For an authentic fire-food-smoke experience, the charcoal BBQ is king. Gas barbecues may be quicker, cleaner on the hands, and easier to controls, but with a charcoal BBQ you get more versatility. They also impart that delicious smokey flavour that’s synonymous with cooking over charcoal.
To compile our tried-and-tested picks of the best charcoal barbecues, we looked at those suitable for four or more people. We tested a variety of styles, from the simplest of drums and open grills, to the ever-popular kettle, American-style heavy-hooded, and kamado-style ceramic egg barbecues. Prices range from the affordable to the expensive and everything in between. Read on to discover our top buys.
BBC Good Food also has a whole host of the best ever barbecue recipes to get you started, or you can visit our reviews section to find more of the best portable, gas, and budget barbecues, as well as the best pizza ovens.
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Best charcoal BBQs at a glance
- Best investment charcoal BBQ: Big Green Egg large ceramic grill, £1,610
- Best for families who entertain: Char-Broil Kettleman, £170
- Best for simplicity and portability: Lotus Grill charcoal barbecue, £165
- Best charcoal BBQ for small gardens: Big Green Egg MiniMax, £795
- Best charcoal BBQ for taking on trips: everdure by Heston Blumental Cube portable charcoal BBQ, £199
- Best large ceramic BBQ for affordability: Kamado Joe Kettle Joe charcoal BBQ: £599
- Best small ceramic BBQ for affordability: Boss Grill The Egg XS, £199.97
- Best kettle BBQ for user-friendly features: Napoleon 22″ charcoal kettle grill barbecue, £178
- Best for entertaining on a budget: VonHaus Compact charcoal barbecue, £109.99
- Best kettle BBQ: Weber Classic kettle barbecue, £186.73
- Best budget barrel BBQ: Argos Home charcoal oil drum barbecue, £70
- Best portable charcoal BBQ: Berghoff portable BBQ, £129.95
Best charcoal BBQs to buy in 2023
Big Green Egg large ceramic grill
Best investment charcoal barbecue for serious outdoor cooks
- Superb cooking
- Easy to use
Star rating: 5/5
This hefty piece of kit takes some getting used to, but once you’re familiar with the temperature control and various mechanisms, you’re away. The Big Green Egg can hit searing temperatures or retain a gentle heat with finite precision for very long periods.
It multitasks as a smoker and oven for baking and roasting, with lots of extras available for purchase, including extra racks, baking stones and grills (but be warned, the prices can increase steeply once you start adding accessories). The barbecue function is excellent – it comes up to temperature in 20 minutes and produced some of the best food of all we tasted.
Read our full Big Green Egg ceramic grill review.
Best for families who entertain
- Generously sized
- Some storage
- Latch to lock lid
- Vents offer good temperature control
- Easy to move
- Lots of assembly needed
- Tools needed for assembly
- Instructions a little unclear
- Not a lot of space between grill and coals
Star rating: 4.5/5
This generously sized kettle barbecue from Char-Broil is sturdy and robust. It offers enough grilling space for two to four people, ideal if you’re a family looking to make the most of the good weather, or a couple who like to entertain for a small gathering.
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Assembly was a frustrating endeavour. The Kettleman comes packed with lots of polystyrene and plastic, and there are many component parts to this build. You’ll need a spanner, which unfortunately is not provided. While the build took around 30 minutes to complete, we felt this was longer than needed as we were slowed down by diagram-only instructions. It also wasn’t overly clear where the coals should be placed; the coal rack has large gaps between the grates and sits very close to the grilling rack. As it wasn’t clear where the coals go, we initially put them in the ash bowl accidentally.
Once assembled and lit, this barbecue was a joy to cook on. Browning across our test recipes was even and consistent. Everything crisped up nicely and was imparted with a classic barbecued flavour. Our spatchcocked chicken was fantastic: succulent meat with a smokey flavour.
There are many features we loved on this barbecue: the responsive temperature gauge, easy-to-use vents and sturdy wheels. If you’re looking to cook for a small crowd, this spacious model offers consistent cooking every time.
Lotus Grill charcoal barbecue
Best barbecue for simplicity and portability
- Dishwasher-safe parts
- Exterior stays cool to the touch
- Needs batteries
- Limited size
Star rating: 4.5/5
With no lid or legs, the Lotus hardly takes up any space, weighing just 3.7kg. Combined with its ‘smokeless’ credential, it’s a great one for courtyards, small gardens or balconies, particularly because the exterior doesn’t heat up so it can be stood straight on grass or a table without damage.
It arrives ready assembled so there’s no faffing when you receive the box. The model is fan-assisted and, after lighting, took six minutes to get up to temperature. Air flow is dial-controlled so just takes a bit of practice to get used to.
