Top 5 Charcoal Grills of 2024 In-Depth Testing and Review

Top 5 Charcoal Grills of 2024 In-Depth Testing and Review

When it comes to choosing the best charcoal grills in 2024, there are several standout options that excel in performance and versatility. Leading the pack is the Weber Original Kettle Premium 22” Charcoal Grill, a perennial favorite renowned for its reliability and quality craftsmanship. For years, it has been a top recommendation thanks to its durable build and excellent heat retention capabilities.

If smoking is your game, consider the PK Grills Original PK300 Grill & Smoker. This grill boasts an oblong grilling surface and four dampers that provide precise control over heat levels, making it ideal for both grilling and smoking enthusiasts alike.

best charcoal grills in 2024

Despite being touted as a simpler alternative to gas and pellet grills, charcoal grills can be quite flashy. The bells and whistles, like push-start buttons and double-decker cooking grates, are enticing. But are they worth it? We compiled 11 wildly different charcoal grills—representing price points and designs across the spectrum—and put them to the test. After extensive testing, here are our top picks. The best charcoal grill for you depends on your skill level, how often you want to use it, and the type of grilling or smoking you like best.

The Winners, at a Glance

Weber Original Kettle Premium 22” Charcoal Grill

Weber Original Kettle Premium 22” Charcoal Grill

This grill is a classic for a reason—it's likely a familiar sight to many. 'This is the grill your parents or grandparents used,' remarks Steven Schrimpf, our procurement and inventory manager and resident grilling expert. Known as the Original Kettle, it remains a favorite among both novice cooks and seasoned grillers alike. Its user-friendly design is complemented by thoughtful features such as hinged grates, enhancing convenience without sacrificing performance. Notably, it excelled in our tests for heating speed and even distribution, making it a standout choice for any grilling enthusiast.

PK Grills Original PK300 Grill & Smoker

PK Grills Original PK300 Grill & Smoker

The PK300 offers a perfect blend for dedicated grillers seeking versatility, especially for smoking sizable cuts of meat. It features four dampers that provide precise heat control, a hinged lid that can even be completely detached, and an exceptional 20-year warranty, which stands as a testament to its durability. Initially skeptical about the damper design, Schrimpf eventually recognized its practicality after rigorous testing, describing the PK300 as setting a new standard for temperature regulation in grilling.

Weber Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill

Weber Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill

Mastering a chimney to light charcoal is a thing of the past with this innovative charcoal grill, equipped with a convenient propane-fueled start knob. No more waiting—simply turn the knob and ignite the grill effortlessly. Cleaning up is equally hassle-free; with the push of a button, ash automatically empties into a catch below the kettle, ensuring a tidy grilling experience every time.

While it excelled in grilling steaks to perfection, boasting enviable grill marks, it didn’t fare as well in smoking due to its tendency to burn through wood quickly. Nonetheless, its ability to deliver mouthwatering results on steaks makes it a standout choice for grilling enthusiasts.

SNS Original Charcoal Grill

SNS Original Charcoal Grill

Although it may not boast the same flashy features as other grill-smoker hybrids, this model proves to be a dependable choice for those seeking versatility without breaking the bank. Its standout feature is its exceptional performance in two-zone cooking, which enhances its value as a grilling tool. While some users found assembly and cleaning to be a bit cumbersome, the consensus on its ability to cook steak and ribs was overwhelmingly positive.

Char-Griller Smokin’ Pro

Char-Griller Smokin’ Pro

This expansive grill is specifically designed for low-and-slow cooking, and we were particularly impressed by its innovative front-loading door, which allows for easy addition of fuel during the smoking process. Boasting a generous 550 square inches of cooking area, it accommodates three-zone cooking effortlessly, complemented by an additional grate perfect for grilling vegetables and toasting buns. A standout feature is the inclusion of two spacious prep tables, a rarity in charcoal grills but more commonly found in gas models.

