It’s a classic British summertime scene: the sun's just peeked out from behind the clouds, the temperature's barely in double digits, but all along the street there’s the delicious smell of smoky, charcoal cooked food.
Although gas barbecues are quick, clean and easy to control, they are comparatively expensive and require unwieldy tanks of propane. The best charcoal barbecues cook just as well as gas, but also give food a woody, smoky flavour that simply can’t be matched.
We teamed up with our colleagues at BBC Good Food to put a range of charcoal barbecues through their paces. With their exceptional gastronomic knowledge and our expertise in all things gardening, we’ve selected the best charcoal barbecues that will cater to a wide range of gardens.
Getting ready to entertain this summer? Check out our reviews of the best pizza ovens and the best gas BBQs, both in collaboration with BBC Good Food, and our guides to barbecue accessories and fire pits.
To help set the scene see our test of the best solar lights, or our guide to parasols and to help keep your barbecue in tip top condition, our experts have put the best pressure washers through their paces, so you can buy with confidence.
Charcoal Barbecues - Buyers' Guide video
Follow our tips on buying a charcoal barbecue to find the right one for your garden
More like this
- Best buy family charcoal BBQ 2023: Char-Broil Kettleman
- Best buy premium charcoal BBQ: Kamado Joe Series III
- Best buy kettle charcoal BBQ: Weber Master-Touch GBS E-5755
- Best buy portable charcoal BBQ: Lotus Grill G340
- Best buy budget kettle BBQ: Weber Classic Kettle E5710
- Best buy barrel BBQ: Vonhaus Barrel Charcoal BBQ
- Best buy ceramic charcoal BBQ: Kamado Joe Kettle Joe
- Best buy for user-friendly features: Napoleon 22" Charcoal Kettle Grill Barbecue
To help you find the right charcoal barbecue for your garden, we tested a range of new and consistently popular models cooking a range of food on each. Every barbecue has a detailed list of pros and cons for clarity and has been rated according to assembly, ease of cooking, cooking results and value for money. Every barbecue in our round-up has scored a minimum of three out of five stars, so you can buy with confidence.
- Best Buy charcoal barbecues 2023
- The best of the rest
- How to choose a charcoal barbecue
- Charcoal barbecues fuel and lighting
- How we test charcoal barbecues
Our rating: 4.3/5
• Good looking
• Generous size
• Storage rack at base
• Latch to lock lid
• Vents provide good temperature control
• Easy to move
• Unclear instructions
• Tools not provided
• Not a lot of space between grill and coals
With enough grilling space to feed a family of four this sturdy and robust kettle barbecue is a reliable choice for summer grilling and was awarded a BBC Gardeners' World Magazine Best Buy for the best charcoal barbecue for families. It boasts an attractive design, smooth opening action and sturdy wheels that make it easy to move around the patio, decking or lawn. The Char-Broil Kettleman offers precise temperature control: the vents provide good airflow, allowing you to adjust the heat and smoke to your liking, plus, there’s a responsive temperature gauge on the lid. However, we found the manual a little unclear owing to the diagram-only instructions and this, coupled with the many component parts to this barbecue, made assembly a bit of a challenge. It wasn’t entirely clear where the coals should sit either. Despite the difficulties with assembly, once the Kettleman was up and running, we enjoyed a fantastic grilling experience. The grill is generously sized and produced even and consistent browning across all of our test recipes. This model does lose heat quickly when opened, however, meaning some foods took longer than expected to cook.
• Dimensions: 66 x 66 x 99.1 cm
• Grill size: 52cm
Kamado Joe Series III
Our rating: 4.8 out of 5
- 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
- Heavy to move - 130kg
- Needs a little getting used to
A BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine Best Buy award-winner for a premium charcoal BBQ, this is a huge (130kg) egg-shaped ceramic charcoal grill 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 over £2000 this is a lifetime investment for serious barbecuers.
- Dimensions: 148.336 x 136.398 x 90.932cm
- Grill size: 61cm
Read the full Kamado Joe Series III review.
