What Should You Know About Charcoal Grills
Known for delivering the classic smoky taste folks everywhere associate with summer, charcoal grills are an iconic symbol of good eating, friendly get-togethers, and outdoor fun. For those who regard flavor as a top priority when grilling, these kinds of grills are often considered the best ones to use. They are traditional–who hasn’t enjoyed the taste of a burger, hot dog, or brat during an outing with family and friends?–and have a few other great features that appeal to outdoor cooks everywhere.
This isn’t the spot for settling the age-old argument among foodie grillers on whether charcoal grills are superior to gas and electric ones. Needless to say, the debate rages on and can get as heated as Coke versus Pepsi, Macs versus PCs, and the Beatles versus the Rolling Stones. What we want to cover here is why summertime cooks out there, especially ones who might not have that much grilling experience, might want to consider before purchasing a charcoal grill.
Here are some general things to know and consider:
Heat is regulated in charcoal grills through airflow.
The more air that moves over the coals in a charcoal grill, the hotter the fire is going to get. Limiting the airflow, on the other hand, offers slower cooking and lower temps. Try to find a charcoal grill that has a tight-fitting lid and vents or dampers.
The coal bed should be accessible
While cooking on a charcoal grill, grillers will need to add coals to keep the fire burning. After 90 minutes the temperature will drop rapidly without new coals, with the highest temps occuring 20 minutes into the grilling process. Make sure the charcoal grill has a door that allows for adding coal. One with hinged grates will also work, as coals can be added or rearranged with this feature as well.
Consider the size and shape of the grill
This matters because charcoal briquettes all burn at approximately the same temp. So wider charcoal grills cook more food but do so over a thinner coal bed, making them ideal for burgers and brats. Other charcoal grills are deeper and narrower, giving them a searing, concentrated heat that is perfect for steaks.
Seek out grills with an adjustable coal bed or cooking grate
Even the best cooks can burn what they’re cooking. Obviously, food that is closer to the coals is going to sear faster and could potentially get overly charred. An adjustable coal bed or cooking grate will ease this problem.
What’s Good About Charcoal Grills?
First off, the good flavor produced by a charcoal grill is simply hard to deny. But how is that great taste generated? Well, the short answer is direct-infrared heat, also known as searing. Searing is that brown coloring on meats, including on steaks, that charcoal grills can produce. This high-heat, direct-radiation style of cooking happens when food is placed right above a heat source. So that great taste on charcoal grills comes from a chemical reaction, as well as a process known as caramelization, that ultimately churns out a charred, savory and even sweetish taste on the surface of meats. Charcoal grills do this better than any other kind of grills because their heat source is so intense. They may not look as fancy as gas and electric grills, but the majority of charcoal grills easily out-sear both types, producing both a great taste and offering fast, efficient grilling. Here are a few more reasons to consider a charcoal grill:
They get real hot
Which means they can cook at a more efficient rate than electric and gas grills. Also, going back to the aforementioned flavor these grills produce, the heat generated on a charcoal grill creates food that is yummy and crisp on the exterior and amazingly flavorful and juicy on the interior.
They’re easy to move around and are economical
Some charcoal grills can be found in stores for as little as $30. The higher-end ones that are larger won’t break the bank either because they’re only around $100. Anyone who’s seen these types of grills knows they’re easy to wheel around from point A to B on a porch in seconds. You can also find stationary charcoal grills at parks, where people gather around them for meals on holidays and for parties.
They just have that traditional American feel
Charcoal grills are no doubt memory-making items that many adults purchase because of the fun times they associate with them as kids, not to mention the good eating. These memories spawn a desire for parents to recreate the same memories for their own kids and surrounding friends and family members.
What Types of Charcoal Grills Are There?
This may come as a surprise to some people, but not all charcoal grills are shaped like the rounded black ones found in backyards or the stick-figure-looking ones seen in public domains. There are varied types of charcoal grills that come in different sizes and shapes, and each of them have their own specialized features. Some are portable and some aren’t. Read on to get the lowdown.
Simple, affordable, versatile, and highly recognizable, kettle grills are the rounded bowl-like ones that many associate with the Fourth of July and parties with friends. These grills, which were invented in 1951 by George Stephen, are simply classic and great for beginners. They are easy to wheel around and very economical. Decent kettle grills can be purchased at $30 to $60; some are in the $100 to $200 range. It all depends on the size of the kettle grill you select.
