like

  • The large size can make it hard to move the grill.                              
  • You might not get as much storage space as you expected from the bottom because of the ash catcher.  

6. Char-Griller E16620 Akorn Kamado Kooker 

PRO SERIES 22

Why you’ll love it:

Has a great temperature control and extremely well insulated and can use for long cooking.

What we liked

  • Between the warming rack and cooking area, you get 447 square inches of cooking space
  • Designed to be insulated; uses less charcoal and retains more heat inside, making cooking easier and cheaper.
  • Sturdy mixed cast iron (cooking surface) and steel (outer shell) construction.
  • This model comes at a great price, being about half what you’d pay for the top model.
  • Damper is numbered for ease of use.
  • Lid locks for easier storage.
  • Low footprint makes finding storage space a breeze. Perfect for small porches or patios, but just as easily rolls into a garage or small shed.
  • Easy dump ash pan for easy clean up.

What we didn’t like

  • Given the weight of the grill, it should have better and stronger wheels
  • Wheels are somewhat inadequate for a grill of this weight.
  • When you use the warming rack, you’ll sacrifice valuable cooking space. 

7. Lodge Cast Iron Sportsman’s Grill

Cookshak

Why you’ll love it:

This cast iron grill might not be what most people think of in a portable grill, but what it lacks in lightweight portability it more than makes up for with an incredibly high performance design.

What we liked

  • It’s good for baking, searing, and sautéing all sorts of things. 
  • Cast iron is also naturally nonstick when properly seasoned, which this grill comes out of the box already done for you.
  • That ability extends to grills made of cast iron and provides an excellent sear for when your grilling steak or cooking ribs on the charcoal grill. It has an unmatched ability to retain heat among standard grilling materials.
  • Lodge is an experienced company that’s been making cast iron products for over 100 years
  • That makes this an excellent campground or cabin grill, and works well for tailgating too, but you should probably look elsewhere if you want a light, easy to carry, and compact travel grill.

What we didn’t like

  • The only real drawback is the aforementioned weight, clocking in at 27 lbs. While not ridiculously heavy, travel grills often come in at about half that weight, and for good reason.

8. Char-Griller Patio Pro Charcoal Grill

Louisiana

Why you’ll love it:

This is an interesting one. It’s designed a lot like a compact version of a larger grill. Where most manufacturers would instead change the whole design (likely to a kettle grill shape), Char-Griller instead has shrunk down the classic barrel grill design to a more manageable size.

What we liked

  • This is perfect for smaller patios or decks, back porches, smaller covered grilling areas, and anything else of that nature where space is at a premium.
  • This grill is lightweight (not even double the weight of the Lodge cast iron grill above) and has a very steady construction, if a bit top heavy. 
  • Great design. Well made steel construction and a nice wooden side table.
  • Comes with affordable price
  • That makes this an excellent campground or cabin grill, and works well for tailgating too, but you should probably look elsewhere if you want a light, easy to carry, and compact travel grill.

What we didn’t like

  • I’d be careful about bumping this one, as it’s likely to tip over if jostled too hard. 

9. Royal Gourmet Charcoal Grill

Memphis Elite

Why you’ll love it:

This is a very nice and surprisingly large budget grill. It costs less than most you’ll find, but it’s decked out with a lot of good quality of life features. It’s a full (if slightly smaller than average) grill, with two side prep tables, and a very sturdy, blocky shape that makes it difficult to tip over.

What we liked

  • The interior is spacious, with a great 393 square inches of primary coking space, plus a 205 square inch warming rack included.
  • The construction is solid, with an overall steel shell and porcelain cooking grates that are nonstick and exceptionally easy to clean.
  • The real standout features here are the nice little quality of life touches. The grill rolls easily on its oversized wheels, but stays solidly in place when parked.
  • The height of the charcoal pan can be easily adjusted for maximum control of cooking
  • Even the chimney on this one is great, a full smokestack that makes this grill excellent as a simple smoking tool.