While novice grillers may initially struggle with maintaining a consistent temperature, mastering this skill proves rewarding. This grill offers a delightful learning experience, allowing enthusiasts to hone their craft.

The Tests

Assembly Test:

After carefully reviewing the manufacturer's instructions, we proceeded to assemble each grill, meticulously documenting any complications or frustrations encountered during the process. We specifically noted instances where a grill proved challenging to assemble solo, highlighting the need for additional assistance.

Temperature Control Test:

We utilized a precision grill thermometer to meticulously monitor the grill's temperature from the moment of ignition, carefully noting the speed at which it reached our target heat level. Our observations extended to identifying any potential hot spots within the grill's cooking surface.

Steak Test:

We conducted extensive testing by cooking steaks on each grill to thoroughly evaluate their performance in both searing and grilling. Our assessment included observing how well the grills managed cooking zones and whether they offered features such as adjustable grates or dampers that facilitated quick and efficient cooking.

Ribs Test:

We conducted a comprehensive evaluation by smoking baby back ribs on each grill to assess their performance under low and slow heat conditions. Our evaluation included monitoring temperature variations over time, evaluating the taste and appearance of the ribs, and assessing the fuel efficiency of each grill to determine its operational effectiveness.

Usability and Cleanup Tests:

Throughout our rigorous testing process, we meticulously assessed the user-friendliness, portability, and cleaning capabilities of each grill. Models equipped with wheels proved advantageous, provided they maintained stability when stationary. Simplified cleanup was facilitated by features such as conveniently accessible grates and strategically positioned ash catchers, ensuring a seamless cooking experience from start to finish.

What We Learned

Grill Shape Mattered When It Came to Smoking

Circular grills, such as the iconic Weber Original, are often the first type that comes to mind when thinking of a charcoal grill. However, during our testing, we found that models like the PK300 featured oblong cooking surfaces. These designs proved advantageous for smoking techniques and for comfortably accommodating larger cuts of meat.

Adjustable Grates Were, Uh, Great

Having multiple height options for both the charcoal and cooking grates was incredibly beneficial, particularly when preparing dishes like steaks and fish. It enabled us to position the flames closer for a perfect sear. Even with fixed grates, we managed by adjusting the amount of charcoal used. Grills equipped with hinged cooking grates were especially delightful; they permitted us to easily shift food aside and replenish charcoal midway through grilling sessions.

Dampers vs. Vented Lids Were a Matter of Preference

Dampers play a crucial role in regulating a grill's temperature, offering enhanced control. The number of dampers directly correlates with the flexibility you have over temperature adjustments, making models like the PK300 stand out with its four dampers. Seasoned grillers and those aiming to use their grill for smoking should prioritize models equipped with multiple dampers.

However, beginners might find managing multiple dampers overwhelming. For them, grills featuring vented lids are recommended. These lids enable precise airflow adjustments with a simple slide, allowing users to control air intake efficiently, whether they need minimal or substantial airflow restriction.

Lids Mattered More Than You Might Assume

Not all grill lids could be fully removed, which we found somewhat inconvenient during both use and cleanup. The ability to grill without concerns of a lid slamming shut was notably enjoyable. However, hinged lids like that of the Char-Griller offered distinct advantages, such as a secondary grate for grilling vegetables and buns. The key aspect of a high-quality lid is its construction; durable multi-clad metals effectively retained heat during our rigorous testing. It's important to be cautious of plastic components: for instance, on the Weber Original Kettle, the hook inside the lid became so hot that it melted the plastic handle intended for hanging it.

How to Use a Chimney Starter with a Charcoal Grill

Lighting charcoal briquettes or lump charcoal can often prove challenging without a chimney starter, a tool designed to simplify the process by containing heat and managing airflow. Using a chimney starter is straightforward: begin by placing a few pieces of crumpled newspaper at the bottom of the chimney. Next, fill the chimney with your choice of charcoal, ensuring it's arranged evenly.

