Reviews You Can Rely On

Best Charcoal Grill of 2022

We tested charcoal grills from Char-Griller, Weber, Royal Gourmet, Cuisinart, and more to find the top models for your barbeque needs
Best Charcoal Grill of 2022
From tabletop grills to full size grill/smoker combos, our comprehensive review breaks down the pros and cons of some of the best charcoal grills on the market.
Credit: Aaron Rice

Our Top Picks

By Aaron Rice ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Mar 30, 2022
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more

Searching for the charcoal grill that will help you take your skills from amateur to pit-master? We researched over 50 models before settling on 10 of the best available today. Our experts spent a week testing these grills side-by-side, closely examining every aspect of quality and performance. From searing steaks to smoking brisket, our team cooked almost every meal over an open flame to help provide you with impartial conclusions based on real-world testing. We offer up the most in-depth, comprehensive review available of the best charcoal grills available.

If you're looking to master the art of grilling, purchasing a charcoal grill for your outdoor space is just the first step. Our experts can help you find everything you need to up your barbecue game, whether that be durable spatulas and tongs, a trusty chef knife or meat thermometers letting you know the steaks are done.


Best Overall Tabletop Charcoal Grill

Char-Griller Akorn Jr. Kamado Style

Footprint: 2.8 ft² | Cook Surface: 153 in²
Triple-walled steel insulation
An affordable option compared to ceramic Kamado style grills
Super efficient
Small cook space
Steeper learning curve for controlling heat distribution

We'd never used a Kamado-style grill until testing out the Char-Griller Akorn Jr., but this grill design quickly won us over. A typical Kamado grill is egg-shaped and insulated by thick ceramic sidewalls, which boosts heat retention and grants you the versatility to smoke at 200℉ or sear at 700℉. The Akorn Jr. is not ceramic, however — Char-Griller has instead substituted triple-walled steel, which is how they can offer this heat-efficient grill for a fraction of the cost of traditional Kamado grills. Though the pan is only sized for a small coal bed, we were still able to sear steaks at 500℉ within minutes of getting the coals up to temperature.

There was definitely a learning curve regarding temperature management with this grill — once it gets heated up, it's a challenge to get it to cool back down quickly. Out of all the grills we tested, this one has one of the smallest cooking surfaces, and it was challenging to find a spot on the edges to move the food to so it wouldn't burn as we were figuring out how to control the heat zones correctly. If you are looking at the price-per-square-inch of cooking surface, the Akorn Jr. could be considered costly. However, with its capacity to grill, smoke, sear (and possibly bake), it becomes clear that this is a small but mighty charcoal grill. If learning a new style of grilling seems daunting, Char-Griller includes helpful instructions suggesting damper adjustments to achieve the ideal temperature for whatever type of cooking you are doing.

best overall tabletop charcoal grill
The ideal size for grill-kabobs, the Akorn Jr. offers high precision cooking in a petite package.
Credit: Aaron Rice


Best Overall Full-Size Charcoal Grill

Royal Gourmet 24" Charcoal Grill

Footprint: 8.3 ft² | Cook Surface: 590 in²
Adjustable height coal tray, managed by a "stick shift"
Dual dampers, plus chimney for increased airflow
Front-access to coal bed for easy maintenance
Wheels, but no handles to help move the grill
Difficult to dump coals out of the tray

Initially, we were skeptical of the design of the Royal Gourmet 24" Charcoal Grill, but it far exceeded our expectations. This grill features a "stick shift" on the front that allows you to control the height of the charcoal pan to six different levels. This seems gimmicky at first, but the innovative design provides a level of versatility in temperature control that we didn't have with other grills in our tests. We were able to keep a coal bed burning in this grill for an impressive length of time, thanks to the combination of a large coal bed with dual dampers — located underneath the twin side tables — and a chimney to allow for efficient airflow and maximum adjustment. If you need to adjust or add coals, the large front door allows easy access to the coal bed.

Overall, there is relatively little to gripe about with this model. Our main criticism was common among all the full-size grills — there are no handles to help you pull it into place. There are wheels, but we can't imagine dragging this 57-pound grill around by its side table will help improve the lifespan of the otherwise superb design. Despite this complaint, it is worth mentioning that not only does Royal Gourmet perform at the top of its class, but it does so at a fraction of the cost of its competitors.

