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Best charcoal barbecues

The best charcoal barbecues on test

Published: May 4, 2021 at 3:29 pm
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A charcoal barbecue is the quintessential kit for cooking outdoors. Read our review of grills, from budget to blowout, plus get recipe ideas, buyer's advice and tips on how to use a charcoal BBQ.

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.

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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.

In this round-up of the best charcoal barbecues, we have 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 expensive and everything in between.

Read on to discover our top buys. For more than 400 buyer's guides, visit our reviews section and find reviews of portable, gas and budget barbecues, and much more.

Best charcoal BBQs at a glance

  • Best kettle BBQ: Weber Classic kettle barbecue, £154.97
  • Best for simplicity and portability: Lotus Grill charcoal barbecue, £150
  • Best budget barrel BBQ: Argos Home charcoal oil drum barbecue, £50
  • Best portable charcoal BBQ: Berghoff portable BBQ, £149
  • Best budget charcoal BBQ: Azuma Rhino charcoal BBQ, £189.99
  • Best affordable kettle for fair-weather BBQs: Lifestyle 22" kettle charcoal barbecue, £69.99
  • Best investment charcoal BBQ: Big Green Egg Large Ceramic Grill, £1,175
  • Best multi-functional, stylish BBQ: Napoleon Pro Cart Charcoal Grill Kettle, £484.99
  • Best pedestal barbecue design: Indoba Cibus pedestal barbecue, £99.99
  • Best budget multi-functional BBQ: Bar-Be-Quick Tandoori Smoker barbecue, £99
  • Best barrel BBQ: Vonhaus barrel charcoal barbecue, £84.99

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 2021

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

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

Argos Home Charcoal Oil Drum BBQ with Warming Rack, £40

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

Lifestyle 22" kettle charcoal barbecue

Lifestyle 22inch Kettle Charcoal BBQ, Lifestyle 700x350

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

Berghoff barbecue on a white background

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

Azuma Rhino charcoal barbecue

Azuma Rhino barbecue on a white background

Best budget charcoal barbecue

Pros:

  • Adjustable grill height
  • Charcoal door

Cons:

  • Lengthy assembly

Star rating: 4/5

The Azuma Rhino took the longest to assemble of all the barbecues we tested – a total of two hours. However, once you're past that, there is a lot to recommend about this pocket-friendly barbie. The ample 57cm grill can take food for four or more people.

With the lid down, the heat circulates very well, resulting in well-cooked food. What we really liked about it is the clever front handle and door that allow you to add extra charcoal without having to move food or scorchingly hot grill plates.

Read our full Azuma Rhino charcoal barbecue review

Vonhaus Barrel charcoal barbecue

Vonhaus charcoal BBQ

Best barrel BBQ

Pros: 

  • Good build quality
  • Big cooking surface
  • Good height

Cons:

  • Poor-quality wheels

Star rating: 4/5

An excellent example of the way barrel barbecues should look and work, Vonhaus' basic model has the archetypal style without compromising on capacity.

You can cook for a crowd thanks to a 73cm x 39cm grill. Under its fold-down lid, potato chips cooked exceptionally well with defined charring. Courgettes didn't stick and a whole spatchcock chicken cooked through in less than half an hour.

It's a bit tricky to clean, although that isn't unusual for barrels. It also lacks tools, which is a minor issue.

Read our Vonhaus Barrel charcoal barbecue review

Bar-Be-Quick Tandoori Smoker and Grill

Bar-be-Quick Tandoori Smoker and grill

Best budget multi-functional barbecue 

Pros:

  • Versatile
  • Skewers included

Cons: 

  • Poor heat retention

Star rating: 3.5/5

This is a brilliant option for anyone who is looking for an entry-level to low and slow outdoor cooking, offering a standard BBQ grill along with a 'tandoori' attachment, smoker and fire-pit functions.

For the price, you trade off some build quality. The 'tandoori' function overstates the product's ability - for example, you're not able to blister naan breads on the side. But for anyone who wants an affordable multi-functional and portable barbecue, this is a great price.

Read our full Bar-Be-Quick Tandoori Smoker and Grill review

Available from Bar-Be-Quick (£99)

Big Green Egg large ceramic grill - Star Buy

Big Green Egg 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

Available from Big Green Egg Company (£1,175)

Napoleon Pro Cart charcoal kettle grill - star buy

Napoleon charcoal barbecue on a white background

A multi-functional, stylish charcoal BBQ

Pros:

  • Robust with super design features

Cons:

  • Slightly wobbly lid

Star rating: 5/5

With its generous grill size (52cm diameter), easy assembly and stylish look, the Napoleon Pro Cart charcoal barbecue is ideal for family gardens. Napoleon is a leading barbecue brand and this is demonstrated in the design – the grill has three twist-and-lift height options, plus there are effective vents for controlling temperature and an in-built thermometer for keeping track.

But the real selling point is in the two charcoal burning areas, which make it suitable for both direct and indirect cooking.

Read our full Napoleon Pro Cart charcoal kettle grill review

Available from Napoleon (£484.99)

Indoba Cibus pedestal barbecue

Indoba Cibus pedestal barbecue on a white background

Best pedestal barbecue design 

Pros:

  • Unusual design

Cons:

  • Narrow area for direct cooking

Star rating: 3.5/5

With its eye-catching design and all stainless steel finish, this barbecue is a real talking point. The tall column functions as a vent to control airflow to the main firebox. We found the heat distribution was very good as a result.

The grill has two handles to move it into three different positions, allowing you to switch between different heats to achieve the optimum cooking conditions for your food.

While the Indoba Cibus is easy to assemble thanks to clear instructions, some of the edges are sharp, as are some of the corners when constructed.

Read our full Indoba Cibus barbecue review

Available from Wayfair (£76.99)

Buyer's advice

Which barbecue to buy?

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.

A chicken kebab on a flaming 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 but, generally, it will be more expensive. On the flipside, 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. The following are available widely at major supermarkets.

Bar-Be-Quick FSC Charcoal Briquettes

Tiger Tim FSC Wood Wool Firelighters

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 asses 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.

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.

Halloumi kebabs on skewers with pitta breads and sauce

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.

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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