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10 best charcoal barbecues, tested and rated by experts

Published: July 26, 2022 at 10:34 am
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A charcoal barbecue is the quintessential kit for cooking outdoors. Read our review of the best grills, from budget to blowout, plus we share tips on how to use a charcoal BBQ

This guide is updated annually with new models that have been tried, tested and top-rated by BBC Good Food's reviews experts. For this guide, we collaborated with BBC Gardeners' World reviews experts who contributed invaluable expertise regarding how each BBQ would fare against the elements, practical assembly notes and so much more.

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Those featured in this list earned their place based on their performance during rigorous, impartial product testing. Included is a selection of new releases and firm favourites that continuously hold their position against new brand models. We will only ever feature charcoal BBQs that prove to be good value for money.

The sun only has to peek from behind a cloud and the barbecues are whipped out and fired up – our collective obsession with cooking outside over flames is here to stay.

For the authentic fire-food-smoke experience, the charcoal barbecue is king. Gas barbecues may be quicker, cleaner on the hands and easier to control, but charcoal barbecues offer more versatility. They also impart that delicious smokey flavour synonymous with cooking over charcoal.

To find our tried-and-tested picks of the best charcoal barbecues, we looked at those suitable for four or more people. We reviewed a variety of styles, from the simplest of drums and open grills, to the ever-popular kettle, American-style heavy-hooded and kamado-style ceramic egg barbecues. Prices range from the affordable to the expensive and everything in between.

Read on to discover our top buys. BBC Good Food have a whole host of the best ever barbecue recipes to get you started, or visit our reviews section to find more of the best portable, gas and budget barbecues as well as the best pizza ovens.

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Ingredients spread across a barbecue grill

Best charcoal BBQs at a glance

  • Best large ceramic BBQ for affordability: Kamado Joe Kettle Joe charcoal BBQ: £429.97
  • Best small ceramic BBQ for affordability: Boss Grill The Egg XS, £149.97
  • Best kettle BBQ for user-friendly features: Napoleon 22" charcoal kettle grill barbecue, £175.30
  • Best for entertaining on a budget: VonHaus Compact charcoal barbecue, £149.99
  • Best for simplicity and portability: Lotus Grill charcoal barbecue, £151.69
  • Best kettle BBQ: Weber Classic kettle barbecue, £154.43
  • Best investment charcoal BBQ: Big Green Egg Large Ceramic Grill, £1,610
  • Best affordable kettle for fair-weather BBQs: Lifestyle 22" kettle charcoal barbecue, £76.99
  • Best budget barrel BBQ: Argos Home charcoal oil drum barbecue, £50
  • Best portable charcoal BBQ: Berghoff portable BBQ, £149.95

What to look for when buying a charcoal barbecue

  • Size: Depending on the style, some barbecues can cater for large gatherings and others are best suited to two people. Coal distribution will also affect cooking capacity. For example, sometimes it's easier to distribute your coals and achieve even direct heat in barrel barbecues than in dome-bottomed kettle models.
  • Number of cooking grills: Using inserts or shelves to move food away from the main heat (known as indirect cooking) is for more delicate dishes. The closing of the hood helps the food to cook evenly without too much fuss so lessens all the turning and moving, and means you are free to socialise.
  • Adjustable air vents: These will feed your coals with air and allow you to change the cooking temperature beneath a cooking hood.
  • Heat thermometers: Not a standard feature on many models, but particularly handy if you're cooking meat joints and wanting to reliably achieve the same cooking results over and over.

Best charcoal BBQs to buy in 2022

Kamado Joe Kettle Joe charcoal barbecue

Komado Joe Kettle charcoal barbecue

Best large ceramic barbecue for affordability

Pros:

  • High quality, sturdy components that felt safe
  • Cooks well
  • Efficient heat and cooking

Cons:

  • Sits low for cooking
  • Tricky to assemble

Star rating: 4/5

With a striking red exterior, this generously sized barbecue is more than a functional means for outdoor cooking, it's a statement crowd-pleaser that cooks and smokes large quantities well.

A unit is included for transforming it into a smoker, great for adding flavour and character to mains like meat. Building it is a two-person job and the ceramic interior panels are hefty sections to piece together. The positive of this is that they hold and release heat very efficiently to give you plenty of cooking time.

Height-wise, this model's low-construction made it a bit uncomfortable to stoop over for long periods of cooking. The angle means you're also leaning across the hottest parts. However, for the price, you get a lot of cooking possibility for your money.

Read our full Kamado Joe Kettle Joe charcoal barbecue review.

Available from Appliances Direct (£419.97)

Boss Grill The Egg XS

Boss Grill The Egg XS against a white background

Best small ceramic BBQ for affordability

Pros:

  • Easy to assemble
  • Table-top sized
  • Efficient

Cons:

  • Gets very hot

Star rating: 4/5

Counter-top sized and insulated with ceramic, the Boss Grill offers plenty of versatility when it comes to its cooking fare – grill, roast, bake, smoke and cook pizzas with this Boss Grill model.

It's straightforward to assemble and also to use, although construction shouldn't be attempted by one person; it's deceptively weighty and needs lowering into its low stand, which is nicely padded so as not to scratch the outer shell. The lid is spring-loaded for soft closing and there's a temperature gauge for tracking heat during cooking.

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Able to hold 3kg worth of charcoal at a time, we found this barbecue got ferociously hot and burned some ingredients before they were cooked through. However, with some trial and error it could be a great cooking companion for meals for up to four, and will pump out heat for hours – ideal for toasting marshmallows over for pudding.

Read our full Boss Grill The Egg XS review.

Napoleon 22" charcoal kettle grill barbecue

Napoleon 22 charcoal kettle grill BBQ

Best kettle BBQ for user-friendly features

Pros:

  • 10-year warranty
  • Nifty hook to hang lid on
  • Hinged grill

Cons:

  • Fiddly to assemble

Star rating: 4/5

This is a simple but well-made BBQ that has an impressively user-friendly design, but is also a reliable all-rounder for anyone wanting to cook outdoors often.

A screwdriver and spanner are included with the nuts and bolts, which we appreciated, along with clear instructions and diagrams in the manuals for its construction. Once fully heated, cooking was a faff-free affair that yielded nicely cooked-through courgettes and potatoes marked with defined grill lines, and evenly charred kebabs packed with flavour.

It's easy to use the direct and indirect heat zones with this model. We were able to keep cooked ingredients warm around the edges of the grill whilst others cooked in the centre, without them becoming overdone. For lid-down cooking or smoking, the temperature dial on the lid is reactive and clear to use. We particularly appreciated the lock-and-release ash collector which means you don't have to fish around to dispose of old coals.

Read our full Napoleon 22" charcoal kettle grill barbecue review.

VonHaus Compact charcoal barbecue

Best for entertaining on a budget

Pros:

  • Adjustable smoke / temperature control
  • Lots of features

Cons:

  • Small grill area
  • Poorly defined grill lines

Star rating: 4/5

This barbecue is a good choice for anyone wanting a large grilling area on a budget and would be suitable for smaller spaces. You forfeit some build quality for the price. Component parts felt a bit flimsy and construction was a flat-pack affair involving lots of fiddly screws.

Once constructed, you gain nifty features like a bottle opener and two useful side tables for holding lightweight barbecue tools.

The height-adjustable firebox offers control you can rarely achieve when cooking over coals and yielded some nicely cooked ingredients.

Read our full Vonhaus Compact Charcoal BBQ review.

Weber Classic kettle barbecue

Weber charcoal BBQ

Best kettle barbecue

Pros:

  • Handy lid lock
  • Good accompanying handbook
  • Well thought-out features

Cons:

  • Large to store
  • Lacks tool hooks

Star rating: 4/5

With a simple, intuitive design, this kettle barbecue by Weber is an ideal option for anyone wanting good cooking results with minimum effort. The grill is large enough to cook food for a family of six, while features like easy cleaning, ash collection and a lid hook for tucking the hood away as you're turning burgers makes life just a bit easier during use.

The brand is obviously confident about the longevity of its product, covering its bowl and lid with a 10-year warranty, and guaranteeing its other parts for between two and five years. The handbook will fill you with confidence and excitement about using this barbecue.

Read our full Weber Classic Kettle charcoal barbecue review

Big Green Egg large ceramic grill

Best investment charcoal barbecue for serious outdoor cooks

Pros:

  • Superb cooking
  • Easy to use

Cons:

  • Build is down to you

Star rating: 5/5

This hefty piece of kit takes some getting used to, but once you're familiar with the temperature control and various mechanisms, you're away. The Big Green Egg can hit searing temperatures or retain a gentle heat with finite precision for very long periods.