The rounded look of these grills isn’t just for the sake of classic iconic tradition. The bowl structure of this type of grill both holds hot coals and retains heat, making cooking easier and faster. The coal bed in a kettle grill is located within a deeper, narrow bowl, making the heat more concentrated and searing food for a crisp, smoky taste. With the dampers closed, however, grillers can use these types of grills to slow the rate of the burn and conduct longer, slower cooking for certain types of meats.
Again, these grills are good for new grillers who may not have as much experience. The cooking surface of kettle grills isn’t all that large, so they’re best used for get-togethers that are on the smaller side. Of course, this type of grill could also be used if the cook is willing to flip meat for a long period of time for a large amount of people. But all things considered, those who host large parties a lot may want to consider something larger than a kettle grill.
Overall, kettle grills are good because they’re highly affordable, easily movable, highly efficient, and ideal for grilling at smaller-sized gatherings. They can be adapted for indirect cooking (cooking that’s not done over a main heat source) and residual ash within the grill can be dispensed into a pan beneath the bowl.
This sort of charcoal grill is pricier and looks like a typical gas grill with a rectangular design, though it can also have the rounded look of a kettle grill. Cart grills with the rectangular design can accommodate indirect cooking for more versatile types of food and ways to serve it. Cart grills have an attached lid, side tables, a cooking grid, a grid for the charcoal area, and come mounted on a cart with wheels. The heat is adjustable on this sort of grill by moving the cooking surface upward, moving the charcoal pan downward, or by venting. Some of these grills include all three such heat-adjustable functions. After cooking with a cart grill, it’s easy to remove the ashes via the ash-collection drawer. Though more expensive than other types of charcoal grills, cart grills are considered as convenient and easy to use as gas grills.
Barrel Grills and Smokers
These charcoal grills are bigger and more versatile than a run-of-the-mill kettle grill. Though many are shaped like barrels, some have the top-to-bottom rounded look of a kettle grill. They’re good for slow-cooking and smoking some meets and have large cooking surfaces to do so. Obviously, then, this is going to be a grill that caters to a large group of people looking to heat with gusto. Barrel grills aren’t just slow-cookers, however, and can also be used to serve food to large groups at a fast clip.
Since they are fairly large, barrel grills and smokers are priced on the higher side in the charcoal-grilling world, ranging from $100 (which kettle grills can cost) to $400. Higher-end models with more additional cool features can cost as much as $1,000.
Ceramic and Kamado Grills
Built with a Japanese-style egg-shaped design, ceramic and kamado grills trap heat very well and regulate cooking temps very efficiently–more efficiently than any other type of charcoal grill, in fact. Advanced grillers will appreciate just how much can be cooked on these types of grills beyond the regular fare such as burgers and brats. Kamado grills are great for cooking pizza, bread, and even desserts. They warm up faster thanks to their thick construction and the egg-shaped design, and are known for producing even better flavors than a typical charcoal grill since the smoke and heat are contained within the grill during the cooking process.
These extremely durable ceramic grills can be used throughout the year and cost anywhere from $300 to $2,000, with the most popular brands hovering in the $700 range. At first glance, all these great features might make people think that this is the best type of grill to purchase. But lifestyle is a consideration as well. Those considering buying a Kamado grill should ask themselves if they’ll be grilling a lot, if they like to cook diverse meals, and if they want to shell out more money.
There’s something pleasantly simplistic about brazier grills, which are constructed of wire and sheet metal and are nothing more than a cooking grid over a charcoal pan. This is what might be seen on a weekend campsite outing among a small group of people. The grill has legs that are attached to the charcoal pan and doesn’t contain a lid or venting system, so cooks will need need to make sure to move the cooking grid up or down as needed over the pan to cook food thoroughly but not burn it. These simple grills are the least expensive charcoal cookers and can be found at discount stores everywhere.
It’s hard to believe grills could be fueled by pellets containing compressed sawdust and vegetable oil or water, but these types of grills are, with the help of an electric-powered auger controlled by a thermostat within a fire box.
These are versatile grills that can smoke food slowly and be used as slow-cookers for barbeque meats such as ribs, ham, and brisket. The temperature range for all those styles of cooking ranges from 100 degrees Fahrenheit to 700 degrees on higher-end models. Thus, steaks can be seared on pellet grills, which are actually 3-in-1 cookers that can smoke, barbeque, and grill. Lots of pellet grills have diffuser plates between the firebox and grill for the even distribution of temps, and top-of-the-line ones can cook food at consistent temps for over ten hours.
The fuel itself–the wood pellets–has varied hardness, and most hoppers in these types of grills can store 10 to 20 pounds of pellets. Pellets made of oak, hickory, apple, maple, alder, mesquite, and grapevine can all be sued, even mixed together, which can produce certain types of desired smoke flavoring.
