We teamed up with our friends at Gardener’s World magazine to review charcoal barbecues at Kew Gardens. Discover our top picks and buyer's advice for picking up the right grill for you.
Key features: Easy to assemble, solid structure and good temperature control.
Burger count: Fits 12 burgers
Assembly time: 41 minutes
Comments: At £90 for a fairly small barbecue, this is pushing the realms of ‘budget’ but we think Webers are worth the investment. This porcelain-enamelled, dinky version of their heftier grills is rust-proof, comes with an ash catcher and is perfect for small gardens. If you’re in the market for a serious barbecue arsenal, Weber’s chimney starter kit is well worth looking into. It’ll get your charcoal ready in quick-time and we found it ridiculously helpful when testing 15 barbies on a drizzly day in April.
Best… for a crowd
Key features: Shelves and surfaces for food prep, places to hang utensils and helpful wheeled legs.
Burger count: Fits 20 burgers
Assembly time: 1 hour
Comments: If you’re a messy worker, this all-in-one station is for you. It has hooks for tongs, a shelf for food, an in-built board for prep purposes, plus an ash-catcher for easy cleaning. It only just made it into our price bracket, but a separate side table would end up costing you more, so we think it’s a bit of a bargain.
Key features: Huge grill, hinged lid and holding shelf that’s handy when crowd cooking.
Burger count: Fits 24 burgers
Assembly time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Comments: Disclaimer klaxon! We found this barbecue really difficult to assemble. It took over two hours (and lots of frustrated grunts) to work out where the seemingly endless nuts and bolts had to go. However, the result is a great grill with excellent temperature control and an extremely handy warming shelf for nestling cooked food when catering for the masses. Approach the set-up with patience and you’ll reap the rewards all summer.
Key features: Added extra functions – smoking, roasting and steaming.
Burger count: Fits 12 burgers
Assembly time: 40 minutes
Comments: We were super-impressed by the fact this unassuming cylindrical contraption features four cooking functions. Speaking purely on barbecue terms, there are two tiers and the bottom one can be turned into a lidded portable barbecue. It’s not as sturdy as a traditional smoker, but it can retain a constant heat for up to three hours, so you could smoke whole chickens or pork ribs for your soirée.
Best… portable barbecue
Key features: Quick cooking time and handle for portability.
Burger count: Fits 8 burgers
Assembly time: 35 minutes
Comments: This low-flying barbecue sits very close to the ground, so if your knees aren’t up to it, we’d suggest cooking from the comfort of a deck chair. The coals are close to the griddle and food cooks really quickly as a result, but there are vents to control temperature. The lid cleverly clips on the side and it’s nice and lightweight, making it a genuinely viable ‘on-the-go’ option.
Because no matter where you are in the world, as soon as the sun comes out you can’t beat the experience of cooking outdoors on an open flame. End of story.
What to buy?
Buying a barbecue for the first time can be daunting. Fancy electric or gas grills can cost the earth, while traditional coal barbecues range from rickety but fit-for-purpose budget grills to enamelled kettle barbecues that wouldn’t look out of place on a Texan range. We love the primal process of creating fire ourselves, so we whittled down our testing group to charcoal barbecues only. The most important things to consider when buying are how many people you’ll be cooking for, how much storage space you have, especially once you’ve factored in bags of charcoal and other barbecue detritus (some barbecues come with very handy protective storage cases, too), plus where and when you’ll be barbecuing. For a lot of people, small portable barbecues work for trips away, but also a perfectly acceptable garden barbecue for couples, families with young children – or just people who don’t mind cooking in batches. It’s also worth being realistic about how often you’ll use a barbecue. If you’re likely to only dust it off once or twice a year, an expensive gas grill with a huge footprint probably isn’t worth it.
What we looked for:
Ease of assembly: Barbecues have to be put together from scratch, so we assessed for ease of instruction. Clear manuals, minimal nuts and bolts and a logical construction process were judged favourably.
Manoeuvrability: Unless you live in a balmy climate, you’ll have to move your barbecue in and out of indoor storage. Wheels and handles help in this respect.
Footprint: We looked for barbecues with neat shapes that can be slotted into a small storage space.
Ease of cooking: We judged the size and height of the grill and temperature control – food that’s charred outside but raw inside is the ultimate culinary no-no.
How did we test?
We tested each barbecue using an identical batch of burgers, chicken, sausages and halloumi & vegetable kebabs.
What didn’t set us alight?
Barbecues with poor air circulation. For coals to burn efficiently you need good ventilation from underneath, so any barbecues with coals laid on a flat surface don’t tend to work as well.
Design over practicality. Some gimmicky table barbecues or mini bucket barbies might look cool, but if you can’t fit more than a couple of sausages on, what’s the point?
With special thanks to our co-testers at Gardener’s World.
The thrill of the grill…
This review was last updated in May 2016. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at email@example.com.
What’s your barbecue of choice? We’d love to hear your product suggestions.