Few outdoor accessories are more important than the grill you choose for you summertime cookouts. It was already time to retire your old grill when that rust hole appeared and a family of mice moved in three years ago, so don’t put it off any longer.

If you’ve already weighed the benefits of an electric grill but you haven’t been able to shake the siren’s call of the classic charcoal grill, you’re in the right place. Considering this my argument for why charcoal still can be a great choice, and how to choose a good grill.

The charcoal grills in this post:

Charcoal gives food that classic summertime flavor you associate with the activity of grilling. Any morsel cooked over charcoal’s radiant heat is blessed with a smoky flavor unmatched by any other outdoor cooking device (barring a smoker, but that’s a different world altogether). With the right mindset, it also can be a lot of fun, from the moment you pack the chimney to when you close down the vents—and those glowing embers will always inspire s’mores.

I feel like a big time grill master whenever I cook with charcoal, probably because it takes a bit of work and know-how to successfully get one going versus a propane gas grill that lights with a click, or an electric grill that activates with a flip of the switch. But it’s also something a beginner can handle. (They say that each time you get those charcoal briquettes glowing, your ego grows three sizes.)

Is a charcoal grill right for you?

When considering which type of grill to buy, think about your priorities. Do you need it to be portable? What size do you think is best? Do you just want something that lights the first time, or are you okay with some trial and error? Consider charcoal’s advantages: 

Great flavor. This is my number one concern when grilling (or when cooking, really), and the charcoal grill delivers. If you want that flame-kissed flavor, then the question isn’t if you should buy a charcoal grill, it’s which charcoal grill. 

High heat. Charcoal cooks your food with powerful radiant heat from the mound of briquettes underneath the food. While gas burns cleaner, it just doesn’t burn as hot as charcoal. If strong sears are important to you, go with charcoal.

Portable. You’re probably not taking a propane tank or an electric plugin grill to the park or to the beach. Charcoal grills can come in large sizes, or as tiny foldable units. Throw a bag of charcoal in the back seat and you can grill up some burgers anywhere you are legally allowed.

Safety first

If you’re looking for tips on charcoal grilling, read about how to keep it hot, and these tricks for starting out. As always, use your charcoal grill safely, and never burn charcoal indoors (including in a tent). Burning charcoal produces carbon monoxide (CO) and doing it in an enclosed space can lead to CO poisoning. Keep it in the open air—it’s more fun to cook out there anyway. 

Also: Clean the damn thing, including the grates, with every use to remove fat deposits which can cause flare-ups, and just because you should.

Give your grill some space. Even if you don’t live in NYC, I’m referencing the city’s guidelines, because it doesn’t get much more crammed full of people and buildings than here. NYC.gov recommends a clearance of 10 feet or more when using charcoal grills near buildings and structures. (Beyond that, keep a fire extinguisher handy just in case.)

Now, on to my recommendations.

For a portable option, consider the Weber Smokey Joe Premium

This wee tabletop Weber grill gives you a 14-inch cooking surface, which is small enough to carry but big enough to fit five average-sized burgers all at once. This is an option for the outdoorsy chef on the go that envisions many tailgating, camping, or park grilling sessions in their future. Although the art of charcoal grilling is the same whether small or large, this petite Weber’s small size makes it approachable if you’re a beginner just starting out.

It you want a kamado charcoal grill, check out Kamado Joe’s 

Do I know why the name “Joe” seems to inspire so many charcoal grills? Nope. But what I am sure of is that Japanese-style kamado grills are an excellent option for anyone looking for their new backyard centerpiece. While on the pricier side among charcoal-fueled options, this heavy duty grill is constructed of thick ceramic with cast iron parts, so it provides even heating, consistent temperatures, and surprisingly strong heat retention. It is not, however, light—you won’t be tossing this one in the back seat, it’s a good option for folks who plan on grilling at home. 

The Weber Original Kettle is a classic for a reason

Weber has been one of the more recognizable names in charcoal grills since the 1960s, perhaps because, although simple, its standard design works so well. This original kettle reflects the same silhouette as the first Webers, with some helpful improvements like hinged grill grates to move the charcoal underneath and an easily removable ash bucket. This grill is great as a flexible option—it’s more lightweight than the kamado grill and has wheels, so it’s semi-portable. Plus the price range is more affordable while still accounting for higher quality materials, so it should last you a few years until you want to change things up again.