The ability to raise and lower the coal bed of the Royal Gourmet 24"...
The ability to raise and lower the coal bed of the Royal Gourmet 24" sets it apart as a truly great charcoal grill. Here, you see it in the highest position for maximum cook surface temperatures.
And here is the coal bed in the lowest position, nearly a foot below...
And here is the coal bed in the lowest position, nearly a foot below the cook surface for low-and-slow cooking. There are a total of six adjustment levels to help you dial-in the perfect "setting."


Best Bang for Your Buck

Char-Griller Side Fire Box

Footprint: 2 ft² | Cook Surface: 250 in²
Heavy-duty steel construction
Similarly sized cook surface to other full-sized grills
Slide-out coal bed drawer
Heavy for a portable grill
Handles get very hot

If you're looking for a portable but sturdy heavy-duty grill, check out the Char-Griller Side Fire Box. By utilizing a unique barrel shape that maximizes interior space, this Char-Griller manages to offer a cooking surface comparable to full-sized grills like the Beau Jardin 18". So, even though this grill's footprint is small, you get nearly the same capacity as a classic kettle-style charcoal grill. Our favorite feature is the slide-out drawer that allows quick access to the firebox. This simple feature — along with the grill's unique design — makes it easier to use a coal chimney to start a fire, gives you better access to the coal bed while cooking, and provides a quick and easy solution for dumping ash and spent charcoal.

The cooking grates might be cast iron, but don't be fooled by this grill's appearance — it is actually built out of heavy-duty powder-coated steel rather than a full cast iron construction like the Char-Griller Outlaw. Even though we still put this grill in the "portable" category based on size, it might be a bit much to haul the 42-pound frame out to your next picnic. Although the Side Fire Box is a bit more expensive than the other tabletop grills we tested, it is much more versatile, particularly when combined with the Outlaw to create a true Texas-style smoker.

charcoal grill - best bang for your buck
The ability to pull the drawer-style fire box out to adjust coals (all without having to adjust our food on the grill) is an exclusive feature of the Char-Griller Side Fire Box, and is the most thoughtful design we came across in our testing.
Credit: Aaron Rice


Best Combination Grill & Smoker

Char-Griller Outlaw Grill and Smoker

Footprint: 9.9 ft² (w/o Side Fire Box) | Cook Surface: 975 in²
Full cast iron construction
Huge grill surface
Exceptional heat and smoke retention
Heavy (114 pounds)
Unreliable thermometer

Cast iron is known for its durability, versatility, and value. The Char-Griller Outlaw Grill and Smoker is a hulking cast iron grill that will undoubtedly become a gathering point for any backyard barbeque. The standalone grill offers the largest cook surface of any we tested, with 725 sq. inches of main grilling space plus a 250 sq. inch warming rack. Its versatility and grilling space is increased with the addition of the Char-Griller Side Fire Box, which can easily be attached/detached opposite to the side table, adding functionality as both a grill and smoker. Though this is a much more significant investment, we believe the 3-in-1 combination of full-size grill, smoker, and detachable tabletop grill presents an unbeatable value — not to mention the remarkable durability and longevity of their cast iron construction.

Although its versatility is top-notch, there are some control issues with the Outlaw that could be resolved for improved performance. The coal bed can be adjusted to four different heights, thanks to handles that extend up above the cooking surface. Unfortunately, in order to manage or add coals, you have to lift one of the five cast-iron cooking grates to gain access to the fire grate. The addition of a second damper underneath the side table would undoubtedly improve airflow. But at least when it comes time for indirect smoking, the heavy cast iron lid provides exceptional heat and smoke retention, easily maintaining the ideal internal grill temperature of 250℉ with only minimal fire maintenance.

charcoal grill - best combination grill & smoker
The Char-Griller Outlaw Grill and Smoker, here pictured in smoking-mode with the addition of the Side Fire Box, is a grilling force to be reckoned with... just make sure you have the space to accommodate this oversized setup.
Credit: Aaron Rice


Best Portable Grill

Weber Go-Anywhere

Footprint: 1.8 ft² | Cook Surface: 160 in²
Designed with portability in mind
A nice balance of weight and durability
Four vents for maximum adjustability
Vents are too hot to adjust without gloves
Small cooking surface