Weber Master-Touch GBS E-5755 Charcoal Barbecue
Our rating: 4.5 out of 5
- Buy now from John Lewis
- Very easy to assemble
- Large grilling area
- Distinct hot and cool areas for precision cooking
- Large ash catcher
- Easy to move around
- On the expensive side
- Exterior gets very hot
- Handle is hard to hold
The Weber-Master Touch E-5755 is a BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine Best Buy-winner for the best kettle charcoal barbecue. This generously sized charcoal barbecue is not only designed for traditional grilling but can also smoke, and Weber offers additional accessories including a pizza stone, wok, poultry smoker and more, making this one of the more versatile barbecues we’ve tested. It was the easiest barbecue to assemble, thanks to the App Bilt which gives you a 3D step-by-step guide to the building process. Grilling is a joy on the Master-Touch GBS E-5755. It quickly reaches searing temperatures in the middle of the barbecue that are perfect for burgers, while also offering a cooler ring of indirect heat around the edge, for sides like corn on the cob that need slower, more controlled cooking. It’s a fabulous all-rounder that’s ideal for entertaining, but bear in mind it’s a little more expensive than other barbecues. We also didn’t like the wedge-shaped handle, but this is a minor criticism.
- Dimensions: 118cm H x 65cm W x 76cm D
- Grill area: 2,342 cm²
- Buy now from John Lewis
Lotus Grill G340
Our rating: 4.5 out of 5
- Buy now from Amazon (£159.28)
- Very easy to use
- Super quick to light
- Smoke free
- Parts can be cleaned in the dishwasher
- Simple design that stays cool to touch
- Needs batteries, lighting gel and charcoal chips
- Grill size limited, although larger models are available
A BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine Best Buy award-winner for a portable charcoal barbecue, the Lotus Grill is unlike any other we tested. As it's a charcoal barbecue assisted by an electric fan, 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.
- Dimensions: 23.4 x 35 x 35cm
- Grill area: 35 x 35 cm
Read the full LotusGrill review.
Weber Classic Kettle E-5710
Our rating: 4.3 out of 5
- Buy now from Amazon (£179.99)
- Good, well thought out features
- Easy to use
- Temperature gauge
- Handy lid hook
- Great accompanying handbook
- Takes up room in storage
- Lacks tool hooks
A BBC Gardeners' World Magazine Best Buy winner for best budget kettle barbecue this classic kettle charcoal grill is sturdy with a simple intuitive design and 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.
- 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 out of 5
- Buy now from Vonhaus (£84.99)
- Very high quality
- Cooked very well
- Big cooking surface
- Perfect height
- Poor quality wheels
This barbecue was awarded a BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine award for the best barrel BBQ. 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.
- Dimensions 96 x 89 x 90cm
- Grill area 73 x 39cm
Read the full Vonhaus Barrel barbecue review.
Kamado Joe Kettle Joe charcoal barbecue
Our rating: 4.25 out of 5
- Buy now from Appliances Direct (£439.97)
- High-quality, sturdy components that felt safe
- Cooks well
- Efficient heat and cooking
- Sits low for cooking
- Tricky to assemble
Awarded a BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine Best Buy award for best large, affordable ceramic barbecue, this generously-sized barbecue offers more than simple grilling. We love its striking red exterior and design, which makes it a statement crowd-pleaser that cooks and smokes large quantities well. Building it is a two-person job and the ceramic interior panels are hefty sections to piece together, but on the plus side, they hold and release heat very efficiently to give you plenty of cooking time. Given that this BBQ isn’t very tall, it was a bit uncomfortable to stoop over for long cooking stints, and you also have to lean across the hottest parts. However, it cooks well and you get a lot of cooking options for your money.
- Dimensions: 122 cm x 111 cm x 74 cm
- Grill area: 56cm
Read the full Kamado Joe Kettle Joe charcoal barbecue review.
Napoleon 22" charcoal kettle grill barbecue
Our rating: 4.25 out of 5
- Compact and portable
- Easy to use
- Nifty hook to hang lid whilst cooking
- Hinged grill
- 10-year warranty
- Fiddly to assemble
- Exterior gets hot
The Napoleon 22" charcoal kettle grill barbecue earned a BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine Best Buy award for its user-friendly features. This is a simple, well-designed kettle-style barbecue, ideal for newbies or those who appreciate a hassle-free cooking experience. It offers plenty of practical features, such as an integral hook so you can hang the lid off the side of the BBQ when you’re checking food, chunky wheels for good manoeuvrability, hinged grills for topping up fuel, removable ash catcher and a temperature gauge on the lid with helpful temperature zones. It distributes heat evenly, which makes cooking easy. The outside of this grill is cool, offering useful indirect heat so you can cook food slowly, or keep it warm. Courgettes and potatoes cooked well with nicely defined grill lines. Thanks to being able to control the temperature, the kebabs were well-cooked, and the buns were nicely crisped and charred, but not burned. It also comes with a cover and a reassuringly generous 10-year warranty. However, it’s fiddly to assemble and the exterior gets hot.