Vegetables, spatchcock chicken and potatoes cooked quickly. Most impressively, unoiled courgette slices didn’t stick, although the grill lines could have been more defined. Arriving with a carry case, 1kg of charcoal plus lighting gel, it’s good value for money for its ease and simplicity.
Read our full Lotus Grill charcoal barbecue review.
Big Green Egg MiniMax
Best charcoal BBQ for small gardens
- Easy to assemble
- Good safety features
- Exceptional fuel efficiency
- Too ferocious for gentle cooking
- Temperature monitor may be confusing
Star rating: 4/5
For those looking for something simple, compact and efficient, the Big Green Egg Minimax is an excellent choice. The smallest of the Big Green Eggs, this charcoal BBQ is a luxury pick that excels at cooking for smaller groups, and would be ideal for a couple, family, or small gathering.
Sturdily constructed and easy to assemble, our initial concerns about this BBQ’s steep price tag were offset by its impressive build quality. Despite being able to reach temperatures of 370°C internally, the heatproof handles stayed cool and the exterior never became dangerously hot. The cast iron vent at the top of the BBQ does get very hot, however.
Though only offering a 13-inch diameter grilling area, the Big Green Egg Minimax cooked spatchcock chicken, vegetable skewers, potatoes and lamb cutlets very quickly. However, it should be noted that the heat generated from this BBQ was too ferocious for gentle cooking, and vigilance will be needed to keep delicate foods from burning.
everdure by Heston Blumental Cube portable charcoal BBQ
Best charcoal BBQ for taking on trips
- Easy to pick up and move around
- Cool-touch handles
- Deceptively large surface area for cooking
- Limited space for coal
- No temperature gauge
- No lid
- Exposed to the elements during cooking
Star rating: 4/5
For those with a more flexible budget, this robust yet lightweight barbecue is an ideal companion for camping trips or days on the beach. It comes in three attractive colours – stone, graphite and orange – and includes an integrated food storage tray, preparation board, and cool-touch handles on either side.
Set-up is a relatively simple affair, though we found some of the diagrams in the manual were confusing. Getting the BBQ to light and retain heat was also tricky, especially as it doesn’t have a lid. Unlike larger models, there’s no temperature gauge either, but the exterior stays impressively cool during cooking.
Despite its compact size, we were able to cook decent-sized portions on this model – and our vegetable skewers tasted pleasant even though there was uneven charring. We also grilled a whole aubergine, which was well blistered and soft, although it took a long time to cook.
Its hefty price tag will be a turn-off for some, but if you have the money to spend, this is a stylish portable barbecue that will serve you well on your travels.
Kamado Joe Kettle Joe charcoal barbecue
Best large ceramic barbecue for affordability
- High quality, sturdy components that felt safe
- Cooks well
- Efficient heat and cooking
- Sits low for cooking
- Tricky to assemble
Star rating: 4/5
With a striking red exterior, this generously sized barbecue is more than a functional means for outdoor cooking, it’s a statement crowd-pleaser that cooks and smokes large quantities well.
A unit is included for transforming it into a smoker, great for adding flavour and character to mains like meat. Building it is a two-person job and the ceramic interior panels are hefty sections to piece together. The positive of this is that they hold and release heat very efficiently to give you plenty of cooking time.
Height-wise, this model’s low-construction made it a bit uncomfortable to stoop over for long periods of cooking. The angle means you’re also leaning across the hottest parts. However, for the price, you get a lot of cooking possibility for your money.
Read our full Kamado Joe Kettle Joe charcoal barbecue review.
Boss Grill The Egg XS
Best small ceramic BBQ for affordability
- Easy to assemble
- Table-top sized
Star rating: 4/5
Counter-top sized and insulated with ceramic, the Boss Grill offers plenty of versatility when it comes to its cooking fare – grill, roast, bake, smoke and cook pizzas with this Boss Grill model.
It’s straightforward to assemble and also to use, although construction shouldn’t be attempted by one person; it’s deceptively weighty and needs lowering into its low stand, which is nicely padded so as not to scratch the outer shell. The lid is spring-loaded for soft closing and there’s a temperature gauge for tracking heat during cooking.
Able to hold 3kg worth of charcoal at a time, we found this barbecue got ferociously hot and burned some ingredients before they were cooked through. However, with some trial and error it could be a great cooking companion for meals for up to four, and will pump out heat for hours – ideal for toasting marshmallows over for pudding.
Read our full Boss Grill The Egg XS review.
Napoleon 22″ charcoal kettle grill barbecue
Best kettle BBQ for user-friendly features
- 10-year warranty
- Nifty hook to hang lid on
- Hinged grill
Star rating: 4/5
This is a simple but well-made BBQ that has an impressively user-friendly design, but is also a reliable all-rounder for anyone wanting to cook outdoors often.