It multitasks as a smoker and oven for baking and roasting, with lots of extras available for purchase, including extra racks, baking stones and grills (but be warned, the prices can increase steeply once you start adding accessories). The barbecue function is excellent – it comes up to temperature in 20 minutes and produced some of the best food of all we tasted.

Read our full Big Green Egg ceramic grill review

Lotus Grill charcoal barbecue

Lotus Grill charcoal barbecue

Best barbecue for simplicity and portability

Pros:

  • Smoke-free
  • Dishwasher-safe parts
  • Exterior stays cool to the touch

Cons:

  • Needs batteries
  • Limited size

Star rating: 4.5/5

With no lid or legs, the Lotus hardly takes up any space, weighing just 3.7kg. Combined with its 'smokeless' credential, it's a great one for courtyards, small gardens or balconies, particularly because the exterior doesn't heat up so it can be stood straight on grass or a table without damage.

It arrives ready assembled so there's no faffing when you receive the box. The model is fan-assisted and, after lighting, took six minutes to get up to temperature. Air flow is dial-controlled so just takes a bit of practice to get used to.

Vegetables, spatchcock chicken and potatoes cooked quickly. Most impressively, unoiled courgette slices didn't stick, although the grill lines could have been more defined. Arriving with a carry case, 1kg of charcoal plus lighting gel, it's good value for money for its ease and simplicity.

Read our full Lotus Grill charcoal barbecue review

Argos Home charcoal oil drum barbecue

Best budget barrel barbecue

Pros:

  • Easy to use and light
  • Good heat coverage
  • Effective heat distribution

Cons:

  • No tool storage
  • Poor quality in parts

Star rating: 4/5

Compared to other charcoal barbecues on the market, Argos' basic barrel barbecue offers excellent value for money. An obvious strength is the price point. For under £50 you're afforded plenty of cooking space for two, or elements for four people. The efficiency and quality of cooking is worth more than £40 alone.

Vents in the bottom basin feed the coals with air to keep them heated. The shape of the barbecue means it's easy to achieve an even coal distribution so cool spots that are common in kettle barbecues are easily avoided. For the money, you can't get much better.

Read our full Argos Home charcoal oil drum barbecue review

Available from Argos (£50)

Lifestyle 22" kettle charcoal barbecue

Lifestyle 22inch kettle charcoal BBQ

Best affordable kettle for fair-weather grillers

Pros:

  • Large cooking area
  • Adjustable twin air-vent system

Cons:

  • Ambiguous building instructions
  • Cheap-feeling handles

Star rating: 3.5/5

If you don't mind interpreting diagram-based instructions with no text and have a set of basic tools in your cupboard, you'll feel rewarded by this barbecue once built. It's a cheap but cheerful model that's lightweight to lift and manoeuvrable thanks to its wheel. It will need to be under cover for wetter months.

Some useful features make it feel like a value-for-money purchase, the first of which being two cooking grills. They don't produce the char lines you look for from grills, and ingredients need to be oiled to prevent them from sticking, but you have the option to cook with high heat just above the coals, or lower and slower at the top.

An adjustable twin air-vent system gives you adjustability over the temperature with the lid on, which cooks ingredients the most efficiently. A removable ash-catcher is another user-friendly feature.

Read our full Lifestyle 22" Kettle charcoal barbecue review

Berghoff portable barbecue

Best portable charcoal barbecue

Pros:

  • Portable
  • No assembly
  • Easy to use

Cons:

  • Limited cooking

Star rating: 3.5/5

A petite portable barbecue cannot fully replace a traditional version, however they are worth mentioning for their versatility. For those with small gardens – or no garden at all – they are a neat solution to outdoor cooking. This stylish Berghoff barbecue is lightweight, despite being made of sturdy carbon steel.

The strong carrying strap is more than fit for purpose, then the cork lid cleverly doubles as a heatproof mat when using the grill on grass. When alight, the lid also acts as the vent to allow or prevent air coming into the firebox from the bottom.

Read our full Berghoff portable barbecue review

How to choose the best barbecue

Once you've decided which barbecue to buy, the style will depend on how many people you want to cook for, what you want to do with it, the space you have, budget and how often you will use it.

