Nothing really says summer like the smell of burgers and hot dogs on the grill. Arguably, one of the best ways to grill is with charcoal, although there are some barbeque enthusiasts out there that will claim cooking with propane is a better, cleaner option. But when you grill with propane, you can’t bring out the flavor in the meat quite the same way you can when you’re cooking with charcoal. If you love cookouts with the family, but you’re looking for a barbeque that’s easy to use, maintain, and transport, then the best portable charcoal grill is a great option.
Making a Tough Decision
While there are many types of grills on the market today, charcoal grills still remain the go-to option because the distinct flavor you can get from grilling meat with charcoal simply can’t be obtained by an electric or gas grill.
When you’re shopping for a new charcoal grill, you should consider the following:
- How often do you grill?
- How many people do you usually cook for?
- Do you occasionally host large family gatherings?
- What type of food do you enjoy grilling?
Picking out a new grill isn’t easy, especially if you’re on a tight budget, space is a concern, or you’re new to grilling and need a beginner-friendly model. The type of grill you choose will depend mainly on your lifestyle. These days, when there are so many models available, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find one that will meet your needs. However, since more beginners are opting for gas or electric grills, choosing a charcoal grill that’s loaded with all the features you need can be a tough decision.
That’s where we come in.
We’ve reviewed several different grills and have narrowed it down to the top five models on the market. In fact, we’ve made it our goal to include grills in a variety of price brackets, so you’ll be sure to find a model that will work with your budget and your grilling needs.
Below, you’ll find the comparison chart which lists the differences between each of the grills we’ve reviewed including price, rating, cooking surface, and grill type.
Top Charcoal Grills Comparison Chart
Charcoal Grills that are Crushing the Competition
We were excited to test out the best-sellers. These are the grills with a high user rating. We have reviewed dozens of these models but found that only five grills passed our tests with flying colors. Each model has something unique to offer, whether it can work as both a smoker and a grill, it’s available at a reasonable price, or it’s a top-selling hybrid grill. We carefully chose grills based on quality, performance, ease of use, heat efficiency, and versatility. We’re proud to bring you five grills that can produce the type of tender, juicy burgers and steaks that you and the whole family will love.
Below you’ll find summaries of the reviews for all five of our top picks. These summaries will give you a glimpse of what each grill has to offer including top features, ease of use, and overall quality.
Overall Best-Kamado Joe Ceramic Charcoal Grill
The Classic ll kamado grill earned a top rating for versatility, ease of use, temperature regulation, and much more. Its durability allows you to leave it outdoors year-round, while the thickly constructed walls combined with the egg shape design allow you to use this model as a convection oven, smoker, and grill. Essentially, there are really no limitations to what this grill can do. Not only can it handle all of your cooking needs, but it’s also low maintenance, rust-proof, and features a two-tier grill design so you can cook food directly over the heat or indirectly.
Best Under $200-Char-Griller AKORN Jr Charcoal kamado Grill
If you’ve always wanted a kamado grill, but haven’t had the budget or the space, then the Akorn Jr. is a perfect solution. This model features the same classic design as a full-sized kamado grill, but the compact design will allow you to store it on your patio, with plenty of room to spare. The grill’s thick walls provide the type of insulation that kamado grills are known for, so you can use it to smoke, grill, or bake your favorite foods. Of course, since it’s a smaller version of a traditional kamado, you won’t have the larger cooking surface, but this model is able to handle cooking for up to four people, and for the price, we felt that this mini kamado grill was worth every penny.
Best Under $100-Char-Griller E1515 Patio Pro Charcoal Grill
Want to try out the latest vegan grill recipes, but you don’t have the room for a standard grill? The Patio-Pro is a budget-friendly solution for apartment dwellers and those with small yards that can’t accommodate a full-sized grill. While small, the grill can still handle cooking for up to three people and features a durable, lightweight design that also makes it ideal for camping and caravanning. The tough cast-iron grates promote even cooking and temperature regulation. While it may not come with all the features and extras that you can expect from a full-sized grill, this model will work well for grilling up a couple of steaks or a few burgers.
Best Grill and Smoker Combo-Char-Griller Kamado Kooker Charcoal Barbecue Grill and Smoker
The Akorn Kooker is one of Char-Griller’s best-selling models, thanks to its lower price, durable design, and low maintenance needs. It’s made out of three layers of stainless steel, which not only makes it incredibly durable, it shows us it can also regulate heat well. However, the grill’s lack of a ceramic interior takes away from the original kamado design. Yet, despite the fact that it’s not a true kamado, it’s still able to cook food to perfection, giving the user more control over the grill’s temperature regulation, just like with a classic kamado.
