Updated March 2015
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Charcoal grills are for the true enthusiast

While gas grills, which we cover in a separate section of this report, are very convenient, many grilling enthusiasts say that you simply can't duplicate the flavors and mouthfeel you get when you cook on a charcoal grill. As with gas grills, the top manufacturer in this category is Weber. In 2015, Weber changed the name of its kettle grills back to the name Weber Original; for a couple of years they were designated by the colors silver, for basic, and gold for premium. The designs were not changed, which is good because 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 this company's most popular charcoal grills is the Weber Original 22-inch Kettle (Est. $100), formerly known as the Weber One-Touch Silver, which draws praise for its reliable performance, low price and solid construction. We review the 22-inch model here, but this Weber grill is also available in an 18-inch size for about $20 less.

The Weber Original Kettle has a bowl and lid with a porcelain-enameled finish, a plated-steel cooking grate, a "one touch" cleaning system that funnels ash toward the bin, and a glass-reinforced nylon handle. Owners love it, giving it high ratings and raving about its ease of assembly and maintenance, cooking and smoking performance and durability. Experts agree, saying it is built to last and has superior cooking capability.

Owners love having such a versatile grill, saying it excels in cooking every kind of meat imaginable. Quite a few note that the domed lid makes the grill roomy enough even to grill a Beer Can Chicken (a recipe wherein a chicken is cooked standing upright on an open can of beer). They say the grill imparts great flavor to food and that it's very easy to use and clean -- although some note that the ash can fly around when emptying it through the bottom vents. Others complain that the handles get hot, but many responders to those comments point out that the Weber manual says to wear protective gloves when lifting a hot lid. A few say the cover hook results in an awkward placement on the kettle; a few reviewers found that purchasing the Weber Slide-Aside Lid Holder (Est. $30) solves that problem.

If you like the design of the basic 22-inch kettle, but want a few extra conveniences, a good option is the Weber Original Kettle Premium (Est. $150), formerly known as the Weber One-Touch Gold. For $50 more, you'll get a built-in thermometer, a hinged cooking grate (which is helpful for adding charcoal) and a closed ash catcher that reviewers say solves the flying ash problem sometimes encountered on the basic version. The Premium Kettle has a 22-inch cooking area, but it also comes in a 26-inch size (Est. $300), with a stainless steel (not plated steel) cooking grate.

The Weber Premium is highly recommended by experts, and it earns great ratings from consumer reviewers who say it's worth the extra money for the additional convenience features that make it even easier to use. Like the basic kettle, it heats up quickly, holds heat effectively, cooks well and is easy to assemble and clean.

If you want to fancy up your Weber Kettle even more, the Weber Performer 22 (Est. $250) is also a top pick by reviewers who rave about its convenience features. The Weber Performer is basically the Weber Premium, but tucked into a holder that includes a fold down side table and a wire shelf. Owners say it offers the best of both worlds, the excellent performance of a Weber charcoal grill with the handy storage and workspace features of a gas grill.

Because there are so many great charcoal grills in the Weber line at every size and price point, we see no need to recommend another brand; however, we do want to note that our previous pick in this category, the Big Green Egg (Est. $800 for large) is also a top-rated charcoal grill. For this update, because it gets such raves for its performance as a smoker, the Egg is now our top pick in the best smokers category: head on over there and check it out if you want a grill/smoker/cooker that will also last a lifetime.

Pellet grills are a hot new item

Charcoal grills are much beloved for offering a true grilling experience, but they can be fiddly, with the cook needing to heat coals, add coals, stir coals, or wait for coals to cool to a perfect ash-gray. For those who want that "I'm grilling" vibe, but don't want that kind of hassle, a pellet grill may be the answer. However, before we continue, a couple of caveats: Pellet grills are a fairly new technology (and, because of that, there are few reviews), they're quite expensive, and you need access to electricity, so they can't be a backup cooking source during a power outage.

Having said that, there are definite advantages to pellet grills. Pellets are an all-natural fuel source made from the byproduct of wood -- basically compressed sawdust, which is a more environmentally-friendly fuel source than charcoal. Some are even flavored to further infuse flavor into the meat. Pellets heat up more quickly than charcoal and it's easier to clean up afterwards because pellets leave very little ash. However, pellets aren't as readily available as charcoal, cost more, and you need to be sure you get food-grade pellets. The pellets used in pellet stoves, which we cover in a separate report, are not suitable to use in pellet grill.

Among the pellet grills currently on the market, we saw the best reviews for the REC TEC Wood Pellet Grill (Est. $1,000). Experts say it's a consistent performer, reliably hitting the desired temperature and holding it evenly across the entire cooking surface. Owners rave about this pellet grill, saying it grills and smokes foods to perfection. The one criticism we saw about the REC TEC pellet grill is that many feel it does not impart a smoky enough flavor, but some have purchased a separate smoke box to supplement the flavor of the pellets. If you're interested in trying a pellet grill, this manufacturer is one that we can recommend because they get excellent reviews for customer service; if you do have issues, they'll be there to help.

Elsewhere in this report:

Best Reviewed Grills: The best grill is the one that fits your lifestyle. These are the top gas and charcoal grills for every cooking style and budget. We include the best portable grill and a great smoker, too.

Best Gas Grills: You can't beat a gas grill for convenience and ease of use -- just turn a knob, wait a few minutes, and cook. These are the top gas grills in a range of sizes and prices.

Best Portable Grills: If you want to tailgate or travel with your grill -- or just don't have the space for a full-size grill -- these are our picks for the best gas and charcoal small grills.

Best Smokers: Low and slow, that's the most traditional barbecuing technique. These charcoal and electric smokers will deliver succulent meats and can perform other cooking tasks as well.

Buying Guide: There are a dizzying number of options when it comes to grills. Our buying guide will help guide you in making the right choice to avoid buyer's remorse.

Our Sources: These are the expert and user tests, comparisons and reviews we used to determine the best grills. They are ranked in order of their credibility and usefulness.

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Weber 741001 Silver One-Touch 22-Inch Kettle Grill, Black
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from Amazon.com
New: $99.70 $74.99   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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REC TEC Wood Pellet Grill - Featuring Smart Grill TechnologyTM
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from Amazon.com
New: $998.00
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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Weber 14402001 Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill, 22-Inch, Copper
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from Amazon.com
New: $159.00 $149.00   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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Weber 16401001 Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill, 26-Inch, Black
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from Amazon.com
New: $349.00 $299.00   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  
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Weber 15301001 Performer Charcoal Grill, 22-Inch, Black
Buy from Amazon.com
from Amazon.com
New: $299.00 $249.00   
In Stock.
Average Customer Review:  

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