Charcoal grills come in different shapes and sizes, with different features and vastly different prices.
Flicking a switch to light a gas grill may be convenient, but for many die-hard grillers nothing beats a live charcoal fire. The pleasure is utterly visceral: the red-hot coals, the smoke, the sizzle, the interplay of food and flame, and the aroma of searing meat. And, of course, there is the flavor. Charcoal fires infuse food with notes of wood and smoke that no gas fire can match. Yet deciding which charcoal grill to buy is not so straightforward: Manufacturers produce grills of various sizes and shapes at various prices.
Grilling a mountain of food over two weeks revealed very little difference in the grills’ cooking performance. Each developed a fire hot enough to sear the food, which is what charcoal grilling is all about. Each also offers vents to control airflow—and thereby the intensity of the fire—but we were not able to detect any advantages or disadvantages based on the number or position of the vents. It was possible, however, to identify two important design factors: the size of the grill and the depth of the grill cover.
Winner: Bar-B-Chef Texas Charcoal Barbecue on Cart = $699.00
The ultimate grill has all the bells and whistles to match its hefty price tag: enormous size, sturdy, smart design, and every conceivable extra. Too much grill for some, but there’s really nothing this behemoth can’t do. Charcoal rack is a cinch to screw up and down. Cavernous grill could swallow a few 14-pound turkeys.
Best Buy: Weber One Touch Gold Charcoal Grill = $149.00
This Spartan, no-frills grill gets the job done. The few features are the ones that count—a large catch system and a hinged grate that is large enough to tend the fire but not so large as to require removing food from the grill. A side table is sorely lacking but is available as an after-market add-on for about $35.