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Searching for the charcoal grill that will help you take your skills to the next level? We researched over 50 models before settling on 11 of the best available today. Our experts spent weeks 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 money can buy.
The Burch Barrel isn't just a grill; it's a backyard centerpiece. Whether you're cooking at a base camp for a dozen people, you want to roast some marshmallows with the kids on a starry night, or you want to be the champion of tailgating on game day, this thing has you covered. Unique look and design aside, this model offers top-notch cooking performance. The coal grate has nine different height settings, allowing you to fine-tune the heat that reaches your food. The pulley system will enable you to lift either the lid on its own or both the lid and the grill grate with minimal effort, and the double-wall construction makes for a steady burn. If that isn't enough versatility, the vents on the barrel and lid allow for even more control. We love that the legs and feet are adjustable — you can practically set this model up on the side of a mountain. When you're done with dinner, lift the grill off the barrel with the pulley, lower the coal grate, and you now have a firepit.
The Burch Barrel isn't for everyone. Not only does it have a large footprint, but it also has height requirements. Although we've certainly seen grills that are harder to move, this one is not the type that you can transport in a family sedan. It also does not come assembled and takes a good chunk of time to unbox and put together. The biggest downside to the Burch Barrel is its price. If you're in the market for a basic charcoal grill, there are models that cost a tiny fraction of the price of this one. But if you have the room and the money to invest, this is our top recommendation for a fun, unique, and ultra-high-performance charcoal grill.
An affordable option compared to ceramic Kamado-style grills
REASONS TO AVOID
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.
Similarly sized cook surface to other full-sized grills
Slide-out coal bed drawer
REASONS TO AVOID
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.
Footprint: 9.9 ft² (w/o Side Fire Box) | Cook Surface: 975 in²
REASONS TO BUY
Full cast iron construction
Huge grill surface
Exceptional heat and smoke retention
REASONS TO AVOID
Heavy (114 pounds)
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.
The cooking chamber on most grills is constructed of stainless steel, cast iron, or porcelain. The PK360 Grill + Smoker is composed of aluminum. The primary benefit of aluminum is that the metal is rustproof. PK has been around since 1952, and they like to boast that they produce grills that will be cooking for several generations. Aluminum also conducts heat extremely efficiently. With some very well-placed vents on the lid and bottom of the tub, we found that this model offers a high degree of control. The grill grate is hinged, allowing you to add woodchips and coals while you are cooking food. The PK360 was designed with portability in mind. The side tables and lid can be easily removed, and the grill comes off of the stand — all without the use of tools. If you don't want to use the stand, the bottom of the tub has been designed to sit flat on tables without it.
The stand has a relatively small footprint, but with the side tables attached, the PK360 takes up a lot of room. In many instances, aluminum is used for things that are meant to be as light as possible. This is not the case with the PK360 — it's one of the heaviest charcoal grills that we've gotten our hands on. We appreciate that it breaks down for transport, but it would be wise to use two people to move it around. Additionally, if you're looking for a budget-friendly charcoal grill, this is not the one. The PK360 might last for generations, but it's going to require a large investment up front. Gripes aside, if you're in the market for a high-performance aluminum grill, this is the one.
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.
Why You Should Trust Us
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.
We break down our testing into five key metrics:
Output Power (25% of overall score weighting)
Control (25% weighting)
Portability (20% weighting)
Cooking Area (20% weighting)
Wind Resistance (10% weighting)
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. Joining Aaron is review editor Ross Patton. In addition to working on a variety of kitchen appliance reviews ranging from food dehydrators to popcorn poppers, he has a passion for outdoor cooking. Ross's dad was once the head chef at a steakhouse, so you can bet that he's no stranger to the tongs.
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.
An important part of what we do at GearLab is to guide our readers to the best products for their individual needs and budget. We often find that the most expensive products are only the right choice for a select few. It is important to consider the type of cooking you're planning to do and the degree of involvement you're looking to put into your grill. If you want a model that's compact and easy to operate, the Char Griller Side Fire Box and Weber Go-Anywhere are both very affordable. If you don't mind investing a bit more for top-tier performance out of a tabletop model, the Char-Griller Akorn Jr. Kamado has a very reasonable price. For those in the market for a larger grill and smoker combo, the Char-Griller Outlaw Grill and Smoker is cheaper than many similar style models. The PK360 Grill + Smoker is pricey, but it might be the last grill you ever buy. The Burch Barrel is also mega expensive, but considering that it's a grill, smoker, firepit, and all-around fun to use, we think it's worth it.