A screwdriver and spanner are included with the nuts and bolts, which we appreciated, along with clear instructions and diagrams in the manuals for its construction. Once fully heated, cooking was a faff-free affair that yielded nicely cooked-through courgettes and potatoes marked with defined grill lines, and evenly charred kebabs packed with flavour.
It’s easy to use the direct and indirect heat zones with this model. We were able to keep cooked ingredients warm around the edges of the grill whilst others cooked in the centre, without them becoming overdone. For lid-down cooking or smoking, the temperature dial on the lid is reactive and clear to use. We particularly appreciated the lock-and-release ash collector which means you don’t have to fish around to dispose of old coals.
Read our full Napoleon 22″ charcoal kettle grill barbecue review.
VonHaus Compact charcoal barbecue
Best for entertaining on a budget
- Adjustable smoke / temperature control
- Lots of features
- Small grill area
- Poorly defined grill lines
Star rating: 4/5
This barbecue is a good choice for anyone wanting a large grilling area on a budget and would be suitable for smaller spaces. You forfeit some build quality for the price. Component parts felt a bit flimsy and construction was a flat-pack affair involving lots of fiddly screws.
Once constructed, you gain nifty features like a bottle opener and two useful side tables for holding lightweight barbecue tools.
The height-adjustable firebox offers control you can rarely achieve when cooking over coals and yielded some nicely cooked ingredients.
Read our full Vonhaus Compact Charcoal BBQ review.
Weber Classic kettle barbecue
Best kettle barbecue
- Handy lid lock
- Good accompanying handbook
- Well thought-out features
- Large to store
- Lacks tool hooks
Star rating: 4/5
With a simple, intuitive design, this kettle barbecue by Weber is an ideal option for anyone wanting good cooking results with minimum effort. The grill is large enough to cook food for a family of six, while features like easy cleaning, ash collection and a lid hook for tucking the hood away as you’re turning burgers makes life just a bit easier during use.
The brand is obviously confident about the longevity of its product, covering its bowl and lid with a 10-year warranty, and guaranteeing its other parts for between two and five years. The handbook will fill you with confidence and excitement about using this barbecue.
Read our full Weber Classic Kettle charcoal barbecue review.
Argos Home charcoal oil drum barbecue
Best budget barrel barbecue
- Easy to use and light
- Good heat coverage
- Effective heat distribution
- No tool storage
- Poor quality in parts
Star rating: 4/5
Compared to other charcoal barbecues on the market, Argos’ basic barrel barbecue offers excellent value for money. An obvious strength is the price point. For under £50 you’re afforded plenty of cooking space for two, or elements for four people. The efficiency and quality of cooking is worth more than £40 alone.
Vents in the bottom basin feed the coals with air to keep them heated. The shape of the barbecue means it’s easy to achieve an even coal distribution so cool spots that are common in kettle barbecues are easily avoided. For the money, you can’t get much better.
Read our full Argos Home charcoal oil drum barbecue review.
Berghoff portable barbecue
Best portable charcoal barbecue
- No assembly
- Easy to use
Star rating: 3.5/5
A petite portable barbecue cannot fully replace a traditional version, however they are worth mentioning for their versatility. For those with small gardens – or no garden at all – they are a neat solution to outdoor cooking. This stylish Berghoff barbecue is lightweight, despite being made of sturdy carbon steel.
The strong carrying strap is more than fit for purpose, then the cork lid cleverly doubles as a heatproof mat when using the grill on grass. When alight, the lid also acts as the vent to allow or prevent air coming into the firebox from the bottom.
Read our full Berghoff portable barbecue review.
What to look for when buying a charcoal barbecue
- Size: Depending on the style, some barbecues can cater for large gatherings and others are best suited to two people. Coal distribution will also affect cooking capacity. For example, sometimes it’s easier to distribute your coals and achieve even direct heat in barrel barbecues than in dome-bottomed kettle models
- Number of cooking grills: Using inserts or shelves to move food away from the main heat (known as indirect cooking) is for more delicate dishes. The closing of the hood helps the food to cook evenly without too much fuss so lessens all the turning and moving, and means you are free to socialise
- Adjustable air vents: These will feed your coals with air and allow you to change the cooking temperature beneath a cooking hood.
- Heat thermometers: Not a standard feature on many models, but particularly handy if you’re cooking meat joints and wanting to reliably achieve the same cooking results over and over.
- Portability: If you’re hoping to take your grill on the go, look for a model that’s lightweight and easy to transport.
How to choose the best barbecue
Once you’ve decided which barbecue to buy, the style will depend on how many people you want to cook for, what you want to do with it, the space you have, budget and how often you will use it.
