Charcoal Grill Buyer's Guide
- Barrel barbecue grill
Smoke from a charcoal grill is the smell of summertime. (That, and possibly the smell of chlorine or bug spray.) Even high-quality gas grills don't have quite the same aroma and flavor that charcoal grills gives. If you're looking to bring classic charcoal grilling to your own backyard, you've come to the right place.
But, before you go too far down memory lane, we invite you to erase those old barbecue images from your mind. That's right. Just because charcoal hasn't changed, doesn't mean charcoal grills haven't. With all the technological advances in the world today, even charcoal grills have been reimagined, redefined, and upgraded.
You don't have to feel limited to basic cooking nowadays. With these new high-tech models, you can use your grill like an oven and slow cook for long periods of time without overwhelming the taste of your food. However, if you prefer that mouth-watering smokey flavor, there are charcoal grills that function as a smoker or those that provide all-in-one features, too!
In this article, we'll cover the basics of charcoal grills, including different configurations options, what to know before you buy, how to build a charcoal fire, and more!
What Are Charcoal Grills?
Charcoal grills use charcoal as the main heat source for grilling the food. Technically, charcoal isn't actually coal. It's wood that has been heated under certain conditions to create a small blackened pellet that can be relit for a fire. Charcoal burns much hotter than plain wood.
- Pure charcoal
When it comes to grill options, charcoal grills are straight-forward and cost-effective. They also make a great portable option. Small charcoal grills can be loaded up and taken to a picnic or camping site. Even the larger models are easier to move since they don't require a gas hookup.
The other major bonus is the flavor. Many grill enthusiasts are diehard charcoal fans because it gives the food a unique and authentic charcoal-grilled flavor.
The downside of the portability and flavor is that charcoal grills take more effort to start-up and clean compared to gas grills that turn on with a push of a button. With charcoal, you have to arrange and light the coals and make sure the coals are extinguished safely. Charcoal grills are also restricted in some areas, so make sure they are allowed in your area before you purchase one.
What Are The Parts of a Charcoal Grill?
There are multiple styles of charcoal grills, so it's hard to narrow down to just one list of standard components. In general, the charcoal grill will have a grill head with a top lid or vent, an ash trap, and a cooking grate to put food on.
- Charcoal grill with a rotisserie attachment
Optional accessories include things like extra grill shelves or racks. Another fun accessory is a rotisserie kit. This is a long metal rod that suspends the food over the charcoal heat and slowly rotates it (usually with an electric motor.)
Weather enclosures are another great option to help extend the life of your grill, especially if you keep it outside. These covers help keep your grill dry and free from dust buildup or sun damage.
What Are The Different Types of Charcoal Grills?
People have been using charcoal to grill for centuries, so it's safe to say there are a variety of styles. The type you choose depends on the size you need and the type of grilling you prefer. We'll focus on five different configurations: barrel, kettle, cart, ceramic, and portable.
There are two different configurations that both use the term "barrel grills". The first is a horizontal barrel-shaped grill head with hinges so that the top half functions as a lid and the bottom half holds the charcoal and grates.
- Cooking on a charcoal grill
Another type of barrel grill is an actual metal barrel equipped with a grate on the top. These vertical barrel grills do not usually have a lid or cover.
Kettle grills are modeled off of the classic George Weber grill. They are smaller than barrel grills and have a rounded shape. They come on a stand that usually has wheels.
- Kettle charcoal grill
Cart grills are a common option when it comes to grilling. The base is attached to a wheeled base and the lid is hinged. These grills are similar to some models of barrel grills, but they tend to have a more rectangular shape.
- Cart charcoal grill
Ceramic grills are Asian-inspired charcoal grills made from ceramic. They are usually oval-shaped and require some sort of stand or mount. Kamados are a popular example of these oval ceramic grills; however, you can also find Kamado-style oval grills made from non-ceramic materials like aluminum.
- Ceramic charcoal grill
Portable grills are small, and yes, portable. These are perfect for people who enjoy bringing a grill along to a picnic or who don't have space to store a larger grill. They are often round and come with a stand. Many models come with a lid, but some only have a round base for the charcoal and a cooking grate.
Before You Buy
Ready to start sifting through your options to find the perfect charcoal grill? Before you begin, save yourself a major hassle and check to make sure charcoal grills are allowed where you live. This includes checking any Homeowners Association (HOA) rules if applicable.
Even if there isn't a standing rule against charcoal grills, there still may be times when you are not allowed to use them in your area. When you are considering a charcoal grill, get an idea of the fire danger ratings and restrictions for where you live. Typically, these ratings are weather-dependent and may change depending on the season, but it helps to get an idea of what to expect.
