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Charcoal vs. gas grills

This ConsumerSearch report covers charcoal grills. Gas BBQ grills and smokers are covered in separate reports.

Charcoal grilling could be considered the purist's domain; charcoal takes longer to light than a gas grill, and controlling a charcoal grill's heat isn't always as simple as twiddling the burner dial on a gas grill. Enthusiasts say the extra trouble is worth it for the flavor that cooking over charcoal imparts. Charcoal grills tend to be less expensive than gas grills, too, though the cost of charcoal and lighter fluid can add up.

Gas grill models tend to phase in and out of production fairly quickly, but some charcoal grills have remained unchanged for decades. Perhaps because of this, charcoal grills draw less attention from expert reviewers than their natural gas- and propane-burning cousins. One of our best sources for expert reviews is Men's Journal, where an expert barbeque chef evaluates six grills and rates each one. Good Housekeeping and 417 Magazine (a lifestyle publication for the Springfield, Mo., area) also touch briefly on charcoal grills, but as with Men's Journal, the reviewers only consider a few models at a time.'s guide to grilling and barbequing, Derrick Riches, might be the most prolific grill reviewer of all, covering a wide range of both charcoal and gas models in different sizes. Riches provides detailed pros and cons for each grill, and he produces an annual top-10 ranking of his favorite charcoal grills. Riches doesn't conduct hands-on cooking tests of most grills, but he does examine models for build quality and features (with the manufacturer's reputation factored in). (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation.)

In the absence of other recent expert reviews, user feedback is very helpful. Owners are quick to point out any negatives they notice about a grill and tend to give the best snapshot of how grills perform over time. is the best source for user reviews; some charcoal grills have accumulated hundreds of reviews. Other retail sites, including,,, and, are all good sources too. We also like as a source for user reviews because it's not connected to any particular online retailer.

There are some older, yet still valuable, expert reviews as well. Cook's Illustrated magazine's 2006 review of six full-size charcoal grills is an exhaustive hands-on comparison that includes a "turkey test," during which editors attempt to cook a 12-pound turkey on each charcoal grill. In a more casual comparison, gives readers a nicely written guide to portable grills, including three charcoal models. is a font of barbeque information, including recipes and buying guides, although only some of the models reviewed are subject to hands-on testing.

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