A square-looking hybrid of a kettle grill and brazier grill, the square charcoal grill is a basic type of grill that almost always has four legs and two wheels on the back so that it can be tilted and rolled easily. The shallow pan is easy to adjust for heating purposes, and this grill comes with a lid and vents. It’s inexpensive but also available with mounted baskets and shelves, which would increase the price a bit.
Another inexpensive grill, the hibachi grill is made of either sheet steel or cast iron and contains a charcoal pan and two small cooking grids that are independent of one another. Similar to a brazier grill, the cooking grid on the hibachi grill can be moved up and down and it does not come with a lid. Some of these grills also have a venting system for better heat control. A great choice for those who like to barbeque and don’t have much space where they live.
Those with a taste for more exotic food will like tandoor ovens, which can cook dishes made in Pakistan, Iran, and India, food such as naan and tandoori chicken. On this type of grill, the wood fire is located at the bottom of the oven. The food, meanwhile, is cooked on long skewers that get inserted into the oven portion via an opening at the top. The meat, therefore, is cooked above the coals of the fire at very hot temperatures in the range of 500 degrees Fahrenheit. A mix of grilling and oven cooking, tandoors cook food quickly using a high-heat infrared method.
Portable Charcoal Grill
Like tailgating at football games? This would be the grill to use. It’s rectangular, compact, and highly portable. People often keep this kind of grill in their trunk when moving it and cooking with it. The legs often fold inward and can lock, making the trunk an ideal spot for this convenient cooker. Not all portable charcoal grills have lids, but many do, and many have venting as well. Those that don’t have venting are ideal to use at locations in which ash could potentially damage the ground in some way. Some higher-end portable charcoal grills can be used away from the football field for spit-roasting fun and come with a hood and added areas under the hood for more cooking versatility.
Portable Backpack Grill
How cool is this sort of grill for those who are avid campers, travellers, or picnickers? They fit right into a backpack and are lightweight and very movable. Small and convenient, they can hold lump charcoal and have legs that fold up and lock for easy carrying with a handle. One 8-pound, 2-feet-tall brand can cook up to eight burgers at a time.
What Factors Should Be Considered In Buying A Charcoal Grill?
There are more things to consider than one might think when shopping for a charcoal grill. Here are some of the most important factors to keep in mind.
Those looking for an economical grill that also does a fine job in cooking food will do just fine purchasing a kettle grill, the all-American-looking grill that many are familiar with. The thing to remember is that as the cooking surface gets larger on a grill, so does the price, generally speaking. That said, a typical barrel grill will have more cooking space than a kettle and doesn’t cost all that much more. Charcoal grills can easily be found for around $100, but with extra features comes higher prices. Beyond a larger cooking surface, those enhanced features might include better construction or a grill that’s known for producing knockout flavors.
Size and Shape
It almost goes without saying that the size of the grill should fit the lifestyle of the person buying it. For instance, those looking for a portable grill that can be taken on camping trips or to a buddy’s house will obviously want a smaller-sized cooker. If the grill is going to basically be stationed in one spot on a backyard porch, make sure it’ll fit nicely in that area. Generally, a kettle grill and ceramic grill could fit in most backyard areas since they’re not all that large. A kettle grill is highly mobile whereas many ceramic ones are much heavier and harder to move around, so keep that in mind if the mobility of the grill is important. Barrel grills come in varied sizes but are most often pretty large.
As noted above, grills come in different shapes. A huge thing to consider about a grill is the cooking surface area and how large grillers will want it to be. A father or mother cooking on the grill most of the time for a family of four or five people should be just fine with a kettle grill. On the other hand, individuals who like to throw large-scale backyard parties with twenty to thirty people wanting to eat will need a larger charcoal grill with a bigger cooking space. When shopping for a grill, be sure to check out the number of food items that will fit on the cooking surface.
For easy-to-make burgers, hot dogs, and brats, any of the aforementioned grills will do just fine. But there are grills for folks who want to make more creative dishes, such as a kamado grill. There’s also cooking style to consider. For slow-cooking and smoked meats, the best bet is a barrel grill or bullet grill. For variety and flavor in food, a ceramic grill might be the way to go since a whole lot of food can be cooked on it such as pizza and baked bread. For flavor and great texture on meats, a kamado grill might be the best option.
Charcoal grills aren’t as easy to light up as gas and electric ones, nor is the process as clean. Many people place a few pieces of newspaper within charcoal and then light it up with a match or barbeque lighter to get the fire going. It’s also common to use lighter fluid when lighting up a charcoal grill.
