A charcoal grill can transform your outdoor cooking setup into a wonderfully versatile place to whip up restaurant-quality meals for your family or a crowd. One key to getting the best charcoal grill is to assess your needs and find the option that suits your future culinary plans. We’ve put together our top tips for buying a charcoal grill.
Is a Charcoal Grill Right for You?
How do you know if charcoal is the way to go? As you’re shopping for charcoal grills, consider the available options within these different features to determine the model that’s right for you and the way you cook. Reviewing these charcoal grill basics can help you decide:
- Lighting the Grill: You can light the charcoal in different ways, including with a charcoal chimney or with lighter fluid. Unlike gas or electric grills that turn on with the flip of a switch, charcoal grilling requires some extra attention to get the charcoal to the right temperature.
- Controlling the Heat: Charcoal grilling temperatures can be more difficult to maintain. Charcoal grills have vents that you open and close to control the heat levels.
- Charcoal Taste: Charcoal is what creates that delicious, traditional, smoky taste on grilled food. That’s not so easy on electric and gas grills. You can also use different types of wood to flavor the smoke that the grill creates.
- Grill Cleanup: Charcoal grills are relatively easy to clean and maintain. You’ll need to do some brief cleanup each time you use the grill.
- Lifespan of a Grill: The best charcoal grills can last decades with the right maintenance. They often don’t have any electrical components that wear out over time, making them a more enduring choice.
How to Choose the Right Size Grill
Part of choosing your charcoal grill includes deciding where you’ll use it. Your available space and cooking habits can dictate the size you ultimately choose. Also, think about whether you want to move the grill around. Smaller options are much more portable, allowing you to pick them up and move them without the need for a wheeled cart.
Charcoal grill sizes run the gamut from petite options that feed you and your spouse to gigantic designs that accommodate large parties. Consider how many people you’ll usually cook for when choosing your grill size.
|Surface Area||Typical Use||Number of People|
|150 – 300 sq. in.||Individual or couple||1 – 2|
|300 – 1,000 sq. in.||Family||4 – 8|
|1000+ sq. in.||Large family or party||10+|
As you’re browsing charcoal grills, also take a look at the grilling surface area. This is a measurement in square inches that describes how much space the grill has for food. Remember that the larger the grill is, the longer it’ll take for the coals to heat up.
Charcoal Grill Fuel Types
Charcoal grills offer a different range of fuel options than gas and electric BBQ grills. With charcoal grills, you’ll need to pick out a type of charcoal. Take a look a the pros and cons of each option:
This is an irregularly shaped variety of charcoal made from minimally processed chunks of charred wood. It doesn’t have any binders or fillers in it, so it doesn’t produce harsh fumes when you first light it. Lump charcoal heats a bit more unevenly than briquettes and can burn out faster.
Briquettes are small blocks of wood scraps pressed into molded shapes. They usually have a wider range of processed ingredients, including sawdust and some chemicals that make the coals easier to light. Briquettes tend to burn more evenly than lump charcoal and last a little longer, but the chemicals can give off fumes initially.
Another option is a dual-fuel design that gives you the choice of using gas or charcoal in one grill. The main benefit is that you have an easy-light feature that heats up quickly with gas, but you can also use charcoal to get that great smoky flavor in your food. These combination grills tend to be rather large, however, and you’ll also have two different types of fuel to purchase: gas and charcoal.
Charcoal Grill Features and Accessories
Part of the fun of grilling is learning how to use all sorts of fun accessories that make it easier to fire up different dishes. Think about what you like to cook — or want to try cooking — and choose accordingly.
- Thermometers are essential for accurate grilling. Choose a manual version or a Wi-Fi-enabled design that sends temperature information to your smartphone for easy monitoring.
- Rotisserie prongs hold whole chickens and other poultry and turn on spits for even cooking.
- Smoker boxes hold wood chips that add flavor to meats and veggies.
- Grill baskets keep smaller items, such as chopped veggies, easily corralled without the need to put everything on skewers.
- Grilling tools such as tongs, skewers, and spatulas are must-haves. Heavy duty barbecue gloves protect your hands from heat, and some glove designs let you pick up hot food straight from the grill.
- Charcoal chimneys and lighters hold charcoal in a way that helps it ignite faster before you spread it in the bottom of the grill.
How to Clean and Protect a Charcoal Grill
Charcoal Grill Cleaning Basics
Whether your grill’s cooking grates are steel, cast iron, or another metal, keep them clean and lubricated to ensure your food tastes good and doesn’t stick. Every time you use your grill, clean the grates. Some people argue that you should do this before you cook rather than after. Either way, you won’t want to clean your grill grates the way you clean a nonstick pan. Your grill’s manufacturer may have specific suggestions, but in most cases, a wire brush can do the trick. Use the brush to scrape off any charred bits of food stuck on the grates. Then, grease the cooking grates with a basting brush or rag soaked in high-heat cooking oil, such as canola or peanut oil.
Unlike other grill types, charcoal grills need their ash removed regularly. Some grills have special chambers that capture and hold the ash until you’re ready to dispose of it, while others require that you scoop the ash out. It’s important to avoid letting the ash build up — this can start to suffocate hot coals while you’re trying to cook.
Before you empty the ash, make sure everything is completely cool. If your grill has a dedicated ash catcher, simply remove it, dump the ashes into an old coffee can, and throw out the coffee can. If your grill doesn’t have an ash catcher, you can use a shop vac to vacuum out the cooled ashes and toss them. When using lump charcoal, you can also spread the ashes in your compost pile or garden. Briquettes have chemicals from processing, so don’t dispose of them in your yard. Read more tips on how to keep your new purchase clean with our guide to How to Clean a Grill.
Choosing a Grill Cover
To enjoy your charcoal grill for many springs and summers to come, it’s important to keep it protected from the elements. One easy way to do this is by purchasing a grill cover that keeps the grill clean and dry when you aren’t using it. Measure the height, width, and depth of the grill, including any side tables or accessories, and choose a cover in those dimensions. You may be able to purchase a specially tailored cover designed for your grill, but if not, choose one in the general shape of the appliance. For extra security, choose a cover with elasticized bands and buckling straps that secure the cover atop the grill. This keeps the fabric taut so water runs off and the cover won’t blow away in high winds. Read our Outdoor Furniture Cover Buying Guide for more tips on how to choose the right covers.
Grilling outdoors is a favorite warm-weather pastime. Now that you know the basics to buying and owning a grill, it’s time to let the fun begin. We hope you enjoy creating delicious meals for family and friends by using this information to choose the best charcoal grill for your needs.