Best Charcoal Grill Smoker Combo-Char-Broil Gas2Coal 3-Burner Liquid Propane and Charcoal Hybrid Grill
The Gas2Coal grill by Char-Broil is a hybrid grill that allows you to enjoy both the rich smoky flavor that only comes with cooking steak on charcoal grill and the heating efficiency that only a gas grill can deliver. Unlike competing models, this grill is energy efficient, easy to use, and reasonably priced. This feature packed grill also comes with built-in wheels designed to make it easy to transport and store your grill when not in use. A great buy for the price and a model that offers the type of grilling versatility you need, this model is perfect for beginners are just learning how to cook ribeye steak on gas grill.
Best Deal-PK Grills PK Original Outdoor Charcoal Portable Grill & Smoker Combination
The PK Grill is a blast from the past. Featuring the same design as the classic Portable Kitchen grills from the 1950s, these cast-aluminum grills are rust-resistant, easy to use, highly portable, and reasonably priced. Its unique foldable design makes it a great choice if you’re looking for a grill you can take with you on your next family camping, hiking, or caravanning trip.
Charcoal Grill Buyer’s Guide
A charcoal grill can be a great, fun, and affordable way to enjoy summers at the beach, the park or a dinner with the family on the weekend. These grills may be small, but many of them feature an impressively durable construction that will allow you to grill up your favorite food all summer long.
Grilling with Charcoal
Grilling with charcoal provides a type of smoky taste that adds more flavor to the meat. In fact, the smoky flavor is usually the reason most people prefer to grill with charcoal over gas and electric grills. The heat and smoke that are produced once the charcoal is lit will result in meat that’s packed with juice and the type of distinct flavor that most barbeque enthusiasts love.
However, aside from the flavor, there are other reasons people prefer cooking with charcoal, including the following:
If you can’t afford to spend hundreds of dollars on a fancy electric grill, then a charcoal grill can be a great alternative. These grills are usually smaller, highly portable, and can work for most budgets.
Compared to electric and gas, a charcoal grill can reach a much higher temperature. This type of heat traps the juices inside the meat, giving the outside a nice crispness, while the inside remains tender and packed with flavor.
Finding the Right Grill
If you’re interested in purchasing a charcoal grill, but you don’t know what features to look for or where to begin, our guide will walk you through the different types of charcoal grill styles to choose from, the features they offer, what you can expect in terms of performance and maintenance.
Charcoal Grill Styles
There are a few main styles of charcoal grills to choose from. Each style is available in different size options, but all are highly portable and beginner-friendly.
The kettle grill is one of the most popular options since they’re the most affordable and feature a basic design that makes them low maintenance and easy to use. They’re also incredibly versatile and are available in a variety of styles. If you’re looking for a beginner-friendly portable grill, then the kettle grill is a great option and one that won’t hit your wallet too hard.
The kettle grill is highly recognizable due to the large defined, round bowl. The grill’s bowl shape allows it to heat up quickly. This is a great choice if you need a grill that offers a shorter cook time. But kettle grills also have very small cooking surfaces, so they wouldn’t be the best choice if you need to cook for more than a few people.
However, if the cost is your main priority and you’re looking for a durable grill that’s efficient and low maintenance, then this type of charcoal grill will be a good fit.
A ceramic grill is also often referred to as egg-shaped grills or kamado grills. Their Japanese design not only allows the grill to retain heat more efficiently, but it also works well when it comes to regulating the temperature. In fact, they’re the perfect option if you don’t know how to maintain charcoal grill temperature.
These grills are perfect for a wide range of grilling options. You can use a ceramic grill to cook up anything from bread and pizza to hamburgers, chicken breasts, and hot dogs.
The egg-shaped design combined with the thicker walls allows the grill to heat up faster compared to other types of grills. They also have a reputation for sealing in flavor since the heat and smoke remain trapped inside the grill as you cook. They’re also incredibly durable and can be left outdoors even in inclement weather.
The biggest downside of the ceramic grill is the price. The price for this type of grill can range from one to two hundred dollars up to two thousand dollars. If you spend plenty of time grilling during the summer, then the ceramic grill is definitely worth the higher price tag. Their quality, durable construction, versatility, and ease of use make them one of the best options if you’re looking for a grill that will last season after season.
In terms of size, there are a couple of things to consider. First, how big is the entire model? If you’re looking for a grill you can take with you on your next camping trip, then a grill that’s highly portable will be a priority.
While both ceramic and kettle grills are on the small side, these grills can be pretty heavy, which can make them difficult to haul, especially if you normally hike out to a camping spot from your vehicle.