Prior to lighting up, it’s best to remove the cooking grate and open the bottom vents. Make sure the grill is clean of ash as well. It takes a good twenty to thirty minutes to get the proper temperature of heat going, depending on what’s being cooked.
A big part of grilling food is temperature control, and some cooks want a grill that is highly precise in that realm. For beginners, it may take a bit of time to learn how to regulate the heat inside of the grill and maintaining it where it needs to be when food is cooking or has already been fully cooked. A lid, which traps heat in the grill, plays a big part in temp control. Not all charcoal grills come with lids, but for those that do, make sure it fits snugly on the top to keep in heat.
The dampers on the grill also play a major role in temperature control while cooking. A grill should have at least two of them: one will let oxygen in, and the other will let exhaust out. Grills that have more than two dampers or vents are even more desirable because they offer the added ability to maintain temp control, especially on grills that are larger.
Some grills have adjustable cooking surfaces that allow cooks to move the food closer or farther away from the coals, helping determine the crispness of the food and how long it will take to get done.
Overall, it’s kamado grills that have the best temperature control thanks to the egg-shaped design and thick ceramic walls.
Common on more modern grills, heat shields protect the fuel source from meat drippings and heat that gets dispersed. They do not harbor bacteria and are easy to replace. Heat shields are also referred to as burner shields, heat plates, heat tents, radiation shields, heat angles, and flavor grids.
East of Use and Cleaning Up
Charcoal grills are great for producing that charred, smoked flavor so many love, but compared to other grill types, they require a bit more effort and are more difficult to clean. They’re easy to use once grillers get used to them, but they do take a bit of time to fully warm up, requiring patience if folks are super hungry.
Luckily, some charcoal grills have features that make cleaning them easier. For instance, some have an extra hinged cooking grate or door that makes adding charcoal easier. It’s simpler to add charcoal through these mechanisms rather than having to remove the grates and possibly the food if it’s cooking.
Additionally, some charcoal grills have an ash catcher that can be removed. This makes it easy to dispose of the ash, which comes from the burning coals. It’s much simpler to pull out such a tray and dump it rather than having to scrape ash out of the bottom of the grill or turn it upside down to get the ash out of there.
Consumers get what they pay for, and often splurging more for a higher-end charcoal grill will be a good choice since it will be more durable and should last for many barbeque seasons. So look for the quality of the construction and materials on a grill. Read reviews and check out the warranties. Brands that offer solid warranties usually have the best types of grills.
The body of a sturdy grill is constructed of heavy-gauge porcelain or stainless steel, material that won’t rust and does fine during the cold-weather months of the year. With grill carts, the stainless steel ones with seamless construction and welded joints are superior to carts that are made of painted steel and require assembly with nuts and bolts.
Some grills are made of alumunized steel, material that is more economical than stainless steel but also not as strong, not as resistant to corrosion and rust, and, many would say, not as aesthetically pleasing as stainless steel.
Charcoal grills come in varied shapes and sizes, and have different features, so it’s important to consider these things when considering a purchase. On a more base level, customers may also want to consider the cosmetic appeal of a grill and how it will look in their backyard or on the deck of their condominium. A charcoal barrel grill is more spread out and has the look of a barrel with trays that often extend on both sides of it. A kettle grill is rounded and bowl-shaped, and a kamado grill has an oval shape that may not be as common in most backyards. Along with numerous other important factors, the cosmetic appeal of a grill may matter to some people.
The safest charcoal grills are the ones that are sturdy and won’t tip over while in use. Obviously a tipped grill could be dangerous for anyone nearby and could pose a fire hazard. Basic safety tips for a charcoal grill include keeping the exhaust damper open when cooking and not emptying the ashes until they are fully nonflammable and cool. Look for a grills that has a locking lid so that spillage doesn’t occur when moving it.
Also, grills that have sharper metal corners and edges are less safe. Be sure to look at the handle when shopping around. If the fingers are too close to the lid, which can get very hot, that might not be the safest of grills. Also note that there will be less flare-ups while cooking if there is a good amount of distance between the grates and heat source. This option is adjustable on many grills.
Other than that, the safety of a grill largely depends on the person who is prepping it, cooking on it, and cleaning it up. It’s incumbent on cooks to know how the grill operates, which is attainable by reading the accompanying instructions.
What Are The Parts And Features Of A Charcoal Grill?
We’ve covered many aspects of varied charcoal grills, and now here are some of the more individualized parts, accessories, and grill areas to consider.