What we didn’t like

  • The only drawbacks being a lack of portability. While it’s relatively lightweight for the size and fairly compact, it’s a very awkward shape to try and hoist onto something

FINAL VERDICT

jim bob

If you’re looking for backyard grilling that’s cheap and good, then this weber grill hits the perfect sweet spot. Weber is a great grill for everyone from beginner charcoal grillers to masters of the char. Actually, every other grill on this list is great as well, but many are either more niche (like the portable models) or have extra features and a higher price point that may not be for everyone. Sometimes simple is the way to go, and the Weber Original nails those fundamentals of grilling.

Our best overall grill also comes in well the best under $200, making it the clear winner here. Most charcoal grills are $150 or less, with very few outliers. For the price range, this is hands down the best grill on the market. Some match it, but none come to mind that exceed it. The ash catcher’s easy cleaning alone is enough to recommend it over similarly large and sturdy grills that don’t have such a feature.

Pros and Cons of a Charcoal Grill

Pros

  • Cooking over a real fire — These grills harness the power of fire to provide an authentic taste, feel, and overall experience that caters to any grill lover. The trademark searing is easily achieved on a charcoal grill, thanks to the grates getting red-hot.
  • Portable enough to take anywhere — Most grilling enthusiasts love summer because it gives them the opportunity to be outside, doing what they love to do in warm weather. This means bringing what they love to do with them everywhere.
  • Inexpensive to buy, cheap to use — From your local grocery store to online ordering, charcoal grills are available just about anywhere. They’re inexpensive and the fuel needed to operate them is equally easy to find and cheap. This makes this grill one of the most affordable options on the market.
  • Versatility is key — With practice, owners can do just about anything with a charcoal grill. They can smoke at low temperatures or sear at high temperatures. If you’re willing to put the time in to learn how to slow-cook pork, you’ll be in for the best pulled pork sandwiches around.
  • Smoke, smoke, smoke — The charcoal fuel used to cook on a grill gives barbeques their trademark smokey flavor that everyone craves. It cannot be replicated easily.

Cons

  • Takes time to heat up — Generally, charcoal grills take about 20 minutes to get hot enough to cook on, and that does not include the time it takes to light the coals, which is a process.
  • Fuel cost adds up — The upfront costs of charcoal are relatively cheap, but if you plan to use it a lot, the costs for continuously purchasing fuel to burn may start getting pricey. It gets even more expensive if you start looking for more sustainable options because clean-burning wood and charcoal can be priced at around $40 for a single 20-pound bag.
  • Takes time to learn — Learning how to grill with charcoal takes time. There is a significant curve to learning how to control the temperature with dampers and without the use of gauges or knobs or buttons.
  • Grilling with charcoal is a mess — Charcoal burns to ash when it’s lit on fire which will then need to be cleaned up after each use on a charcoal grill. Other grill types just require the cleaning of the cooking surface, but with charcoal, you need to go back after cooking to clean and wipe out the entire thing for the next use.

Starting a Charcoal Grill

Aside from getting the perfect charcoal grill, preparation is the key to lighting a charcoal grill because it ensures the charcoal’s ideal lighting conditions. The first step is to thoroughly clean the grill, checking that there is no food or grease stuck to the cooking surface from the last use. Lift the cooking grate out of the grill so you can also clean the cooking chamber’s interior. 

An accumulation of ash can block the vents and reduce air circulation, reducing the amount of oxygen reaching the flames. If there is residual grease anywhere in the cooking chamber, it can cause a dangerous flare-up during ignition.

Next, choose high-quality charcoal that lights well. Sub-par charcoal can be challenging to light, not provide an adequate amount of heat, and extinguish quickly. 

Now you’re ready to light your charcoal grill, and there are various ways you can quickly get the flames burning and putting it out.

Using a Charcoal Chimney

cooking using charcoal

Charcoal chimneys are a firm favorite among the outdoor cooking community. The chimney is a metal cylinder, with predrilled vents and holes at strategic points, increasing airflow through the chamber. A charcoal chimney is straightforward and extremely safe to use, so it is a good choice for beginners and more experienced chefs.

1. Fill your chimney with the correct amount of charcoal. The instruction manual describes the charcoal amount you need for each chimney, as they come in different sizes. Usually, you want the coals to reach the top of the chamber, but not overflow. 