For the fans of portable pit-cooking, we offer up the Weber Go-Anywhere as your solution to taking your backyard grilling on the road. This suitcase-sized grill incorporates Weber's traditionally durable porcelain-enameled steel construction into a conveniently compact package. Unlike other portable grills we tested, the legs on the Go-Anywhere fold up and snap into place to secure the lid, preventing an ash or charcoal spill in the trunk of your car. The rectangular basin is capable of holding a significant amount of coal for its footprint, and the thick steel sidewalls provide ample insulation to help keep your coal bed roasting hot.

Although we love that this grill's design includes two bottom dampers — bringing the total vent count up to four — the aluminum construction of all four vents means that they get very hot, very quickly. On top of that, the bottom dampers fit too tightly to the grill body, making them particularly tough to adjust. The combination of these two factors increases the potential for hand and finger burns, so we recommend using gloves when adjusting any of the vents. It also takes some time to learn how to properly adjust the airflow for maximum heat output. That said, though the Go-Anywhere's surface area is small, the grill's shape and adjustable airflow facilitate a nice distribution of heat zones across the cooking surface.

charcoal grill - best portable grill
The Weber Go-Anywhere grill may not be the largest in this review, but its portable package still offers plenty of grilling space for a meal for two.
Credit: Aaron Rice


Classic Reliability

Weber Original Kettle Premium 22"

Footprint: 4.2 ft² | Cook Surface: 363 in²
Designed for easy ash cleaning and removal
Huge lid will easily accommodate large foods
Glass-reinforced nylon handles still get hot
Lid hangs too low to adequately block wind

We consider the Weber Original Kettle Premium 22" to be one of the most reliable grills on the market. The porcelain-enameled steel construction is proven to be both sufficiently insulating and durable enough to last for decades with very little fuss. The classic kettle shape includes both a deep coal bed and a huge lid to cover the 22"-diameter cook surface — we've heard that the lid is tall enough to even accommodate a full, 15-pound turkey (though we haven't tried this… yet!) The reason the Original Kettle Premium sets the standard for all kettle-charcoal grills is the patented One-Touch cleaning system. With the flick of a handle, you can easily adjust airflow during cooking, and then quickly clean out ash afterward.

The top grip benefits from a heat shield, but despite its glass-reinforced design, the nylon handle on the front of the grill still manages to get unexpectedly hot. We also can't quite understand why the hanger is not located more towards the middle of the lid — if it were, it would more effectively serve as a wind barrier. But regardless of whether or not it offers any truly standout features, we still love the thoughtful design of this classic grill and will likely continue to love it for generations to come.

charcoal grill - the secret to the weber original kettle premium's ease of use is the...
The secret to the Weber Original Kettle Premium's ease of use is the beautifully designed One-Touch cleaning system, combining an easy-to-empty ash catcher with a ventilation system that also helps sweep out the bottom of the grill with the flick of a switch.
Credit: Aaron Rice


An Affordable Grill and Smoker Combo

Royal Gourmet 30" Grill and Offset Smoker

Footprint: 11.3 ft² | Cook Surface: 800 in²
Side port offers access to the firebox without having to open the lid
Valuable considering price-per-cooking-surface
Flimsy construction
Lack of a seal makes it inefficient

The Royal Gourmet 30" Grill and Offset Smoker provides an accessible option to the world of Texas-style smoking with much less investment than other comparable grill/smoker combos. Unlike the Char-Griller Outlaw, the side firebox is fully incorporated into this model. Even if you are not into smoking, this is particularly useful for simultaneously cooking other foods over an independent fire. Considering that the main grill surface is 438 sq. inches, the warming rack is 179 sq. inches, and the side firebox offers an additional 183 sq. inches, this is a lot of cooking space at a reasonable value. When it does come time to try out smoking meats, we appreciate that the side firebox has an additional access port, allowing you to add or stoke the coal bed without having to open the lid, a critical escape point for smoke and heat.