How big of a grill will you need?
Tally up how many people you think you'll be grilling for on average. You can use the area of the cooking grate to start estimating how much food you could comfortably grill at a time. Note that overcrowding food on a grill is a leading cause of food poisoning, so you'll definitely want enough space!
- Portable Everdure charcoal grill
Finding the right charcoal grill can be overwhelming. There are so many options and price points! To help get you started, we've compiled a list of our top recommendations for brands that we know offer quality charcoal grills in a variety of options.
- Blaze Grills Blaze is a great choice when you're looking for more affordable charcoal grills that don't sacrifice quality. Their charcoal grill options include an aluminum Kamado-style grill and a 32-inch rectangular grill.
- Blaze charcoal grill
- Broilmaster Broilmaster has been making grills since 1966. Their aluminum charcoal grill head has options for a post-mount or a cart mount in addition to other customization options.
- Everdure Everdure grills are a marriage of technology and aesthetics. They offer several charcoal grills including their 4K grill that allows you to cook on different levels (including a pizza stone!) and monitor the temperature from your smartphone. Their CUBE is a stylish option for a portable grill.
- Loading a grill with charcoal
- Primo Started by a Greek sailing enthusiast, Primo is known for its American-made ceramic grills. They carry different sizes of high-quality oval and kamado ceramic grills.
How To Use and Maintain Your Grill
It goes without saying that proper use and maintenance are crucial for the safety and longevity of your grill. After all, you are cooking with fire! Depending on your model, there may be different instructions for using or cleaning your grill. This section includes some general tips, but you should always read the manual for the best information.
- Grill brush
It's common for grills to arrive with some assembly required. When putting together the grill, start by identifying all of the parts and reading through the instructions in the owner's manual. The grill should come with all of the necessary hardware, but you will need some basic tools.
Do's and Don'ts of Charcoal Grilling:
- Don't grill indoors or in a garage.
- Stay at least 10 feet away from the house or other major structures. Also, steer clear of low hanging tree branches or other combustible materials that could catch on fire.
- Don't leave a lit grill unattended.
- Clean the cooking grates with a wire grill brush before each use.
- Read and follow the manual instructions for how to vent the grill when it is in use.
- Give the charcoal plenty of time to extinguish and cool.
- Don't overload the grill with food. Overloaded grills can lead to cross-contamination where juices from raw meat seep into cooked food and lead to food poisoning.
How to Build a Charcoal Fire
When lighting charcoal, mound up the pieces in a pyramid shape to help make sure all the coals lit. Add lighter fluid and then use a lighter or long-stemmed match to light the charcoal. Be careful with this! Don't add lighter fluid once the coals are already lit.
You'll know the coals are ready once they are covered with a greyish-white ash layer. Some charcoal comes pre-coated with lighter fluid and can be lit with a match or lighter.
- Lighting a charcoal grill
Another option is something called a chimney lighter. This is a metal cylinder with a handle and two compartments. The larger top portion holds the charcoal. The bottom has a small area to stuff newspapers into open slots that allow you to light the paper with a match.
- Pink long-stem lighter
To use, turn the empty chimney upside down and put some wadded newspaper in the bottom. Flip it right side up and fill it with the amount of charcoal you wish to use. To light it, set it on the grill rack and use a match or lighter to light the newspaper through the slots in the bottom section.
Once the newspaper catches on fire it will begin to light the charcoal from the bottom up. In a few minutes, your charcoal should be covered with the ashy layer that lets you know when it's ready to use. At this point, you can dump it in your grill and get started!
The smaller portable grills and smaller grill lines like Everdure will ship via normal parcel post, but most grills ship on a pallet. The pallet shipment helps protect the grills even if some of them are technically light enough to ship using parcel post.
Pallet shipments will ship on LTL freight, so the shipping company will contact you to set up a delivery time. Once the shipment arrives, inspect your grill to make sure nothing was damaged or lost during transit. Don't sign off on the delivery until you do an inspection, because once you sign, the shipping company cannot be held liable for damages.
If you happen to notice anything amiss, contact the seller or manufacturer and they will help make things right.
- Small kettle charcoal grill
Charcoal is hard to beat. And with so many options, there's bound to be a grill that works for you! Whether you're cooking for a crowd or want a stylish camping grill, we hope this article helped you get closer to finding that perfect grill.
And as always, if you have any questions, reach out to us! Our NFI Certified Technicians are happy to help.
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