It’s All About the Smoke: Top Most Recommended Charcoal Grills

Charcoal grills are a great option that is easy to use and adds intense flavor to your food! Grill Expert David Wilson lists his favorite charcoal grills!

Some chicken cooking on a charcoal grill.

Photo by Dustin Tramel

Is there anything better in life than the smell of a grill on a summer afternoon? You know what I'm talking about...that smell that only comes from grilling meat over a real charcoal flame. I can remember growing up and watching my dad take the time to pull out our classic Portable Kitchen grill, measure out some charcoal, light it up, and sit back and wait while the charcoal came to life. It was a magical experience that has stayed with me throughout my entire life and is one of the memories that has made me absolutely love the art of cooking food on a grill. I've spent countless days cooking on a wild number of grills but, when the day is done, I always seem to return to my first love...my charcoal grill.

Why Choose a Charcoal Grill?

It seems that there are an infinite number of grill choices these days, from griddles to gas grills to smokers to charcoal grills. So why choose charcoal? Well, if your goal is to have a grill that is low maintenance, then a charcoal grill might be the right choice for you. On top of a charcoal grill's ease of use and simplicity, there is also what I consider the "holy grail" of grilling: the amazing flavor and smell you only get when cooking over real charcoal.

A great charcoal grill will also give you the ability to cook over high heat as well as indirect heat with an unbelievably diverse variety of charcoals (hickory, apple, cherry, etc.) that will impart different smoke flavors to your food. If you love that smokiness, then you're in the right place.

Let's take a look at some of the best charcoal grills on the market from stationary models to portable grills.

The Best Overall Charcoal Grill: Portable Kitchen PK 360

The Portable Kitchen PK 360 Grill.

The Portable Kitchen brand has been around forever (really, my father picked one up in the 1960s and it's still cooking up a storm), and they produce some of the best charcoal grills. I'm not sure how to express my feelings about this grill, but I'll try. As charcoal grills go, this is—hands down—my favorite.

The PK 360 has an aluminum structure that transmits heat substantially better than other materials (stainless steel, etc.) which creates a perfect and easy-to-control interior heat environment for cooking juicy burgers and chicken or creating slow-smoked barbecue with indirect heating. The grill's lid is heavy-duty and helps keep the heat on your meat. The dual lid vents and multiple intake vents allow for precise airflow control which lets you fire the grill up to high temperatures for searing or keep it low for meats like pork shoulder that require a slower cooking style.

The grill gives you 360in2 of cooking area with a cooking grate and charcoal grate made of marine stainless steel which has an extremely high level of rust resistance and durability. The PK 360 also comes with side tables that will hold all of your prep materials and cooking utensils.

In my experience, backyard chefs LOVE the PK360.

Pros

  1. Aluminum materials conduct heat better than stainless steel
  2. Aluminum doesn’t rust
  3. Multiple top/bottom vents for easy temperature control
  4. Direct & indirect heat cooking
  5. Grill & smoke on one grill
  6. Spacious side tables for utensils and supplies

Cons

  1. I’ll have to get back to you on this

Best Kettle Style: Weber Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill

The Weber Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill.

If you’ve grilled anything in your life, you know about Weber kettle-style grills. These grills have been around since 1951 and are one of the most common charcoal grills in backyards everywhere. Weber grills are the workhorses of the charcoal world for a reason…they’re easy to use, durable, and look pretty cool while cooking great food.

The Weber kettle is an industry-standard, and the Weber Performer Deluxe charcoal grill takes their great qualities and kicks them up a notch. You get all the standard Weber kettle features including top and bottom dampers to control the airflow, a huge ash catcher with integrated cleaner, 22" diameter cooking surface with hinged grate access, a temperature gauge, and a lid handle that doesn't get too hot. On top of these timeless features, Weber has taken the kettle and mounted it on a rolling cart with a massive (no really, massive) work table, an integrated cook timer, and a porcelain-enameled lid and bowl for increased heat retention.