You will likely make constant use of that extra access port because this grill does not do a great job when it comes to insulation. Through indirect heat, it took well over an hour to get this grill up to the ideal smoking temperature of 250℉, and then it took a lot of additions of coal to keep it at that temperature. Although it is a steel construction, it is thin and flimsy — when you open the lid, you can actually see it flex under its own weight. But despite its flaws, we do believe that this is a price-point option for those looking to dip their toes into the world of charcoal grilling and Texas-style smoking but who maybe aren't quite ready to invest a significant chunk of change in doing so.

charcoal grill - while this grill combo is well-designed with an offset smoker, it...
While this grill combo is well-designed with an offset smoker, it lacks in construction quality and falls short in terms of smoking performance due to issues with insulation.
Credit: Aaron Rice


A No-Frills Kettle Grill

Beau Jardin Premium 18"

Footprint: 2.3 ft² | Cook Surface: 255 in²
Small footprint
Cheap construction
No place to hang grilling tools

The Beau Jardin Premium 18" is the archetype of the classic charcoal grill. This unit offers some nice features often not available at this price point, like insulated handles and a lid hanger. Specifically, we like that the design of the grill surface includes handles so that you can easily and securely remove the grates to add or adjust coals. Otherwise, it is entirely basic. We mainly appreciate this model for its portability, where its light weight and small footprint make it a great option for those tight on space.

The bowl and lid are porcelain-enameled steel but are slightly thinner than other grills in this same class. While this does not ultimately result in poor insulation — in fact, we were quite impressed with its overall heat retention — it does bring to light more substantial worries about durability. Despite the base's wide footprint, we worry about the thin aluminum legs not providing the most stable support system. While there is nothing particularly remarkable or unremarkable about this grill, it is notable as a much more affordable option than many other kettle-style charcoal grills on the market.

charcoal grill - the beau jardin premium is a basic grill that still offers...
The Beau Jardin Premium is a basic grill that still offers thoughtful design additions outside of its price-point, including handles to help you easily lift and adjust the cooking grate.
Credit: Aaron Rice


The Classic Portable Grill

Weber Smokey Joe 14" Portable

Footprint: 1.4 ft² | Cook Surface: 147 in²
Stable footing
Simple, easy-to-assemble design
Small cook surface
Lack of lid latch for improved portability

While it may seem like we don't like the Weber Smokey Joe 14" Portable based on its position in our review, it is simply that this classic take on a portable charcoal grill has been overtaken in recent years by modern improvements in design. As a portable grill, the Smokey Joe presents an outstanding value that still offers Weber's reliable, porcelain-enameled steel construction, a staple of charcoal grill design. This small, relatively lightweight option can just as easily be pulled out for a tailgate as it can for an impromptu backyard hangout.

Like all basic grills, it is impossible to add or adjust the coal bed without completely lifting off the cooking grate, food and all. Fortunately, the grate returns to sit in position much better than its direct rival. We wish that Weber would incorporate lid latches, which would significantly improve its portability. There is very little wrong with the Smokey Joe; it just simply doesn't present the same value that it may have 30-40 years ago.

charcoal grill - the smokey joe doesn't offer much grilling space, but how much space...
The Smokey Joe doesn't offer much grilling space, but how much space do you really need out of a tabletop grill?
Credit: Aaron Rice


A Cute, Miniature Grill

Cuisinart Portable 14"

Footprint: 1.4 ft² | Cook Surface: 143 in²
Incredibly lightweight
Flimsy, aluminum construction
Wonky footing

A petite, portable version of the classic kettle-style grill, the Cuisinart Portable 14" offers an inexpensive option for tailgates and picnics. A seriously simple design that won't wow anyone, this 5-pound grill still gets the job done for barbeque basics — especially for the price. It is wrapped up in a very cute package, looking right at home on the table at a backyard party.

But as with most cheap products, the monetary value comes at a price. This portable grill is a perfect example of a throwaway commodity. Its flimsy aluminum construction is wonky from the moment it is assembled, and the paint on the lid bubbles when exposed to the high heat of an open flame. If you need a portable charcoal grill to use occasionally at a tailgate party, this presents a cost-effective solution — but for any regular action, we suggest looking elsewhere.

the cuisinart 14" is indeed lightweight and portable. while it will...
The Cuisinart 14" is indeed lightweight and portable. While it will get the job done in a pinch, it's lack of quality craftsmanship makes us wonder just how much time we'll have with this grill.
Credit: Aaron Rice

Why You Should Trust Us

Bringing a serious appreciation for the art of pit cooking to this review is Aaron Rice. As one of our culinary experts, Aaron has worked in and around kitchens for the better portion of a decade — alongside his wife, he now grows and manages an on-site culinary garden for a fine dining restaurant in Santa Fe, NM. As a wilderness instructor, he has helped teach many hungry teenagers how to cook over an open flame. Additionally, Aaron lends his knowledge and experience to the reviews of portable grills here at GearLab.