- Dimensions: 112 x 59 x 70cm
- Grill area: 57cm
Although some models didn’t quite achieve a BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine Best Buy award, they still have features that make them worth recommending. Browse our pick of the best of the rest on test.
Big Green Egg Minimax
Our rating: 4 out of 5
- Sturdy, and durable design
- Easy to assemble
- Safe to use
- High heat may take some getting used to
- Heavy, not portable without assistance
- High price tag
The smallest, and most affordable charcoal barbecue released by Big Green Egg, the Minimax is a good choice for couples, or small families willing to pay more for reliability and ease of use. It comes partially pre-assembled and with helpful instructions that are accompanied by a video guide accessible via QR code. Compact and attractively designed, this ceramic barbecue takes up little space, and is easy to fit in a garden or shed for storage - however, it's heavy, despite the carry handle on either side and needs two people to lift it. Its sturdy, insulated body, heatproof handles, and four rubber-tipped feet also make it a safe choice to use on a table or lawn.
The Minimax is easy to light, getting to temperature within just ten minutes, and this initial load of charcoal is all it needs, as it burns fuel very efficiently. It has a temperature gauge and vents in its base and lid, which allow you to monitor and manage the cooking temperature by changing its airflow and it cooks vegetables and meat well and with good char, but it cooks quickly enough to mean vegetable skewers should be watched to prevent burning. Cleaning the Minimax Big Green Egg is simple too, just remove all residual coal and brush its internal components down. Its premium price tag may be enough to put some people off, but those willing to pay more for will find this model a powerful and easy-to-use little barbecue.
- Dimensions: 50cm x 56cm
- Grill area: 33cm
Everdure by Heston Blumenthal CUBE charcoal BBQ
Our rating: 3.8/5
- Easy to transport
- Cool-touch handles
- Deceptively large surface area for cooking
- Limited space for coal
- No temperature gauge
- No lid
- Exposed to the elements as it’s left open during cooking
Those with limited outdoor space will be well served by this compact box barbecue. Available in three colours, it comes with integrated storage and handy bamboo chopping board for speedy food prep on the go and at home. Despite its robust build, the porcelain enamel firebox is impressively lightweight and comes with cool-touch handles on either side, so you can easily pick it up and carry it around. Set-up is also straightforward, and though the instructions lack some detail, no actual assembly is required. In testing, getting this barbecue to light and retain heat without a lid was difficult, and without a temperature gauge there was no way of knowing how hot it was. Once it got going though, we found it produced good results. The vegetable skewers were unevenly charred but flavoursome, and our potato slices had a crisp bite with grill lines. The hefty price tag comes down to the name attached to it, but if you've the budget and eye for style, the everdure Cube is certainly worth considering.
- Dimensions: 23 x 42.5 x 34.7 cm
- Grill size: 670cm²
Boss Grill The Egg XS
Our rating: 3.75 out of 5
- Easy to assemble
- Reasonably priced
- Small, table-top size
- Temperature gauge
- Heat-proof handles gets hot
- Hard to control heat and grill gets very hot
This barbecue promises to be an eye-catching addition to the garden yet there’s more to this model than good looks, as it also offers great value and plenty of versatility. Capable of grilling, roasting, baking, smoking and even cooking pizza, the Boss Grill Egg XS is easy to build and use, taking just 20 minutes to get up to temperature. The materials are good quality, it feels solid and sturdy once it’s on its stand, and the hood is spring-loaded and closes firmly. The Boss Grill Egg XS is an ideal size for a small family, allowing you to cook four burgers at a time. However, we found that its excellent heat-retention means that it gets so hot it scorches food. On test, the courgettes and kebabs cooked well with clear grill lines, but the potato slices burnt before they cooked through, and the buns toasted unevenly, as there are a few cool spots above the ceramic tiles. Unlike other models we tested, it doesn’t have lots of features, but does include a temperature gauge and thick, sturdy wooden handles. Designed to be a table-top BBQ, it doesn’t have wheels and needs to be placed on a heat-proof surface. Though small, this is a heavy barbecue, so it’s not the obvious choice if you’re looking for a truly portable option, and the handles get quite hot, despite being heat-proof. It comes with a one-year warranty, which is disappointingly short, but does come with a cover and a pizza stone.