Even though this already sounds like a fabulous grill, I haven't mentioned my three favorite things yet. The Performer Deluxe comes with a large weather-protected charcoal storage box that swings out from the end of the work table, has an integrated lid holder that keeps you from having to place the grill on the ground or hang it on the side of the bowl, and has the "Touch-and-Go" ignition system that uses a small propane burner to light the charcoal from inside the kettle.

Overall the Weber Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill is fantastic and would be an amazing addition to any patio.

Pros

  1. Large work table
  2. Legendary Weber kettle performance
  3. Touch-and-Go ignition system
  4. Huge ash can

Cons

  1. Ash can is sometimes difficult to remove
  2. Integrated timer gets knocked off easily

Best Barrel Charcoal Grill: Oklahoma Joe’s Judge Charcoal Grill

The Oklahoma Joe’s Judge Charcoal Grill.

A barrel-style grill is a classic charcoal grill style that gives you a relatively large cooking area with easy access to the grilling grate. Typically these grills are made from heavy-duty materials and are made to last a very long time. No one will confuse a barrel-style grill for being lightweight!

The Judge is very durable with heavy gauge steel construction and cast-iron grates. The charcoal grate is height adjustable with handles located on each end of the grill. You can pack up to 18 burgers onto the 540in2 of cooking space (or 12 ribeye steaks) which sits directly above the firebox that runs the length of the grill.

One other great added feature of the Judge is the lower storage shelf that sits far enough below the firebox to give you ample room to store cooking supplies or charcoal. Large wagon wheels at the end of the grill make for easier transportation across your yard or patio. The only downside to this type of heavy construction is the weight. This grill tops the scale at 215 lbs!

If you're looking for a heavy-duty, nearly indestructible charcoal grill that will help you impart a great smoky flavor on all of your beef, chicken, sausages, and vegetables, then the Smoky Joe Judge might be just the grill for you!

Pros

  1. Sturdy construction
  2. Height-adjustable charcoal tray
  3. Wheels for easy transportation

Cons

  1. Heavy weight makes it difficult to move

Best Portable Charcoal Grill: Weber Jumbo Joe Charcoal Grill 18

The Weber Jumbo Joe Charcoal Grill 18.

Sometimes, you just need to grab your grill and go tailgating, to the park, or to a campsite, and your patio grill is just too large or heavy to take along. That’s when a high-quality portable charcoal grill comes into play. The classic Weber Smokey Joe has been around forever, and now they’ve upped the ante with the Weber Jumbo Joe. It gives you a bit more cooking area than the classic with all the typical features you’ve come to expect from Weber.

The Jumbo Joe has an 18” diameter grill grate that gives you 240in2 of cooking space and will fit up to nine full-sized burgers—plenty of food for you and your friends! In addition to the cooking space, you’ll find the usual porcelain-enameled lid and bowl, a lid lock that allows you to carry the grill with ease, and an easy-to-clean ash pan.

Weber has built the Jumbo Joe with the same level of quality and capability you’d find in any of their larger grills. It would serve as a fantastic portable grill or even a great primary tabletop grill for those with small outdoor spaces.

Pros

  1. Quality Weber build
  2. Locking lid
  3. Large cooking area in a small package

Cons

  1. Not great if the crowd is large
  2. Ash pan isn’t enclosed and can be messy

When it comes to grills, it’s hard to beat the smoky flavor and nostalgia you get from a classic charcoal grill, and you can't go wrong with any of the grills on this list. In addition to my favorites here, you can also find charcoal grills that have smoker add-ons and other bells and whistles. For more information on those or any of the grills above, reach out to a Grill Expert here on Curated. Grab a grill, light those coals, and start cooking!

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Written By
I'm a meat crazed grill master (my word not my wife's) who loves nothing more than to cozy up to a hot grill or smoker with a cold beverage in my hand and cook up some killer meats and veggies. Steak? Check. Chicken? Check. Kabobs? Check. Burgers? Oh please yes. I've spent years trying new meats an...

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