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.
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, but 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.
When it comes to full-size grills, the Burch Barrel cranks the hardest. With a double-wall construction using cold rolled steel and stainless steel, it's remarkably efficient for its size. Unlike kettle-shaped grills, the Burch Barrel's coal grate is almost as big as the grill grate, which allows you to add more coals than other models with similar diameter cooking surfaces.
Another full-size option, the Char-Griller Outlaw, provides tons of output power thanks to a huge fire pan and insulating cast iron construction. The key factor for the success of this grill is a sizeable fire pan capable of supporting a substantial coal bed. The Outlaw Grill is capable of effectively retaining the low-and-slow temperatures required to smoke meats.
This is a key factor for any high-performing grill and why 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.
It would be very hard to beat the Burch Barrel when it comes to control. The way the pulley system is designed, you can interlock the lid with the grill grate and actually lift it completely away from the barrel while it's red-hot, with food on it. This design allows you to add wood chips or move coals around however you'd like, right in the middle of cooking.
The coal grate on the Burch Barrel has nine different height settings. With a set of grill gloves, it's no problem to adjust this height with hot coals in the bed. On top of this remarkable vertical versatility, this model has vents on the barrel as well as the lid to adjust airflow.
Some models, such as the Char-Griller Outlaw, have adjustment mechanisms that allow you to move the coal bed up and down nearly a foot. The Char-Griller Side Fire Box takes a different approach by using a drawer design — a feature that 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. The Char-Griller Akorn Jr. has a removable centerpiece on the grill grate for adding coals, but it's a bit tedious to use.
The PK 360 Grill + Smoker has a hinged grill grate that allows you to add woodchips and adjust coals while you are cooking. This model also has two vents on the lid and two vents on the bottom of the tub. There are large knobs for adjusting the lower vents that protrude to the front of the grill so that you don't have to hunch over or get on your knees to adjust them.
Admittedly, this category pertains more to the smaller tabletop grills in our review, but it is still an important consideration for the 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 noted features like lid latches that make charcoal grills plausibly portable while also considering 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?
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 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.
One of the only full-size grills we 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.
Although it is super heavy at 90 pounds with the stand, the PK360 Grill + Smoker is still reasonably portable. The side tables are held on by three knobs so that they can be loosened and removed without the use of tools. By loosening one more knob, you can lift the grill off the stand. As a bonus feature, this model is designed to sit on flat surfaces without the stand if you'd like to use it as a tabletop grill.
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 considered how the cooking surface's size compares to footprint and height — particularly important for those with limited space.
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.
True to its name, the PK360 Grill + Smoker offers 360 sq. inches of cooking space. The rectangular shape with curved edges makes for more useful space than models with similar areas that have sharp corners with unavoidable cold spots.
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 at a consistent temperature? What about the loss of convective heat?
Similar to output power, the grills with the best insulation tend to fare the best in a stiff breeze. The thick double wall of the Burch Barrel makes it practically unaffected by wind. In addition to its high degree of insulation, the Burch Barrel has a very innovative venting system. With the vents open, the system draws air near the top of the barrel on the outside, but it enters the inside of the barrel near the bottom. It then passes through the coals, through the cooking grate, and exits out the vent on the lid. The effect is that a strong gust of wind doesn't really do anything to freshly ignited coals.
If you're trying to cook in really high winds with the Burch Barrel, with the main vents closed, air doesn't really move around at the bottom of the barrel. But you can easily start your coals with the grill grate at the lowest setting and then use a pair of grill gloves or a tool to raise it to your desired cooking level when they're ready to go.
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.
Except for the Beau Jardin 18", only Weber designs their grills to use the lid as a wind wall. The Weber Performer Deluxe 22", 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 14" Portable.
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.
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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.