- Basic grill BBQ: For simple straightforward cooking, this style of barbecue – which comes without a hood or air vents – will do a good job. However, you have to stay by it, learn how to use barbecue coals to create various heat zones around the grill, and regularly turn and move the food for even and safe cooking
- American-style grills or domed kettles: These barbecues are more versatile. By using the hood and air vents, heat can go from hot and fast for cooking over the coals (known as direct cooking), to long and slow for smoking or cooking large joints of meat or whole fish. Some barbecues have vents that can be adjusted to feed the coals with air
- Kamado grill: ‘Kamado’ comes from the Japanese for the wood or charcoal-fired earthen vessels used as an oven but now is a general term for ceramic grills. The distinctive egg shape and thick, heavy ceramic lining make these incredibly versatile and precise for grilling, roasting, baking and smoking using both direct and indirect heat. They could be a little advanced for the beginner but for the serious grill chef they are a wonderful and exciting piece of equipment.
Charcoal barbecue fuel and lighting
Our burning desire for eating outdoors is raising questions around deforestation and where the charcoal is from. Look for the FSC logo of the Forest Stewardship Council, the world certification scheme of wood products on the pack to ensuring properly managed forests for your charcoal.
- Choose your charcoal carefully. It is possible to buy sustainable charcoal which generally will be more expensive. However, you should need less of it because it burns more slowly, and gives out better heat, which will offset some of that cost
- Briquettes and self-lighting charcoal contain chemicals and give off strong odours that will impact on the flavour of your food
- Never use petrol, chemicals or firelighters intended for coal fires to light your barbecue and never ever use in a ceramic grill. Look for natural firelighters now widely available.
How we tested charcoal barbecues
We tested each model’s every function (including smoker, pizza oven, tandoori, fire pit) under control-conditions in order to find the best of the bunch. Read more about how our experts test products. The following are available widely at major supermarkets.
Coals were stacked and lit in order to achieve direct heat and left until they were white hot with glowing red centres. The same key ingredients were also used during each core test.
- Un-oiled courgette slices: To test the non-stick ability of grills and assess its grid-cooking capabilities
- Potato slices: Can the BBQ soften and seal the potato before the outside burns?
- Whole aubergine: We recorded how long it took to grill whole aubergines until soft all over and the skin was blistered
- Vegetable kebabs: These were laid flat across the grills. We checked for defined grill lines, even cooking, sticking and hot spots
- White burger buns: Popping these on the grill is an easy way to warm and toast them with defined grill lines
- Steak: Steak is an excellent indicator of heat intensity and the non-stick quality of grill bars to sear meat without it sticking
- Spatchcock chicken: For lidded BBQs, we tested the model’s ability to retain heat and keep the coals going with the lid on. This was a separate test requiring a new set of coals. A digital meat thermometer was used to check that the meat was safely cooked inside.
What we looked for when testing charcoal barbecues
Each model was scored against the same core criteria:
- Ease of use: We asked whether each model is intuitive to use and suitable for people with varying BBQ experience. We also measured how long each charcoal BBQ took to assemble and how straightforward this was to do, if at all. Some of the BBQs also required tools for assembly, so we awarded extra points to those that came with tools provided
- Ease of cleaning: Is the model easy to clean? Are there manufacturer’s guidelines provided to help with cleaning?
- Cooking results: We considered evenness, taste, texture and succulence of the cooked food during testing
- Value for money: We thought about whether the charcoal BBQ was worth its price tag
- Quality of materials: Does the barbecue have a robust exterior and feel like it’s built to last? Does it use quality, well made materials that look attractive?
How to clean a charcoal BBQ
You can usually expect some mess when cooking on charcoal, but keeping your barbecue clean after use will help it stay in good condition – and potentially lengthen its lifespan.
After the coals have cooled completely, try to do the following:
- Scrape the grates clean with a wire brush and remove any ash from the bottom of the grill
- Clean the inside of the grill and the lid with warm, soapy water and a sponge. If the grates are particularly dirty, soak them for a few hours before scrubbing clean
- Check the vents and remove any debris that may have built up over time
- Store your charcoal BBQ in a dry place, protected from the elements – many brands sell a cover
How to safely extinguish a charcoal BBQ
- If the barbecue has vents, close them: This will cut off the oxygen supply to the coals, so they start to cool down. You’ll want to let the coals cool for several hours before attempting to take them out.
- Dispose of the ashes: Once the coals have cooled completely, use a shovel (ideally a metal one) – to scoop them into a container. Never dispose of hot ashes in a plastic or paper container, as they can easily ignite.
- Soak the coals: To make sure the coals are extinguished, you can also pour water over them – be sure to use lots of water so you’ve completely saturated them.
- Check for remaining embers: If you see any glowing embers, repeat the soaking process until they’re fully extinguished.
Also tested and rated:
The best gas barbecues
The best barbecues under £100
The best portable barbecues
The best supermarket barbecue food
From chicken and fish to vegetarian ideas, side dishes and healthy BBQ feasts, visit our barbecue recipe hub.
If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability, please get in touch at email@example.com.
Do you have a favourite charcoal barbecue? We’d love to hear your product suggestions…