Adjustable dampers, like the two that flank the Char-Griller Fire...
Adjustable dampers, like the two that flank the Char-Griller Fire Side Box, are the key to good airflow.
Side-by-side comparison is our steak and peppers (or is it our...
Side-by-side comparison is our steak and peppers (or is it our bread and butter?) Here, we lineup the Weber Classic Kettle and the Beau Jardin grills for testing.
Sometimes its the little things that make all the difference, like...
Sometimes its the little things that make all the difference, like the well-marked damper settings on the Char-Griller Akorn Jr.

Before diving headfirst into the world of open-flame grilling, our experts perform their due diligence of online research. After hours of looking through some of the best and most popular charcoal grills on the market, we settled on ten to test side-by-side. We purchased all of these grills at retail cost so that we may bring you an objectively honest and comprehensively comparative analysis. From assembly to smoking brisket, our experts scrutinized every aspect of these grills. Over the course of a week, we grilled nearly every single meal, comparing important features, measuring temperatures, analyzing airflow, and carefully assessing heat retention. Whether you are looking for a full-size grill and smoker combo or a tabletop model to cook the occasional kabob, we offer a variety of products that aim to suit the needs of any prospective grill-master.

from big to small, and back again, we tested a whole range of...
From big to small, and back again, we tested a whole range of charcoal grills to help you better navigate the buying process.
Credit: Aaron Rice

Analysis and Test Results

There is nothing quite like pit cooking over an open flame. Despite significant advances in grill technology, most professional chefs will agree that you simply cannot pull the same amount of flavor out of a cut of meat or roast veggies as tenderly as you can when cooking over charcoal. To assess the best charcoal grills on the market, we consider five key characteristics: output power, control, portability, cooking area, and wind resistance. Our experts are the everyday backyard chef, and as such, seek to put each of these grills through a series of creative, real-life cooking scenarios. By evaluating the performance and function of these grills through side-by-side testing, we are able to illuminate the relative strengths and weaknesses of each. That way, our in-depth comparison can help you pick out the best charcoal grill for your own backyard.

grills like the char-griller outlaw offer large fire pans that are...
Grills like the Char-Griller Outlaw offer large fire pans that are capable of holding a lot of coal and producing a lot of heat, but output power comes down to much more than just the size of the fire you can build.
Credit: Aaron Rice

Output Power

Unlike the BTU rating of gas grills, there is no great way to quantify a charcoal grill's output power. However, ample information can be collected by drawing connections between the size of the firebox, the volume of the coal bed, the insulation factor of the material in the grill body, how well the grill retains heat, the ability to adjust airflow, consistency of temperature — and of course, how well you can cook your meal.

airflow over an open-fire is the core concept for creating heat. the...
Airflow over an open-fire is the core concept for creating heat. The proximity of the dampers to the coal bed, as pictured here on the Royal Gourmet 24", is key to controlling consistent temperatures.
Credit: Aaron Rice

Without a doubt, the Kamado-style Char-Griller Akorn Jr. is at the top of our list when considering output power. Through the combination of features like a triple-wall steel frame with a seal between the lid and base, the Akorn Jr. is not only the most insulated grill in our review, it is also the most efficient. Even a small fire can produce temperatures in excess of 500℉, thanks to top and bottom dampers and a design that promotes air circulation.

flare-ups are fun to watch, but are less-than-ideal for turning out...
Flare-ups are fun to watch, but are less-than-ideal for turning out quality grilled foods. The proximity of the cook surface to the coal bed on the Beau Jardin 18" is too close, resulting in flames licking your food. Fortunately in this case, we were actually trying to blister these shishito peppers.
Credit: Aaron Rice