Position the chimney starter on top of the fuel grate of your grill. Use a lighter to ignite the newspaper through the holes at the bottom of the chimney. As the flame ignites the newspaper, it will gradually spread to the charcoal above. Allow the chimney starter to sit undisturbed for approximately 10-15 minutes.

During this time, the charcoal will ignite and start to burn. You'll notice the coals at the top of the chimney turning a glowing, powdery white-gray color. This indicates that they are sufficiently heated and ready for use.

Carefully pour the hot charcoal onto the grate of the grill, spreading them out evenly to ensure uniform heat distribution. With the charcoal in place, set up the cooking grate over the coals, and you're ready to start grilling.

Using a chimney starter not only simplifies the lighting process but also ensures that your charcoal burns evenly and reaches the optimal temperature for cooking. This method is widely favored among grill enthusiasts for its efficiency and reliability in achieving consistent results.

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Charcoal Grill

The best charcoal grills excel in maintaining consistent temperatures with minimal monitoring or adjustments. Key features like vented lids and dampers are crucial as they facilitate airflow regulation, essential for achieving optimal cooking conditions. It's advisable to select a grill that incorporates at least one of these features.

When considering size, opt for grills spacious enough for zoned cooking and capable of accommodating large cuts of meat, ideal for those interested in using their grill as a smoker. Grills equipped with height-adjustable and hinged grates offer added versatility, making it easier to manage various cooking tasks.

While additional user-controlled features can enhance functionality, they may come at a higher cost or prove overwhelming for beginners. Therefore, it's essential to strike a balance between features and practicality based on your grilling experience and needs.

The Top-Performing Charcoal Grills

Weber Original Kettle Premium 22” Charcoal Grill

What we liked:

Weber's Original 22-inch grill is renowned for its brand recognition, and it excelled in meeting high standards during our rigorous testing. It demonstrated equal prowess in both grilling and smoking, owing to its highly adjustable damper and rotating lid. The Original Kettle impresses with thoughtful upgrades like hinged grates, facilitating easy fuel addition during grilling sessions. Its straightforward design caters to beginners while offering enough sophistication to appeal to seasoned grillers. In our tests, it achieved perfect scores for heating speed and distribution, ensuring rapid heat-up without any uneven hot spots. Assembly was a breeze, taking less than 15 minutes with basic tools. Additionally, it performed exceptionally in depth control, venting efficiency, and minimizing sticking and flare-ups.

What we didn’t like:

While the ash catch proved challenging to clean, and we found the construction could benefit from greater stability, these concerns are relatively minor, especially given its price tag of under $250 and frequent availability on sale.

Key Specs:

- Cooking area: 127 square inches

- Dimensions: 22.5 x 22.5 x 27 inches

- Weight: 32.3 pounds

- Special features: Hinged grates

- Warranty: 10 years

PK Grills Original PK300 Grill & Smoker

What we liked:

This model is marketed as both a grill and smoker, and our expectations were high in both regards. Fortunately, it lived up to them. The PK300 is impressively designed, featuring a hinged lid that can be opened fully or removed entirely. When closed, it forms a tight seal crucial for successful smoking. The hinged charcoal grate made it easy and safe to add coals during cooking. The kettle's shape and size were perfect for smoking larger cuts of meat, establishing it as a versatile model that excels in all aspects—from smoking and searing to roasting and even steaming.

Equipped with four dampers for precise heat control, the PK300 is a premium choice for those aiming to elevate their grilling prowess. It also boasts an extensive 20-year warranty, which helps justify its higher price tag.

What we didn’t like: 

This product might not be suitable for beginners due to the close proximity of the charcoal grate to the cooking grate. This design can make achieving a proper sear challenging for inexperienced users who are not familiar with zone cooking techniques. Zone cooking involves managing different heat zones on the grill to control cooking temperatures effectively and achieve desired results, such as searing meats or maintaining lower temperatures for slower cooking. Without a solid understanding of these techniques, beginners may find it difficult to achieve optimal cooking outcomes with this grill.