2. Place your ignition material underneath the charcoal chimney. Many people use newspapers, but they aren’t as common with the advent of online media, so anything that lights easily is a solid choice. You can use bits of wood, wax, or anything made of paper to get started. 

3. Light the ignition material and watch to see how well the fire catches. You can look through the chimney vents and holes to see if the charcoal is beginning to turn gray. If the coals haven’t started to light after about 10 minutes, you can light more material to try again. If you soak the paper in cooking oil, it can help it to stay lit for longer.

4. When you see flames or glowing coals, use the handle on the charcoal chimney to pour the coals into the firepot. Leave them to turn mostly gray, and then gently spread them out for even heat distribution.

Here’s the complete method on How to Use a Charcoal Chimney Starter Like a Pro

Using a Lighter

Many outdoor cooking enthusiasts find using lighter fluid to be a convenient way of lighting their grill. The most important aspect of using lighter fluid is not to use too much, as this could lead to a sudden and potentially dangerous burst of flame. While you don’t want to underuse the fluid, it’s crucial to take a safety-first approach. A systematic approach keeps you safe and gives excellent results.

1. Carefully arrange the charcoal for the best chance of a quick ignition. You can’t just dump the coal in and hope for the best. Fire wants to spread, so keep the charcoal lumps close together to help the fire move from one coal to the next. You can pile them into a pyramid shape to increase the amount of contact between each charcoal piece.

2. Apply an even layer of lighter fluid over the coals, making sure the fire can use the liquid to move over all the charcoal lumps. Allow around 30 seconds for the lighter fluid to seep into the coals for the best results.

3. Use a long-handled grill lighter or long match to ignite the fluid. Try to light the charcoal at several points, starting at the back and moving forward to avoid getting a nasty burn. Always keep your hands as far away from the charcoal as possible in case there is a flare-up.  

4. If your charcoal grill has a lid, keep it raised to let the oxygen fan the flames. Open any vents to increase air circulation, and wait for the coals to turn white. Evenly spread the charcoal to heat the entire grilling surface, and place the cooking grate over the top. Your grill is now ready for cooking.

Here’s an alternative if you doesn’t have a lighter

Charcoal Grills 101: Controlling The Temperature 

It takes time to conquer the art of a consistent temperature.

While it takes some experimentation, you can eventually conquer the art of maintaining a consistent 225°F grill temperature. The more you use it, the better control you’ll have over your grill. Once you make friends with your grill, temperature regulation will become second nature. 

Always remember that heat distribution through the coals and airflow are the most important factors in maintaining temperature. An accurate thermometer can give you peace of mind that things are under control.

Here’s an ultimate guide on how to keep your charcoal grill at 225

Charcoal Snake Method: Turn Your Grill Into Smoker

The charcoal snake method uses some of charcoal’s long-burning properties to your advantage to make a grill that acts more like a smoker. You can incorporate your wood of choice without having to invest in a whole smoker that takes up more space in your yard. Here are the tips you need to know to use the charcoal snake method perfectly.

We have full instructions on when to use the charcoal snake method.

Homemade Standing Charcoal Grill Design

A standing grill is a homemade charcoal grill design that’s more in line with the popular devices currently on the market. This is the most difficult design because it requires welding. The main parts of a homemade charcoal grill are the base, the tray, and the cooking grate.

The base of the grill has to be sturdy enough to withstand the weight of the tray, coals, and food. You can have a stand custom made by a welder, or you can adapt an old sewing kit stand.

The tray is meant for holding the charcoals, so cast iron is generally the best material to use. The tray’s dimensions depend on the size of your stand and how much cooking space you want.

The edge of the tray must have a lip to secure bricks onto the tray.

Place bricks around the edge of the tray. These keep the tray in place, store heat, and add a barrier from the fire.

The cooking grate should be made from cast iron, stainless steel, or porcelain-coated cast iron. If you’re worried about the quality of steel, a Teflon barbecue mat can be placed over it when cooking.

While a standing grill requires more money and work to build, it should offer a better cooking experience. If you know a reliable welder, the construction will be straightforward.

In need of charcoal briquettes or lump charcoalsCharcoal grilling is proven to be safe but if it is not what you need maybe our propane grill reviews will help you decide.