Gas grills may be king in terms of the number sold, but charcoal grills make up about a third of the U.S. market. They're beloved by purists, who say charcoal is the best for cooking burgers and imparting grilled flavor. Charcoal grills tend to be cheaper, lighter and more portable than gas grills, but they require more effort to use. Charcoal briquettes take longer to heat, and charcoal grills require more cleaning than their gas counterparts.
One familiar name stands out in charcoal grill reviews: Weber. Weber's iconic kettle grills have been around for more than 50 years, and this brand appears at or near the top of almost every reviewer's list. Among their most popular charcoal grills are the Weber One-Touch Silver (*Est. $80 to $90), the Weber One-Touch Gold (*Est. $130 to $300) and the Weber One-Touch Platinum (*Est. $250). The Silver model comes in 18.5-inch and 22.5-inch diameters; the One-Touch Gold is available in both sizes, plus a 26.75-inch-diameter model. The Weber One-Touch Platinum charcoal grill is offered solely in a 22.5-inch diameter.
Although all of Weber's One-Touch grills look and function similarly, a few key differences distinguish the various models. The One-Touch Gold uses better components than the Silver, including a hinged, stainless-steel grate instead of non-hinged, plated-steel version. The Weber One-Touch Gold also has a more substantial handle and a roll-top lid. A closed ash catcher below the grill (instead of the Silver's open ash pan) makes it easier to keep ash waste under control, and the One-Touch Gold has a thermometer built into the lid.
The Weber One-Touch Platinum shares these features and adds tool hooks and a pair of side tables. All three Weber One-Touch charcoal grill models receive high praise for their build quality and overall durability; some users say their Weber kettles have lasted for more than a decade. Reviews also praise the Weber's iconic oval shape, which helps distribute heat evenly. The most popular feature by far is the "one-touch" cleaning mechanism that funnels ash into a removable bin (on the Gold and Platinum models) or an open pan (on the Silver model). Other key features include aluminum vents above and below the cooking grate for better temperature control and glass-reinforced nylon handles that stay cool during cooking.
As good as reviewers say Weber One-Touch charcoal grills are, they're not without a few flaws. For example, the Silver and Gold models lack accessories such as side tables and a tool hook. The exterior of the bowl is finished in porcelain enamel instead of a powder coat, and users say the enamel can crack over time, leaving the grill's body vulnerable to rust. Some reviewers also report problems with flimsy wheels and legs on these grills, even though the wheels are advertised as "all-weather."
Despite these concerns, most reviewers agree that Weber charcoal kettle grills are the most versatile and user-friendly available. They earn consistently high marks at online retailers like Amazon.com and GrillsDirect.com, and at least one Weber model crops up as a top pick in almost every expert review we consulted. Although the Weber One-Touch Silver lacks some of the features you'll find in the Gold and Platinum models, it's also priced considerably lower ($80 to $90 depending on size), and reviewers say the One-Touch Silver represents the best value.
The Char-Griller Outlaw (*Est. $240) is another well-reviewed model. This barrel-style grill's rectangular shape makes it a better choice for indirect cooking than a kettle grill because you can shove coals into the corners, to one side or pile them in the middle and cook your food on the edges of the grate. The Outlaw, with its 1,038-square-inch cooking area (including the warming rack), has plenty of room for cooking large quantities of food. Note, however, that barrel-style grills like the Char-Griller take longer to heat up and cool down, so they're not an efficient choice if you generally cook small amounts of food.
The Char-Griller Smokin' Pro (*Est. $250), another barrel-style charcoal grill, has 830 square inches of total cooking space (including warming rack) and comes with a side firebox for smoking meats (you can get a firebox for the Outlaw, but it costs extra). Reviewers laud both the Outlaw and the Smokin' Pro for their wealth of accessories and cooking space given the low prices. Both come with cast-iron cooking grates, side tables, a metal shelf below the grill, a warming rack, a thermometer and an adjustable coal grate for better heat control. These grills are also finished with a powder coating that should theoretically make them less prone to rust, although complaints about grills rusting (or parts arriving rusted straight out of the box) are fairly common among the reviews we read.
About.com's grilling expert Derrick Riches names the Char-Griller Outlaw one of the top 10 charcoal grills. Users give the Outlaw good, but not great, average ratings at Amazon.com and Walmart.com (4 stars and 4.3 stars, respectively). The Char-Griller Smokin' Pro draws slightly better reviews at both retailers (4.1 and 4.5 stars, respectively) but also draws more criticism from users about damaged parts, or being prone to rust. We found a few complaints about Char-Griller's customer service, too, but reviewers say that both the Outlaw and Smokin' Pro are good options if you plan on cooking for a crowd. The choice between these two similarly priced grills boils down to whether you prefer the Outlaw's additional cooking area or the smoker that comes standard on the Smokin' Pro.
With all of the additional features included on comparable Char-Griller models, why do Weber grills still get more attention? Peace of mind may be one major factor: Weber's warranty coverage is superior, with 10 years on the exteriors and one year on the cooking grates. Weber also has a reputation for excellent customer service and prompt replacement of broken parts. Representatives are available 24/7, and you can even call the customer service hotline with grilling questions. In contrast, Char-Griller offers a five-year warranty on its grill exteriors and one year on the remaining parts.
While moderately priced charcoal grills will meet most consumers' needs, more expensive grills provide added convenience, durability and cooking precision. The higher prices bring along more features and higher-quality components, such as stainless-steel exteriors and cast-iron cooking grates.
In addition to features like a hinged cooking grate and one-touch ash removal, the Weber Performer Charcoal Grill (*Est. $325) comes with a worktable mounted on a steel-wheeled cart, a built-in thermometer, a lid-catcher and onboard storage for utensils and extra charcoal. The Weber Performer's signature feature, however, is its propane-powered ignition system, which some reviewers say combines the best of gas and charcoal cooking. Hot coals can be ready in around 10 minutes.
About.com's Derrick Riches says the ignition alone makes the Weber Performer well worth its cost, and he ranks it as one of the 10 best charcoal grills for 2012. We did find comments from a few users who say the ignition failed; one complains that the unit lacked instructions about how to use the ignition. Most users, however, say the propane ignition is this grill's best feature.
The only noteworthy object of complaints about the Weber Performer is its plastic worktable, which some owners say is not very sturdy. That said, most owners appreciate being able to prep food beside the grill or stack plates nearby while you're cooking. Users also say that the Weber Performer cooks efficiently and adds great flavor to grilled foods.