Of the full-size options, the Char-Griller Outlaw provided the most output power thanks to a huge fire pan and insulating cast iron construction — although the heavy steel of the Royal Gourmet 24" came in a close second. The key factor for the success of both of these grills is a sizeable fire pan capable of supporting a substantial coal bed. While the Royal Gourmet can quickly crank up the heat — thanks to dual dampers on either side of the grill — the Outlaw Grill is capable of effectively retaining the low-and-slow temperatures required to smoke meats.

an evenly dispersed coal bed, with well-distributed heat, is the...
An evenly dispersed coal bed, with well-distributed heat, is the difference between perfectly grilled chicken and accidentally blackened chicken. The rectangular shape of the Weber Go-Anywhere allows you to evenly spread the coal bed, especially important on a tabletop grill.
Credit: Aaron Rice


This is a key factor for any high-performing grill and the reason that so many professional chefs — particularly in the BBQ world — choose to cook over a charcoal flame. Unlike gas or electric grills, charcoal can easily be moved around to create ideal "heat zones" — perfect temperature pockets to accommodate a variety of foods and target temperatures. To qualify this category, we assessed how easy it is to access each grill's fire pan and how easy it is to maneuver the coal bed to create these heat zones. We also noted how well each grill works to distribute heat evenly and any differences between cooking with the lid on or off.

although many grills, like the royal gourmet 30" grill and offset...
Although many grills, like the Royal Gourmet 30" Grill and Offset Smoker, come with integrated thermometers, we don't trust them. Better to invest in a quality meat thermometer for accurate readings.
Credit: Aaron Rice

This is the area where the Royal Gourmet 24" really shines, thanks to its adjustment mechanism that allows you to move the coal bed up and down by nearly a foot. This type of control — in both the vertical and horizontal planes — is also available on other full-size grills, like the Char-Griller Outlaw and Royal Gourmet 30" Grill and Offset Smoker. However, neither of those have the fire box access that the front door of the Royal Gourmet 24" affords.

front-and-center firebox access is like the charcoal grilling...
Front-and-center firebox access is like the charcoal grilling equivalent to having courtside seats. The Royal Gourmet 24" is the only grill we tested with this capability.
Credit: Aaron Rice

Similarly, the drawer design on the Char-Griller Side Fire Box sets it far apart from the competition in this metric. This design makes starting a fire easy and allows for easy adjustment or addition of coals without having to lift a grate or a lid. This can make a big difference in internal grill temperature since it lets out a significant amount of heat each time you want to move your coals.

although the removable center of the char-griller akorn jr. "allows"...
Although the removable center of the Char-Griller Akorn Jr. "allows" for coal bed maintenance, we found it very difficult over the hot coals to make any purposeful adjustments while cooking.
Credit: Aaron Rice


Admittedly, this category pertains more to the smaller tabletop grills in our review, but it is still an important consideration for your full-size options. Will you be able to take your charcoal grill on the road without fear of constantly dumping ash in your trunk? We made a note of features like lid latches that make charcoal grills plausibly portable, while also taking into consideration major factors like weight and footprint. Most of the full-size grills we tested come with wheels, but how easily can these models be moved around a yard or porch?

The Weber Go-Anywhere is not only petite, but the legs fold over and...
The Weber Go-Anywhere is not only petite, but the legs fold over and snap the lid in place, making it a portable powerhouse for on-the-go grilling.
When you reach your grilling destination, the legs snap back into...
When you reach your grilling destination, the legs snap back into place with a simple metal catch, creating a stable platform for grilling.

True to its name, the most portable charcoal grill we tested is the Weber Go-Anywhere. This 12-pound, suitcase-sized grill easily fits into the footwell of any backseat and is thoughtfully designed for transport by using the foldable legs to secure the lid in place. Most importantly, its low-profile frame is sturdy and just heavy enough to comfortably use on a table or out in the grass. The only full-size grill that we would deem reasonably portable is the Beau Jardin Premium 18". As a full-size, standup model, it weighs a mere 18-pounds and has a scant footprint of only 2.3 sq. feet. To put that in perspective, its closest competitor, the Weber Original Kettle Premium 22", weighs in at 32-pounds and has a footprint of nearly double the size, at 4.2 sq. feet.

