10 best charcoal BBQs that make summer cook-outs a breeze

Charcoal burns hotter than gas which is perfect for searing  burgers and steaks  (The Independent )
Charcoal burns hotter than gas which is perfect for searing burgers and steaks (The Independent )

Cooking over flames isn’t an exact science and when everyone is gathered around, hungrily waiting for the first tasty morsels to come off the grill, you don’t want to disappoint.

That’s why a quality charcoal barbecue is essential to help you make the most of your grill time, one that gives you the ability to control the heat easily so that your food is succulent, not singed.

Charcoal is all about controlling heat and airflow, so when we were testing we were looking at how the barbecue went about doing that and how well thought out the grate area was so everything comes off the heat cooked to perfection.

As charcoal burns hotter than gas, another thing that separates the best barbecues from the also-rans is how easy they make it for you to sear foods on high heat, like burgers and steaks. And that’s all while also dishing up chicken dishes that need to be cooked at a more leisurely pace so that they’re succulent, juicy and don’t dry out.

Finally, when the smoke has cleared and the last veggie kebab and burger have long gone you need to be able to clean the barbecue and empty the ash catcher easily so that it’s all ready to go the next time you need to call on it.

With that in mind, we’ve done the dirty work and eaten a mountain of meat and vegetables, so that we could discern the barbecues that will definitely make the neighbours jealous.

How we tested

We needed to know how each barbecue performed cooking with both high and low heat, so, each product needed to pass the sear test, giving burgers their appetising lines, as well as being able to cope with cut-up chicken cooked low and slow.

We put them all to the test over the course of a couple of weekends so that we could really highlight the differences and see how stress free the experience of cooking with each of them really was.

The best charcoal BBQs for 2022 are:

Char Broil kettleman

The domed design of kettles means they have a tendency to radiate heat to the centre of the grill, which can cause a hot spot that’s ready and waiting to spoil your dinner. However, cooking on this Kettleman’s grate was impressively even, which is probably in part due to the 360-degree air inlets that dot the base of the barbecue itself.

The barbecue coped superbly with searing as well as being able to hold a lower temperature across the whole grate, so that chicken pieces didn’t come off the barbecue dry, but remained succulent and juicy. In fact, the whole of the barbecue is really well vented to put you in control of how much heat gets to your food, and Char-Broil’s proprietary TRU-Infrared cooking system does seem to reduce the fatty flare ups that can spoil meat and vegetables.

The wheeled Kettleman is portable, but stands on a tripod of sturdy legs with a nice gunmetal finish so that when you do locate the barbecue, you know that it’s going to provide a solid base for cooking. Compact yet big enough to cook a family-sized meal, its removable ash bowl simply slides in and out from underneath the barbecue for a no-nonsense clean up.

Buy now £209.80, Amazon.co.uk

Napoleon grills pro cart

The problem with barbecuing is that you often end up spending most of your time with your back to your guests. But the portability and revolving drum of the pro cart means you can always position yourself so that you can carry on a conversation while grilling.

In terms of cooking quality, the cast iron grill was supremely efficient, retaining heat well and the ability to raise it to any one of three different levels means that burned food will be a thing of barbecues past, as it gives you total control of searing and slow cooking. The hinged lid adds to the ease of cooking as does the thermometer that was one of the most accurate we tested.

We were also very impressed with the build quality of this wonderfully designed kettle that comes contained within its own cart, and was refreshingly simple to put together. And we also like that it has a detachable ash catcher which facilitated a fuss-free clean-up.

Buy now £474.00, Thebbqshop.co.uk

Weber master touch 70th anniversary edition

The classic kettle has been with us since 1952 and this is Weber’s limited edition shout out to its own ingenuity, as the brand has transformed the traditional Master Touch with a “Hollywood Grey” makeover that looks great. As well as extra features like a storage tray, Weber have added details that include a Fifties-style hood-ornament lid thermometer, vintage bottle opener, vintage Weber signage and even white-walled wheels to complete the retro look.

However, under the distinctive, spherical hood it is still a fantastic barbecue that cooks hot and fast and will give you enough room to keep the burgers coming until everyone’s satisfied. And thanks to the porcelain enamelled bowl and lid which retain the heat superbly, it also allows chicken time to grill to perfection.

The ash catcher makes for a straightforward clean up and you won’t have to worry about any embers going astray. A great buy that looks good and cooks even better.

