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We’re guessing a charcoal unit is the first thing you picture when you think about grilling out on a warm summer night. Even though charcoal grills are relatively simple, playing with your cooking style is arguably easier than picking out the grill itself! This guide will help you figure out what shape, size, and structure best suits your needs, as well as what features and accessories are available to you. Read on to determine what your ideal charcoal grill will look like.
One of the first decisions you’ll have to make about your new charcoal grill is whether you’d prefer a built-in or freestanding unit. This decision is mostly going to be determined by how mobile you require your grill to be.
Freestanding charcoal grills will be found either on a cart or on legs. Obviously, you'll be able to move your grill around the backyard as you need, but you'll also have an easier time cleaning it. The soot charcoal leaves behind can take a lot of time to clean up, but if you can find a grill with an ash basket, the job becomes less tedious. You'd also want to consider a freestanding charcoal grill if you want to bring a portable pit with you during outdoor activities.
Charcoal grills can also be built in. Obviously, once you put the grill’s head in your BBQ island cutout you won't be able to move your grill all around like with a freestanding unit. But the aesthetic added to your outdoor kitchen is unmatched. Built-in charcoal grills can pair nicely with a gas grill to give you more cooking options in your outdoor kitchen.
We're going to quickly sum up the differences between a standard charcoal unit and a kamado (the egg-shaped grill/smoker considered a subcategory of charcoal grills), but you can also check out our product guide for kamados here (link to Kamado page).
One of the big differences is that charcoal grills are typically made of anything from a cheaper painted metal to a commercial-grade stainless steel, whereas a kamado is often made of ceramic. The steel on your charcoal grill is going to get very hot, very easily. Your ceramic kamado is going to take longer to heat up, but when it does, it will retain and radiate the heat a lot longer than a standard charcoal grill.
Another difference between charcoal grills and kamados is that kamados don't allow for much airflow while charcoal grills have plenty of airflow. More airflow is unfortunately going to result in you using more fuel, so a kamado is going to be much more fuel-efficient than a standard charcoal grill. Kamados tend to have better insulation and can retain moisture better, so meats prepared in one of these units will be juicier and much more tender. If you're looking to experiment more with cooking styles, a kamado grill might be the better way for you to go.
The next thing you'll need to consider when picking out a charcoal grill is what size you need. To help you decide this, you’ll want to think about how many people you normally cook for, the maximum number of people you would cook for, and how often you grill for that many people. You’ll also need to think about whether you'd like to integrate a dual-zone setup on your grilling surface and if you'll be experimenting with indirect cooking, which we definitely recommend trying at some point!
Small charcoal grills have a maximum cooking grate width of 26 inches. If you’re usually cooking for a smaller family or just a few close friends, a small sized grill should do the trick. However, the smaller size means you'll probably only be able to use direct heat in cooking, so plan accordingly if you want to have a different cooking style.
Cooking grates on a medium charcoal grill measure between 27 and 33 inches wide. Since they're a little bigger, they'll be trickier to move, but they will allow for dual cooking zones, which is nice. A medium sized grill should be big enough to prepare meals for large families or groups of friends oh, and you should have plenty of room for your main dishes and side dishes.
A large grill has a cooking surface between 34 and 42 inches wide with three to six burners. This gives you the freedom to experiment with all kinds of different techniques, using heat zones and indirect heat or even cooking more than one course at a time. A large grill would be great for preparing a large meal for a large family or making a bunch of burgers for your friends.
Based on product quality, available features, and overall performance, we have broken up charcoal grills into four categories - Luxury, Premium, Practical, and Economy. Look at the breakdown below to decide which grill classification is going to fit your needs best.
Luxury charcoal grills are built to last, typically made from commercial-grade stainless steel or cast aluminum. These are the grills most likely to survive rough settings, but they often come with lifetime warranties, just in case. In this classification, you'll find adjustable charcoal trays with split tiers. This gives you more flexibility in cooking styles and techniques. Luxury grills are the class with the most features and controls, including things like electric charcoal starters.
Premium charcoal grills are also built to last. Generally speaking, they're made from all stainless steel or cast aluminum, and most of them have lifetime warranties as well. Grills in this category have adjustable-height charcoal trays, which gives you better control in your cooking, as a standard. Some other great features you'll find in this category include hidden rotisseries and push-button ignitions.
Grills in the Practical category won't have as long of a lifespan as Luxury or Premium class grills, but if you take good care of them, they can still last quite a while. These grills are made with decent materials but they're certainly not top of the line. Most Practical grills carry warranties of up to 10 years. Some of these grills have extra features like adjustable charcoal trays or electric ignitions, but they don’t typically have as many bells and whistles as those in the Luxury or Premium classes.
Our final classification of charcoal grills is Economy. Grills in this category simply do not last as long as those in the others. They're made from a wide range of materials of lower-quality than other classes, including ceramic, cast iron, and porcelain-coated steel. Most of the warranties in this category are less than 10 years. These grills are going to be nicer to your pocketbook but they're not going to give you as much freedom to experiment with cooking styles, so you’ll just have to decide what you value more.
You can manage the temperature of a charcoal grill by adding more fuel or stoking the coals to control the fire or by using airflow adjustment systems like steel air dampers. It's not always easy to manage the temperature of a charcoal grill, but temperature controllers can certainly help! It's crucial to pay attention to the temperature of your food and your grill, so you may want to consider a wireless or remote BBQ thermometer to assist you.
It’s not anyone’s favorite part of grilling out, but proper cleaning is the best way to ensure your charcoal pit is here to stay. Always make sure to clean the charcoal ash from the bottom of your grill. Wet ash can eat away at the steel, and ash that is mixed with food drippings will be extremely flammable.
Plenty of charcoal grills have ash baskets or drawers that you can pull out or completely remove from the unit. You can also find ash tools and slide-out ash pans to make the cleaning process more efficient.
As a reminder, you should never dump your ashes in your garden or yard. Wet ash acts similarly to lye and can easily burn your pets.
It makes sense that the more accessories you add to your grill, the more versatile the cooking options will be. No matter what, you should consider purchasing an ash tool to help with stoking the coals and clean up. Charcoal chimneys and electric charcoal starters make for easy ignition. Always make sure to purchase a good grill cover to protect your investment from harsh weather and therefore allow it to last longer.
We are here to make your purchasing process smooth so you can get to grilling quicker. If you still have questions after checking out this guide, please reach out to us. We are more than happy to help you understand your gas grill options!