for grills in practically the same class, the beau jardin 18" is...
For grills in practically the same class, the Beau Jardin 18" is significantly smaller than the Weber Classic Kettle 22".
Credit: Aaron Rice

Cooking Area

This was an easy metric to quantify by measuring the size of the cooking surface. Using this simple paradigm, the Char-Griller Outlaw is the clear winner, with a total surface area of 975 sq. inches. However, while the cooking area is clearly related to the overall size of the grill, there are some important exceptions. We also took into consideration how the size of the cooking surface compares to footprint and height — particularly important for those with limited space.

the char-griller tabletop packs a significant grill surface into a...
The Char-Griller Tabletop packs a significant grill surface into a relatively small package, as evidenced by this meal-for-two, with plenty of cook surface remaining.
Credit: Aaron Rice

Most notably, the Char-Griller Side Fire Box offers a cooking area that rivals the full-size Beau Jardin 18", but in a much more compact package, with a footprint of 2 sq. feet and a height of merely 17 inches. It is also important to mention here that while the Akorn Jr. excelled in most aspects of our testing, it has a remarkably small cook surface, measuring only 153 sq. inches. It is so small that we actually found it difficult to find space for our food when removing the plate in the center that allows you to access the coal bed.

the char-griller akorn jr. can often fit enough food for dinner, but...
The Char-Griller Akorn Jr. can often fit enough food for dinner, but what happens when your coal bed is too hot and you have to remove the center plate to fix it? You can imagine difficulties arising with an even fuller grill...
Credit: Aaron Rice

Wind Resistance

Grilling in the wind is a tough proposition, even with a gas grill. Grilling in the wind over charcoal is notoriously difficult. So how easy is it to start coals in the wind on each of these grills? Are the sides tall enough to block the wind and keep coals a consistent temperature? What about the loss of convective heat?

The heavyweight, cast iron lid of the Char-Griller Outlaw keeps both...
The heavyweight, cast iron lid of the Char-Griller Outlaw keeps both heat and smoke right where it should be, inside the grill.
The savory brisket that results from hours in a quality, Texas-style...
The savory brisket that results from hours in a quality, Texas-style smoker like the Outlaw.

Similarly to output power, the grills with the best insulation tend to fare the best in a stiff breeze. Even though the Akorn Jr. is essentially a fully-sealed unit, we found it tough to easily maintain a consistent temperature with the lid closed all the time — and it's impossible if you need to stoke the coals. Alternatively, the drawer-style firebox on the Char-Griller Side Fire Box allows you to pull the coal bed out for adjustment without having to release a ton of heat. The heavy-duty design and shape of this model also make it particularly apt to cook in nearly any environment. Similarly, the heavy lid of the Char-Griller Outlaw excelled in retaining heat.

the secret to not losing convective heat? solid insulation, as...
The secret to not losing convective heat? Solid insulation, as demonstrated by the triple-walled Akorn Jr. Even at a temperature of more than 500-degrees Fahrenheit, we were able to touch the outside of this grill... so you can imagine how well it keeps heat locked in.
Credit: Aaron Rice

Except for the Beau Jardin 18", only Weber designs their grills to use the lid as a wind wall. Both the Original Kettle Premium and Go-Anywhere employ angled hooks inside the lid to hang them outside of the grill — this serves to effectively block the wind and as a convenient way to store the lid while cooking. Unfortunately, this same feature is not extended to the very basic Weber Smokey Joe Portable.

both the weber original kettle and beau jardin grills offer lid...
Both the Weber Original Kettle and Beau Jardin grills offer lid hangers to help create a wind wall. But why not position the hangers a big higher, to create a better block?
Credit: Aaron Rice


From all-day brisket smoking to on-the-road pit cooking, we love the simplicity and natural beauty of charcoal grilling. It is a culinary technique that has transformed into an art form. Whether you are interested in cooking over an open flame for the first time or are a seasoned grill master looking for a canvas to create your next masterpiece, we hope our comprehensive review knocks down the time spent shopping online and gives you more time to cook outside.

open pit cooking over a charcoal flame is a beautiful thing. we hope...
Open pit cooking over a charcoal flame is a beautiful thing. We hope our review helps direct you on your culinary path.
Credit: Aaron Rice

Aaron Rice

Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.

GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.

Learn More