Buy now £299.00, Hayesgardenworld.co.uk

Original Jerk deepbase special edition

If you want the gathered throng to be impressed before you’ve even got your tongs out, then this oil drum barbecue should do the trick. From the south London company, which regularly features in our round ups because of its bespoke, hand-made barbecues, you don’t need to doubt the quality and build of the deep base, which is top notch.

The stainless-steel body and charcoal basket contrasts with wooden side tables and storage base, and it’s all made mobile by some heavy duty off road tyres that will help you transport the barbecue pretty much anywhere in the garden.

Under the lid is a laser cut stainless steel picture grill, which just adds to the exclusivity and, more importantly, provides a huge surface that can handle all outcomes, from searing to slow cooking. There is also an extended chimney attached to take the smoke away from your guests too.

This BBQ is currently sold out but you can save it to your wishlist to keep an eye on restocks.

Buy now £4500.00, Originaljerk.co.uk

Drumbecue original half

This no-nonsense, heavy-duty, steel drum needs no assembly so you can be up and grilling in no time. The black, powder-coated drum directs the heat of the charcoal efficiently to the 33in grill, which makes it easy to sear and slow cook for large numbers.

There’s no overlap between the rim of the grill body and where the grate actually sits, so you have to be careful your sausages don’t roll over the side, but with so much room for steaks, burgers, kebabs and veggies you can just position the sausages accordingly so that they stay put. The removable charcoal box and ash catcher was a welcome addition as many half barrels don’t have this, and added to the effortless barbecuing that comes with this grill.

Buy now £349.99, Drumbecue.co.uk

Somerset Grill Co Glastonbury Asado grill

Feeling adventurous? Then this traditional Argentinian Asado means you can cook Argentinian style, even if your steaks have come from Morrison’s rather than the plains of the Pampas. Not technically charcoal, as the ember bed is fed by wood, it is another statement grill and an exercise in simplicity, as you just raise or lower the grill bed using the wheel to control the heat intensity getting to your food from the embers.

You may never have used one before, but the simplicity of the system is bound to impress your guests as it’s so easy to get good searing or extended lower heat cooking by adjusting how far the large 33in grill is away from the heat source. Made from stainless steel, the Asado is corrosion resistant, although it ships with a heavy-duty grill cover.

Buy now £1195.00, Somersetgrill.com

Weber go-anywhere

Best: Mini portable barbecue

Rating: 9/10

There’s a reason that this delightfully dinky charcoal barbecue keeps making it on to our list – it’s just perfect for an impromptu park, beach or even balcony barbecue.

Well engineered and thought out, its plated steel legs keep the lid secured when you’re carrying it. The lid handle has also been fitted with a heat shield, so you won’t have to wait around for the barbecue to totally cool before you pick it up again.

The plated steel cooking grate gave a great sear to burgers, after which the grill was ready to cook the chicken, with the top vents in the lid allowing for good heat control and excellent results when catering for two to three people.

Buy now £84.99, Longacres.co.uk

LotusGrill XL

There are three different sizes of LotusGrill to choose from, but we liked the biggest in the range because it’s still very portable, but makes maximum use out of the fan-assisted barbecue base, which blows air over the coals so that the grill was ready for its first burger in around five minutes. The grill itself is surrounded by a handy double ridge to stop you losing food over the side, and there’s good control over the heat because you can just turn the fans on or off, depending on whether you’re searing or low and slow grilling.

The fans are battery operated so you really can take this barbecue anywhere and even move it mid cook (if the tide’s coming in) as it’s constructed in such a way that the outer bowl never gets hot, even when the charcoal is lit inside. Assembly is minimal and it’s easy to clean and dispose of the ash when you’re done cooking.

Buy now £250.00, Lotusgrill.co.uk

Barbecook edson

With nothing to set up you can get straight to cooking on this good-looking barrel barbecue. It’s a thick, heavy grill made from enamelled steel, which is adjustable to two levels, gives good sear and retains the heat well for other meats and veggies. The generous cooking area means there’s ample space for a family feast and there’s a healthy overlap between the rim and where the grate actually sits to keep food from going AWOL.

There’s good air circulation which means once the coals have taken you won’t have to worry about managing the heat. We also liked the fact that the drum had a really good cooking height (35 inches), so we didn’t have to stoop over the food all afternoon.

