Which Charcoal Grill Class is Right for You?

Lighting Charcoal with a Charcoal Chimney

Simply put, charcoal grilling is deeply ingrained in our society. Need proof? Charcoal grills were the first BBQ grills sold in the US, and the Weber Kettle is undoubtedly the most iconic grill among Americans. That kettle, though, is only a sliver of a fraction of what this product category offers today. From tiny, painted-steel kettle grills to built-in models constructed entirely from commercial-grade stainless steel, charcoal grills take many forms in backyards across the country.

After testing and selling every kind of charcoal grill for more than 20 years, our experts have devised a system to clearly illustrate how a certain model stacks up against its peers. That’s why we use the quality, performance, and features of every charcoal grill to determine where they fall within our 4 classifications: Luxury, Premium, Practical, and Economy. Let’s explore the differences between each class so you can get one step closer to continuing the fine tradition of charcoal grilling.

Class Economy Practical Premium Luxury
Quality
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Features
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Luxury Charcoal Grills

  • Smoking a Turkey on the  Everdure 4K Charcoal Grill
    • Built entirely from cast aluminum or commercial-grade stainless steel for extreme durability
    • Designed to hold up for decades, even in the harshest outdoor environments
    • Reliable brands like Luxor, Twin Eagles, and Cajun Grill provide lifetime warranties
    • Adjustable-height charcoal trays come standard to make cooking easier
    • The only class with split-tier, independently adjustable fuel trays for versatile cooking
    • Charcoal chamber doors let you safely and easily add fuel
    • Convenient features like electric starters and digital controls create a luxury experience
  • Quality

    At minimum, Luxury models are built from 304-grade stainless steel for ultimate sturdiness. Most are completely 304-grade, except for cast aluminum Everdure 4K grills. Either way, you’re investing in unrivaled longevity — 304 stainless can last decades, while cast aluminum will never rust. Brands like Cajun Grill, Luxor, and Twin Eagles back this top-of-the-line construction with lifetime warranties (Cajun Grill protects the entire grill, whereas Lxuor and Twin Eagles cover only the grill body). Hasty-Bake warrants entire grills for 10 years, and Fire Magic brings up the rear with 5 years of coverage.

  • Performance

    Luxury charcoal grills are unmatched in terms of cooking versatility, mostly thanks to their size and a very helpful design element. They’re wide enough to easily set up dual cooking zones, which require nothing more than banking all your coals to one side. With this arrangement, the grill grates above the coals are exposed to direct heat as the rest of them soak up indirect heat. Adjustable-height charcoal baskets also enhance performance by giving you finer temperature control at grate level — lowering the grates toward the coals increases temperature, while raising the grates decreases temperature.

  • Features

    Though analog thermometers are the norm among charcoal grills, the Everdure 4K breaks the mold with a fully digital thermometer and control center. The internal thermometer can even support up to 4 independent probes that can be monitored from the control center. Want more features? The 4K boasts internal lights, a quick-access port to easily load charcoal, and an electric coil that lights fuel at the push of a button. Quick-access fuel ports (usually in the form of a front-facing door) are common in the Luxury class, as are full-length ash trays that can be removed from the grill for simple cleanup.

Top Luxury Charcoal Grill Brands

Premium Charcoal Grills

  • Using the Rotisserie of the Everdure Hub Charcoal Grill
    • Generally constructed from all-stainless steel or cast aluminum to last decades
    • Lifetime warranties offered by reputable brands like Blaze, Cajun Grill, and Coyote
    • Built to withstand harsh outdoor environments without breaking down
    • Built-in configurations allow you to add a charcoal grill to your outdoor kitchen
    • Adjustable-height charcoal trays that improve cooking are a standard feature
    • Charcoal chamber doors make it possible to safely and easily add charcoal mid-cook
    • Unique features like hidden rotisseries and push-button charcoal ignitions enhance usability
  • Quality

    Longevity is hardly an issue with Premium models, which are mostly built from stainless steel — generally commercial-grade — or cast aluminum. A few grills in this class contain components made from other metals, but overall they have little trouble with weathering and corrosion if cared for. Blaze and Cajun Grill offer lifetime warranties for entire grills plus their components, while brands like Cal Flame and Portable Kitchen offer a respectable 10 years of coverage. To top it all off, Premium built-in options provide an eye-catching aesthetic in addition to versatility when paired with a gas grill.

  • Performance

    Stainless steel and cast aluminum absorb and re-radiate heat with ease, meaning you don't have to work hard to sear in a Premium charcoal grill. Cast aluminum in particular excels at retaining and doling out heat for steakhouse-quality sear marks and caramelized sauces. With high-heat grilling taken care of, Premium grill manufacturers designed models wide enough for a dual-zone cooking setup. This versatile arrangement is made even easier by front-facing charcoal chamber doors (like those on the Coyote 36-inch Charcoal Grill) that allow access to fuel when you need to stoke or move around hot coals.