Every single charcoal grill will come with a grate. The key is to look for one that will last for a long time, and in the case of some grillers, one that may have more cooking uses. Grates on grills are made of either stainless steel or porcelain-coated cast iron. The cast-iron grates are generally non-stick if they’re seasoned well. They also retain more heat than steel, meaning food will stick to them less but will have grill marks. These types of grates must be cleaned thoroughly and seasoned occasionally.
Stainless steel grates are more expensive and many feel that the cooking qualities on them aren’t as great. On the flip side, they don’t require any maintenance except for easy cleaning with a stiff brush.
Top-of-the-line grates are made of cast iron or stainless steel, both of which conduct heat well. The grates should be rust-resistant and durable enough to handle heavy scraping by a grill brush.
Multiple Surface Sections for Cooking
Grills that have a larger surface area to cook offer more sections in which varied food items can cook at different temperature levels simultaneously. So if something is already fully cooked, such as fish, it can be placed on another surface area that is less hot, while the items being cooked can go in a high-heat location.
Side Work Space
Serious grillers who get good at the craft, or those who want to get into grilling, will find side tables on a grill to be indispensable. This extra built-in counter space gives cooks a place to put dishes, allows for the placement of any needed ingredients, and offers a space for utensils.
Extra Storage, Placement
Some charcoal grills come with hinged grates that allow for the adding of charcoal without having to lift the grate, which can be a hassle, especially if cooking is in progress. Additionally, those who like smoking their food will want a charcoal grill that have a built-in smoker box. This space allows cooks to add smoky flavor to food while grilling by adding wood chips that have been smoked.
A solid thermometer will accurately gauge the temperature of food items to get them cooked just as they should be. Some grills come with a built-in thermometer that can gauge the temp of the inside of the grill and the food items.
The V-Rack is ideal for those who want to cook ribs and poultry. It holds such food into place, making the cooking process simpler.
Though an added cost to grills, this removable item makes cleaning charcoal grills much easier. Rather than digging into the bowl of a grill to scoop out ash, an ash catcher can be removed and the ash within it dumped quickly and conveniently.
Most charcoal grills don’t have a rotisserie option, but those that do can cook moist meat over a rotating spit-fire.
Having wheels on a grill could be a big deal for some people who want to be able to move their grill freely outdoors. Obviously, the shape and grill type will determine how the wheels are arranged on any given grill. A kettle grill, for instance, typically has a stand in front and can be tilted back on its wheels for easy portability. A charcoal barrel grill may have four wheels total, with two being large and two being smaller. Again, such a grill would be easy to move around. A typical kamado grill may have four uniform wheels that allow it to be easily moved. In fact, grills that have four wheels or casters are going to be easier to maneuver around, though it’s not hard to move a kettle grill with just two wheels. Grills that have wheels with a full axle are superior to those that have wheels in which each one has to be bolted to a frame.
No matter what type of grill people purchase, a longer warranty means a better-produced grill. If making a significant investment in a grill, look for one with a solid warranty.
Smaller, lighter grills can be shipped via UPS or FedEx ground, arriving on doorsteps for convenience. The larger heavyweight type of grills can be shipped via truck freight, in which case a delivery company will collaborate with customers to specify a delivery time.
What Type of Charcoal Is Needed for a Charcoal Grill?
There are varied types of charcoal, but those purchasing a charcoal grill should know that different charcoal types don’t produce different flavors. However, charcoal does determine cooking length and affects heat. Here are the different types:
Resembling burnt wood, lump charcoal is made of cherry, coconut shells, mesquite and tamarind. It burns hot and fast and produces less ash for less mess. This stuff is ideal for slow-cooking methods for food such as barbeque, pork, and brisket. Those that grill regularly are willing to pay the higher price for lump charcoal because they feel it’s more natural, though it’s also harder to find and may arrive broken into small bits and dust.
This type of charcoal is available at any grocery store and is probably the most popular type. They can be layered into a grill in a uniform manner, allowing for a consistent and controlled heat source. They don’t get as hot as lump charcoal and are generally used for food such as fish or burgers that require less cooking time. The chemical smell that people may catch in briquettes don’t affect the flavor of the food.
Generally, thirty briquettes will do the job for smaller grills that are portable, and fifty to seventy-five will work for larger barrel or kettle grills. It depends on how much food is being cooked, of course. Most brands of charcoal have seventy to ninety briquettes per bag.
Lesser-known charcoal such as white charcoal, black charcoal, and Ogatan is harder to find but fun to experiment with. Restaurants often use Japanese charcoal because they feel it has less chemicals and will burn for a longer period of time compared to traditional charcoal. Also, exotic charcoals often have less of a smell and produce less smoke, and they can be pricer since they’re imported.