- Dimensions: 62cm x 55cm x 54cm
- Grill area: 47.5cm
Vonhaus Compact charcoal barbecue
Our rating: 3.75 out of 5
- Adjustable smoke / temperature control
- Lots of features
- Small grill area
- Poorly defined grill lines
This cheap but cheerful charcoal barbecue and smoker is packed with plenty of features for the price. It comes with a thermometer, two side tables, inbuilt storage, a bottle opener and handy wheels for moving around. The most notable feature is an adjustable firebox, so you can choose the height of your charcoal or smoking wood and adjust the temperature. It also has a front door, so you can easily add more wood while smoking. It offers a surprising number of features for a BBQ of this price and compact size. It’s great if you’ve got a little garden or courtyard, but beware if you’ll be catering to a crowd - this BBQ had an even smaller grill area than a camping BBQ that we had to hand as we tested.
As with many of the parts of this BBQ, the grills were poorly machined, and didn’t quite fit. The grill also has wide gaps, so smaller ingredients like halloumi fell onto the coals. This also meant that grill lines were poorly defined. Though it’s simple to assemble, it’s very fiddly. All the parts need to be screwed into each other, so assembly took us about an hour. While it’s a great price, it feels wobbly and cheap. We think this BBQ suits couples and small families on a budget - you could comfortably stretch it to four people, but not more.
- Dimensions: 108cm x 36cm x 96cm
- Grill area: 45 x 32cm
Weber Go-Anywhere charcoal barbecue
Our rating: 3 out of 5
- Friendly grill size for both direct and indirect cooking
- Well fitting lid with two vents
- Stay cool ergonomic handle
- No temperature gauge
- Exterior and surface beneath get very hot
- Legs not sturdy
- Food quickly burns if not watched
This simple, box barbecue from Weber is portable and easy to use, with a grill big enough for a couple or small family. Well designed for use at home or on the move, it's quick to set up and pack down and most of the materials are sturdy and robust and come with a 10 year warranty. Once lit, it heats up and cooks fast, so food like vegetables will need watching to ensure they don't burn, but despite its small size, the grill is large enough for cooking on both direct and indirect heat, with room to heat food in the centre and then move it to the side to stay warm. Vents in the lid can help you control the heat, but there's no temperature gauge, which can make it tricky to know exactly how hot it's getting. The outside of the barbecue also got ferociously hot and even though the grill is raised off the ground, heat builds up underneath, so wherever you use it, care must be taken to only cook on a heat proof or concrete surface.
- Dimensions: 37cm x 53cm x 31cm
- Grill area: 42cm x 26cm
Consider the following points when choosing a charcoal barbecue for your garden:
- Size. Bigger isn’t always better – if you’re only entertaining a few, a small kettle 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 in the lid 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.
- Extra 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 and even tandoors.
Although it's easy to pick up charcoal online, in garden centres, even supermarkets, sustainable charcoal is now easy to find, and while it can be more expensive, you should need less of it because it burns more slowly, and gives out better heat, which will offset some of the cost. Look for the FSC logo of the Forest Stewardship Council, the global certification scheme of wood products, on the pack to ensure charcoal is sourced from properly managed forests.
Avoid briquettes and self-lighting charcoal that contain chemicals and give off strong odours as they’ll affect the flavour of your food and never use petrol, chemicals or firelighters intended for coal fires to light your barbecue. Instead look for natural firelighters, which are widely available.
Together with our colleagues at BBC Good Food, the BBC Gardeners' World Magazine reviews team tested a range of charcoal barbecues. Each was unpacked, assembled, used to cook a variety of food and then cleaned and packed away. We assessed according to specific criteria with BBC Good Food putting particular emphasis on how well each barbecue cooked while we assessed the barbecues within a garden context, including how easy they are to assemble, move around and store. They were assessed according to the following criteria with equal marks attributed to each:
- Assembly. Looked at the ease of assembly, clarity of instructions, warmup time and how easy the barbecue is to store.
- Ease of use. Focused on comfort and ease of use, how easy it is to move around the garden, and to light and cook.
- Cooking results. We cooked a variety of common barbecue food to assess the non-stick ability of each grill, its grid-cooking capabilities, and how well it chars, softens, and seals food. We also checked for defined lines, even cooking, sticking and hot spots. Above all, we tested how long it took to cook each dish and how well each dish tasted.
- Value for Money. Considered all of the above as well as quality, design, warranty and price.
For more information on our testing process see How We Review.
This review was last updated in May 2023. We apologise if anything has changed in price or availability.