The Edson is finished with rubber feet so you don’t have to worry about any stains from the barbecue itself and there’s an easily removable ash container to take the hard work out of cleaning up.

Buy now £281.63, Amazon.co.uk

Bar-Be-Quick kamado egg BBQ grill & pizza oven

Can’t decide between a barbecue or a pizza oven? Then this new all-in-oner has got you covered. You’ll be able to perfect your pizza technique in the oven one day, and on those afternoons when you’re yearning for a succulent sausage you can take advantage of the Egg’s 18in grate to produce some traditional, smoky, kamado cookery.

Kamados can be tricky to use sometimes because they get so hot, but the ceramic chamber of the Egg is equipped with good venting to control temperature and avoid hot spots that will burn food rather than slowly cook it. Having said that, the Egg seared burgers in next to no time and there’s plenty of functionality to assist the cook with two large side tables, an accurate thermometer and handles to hang your tongs on. Resetting the barbecue for its next performance was also super straightforward thanks to a well-designed ash catcher.

Buy now £549.00, Barbequick.com

Charcoal BBQ FAQs

What to look for when buying a charcoal barbecue

Before you crack out the “kiss the cook” apron, have a think about the maximum amount of mouths that you’ll be feeding in one sitting because that will dictate the size of your grill. For two to four people you’ll be fine with a kettle grill – the classic, spherical shape cooks hot and fast and will give you enough room to keep the burgers coming until everyone is satisfied.

If you’re just planning the occasional cookout, rather than a grillstock summer, a kettle will mean you can serve up a range of foods quickly and won’t have to spend valuable chilling time cleaning the barbecue afterwards. With basic kettles starting at around £50, they can be real value for money if you can guarantee quality.

If you need more grill space (for more than four people, for example) then you could consider an oil drum or half barrel barbecue. They cost more and take up a lot of room, but make it easier to manage and master cooking a lot of different foods that require different temperatures. It’s easier to create hot spots for searing and sizzling while also creating lower temperature zones for low, slow and well-smoked food.

Finally, ceramic charcoal grills, aka kamados, are typically egg-shaped and their construction is all about cooking versatility, so if you’re looking to up your barbecue game, the efficient insulation and heat circulation means that you will be able to produce all the usual fare, as well as slow-roasted meats and even pizzas with a perfectly crispy bottom crust. They are robust, long lasting and very good looking but they’re a serious investment with even the most basic models costing several hundred pounds.

Whatever you decide, all grills need to retain enough heat to cook everything you need in one sitting and put those appetising sear marks on burgers and steaks. Also, think about how the barbecue can make the whole process easier too. For example, is there a warming rack or an in-built side table? Are there places to hang tongs, forks and other utensils when you step away from the grill? Finally, if your barbecue isn’t going to be stored away then it’s best to make room in your budget for a cover to protect it from the elements when not in use.

How to safely light and use a charcoal BBQ​

Before you can enjoy your barbecue’s benefits, you’re going to have to light the thing. Make sure you don’t spend half the afternoon blowing at coals, burning your fingers and getting covered in lighter fluid by using a charcoal chimney.

Simply stuff the base with newspaper (old egg cartons are good too) then load the chimney with charcoal – halfway is plenty for a basic grilling session, but if you need more heat and more cooking time you can fill it to the top. Light the paper, or cardboard, and place the chimney on the barbecue’s grate. When the coals are glowing red-hot, pour them into your grate and you’re cooking with charcoal. Don’t forget that the coals need oxygen to keep going, so open up all the vents on your barbecue.

Where can I buy sustainable charcoal from?

Green grilling is a major issue these days as charcoal comes with a sizeable carbon footprint, especially as most of the charcoal purchased in the UK is imported. It’s important to try and mitigate the impact and source some British lump-wood charcoal, if possible. A good place to start is to look for local producers whose product is certified for sustainability with the strict Grown in Britain (GiB) Standard, which provides a mark that assures quality and sustainability for British woodland products, including charcoal.

The verdict: Charcoal BBQs

Whether you’re a grilling greenhorn or a pit master the Char-Broil kettleman makes barbecuing your favourite foods both fun and stress-free, so you can turn out mountains of meat and veggies without having to worry about quality control. It puts you in total control of the heat under what you’re about to eat – consistently turning out wonderful searing, as well as succulent mouthfuls.

Planning a summer cook-out? Check out our round-up of the best BBQ essentials to invest in