Key Specs

- Cooking area: 320 square inches

- Dimensions: 42.79 x 16.21 x 37.35 inches (with lid closed)

- Weight: 60 pounds

- Special features: Cooking chamber is constructed from aluminum; surface area designed specifically for two-zone cooking

- Warranty: 20 years

SNS Original Charcoal Grill

One standout feature we appreciated about the SNS Original Charcoal Grill is its compact size compared to other models we tested. Despite its smaller footprint, this grill proved to be a robust performer, excelling in both grilling and smoking tasks. Sporting a circular cooking surface of 22 inches in diameter, it surprisingly accommodates up to three racks of ribs when configured as a smoker. Speaking of ribs, they emerged from the SNS with a desirable quarter-inch pale pink smoke ring and a beautifully caramelized exterior.

In grilling, the SNS impressed further by effortlessly cooking a perfectly seared steak without the hassle of sticking or flare-ups. Notably, the design of the SNS grill, a favorite among enthusiasts like Schrimpf, is optimized for two-zone cooking. This is facilitated by the SNS Deluxe insert, which segregates lit coals to one side of the firebox, enabling advanced cooking techniques. Additionally, the Easy Spin grill grate simplifies the process of moving food between different heat zones.

Schrimpf underscores the thoughtfulness behind the Slow ‘N Sear construction, emphasizing its practicality for achieving precise cooking results.

What we didn’t like: 

While this grill struggled to match the flashier features of our other models, it's important to note its drawbacks. Setting it up can be cumbersome, and removing the grates for cleaning requires some finagling. Similarly, the ash removal mechanism proved to be a bit fussy. Despite these challenges, we found the overall ease of use of this affordable grill to be satisfactory.

Key Specs

- Cooking area: 121 square inches

- Dimensions: 41.75 x 41.75 x 41.67 inches

- Weight: 38 pounds

- Special features: Hinged workbench attached; smoking made possible with a specific insert (can be sold separately) 

- Warranty: 10 years


What we liked: 

The Char-Griller might initially resemble a smoker, but it's far more versatile. While it excels at low-and-slow smoking, this grill offers a robust array of features that cater to various cooking styles. Its spacious design includes thoughtful touches, such as a hinged lid equipped with a large, easy-grip handle. The front-loading fuel door simplifies the process of adding charcoal or wood, enhancing convenience during use.

Built for durability, the grill boasts four wheels for mobility and an under-grill storage rack for added practicality. With a cooking area spanning 550 square inches, it comfortably accommodates large families or gatherings. This ample space allows for a three-zone cooking setup, while an additional 270 square inch secondary grate provides room for grilling vegetables and toasting buns simultaneously.

In our tests, the Char-Griller delivered exceptional results. Our smoked ribs emerged with a stunning glossy exterior and a tender, juicy texture that left a lasting impression. Beyond smoking, it showcased impressive grilling prowess, exemplified by a perfectly grilled T-bone steak adorned with distinct grill marks.

Overall, the Char-Griller stands out not only for its smoking capabilities but also for its versatility, durability, and excellent cooking performance, making it a top choice for serious grill enthusiasts.

What we didn’t like: 

The damper on the door was disappointingly positioned; we had hoped for a smaller size and placement on the lower right side of the grill. For newcomers, achieving and maintaining the perfect temperature might pose a challenge initially. However, seasoned grillers and those transitioning from gas will appreciate the versatility for both smoking and grilling purposes.

Key Specs

- Cooking area: 820 square inches (distributed over two-tiered cooking spaces)

- Dimensions: 27 x 57.35 x 51.70 inches

- Weight: 88 pounds

- Special features: Charcoal access door; stainless steel smokestack for better temperature control

- Warranty: 5 years

Top 5 charcoal grills of 2024 in depth testing and review youtube