The Ultimate Guide to Charcoal Grills

If you are faced with the tough decision of which BBQ Grill is best for you then look no further. We created this handy little guide specifically to help you navigate the complicated world of Charcoal Grills.

Finding the best BBQ for you is tough enough without so many options on the market. Fortunately BBQ’s are what we do best! We put together this article to take a deeper examination into what you should look out for in a Charcoal grill, to give you the best chance of meeting your ideal cooking buddy.

If you have found yourself in the Charcoal Grill section then you already have a vague notion of the type of thing you are looking for. Let’s look at the best (and the worst) things about this type of BBQ to help you along your path to grilling greatness.

Charcoal Grills: The Basics!

Unlike Electric Grills, Gas Grills or Smokers, the Charcoal Grill depends on charred coal as its main fuel source. In days gone past charcoal was made in smoke stacks out in the country, where wet straw would keep wood burning in the center smoldering until it became a sort of man-made coal. Nowadays charcoal is made in factories… but it is still a fascinating process (Napoleon Grills).

A traditional Charcoal Grill will consist of a base unit that is like a bowl. Inside it there might be one or two contraptions to improve airflow, or there might be nothing but space for your coals.

Pour the coals into the base to get started. The best way to light your charcoal grill is with one or two firelighters as these will keep heat long enough for your coals to burn. A BBQ grill plate is then placed over the coals.

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It is recommended that you wait until the coals are white before you start to cook any meat. If you are in any doubt as to whether or not your grill is ready to use, you can follow this handy guide from one of our favorite brands, Char-Broil.

For complete beginners to the Charcoal Grilling world, we sourced this YouTube video from Kitchen Alpha that talks you through how to use a charcoal grill. The model used is by Weber, one of the most popular BBQ brands in America.

The Price of Fuel

Costs of fuel for a Charcoal Grill is relatively cheap, with an average $5-$10 for a 16lb bag. A bonus of the fuel used is that it is not mined and does less harm in the retrieval process than a gas grill might. It is also simpler to fill your Charcoal grill than it might be a gas grill. As an added bonus you can be fairly certain your charcoal won’t explode.

Don’t forget that you will also need to pay for a steady supply of firelighters, although they literally cost a few cents. Anther must have is some kind of bellows. A bellows blows air into the flame to keep the center of the fire hot.

You can buy motorized ones from most good hardware stores, and Amazon, of course. You can also use old newspapers to get your charcoal grill going, if you still read them.

Flavor, Flavor, FLAVOR!

The main bonus of having an authentic charcoal grill is the taste. That signature smoky flavor. Where electric and gas grills need to rely on technology and flavorings to get that smokey taste; both smokers and charcoal BBQ’s will produce it without any added bells or whistles.

If you are buying your BBQ based on taste alone then there is little to compare with a Charcoal Grill. You have been warned (All Recipes).

Cooking or Burning… or Shape?

When Chef’s on Hell’s Kitchen boast about being able to Burn they are talking about BBQ cooking. There are two methods of cooking – on direct heat or off of it. Only a charcoal grill with big enough cooking space can enable you to do both at the same time. This is where shape comes in.

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An oblong grill is likely to have space enough for you to cook with indirect heat; a smaller model with a deeper base and a round grill plate not so much. Make your choice wisely.

A good quality miniature model will do well for summers in the backyard, and might even be suitable for tailgating or camping, provided those coals can be safely stored away or disposed off carefully. Larger models will be painful to move and should be stored in the backyard. They also tend to cost a lot more, but professional cooks are far more likely to use the oblong shaped, more expensive model, for obvious reasons.

Which Style BBQ to Buy?

There are three main types of Charcoal grill: The Kettle, the Ceramic and the Barrel.

The ceramic grill is the most expensive since it utilizes a non-stick, non-crack material that responds brilliantly with the heat. If you manage to get a good price on a ceramic charcoal grill (Exchange Bar and Grill) then take it!

The kettle style BBQ (Amazon) is usually the term used for smaller grills. They tend to be rounded with a belly that you can fill with charcoal, and stand on a tripod system or four legs.

The final style is the barrel style (Amazon) of charcoal grill. This one is the longer, oblong shape that you might expect to find in a professional establishment.

Cost of a Charcoal Grill

By comparison to all three other types of grill/smoker, the charcoal grill comes in at the cheapest up-front.

However, you will burn through a lot of coals over time, making it slightly less economic than it might first seem.

While a small portable charcoal BBQ comes in between $30-$100, you might expect to find a smaller Hibachi model for $10-$20. A ‘kettle style’ (or round) charcoal grill can come in between $50 and $250, depending on the amount of space and extra features you want. More substantial grills can run as high as $500 and are made to stay in the backyard. Barrel styled, or oblong, shapes can be as expensive as $2,700, depending on where you look (Home Cost Helper).

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What are Charcoal Grills made from?