Cooking surface size is another concern. If you’re only cooking for two or three people then the size of the cooking surface won’t be that important. If you want a cooking surface that can handle enough food for four people or more, then you’ll need to pay close attention to the cooking surface’s dimensions. Fortunately, most manufacturers will list how many burgers a cooking surface can handle at once. This will help to give you a clear idea of which model will work for you and which one won’t.
In terms of versatility, the ceramic grill is a better option, especially if you want to make bread, pizza, or other types of specialty foods on your grill. A kettle grill can handle meat and certain veggies, but since it cannot regulate the temperature the same way the ceramic grill can, you’ll be pretty limited in terms of what you can use that type of grill for.
As we briefly mentioned earlier, the ceramic grill is by far the best option in terms of temperature regulation. But many home grillers are concerned with the temperature and want a grill that will provide some type of control. The lid of the grill plays a major role in regard to temperature control. Choose a model that comes equipped with a tight-fitting lid that can lock in some of the smoke and flavor. A grill’s dampers will also directly affect the temperature.
Most grills will come with a couple of dampers. One damper is designed to exhaust out the smoke, while the other damper allows air in. Extra vents and dampers will provide more control, especially for grills with larger cooking surfaces.
Grill adjustability can be another factor. Some models will allow you to move the cooking surface farther or closer to the coals in order to decrease or increase the amount of heat the food is exposed to.
Obviously, the ceramic grill can provide the best temperature control thanks to their egg-shaped design and thick walls. However, when it comes to regulating the internal temperature you may go through a bit of a learning curve.
While it’s true that a charcoal grill tends to provide better flavor, the biggest downside to using this style of grill is the fact that it requires more upkeep compared to gas and electric grills. Additionally, for the beginner, getting the charcoal started can also be difficult. Fortunately, by the second or third grilling session, you should have the process down.
If maintenance is a concern, there are some features you can look for that will make cleaning the grill much easier. Some grills come equipped with a hinged cooking grate or an extra door that will make it much easier to add or remove charcoal, without getting food on the grill or the grates.
Other models will feature removable ash catchers that can make it much easier to remove ashes. A type of built-in mechanism or tool designed for dumping ashes can make a huge difference in terms of how easy or difficult it is to maintain the grill. If you’re able to dump out the ashes instead of flipping the grill over or scraping out the bottom of the grill, this can save you plenty of time on upkeep.
To learn more, click here to read our guide on how to clean charcoal grill grates.
If maintained properly, a charcoal grill can last for several years. If you spend a little more on a top of the line model that’s made by a brand you can trust, this can prevent having to purchase a new model each season.
If you want a grill that’s designed to last, read product reviews, look at the model’s warranty, and check out what type of material the grill is made out of.
Before you fire up your new grill, make sure you read the user manaul cover to cover and understand how it works. The manufacturer will also include some basic safety tips for cooking with charcoal. During use, avoid dumping out any ashes right away and wait until they’re fully extinguished. Always make sure you keep the exhaust damper fully open during use and only grill outdoors.
A sturdy design will be the main thing to look for in terms of safety. Make sure you choose a model that isn’t prone to tipping over during use. Cheaper models with a lightweight, flimsy design can pose a major safety hazard and can be dangerous to use around young children.
Every grill will come with a grate but the quality of the grates can have a big impact on how useful they’ll be and how long they’ll last.
A larger grill will typically come with a bigger cooking surface and multi-section grates so you’ll be able to cook different types of food at different temperatures, simultaneously. Other grills will come with smaller grates that consist of a single section instead.
Larger charcoal grills may come equipped with a propane-fueled burner, which will make it much easier and faster to get the charcoal burning. Unfortunately, this feature is found often on smaller grills. However, if you’ve decided on a smaller model, you can also purchase a separate chimney starter that will get the charcoal burning faster. Using these devices provides an eco-friendly way to fire up your grill. To learn more, click here to read our guide on how to start a charcoal grill without lighter fluid.
Legs and Stand
Portable grills are equipped with small legs that are designed to ensure its stability during you, so you won’t need to place the grill on a separate table. If the grill you’re interested in has legs, look at the design and determine if the legs are foldable and find out what type of material they’re made out of. Thick stainless steel legs ensure durability, while legs that lock in place will prevent the legs from collapsing during use or prevent them from opening up when transporting.
We hope our buyer’s guide has given you the information you need to make an informed decision when you’re shopping around for a new charcoal grill to use this summer.
Choosing the best portable charcoal grill isn’t easy. At first glance, many models feature a sturdy design and all the right features, but unfortunately, some will only last for a single season. With our buyer’s guide and our in-depth reviews of the leading models on the market, you should have no trouble narrowing down your search and choosing a model that’s built tough, loaded with all the right features, and one that will remain safe and stable during use.