For simple, straightforward cooking, a basic grill without a hood or air vents will do a good job. However, you will have to stay by it, learn how to use barbecue coals to create various heat zones around the grill and regularly turn and move the food for even and safe cooking.

Domed kettles and rectangular or square-hooded American grills are more versatile. By using the hood and air vents, heat can go from hot and fast for cooking over the coals (known as direct cooking), to long and slow for smoking or cooking large joints of meat or whole fish. Some barbecues have vents that can be adjusted to feed the coals with air.

The kamado grill comes from the Japanese for the wood or charcoal-fired earthen vessels used as an oven but now is a general term for ceramic grills. The distinctive egg shape and thick, heavy ceramic lining make these incredibly versatile and precise for grilling, roasting, baking and smoking using both direct and indirect heat.

They could be a little advanced for the beginner but for the serious grill chef they are a wonderful and exciting piece of equipment.

Charcoal barbecue fuel and lighting

Our burning desire for eating outdoors is raising questions around deforestation and where the charcoal is from. Look for the FSC logo of the Forest Stewardship Council, the world certification scheme of wood products on the pack to ensuring properly managed forests for your charcoal.

Choose your charcoal carefully. It is possible to buy sustainable charcoal which, generally, will be more expensive. However, you should need less of it because it burns more slowly, and gives out better heat, which will offset some of that cost.

Briquettes and self-lighting charcoal contain chemicals and give off strong odours which will impact on the flavour of your food.

Never use petrol, chemicals or firelighters intended for coal fires to light your barbecue and never ever use in a ceramic grill. Look for natural firelighters now widely available.

How we tested charcoal barbecues

We tested each model's every function (including smoker, pizza oven, tandoori, fire pit) under control-conditions in order to find the best of the bunch. Read more about how our experts test products. The following are available widely at major supermarkets.

Coals were stacked and lit in order to achieve direct heat and left until they were white hot with glowing red centres. The same key ingredients were also used during each core test.

Un-oiled courgette slices – to test the non-stick ability of grills and assess its grid-cooking capabilities.

Potato slices – can the BBQ soften and seal the potato before the outside burns?

Whole aubergine – we recorded how long it took to grill whole aubergines until soft all over and the skin was blistered.

Vegetable kebabs – these were laid flat across the grills. We checked for defined grill lines, even cooking, sticking and hot spots.

White burger buns – popping these on the grill is an easy way to warm and toast them with defined grill lines.

Steak – steak is an excellent indicator of heat intensity and the non-stick quality of grill bars to sear meat without it sticking.

Spatchcock chicken – for lidded BBQs, we tested the model's ability to retain heat and keep the coals going with the lid on. This was a separate test requiring a new set of coals. A digital meat thermometer was used to check that the meat was safely cooked inside.

What we looked for when testing charcoal barbecues

Each model was scored against the same core criteria:

Assembly:
Ease and time to assemble, tools included or needed.

Cooking results:
The evenness, taste, texture and succulence of the cooked food.

Value for money:
Is it worth the price tag?

Ease of use:
Is the model intuitive to use and suitable for people with varying BBQ experience?

The following factors were also considered when it came to scoring the charcoal barbecues.

Sturdiness and quality:
The sturdiness of the barbecue and the quality of materials and accessories included.

Ease of cleaning:
Effectiveness and ease of cleaning, including manufacturer's guidelines if provided.

Size and height of the grill:
The size of the cooking surface of the grills and height from the ground.

Wheels and locking system:
Both the quality and size of the wheels, effectiveness and ease of use of the locks and manoeuvrability.

Effectiveness of the hood:
The weight and fit of the hood, handles and vents.

Heating time:
Time from loading to lighting and readiness to cook.

Heat distribution:
Heat across the cooking area.

Shelves and extra surfaces:
Where applicable, the sturdiness and practicality.

Storage:
How quick and easy it is to put away.

Packaging:
Excessive use of plastics and polystyrene.

Also tested and rated:

Related reviews

The best gas barbecues
The best barbecues under £100
The best portable barbecues
The best supermarket barbecue food

Barbecue recipes

From chicken and fish to vegetarian ideas, side dishes and healthy BBQ feasts, visit our barbecue recipe hub.

If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at goodfoodwebsite@immediate.co.uk.

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