  • Features

    Adjustable charcoal trays powered by a hand crank come standard in the Premium class, giving you the chance to further refine temperature at grate level rather than just relying on air dampers. Everdure, however, again leads the way in terms of features: the Hub and Hub II contain a pair of hidden rotisserie poles that rise from the grill body at the push of a button. The poles can assume any of 3 vertical positions and support up to 88 pounds across the incredibly wide charcoal tray. As a bonus, Everdure Hub grills include an automatic push-button flame ignition system for stress-free fuel lighting.

Top Premium Charcoal Grill Brands

Practical Charcoal Grills

  • Weber Summit Charcoal Grill with Lid Closed
    • Mixed grades of steel used in construction provide decent longevity
    • Moderate warranties top out at 10 years in length
    • Grills can last at least a decade with proper care and maintenance
    • Most models are freestanding, though Fire Magic offers a few built-in options
    • Unconventional cooking systems like those in Argentinian gaucho-style grills are fun to use
    • Select units provide adjustable fuel trays and easy-access charcoal doors to simplify cooking
    • Some grills have unique features like electric charcoal starters and hidden rotisseries
  • Quality

    Though the wide range of materials used (mostly steel that’s been painted, porcelain-coated, or powder-coated) puts a cap on quality, it’s still reasonable to expect 10-plus years of use from these value grills. Stainless steel may be present in components, grill heads, and carts, but remember that the grill bodies are a mix of metals. Cast aluminum Portable Kitchen charcoal grills stand out as an exception, though they come with 10-years warranties just like models from Napoleon, Weber, Everdure, and Hasty-Bake. Fire Magic offers 5 years of coverage, and some Practical warranties are as short as 1 year.

  • Performance

    Kettle grills finally make an appearance in this class, presenting a slightly different cooking method than standard charcoal grills (those that resemble gas models). Their versatility, though, is generally unmatched. Just look at the Weber Ranch Kettle Grill, with its massive cooking area perfect for dual zones and circular shape that lets you spin the grate to move food from one zone to another. Some Practical models offer adjustable charcoal trays for better temperature refinement, while the Nuke Delta Gaucho Grill brings a totally different type of cooking to the table with Argentinian-style grilling.

  • Features

    Practical charcoal grills don’t offer many features beyond easy-access charcoal doors for mid-cook fuel adjustments, but the few standouts are worth highlighting. Just like its big cousin, the Everdure Fusion Charcoal Grill has 2 hidden rotisserie pillars with variable heights for intense heat or more gentle roasting as needed. It also sports an electric ignition coil below the charcoal for easy lighting. The Weber Summit Charcoal Series, meanwhile, helpfully provides an ash-catching basin situated under the grill so ash removal (something you should do after every cook) doesn’t have to be such a headache or a mess.

Top Practical Charcoal Grill Brands

Economy Charcoal Grills

  • Blue Weber Kettle Charcoal Grill with Lid Closed
    • Materials used range from ceramic and cast iron to painted and porcelain-coated steel
    • Won’t last as long as higher-class grills, meaning they’ll need to be replaced much sooner
    • Napoleon, Weber, and Everdure top out at 10-year warranties, but most are far shorter
    • Kettle-style grills make up the majority of offerings in this class
    • Freestanding and portable are the only available configurations
    • Generally smaller grills limit cooking versatility
    • The only notable features are easy ash-catch systems to aid in cleanup
  • Quality

    You’d be hard-pressed to find any stainless steel in this class — the vast majority of these grills are built with painted steel or porcelain-enameled steel, while a few portable models are ceramic or cast iron. Without the corrosion resistance of stainless steel, Economy grills simply won’t last as long as higher-class grills under normal use and will need to be replaced much sooner. Therefore, it’s especially crucial to review the warranty information before purchasing. Weber, Napoleon, and Everdure offer 10-year warranties on their grill bodies, but others may be covered for as little as 90 days.

  • Performance

    Most Economy charcoal grills are kettle cookers, which have unique cooking properties derived from their round shape. Heat is encouraged to circulate within the grill, creating convection currents that make indirect heat particularly potent. Additionally, kettles make it easy to set up dual-zone cooking (as long as they’re wide enough to push charcoal to one side, that is). Branded accessories like charcoal baskets are your best friend when arranging dual zones in a kettle — look no further than how much better Weber Performer and Weber Master-Touch grills perform with Weber’s Char-Basket accessory.

  • Features

    These straightforward grills lack helpful features like adjustable-height fuel trays or charcoal-loading doors. That being said, select Economy kettle grills come with cleanout features like Weber’s One-Touch Cleaning System. When turned, a mechanism on the bottom of the grill separates ash from leftover charcoal in the grill and deposits it in a removal aluminum catch basin. This class is also home to portable charcoal grills, which are some of the simplest cookers out there. We particularly enjoy foldable models, such as the X-Grill Portable Folding Charcoal Grill, that can be easily transported.

Top Economy Charcoal Grill Brands


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