Charcoal grills can be made out of anything that can contain hot coals while simultaneously supporting a grill plate. Some DIY BBQ‘s (DIY N Crafts) are made out of bricks with a plate suspended above, others are made in old braziers. Typically a kettle style charcoal BBQ will have a brazier base, a lid and a grill.

According to eBay, the top four materials for Charcoal grills include:

  • Chrome plating
  • Cast Iron
  • Enamel coated
  • Stainless Steel

But we would like to add cast aluminum and wrought iron to the list. A stainless steel or an aluminum BBQ will be sturdier than others as well as keeping rust free, unlike any types of iron.


If you are keeping your BBQ outside it will need to be scrubbed before use, every time. The grill plate should be removed and cleaned between uses and any old coals should be left to cool in a responsible place, out of the reach of children, before they are disposed of. We do not recommend pouring water on your BBQ to put it out as this will lead to difficulty lighting it again if you want to use it the following day.

A Charcoal Grill should be emptied of all its coals and cleaned at least once, but preferably twice, every year. Home Depot made this helpful video for those of you who need more guidance on cleaning out your BBQ.

A Note About Safety

The Kitchn advises that charcoal grills are not allowed on wooden patio surfaces for safety reasons. Don’t turn your building into a fire hazard and stick to the rules. Safety first!

Special Features and Optional Extra’s

A standard charcoal grill will come with the casing, the grill plate and its own lid, although do double check if a lid comes with the product before you purchase. To make lighting your BBQ easier you can invest in a Charcoal Chimney, which allows you to keep your coals hot without fuel.

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You may also want to invest in a surface thermometer to monitor the cooking temperatures you want to reach more thoroughly. High end models may come with this feature built in, but typical kettle types do not.

Look out for an in-built damper, which will help keep air flowing through the coals. High end models might also include gas ignition and air insulated lids such as the Summit Charcoal Grill, a Weber model.

BBQ Gloves
The classic way to BBQ.

Pros of a Charcoal Grill BBQ:

  • The flavor of that smokey, divine, delicious, melt-in-the-mouth meat!
  • Cheap to buy, reasonably cheap to keep going.
  • Sturdy, durable, reliable, can stay in the back yard all year without becoming faulty.
  • No electronics to have to worry about.
  • Easy set up, easy placement, portable models available.
  • The smell of burning coals will make your neighbors jealous.

Cons of a Charcoal Grill BBQ:

  • The fuel costs add up eventually.
  • They are not terribly Eco-friendly.
  • The smoke can annoy neighbors and can drift back in windows.
  • Hot coals are dangerous, especially with children or animals around.
  • They cannot be used on wooden patios.

Brands and Charcoal Grills We Love!

There are a few brands that really stand out in the Charcoal Grill department. Unsurprisingly Weber is at the top of the list, a firm favorite among enthusiasts everywhere. Napoleon are a brand that we have seen again and again, and they represent the more upmarket models. Other notable names are Hibachi for their extra value range of durable, portable charcoal grills and Char-Griller, who have some interesting offerings.

Most Extravagant Charcoal BBQ’s

The Weber Summit Charcoal Series comes in at a whopping $2,000, but you get some impressive storage, that luxury ignition and the coated enamel to boot. It has some nifty features and its own attached hotplate. The Kamado Joe – that’s the ceramic style – comes in at around $1,195 at Amazon, and we think that’s not bad value for money if you want to go big.

Best Portable and Best Value

A favorite among campers is the Weber Smokey Joe, although the Hibachi Portable is a close second. The Hibachi is cheaper but the Weber is easier to find parts for should anything go wrong. For best value, reviewers point towards the Napoleon Charcoal Grill as a staple… although best value for money does not necessarily mean it is the cheapest, just that you get loads of fancy extras for the price you pay.

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Best for the Garden

the Char-Griller Outlaw is fantastic for keeping in the garden all year round, looks sleek and stylish and has a number of optional extra’s to boot. You can’t go wrong with most Char-Griller models, and they are known for their product longevity.

Final Thoughts

What you are willing to pay for your new Charcoal Grill is going to greatly affect how much storage space, how many extra features and how much grill room you have. As with many products in life you get what you pay for – just look out for warranties and guarantees that will help make your purchase that little more secure. Most big brands happily offer them and you should take full advantage to protect your investment.

There are various styles, shapes, sizes and cooking methods associated with ‘burning’ on a charcoal grill but one thing remains the same regardless of how you cook on it: that luxurious smokey flavor cannot be beaten, and is a big consideration. IF it wasn’t, why would other grills go out of their way to imitate it?

The smokey flavor might be accentuated by blackening the grill tray but this is unhygienic and might make you sick, so keep it clean and get your smokey flavor the old fashioned way!

In terms of price you can do a lot worse than a charcoal grill and we recommend you take advantage of that. In the meantime we can but hope that we have helped you come to a decision as to finding the best Charcoal grill for you. Please remember to bookmark us and return if you have any other questions regarding BBQ’s – as we have all the information you could ever need!

Good luck out there. We hope you find the perfect match for you – charcoal or not!

The Ultimate Guide to Charcoal Grills

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