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 a smaller size as the Weber 18-inch Kettle (Est. $80).
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 22 (Est. $150), formerly known as the Weber One-Touch Gold. For $50 more than the basic model, 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 cheaper version. The Premium Kettle has a 22-inch cooking area, but a larger version is available -- the Weber Premium 26-inch Kettle Grill (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.
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 relatively 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 grills.
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 it gets excellent reviews for customer service; if you do have issues, they'll be there to help.
When you think of grilling, a sizzling steak may be the first thing that comes to mind, but true grill aficionados say "low and slow" cooking is the true definition of barbecue. For that, they say, you need a smoker. A smoker grill provides low, even, consistent heat across the entire cooking area and can do so for many hours with a minimum of tending. Charcoal grills can often double as smokers, but they usually need quite a bit of fiddling to maintain the temperature over the length of time needed to smoke some foods.
One smoker that's at or near the top of just about everyone's "best of" list is the Big Green Egg (Est. $800 for large), which earns top scores in professional reviews and a seemingly cult-like devotion from hundreds of users posting to retail and opinion websites. The Big Green Egg (named for its distinctive shape) is a kamado-style grill; its design is based on a traditional Japanese cooking vessel whose oblong shape offers excellent temperature control. You can cook at very low or very high temperatures and the settings are accurate enough that it's practically "set and forget" cooking. Its large, 262 square inch cooking grate is completely sealed by the grill's ceramic exterior, so it can cook for hours on only a few coals. The exterior surface remains cool to the touch, even as the grill reaches high cooking temperatures. It is sold in seven sizes, from mini to XX-Large, all of which carry a lifetime warranty.
There's a bit of a learning curve with using the Big Green Egg, but most say they master it fairly quickly, and once they do many say they tend to grill more than they ever did with a traditional charcoal grill. And this versatile grill allows you do that -- reviewers say it works equally well for baking, grilling and smoking -- imparting a flavor that's unmatched. It's said to be very easy to clean as well. The downside is that it's expensive, and necessary accessories like a table will add to the base price, but it will last forever and you won't need any other type of grill. The Big Green Egg is sold only at brick and mortar stores and the only way to find out what an Egg will cost you is to visit one. Or a couple for comparison. The Big Green Egg website has a dealer locator that will help you find a local retailer.
While the Big Green Egg is one of the most versatile smokers you can buy, some people prefer a dedicated smoker. If that's you, there's none better than the Weber Smokey Mountain 18-inch Charcoal Smoker (Est. $300). It's larger than the Big Green Egg with a 481 square inch cooking surface, and it also comes in 14 and 22 inch sizes if you need less or more cooking space.
Like the Big Green Egg, the Weber is on pretty much every smoker "best of" list we saw. Experts and owners say it's easy to use and is a great performer, maintaining its heat for hours. They also say it's extremely durable and well-built. Even those who describe themselves as "not grill masters" say they mastered this smoker very quickly and are eagerly broadening their smoker horizons. The Weber Smokey Mountain also grills, but experts and users say that's awkward to do as you have to kneel down on the ground to reach the direct cooking grill.
Like the gas versus charcoal grill debate, we see a lot of comments from grill snobs that electric smokers aren't "real" smokers and don't work as well as charcoal-based smokers. However, thousands of happy electric smoker owners would beg to differ. The great thing about electric smokers is that they are extremely easy to use: you just flip a switch and load and re-load wood chips. They're also very easy to clean and are highly affordable.
Masterbuilt is a respected name in grills and smokers, and the Masterbuilt 30-Inch Electric Digital Smoker (Est. $230) gets raves from reviewers as a top choice for an electric smoker. It's extremely easy to use, and even those who have used traditional, charcoal-fueled smokers say this electric smoker produces excellent results. The digital temperature control is very popular, as that makes it even easier to use since you can monitor temperature at a glance. It also has a timer that will shut this electric smoker off when the preset cooking time expires. The one issue we saw was with durability; some say they've had it for years, but we saw complaints of the smoker not heating or shutting off too soon after just a few uses.
Elsewhere in this report: