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Charcoal Barbecues Hero Image - BBC Gardeners' World Magazine

Seven of the best charcoal BBQs

We teamed up with BBC Good Food to find you some of the best charcoal BBQs.

It’s a classic British summertime scene: the sun has only peeked out from behind the clouds, the temperature is barely in double digits, but all along the street there’s the delicious smell of charcoal barbecues.

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Though gas barbecues are quicker, cleaner, and easier to control, they cost a lot more, and require unwieldy tanks of propane.

The best charcoal BBQs cook food just as well as gas barbecues, but with the outdoorsy fun of lighting a fire, plus, they give food a woody, smoky flavour that simply can’t be matched.

Charcoal barbecues are also a surprisingly versatile way to cook. It’s hard to outdo a classic barbecue, but if you tire of burgers and bangers you can branch out into a wide variety of dishes. Carne asada (steak filling for burritos, tacos and fajitas), yakitori and satay chicken skewers, tandoori chicken, and Korean barbecue can all be grilled. It needn’t be meat, either; a good charcoal barbecue brings delicious, smoky char to vegetarian classics like halloumi and vegetable kebabs. With a lidded barbecue – and a little patience – you can roast too, or slow cook to perfection. Swapping the oven for a barbecue, you can even cook paella, or delicious sweet treats like these rum and caramel bananas.

However, there’s a lot of posturing when it comes to barbecues. Many models have unnecessarily large grills and overly expensive features so we cut through the noise to test the claims of some of the most popular barbecues on the market.

To ensure we tested cooking results thoroughly we teamed up with our colleagues at BBC Good Food to put a range of charcoal barbecues through their paces. We put 10 to the test including the Bar-Be-Quick Tandoori Smoker and the George Foreman Kettle Charcoal Barbecue and with their exceptional gastronomic knowledge and our expertise in all things gardening, we’ve selected seven of the best charcoal barbecues that will cater to a wide range of gardens.

Getting ready to grill? Check out some of the best barbecue accessories and fire pits. If you’re entertaining, take a look at BBC Good Food’s collection of barbecue recipes, or browse their summer drinks recipes.

Keep your barbecue in tip top condition – our experts have put the best pressure washers through their paces, so you can buy with confidence.


How to choose a charcoal BBQ

Size

Bigger isn’t always better – if you’re only entertaining for a few, a small kettle charcoal barbecue is all you need. Make sure your barbecue fits comfortably in your garden away from fire hazards.

Special features

Some of the best charcoal barbecues come with extras as standard – look out for warming racks that will keep food hot until you’re all ready to eat, thermometers to gauge cooking times precisely and heat vents to help control the temperature when you’re cooking. Side tables for keeping plates and sauces close at hand and tool racks are also very handy

Special functions

If you’re a keen cook or just fancy giving something new a go, keep an eye out for charcoal barbecues with multiple functions. Lots of the best charcoal barbecues can also be used as smokers, ovens, even tandoors.

Best charcoal BBQs at a glance


Seven of the best charcoal BBQs to buy in 2021

Lotus Grill G340

Our rating: 4.5/5

Lotus Grill - BBC Gardeners' World Magazine
Lotus Grill

By Kay Maguire, Reviews Editor, BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine

Pros:

  • Very easy to use
  • Super quick to light
  • Smoke free
  • Parts can be cleaned in the dishwasher
  • Simple design that stays cool to touch

Cons:

  • Needs batteries, lighting gel and charcoal chips
  • Grill size limited, although larger models are available

This charcoal barbecue is unlike any other we tested. The Lotus Grill is a charcoal barbecue assisted by an electric fan, so it takes only a few minutes to get up to cooking temperature. It’s simple and well thought out, offering easy, fuss free cooking. It takes up hardly any space, produces no smoke and can even sit on top of the table; great for small gardens and courtyards. It’s perhaps not for barbecue aficionados but is ideal for anyone new to charcoal grilling. The safe, cool sides also make it great for introducing teens and older kids to barbecuing.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 23.4 x 35 x 35cm
  • Grill area: 35 x 35 cm

Read the full LotusGrill review.


Symple Stuff 50cm Kamado Charcoal BBQ

Our rating: 4.3/5

Symple Stuff Kamado Charcoal Barbecue - BBC Gardeners' World
Symple Stuff Kamado Charcoal BBQ

By Elaine Lemm, Food and Reviews Writer, BBC Good Food

Pros:

  • Excellent heat distribution
  • Movable grills to control heat
  • Easy to assemble
  • Easy to clean

Cons:

  • Sharp corners and edges

With its eye-catching design and all stainless steel finish, this charcoal barbecue is a real talking point. The tall column functions as a vent to control airflow to the main firebox and we found the heat distribution was very good as a result. The grill has two handles to move it into three different positions, allowing you to switch between different heats to achieve the optimum cooking conditions for your food. Cleaning is quick and easy as the ash falls down the central column and collects in the ash pan. While the Symple Stuff Kamado is easy to assemble thanks to clear instructions, some of the edges are sharp, as are some of the corners when constructed.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 95 x 51 x 68cm
  • Grill area: 47cm

Weber Classic Kettle E-5710

Our rating: 4.3/5

Weber Classic E5710 Kettle Barbecue - BBC Gardeners' World
Weber Classic E5710 Kettle Barbecue

By Kay Maguire, Reviews Editor, BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine

Pros:

  • Good, well thought out features
  • Easy to use
  • Temperature gauge
  • Handy lid hook
  • Great accompanying handbook

Cons:

  • Takes up room in storage
  • Lacks tool hooks

A sturdy, classic kettle charcoal barbecue with a simple intuitive design, this is ideal for new users and anyone who wants tasty results easily. Big enough to feed up to six people, it’s easy to move in and out of storage and has handy features including easy cleaning, ash collection and a hook on the hood for tucking it out of the way whilst you’re turning the burgers. The helpful handbook ensures great cooking results.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 100.3 x 57.2 x 63.5cm
  • Grill area: 48 x 48cm

Read the full Weber Classic E5710 review.


Vonhaus Barrel Charcoal BBQ

Our rating: 4.3

Vonhaus Barrel Charcoal Barbecue - BBC Gardeners' World
Vonhaus Barrel Charcoal Barbecue

By Alex David, Digital Reviews Writer, BBC Gardeners’ World

Pros:

  • Very high quality
  • Cooked very well
  • Big cooking surface
  • Perfect height

Cons:

  • Poor quality wheels

This barbecue is a near-perfect example of a barrel charcoal barbecue, offering an efficient cooking surface that’s just right for catering to large crowds. Its big grill delivers delicious and quick results – we thoroughly cooked an entire spatchcock chicken in just 15 minutes. This was charred and crispy but not dry, remaining juicy throughout.  This barbecue was easy to load and quick to heat up, reaching cooking temperature in just 20 minutes. Its cooking surface is 79cm off the ground, which suits most users. It has a handy warming rack, and its carry handle can double as a rest for barbecue tongs. Its lid is weighty but not heavy, with a very smooth opening action, and fits snugly over the grill to seal in heat. There’s also a thermometer on the front of the lid, which makes it easy to see the temperature. The only drawbacks are its large size and the low-quality wheels, but these are minor issues.

Specifications

  • Dimensions 96 x 89 x 90cm
  • Grill area 73 x 39cm

Read the full Vonhaus Barrel barbecue review.


Argos Home Charcoal Oil Drum BBQ with Warming Rack

Our rating: 4/5

Argos Home Charcoal Oil Drum BBQ with Warming Rack - BBC Gardeners' World
Argos Home Charcoal Oil Drum BBQ with Warming Rack

By Alex David, Digital Reviews Writer, BBC Gardeners’ World

Pros:

  • Easy to light and easy to use
  • Easy to assemble.
  • Good size – strikes the balance between a big, effective cooking area without taking up too much space
  • Fantastic heat coverage
  • Great price

Cons:

  • Poor quality – missing thread for a screw
  • Very basic – no thermometer or tool storage

This is Argos’ most basic oil drum barbecue – a surprisingly compact charcoal barbecue that delivers good results for a fantastic price. This barbecue is a joy to use, taking just 30 minutes to get to cooking temperature. The grill is 70cm from the ground, which suits a range of heights. A warming rack is effective for keeping sides like corn on the cob warm. The most impressive but simple feature is the vents in the bottom basin by the coals. These feed oxygen to the fire from the sides and below, which makes this barbecue very efficient, heating up quickly. Unfortunately, it has no thermometer, tool storage or wheels. However, if needed, there is a £50 version of this barbecue that comes with tools and a cover, and a £75 version with a larger capacity and handy side table. It’s also quite shoddily built, missing a key bolt. Great for students, those strapped for space, or those on tighter budgets. Not the highest quality, but excellent for just £40.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 90 x 83 x 57cm.
  • Grill size: 35 x 71cm

Kamado Joe Series III

Our rating: 4.8/5

Buy now from Amazon (£1399)  and Hayes Garden World (£2499)

Kamado Joe Big Joe III - BBC Gardeners' World Magazine
Kamado Joe Big Joe III

By Lulu Grimes, Managing Editor, BBC Good Food

Pros:

  • Very high quality
  • Very versatile
  • Good looking
  • Great fun to cook with
  • If smoking and low, slow cooking are your forte then this is perfect
  • Comes with a lifetime warranty

Cons:

  • Heavy to move – 130kg
  • Expensive
  • Needs a little getting used to

This is a huge (130kg) egg-shaped ceramic charcoal barbecue with a hood. It has a thermometer and a system of vents to easily control airflow and temperature, making it easy to achieve a scorching 400°C (752°F). It’s incredibly efficient; with the lid on it can maintain heat for hours, and can be used to slow cook. It has a unique smoker – the Slōroller – which circulates smoke around the inside of the grill, with delicious results. It can even be used to roast a Christmas turkey  and you can buy a rotisserie attachment as well.  It’s very versatile for all sorts of cooking, scoring near-perfect marks in our cooking tests. This is a very high end barbecue, and all of its parts – even hinges – are heavy duty and of the highest quality. However, at £1899, this is a lifetime investment for serious barbecuers.

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 148.336 x 136.398 x 90.932cm
  • Grill size: 61cm

Read the full Kamado Joe Series III review.


The Big Green Egg

Our rating: 4.8/5

Buy now from Big Green Egg (£1175)

Big Green Egg Ceramic Charcoal Barbecue - BBC Gardeners' World
Big Green Egg Ceramic Charcoal Barbecue

By Elaine Lemm, Food and Reviews Writer, BBC Good Food

Pros:

  • Multiple functions – grill, smoker, oven
  • Precise temperature control
  • Wide range of temperatures
  • High-grade, efficient ceramics

Cons:

  • Price
  • Thermometer a little sluggish
  • Heavy to move –

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,  coming up to temperature in 20 minutes.

Specifications 

  • Dimensions: 56x80cm
  • Grill size: 46cm

Read the full Big Green Egg ceramic grill review.

Shop Big Green Egg at John Lewis


How we test charcoal BBQs

To find the best charcoal barbecues, we time how long it takes to assemble each barbecue, if they use eco-friendly packaging, and if they require tools to put them together. We then see how easy it is to set up firelighters and briquettes, and assess how quickly it takes for the barbecue to get to temperature.

We use several technical tests to assess each barbecue. In the first, we test heat coverage by spreading homemade potato chips across the entire surface of the grill and seeing where it’s hottest and coolest. We grill unoiled courgette to see if the grill sticks, and assess whether it gives characterful griddle lines. We also barbecue an aubergine, to see how well the barbecue can char while retaining moisture and cooking through. If the barbecue has a lid, we also test this by cooking a whole spatchcock chicken.

After our formal review, testers then use the barbecues as they might at home, to get a sense of them as they might be used more naturally.

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This review was last updated in April 2021. We apologise if anything has changed in price or availability.