It’s summer and the barbecue season is open. The only thing you’re missing now is the right barbecue. But with so much to choose from, it’s often hard to decide which product to go for. One of these products is the charcoal barbecue. In our charcoal barbecue test 2023 we present a comparison of the different types of charcoal barbecues. You will also find some product recommendations for different charcoal grills. With a charcoal barbecue, you save electricity and gas and you are very flexible when it comes to space. You also get a completely different taste experience when grilling on charcoal, which you don’t get with a gas grill, for example. Of course, we will also answer other general questions about grilling with charcoal in this article. Among other things, how a charcoal barbecue actually works, how healthy charcoal barbecuing is and what price range the different types of charcoal barbecues are in.
- 1 The most important facts
- 2 The best Charcoal Grill: Our Picks
- 3 Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a charcoal barbecue
- 3.1 What is a charcoal grill?
- 3.2 How does grilling with a charcoal barbecue work?
- 3.3 How much does a charcoal grill cost?
- 3.4 Are there smoke-free charcoal barbecues?
- 3.5 What is a charcoal barbecue with active ventilation?
- 3.6 Is a gas barbecue or a charcoal barbecue healthier?
- 3.7 What are the alternatives to a charcoal grill?
- 4 Decision: What types of charcoal grills are there and which one is right for you?
- 4.1 How do indoor grills work, what are their requirements and what are their advantages and disadvantages?
- 4.2 How do balcony barbecues work, what are their requirements and what are their advantages and disadvantages?
- 4.3 How do charcoal barbecues for the garden and terrace work, what are their requirements and what are their advantages and disadvantages?
- 4.4 How do charcoal barbecues for on the go work, what are their requirements and what are their advantages and disadvantages?
- 5 Buying criteria: These are the factors you can use to compare and evaluate charcoal barbecues
- 6 Facts worth knowing about charcoal barbecues
- 6.1 Which pan can I use for a charcoal barbecue?
- 6.2 What is a smoker?
- 6.3 When should the meat be placed on a charcoal grill?
- 6.4 How do you light a charcoal barbecue?
- 6.5 How hot should a charcoal grill be?
- 6.6 How much charcoal is needed for a charcoal barbecue?
- 6.7 Is a charcoal barbecue allowed on a balcony?
- 6.8 How long do you have to preheat a charcoal barbecue?
The most important facts
- The big advantage of charcoal barbecues over electric or gas barbecues is their authentic barbecue aroma and taste. Charcoal barbecues are also more flexible, as they don’t need a gas or electricity connection.
- Depending on where you want to use your barbecue, a distinction is made between indoor barbecues, camping barbecues, appliances for the terrace and/or garden and balcony barbecues. The grills are available in different shapes and designs and also allow different cooking methods.
- Special smokeless/low-smoke barbecues are suitable for indoor use (be sure to follow instructions for use) as well as in densely populated areas and when travelling. Special balcony grills allow you to grill for a small group of people on a space-saving unit.
The best Charcoal Grill: Our Picks
Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a charcoal barbecue
What is a charcoal grill?
The heat from grilling with a charcoal barbecue is generated, as the name suggests, by burning charcoal. Due to the high availability of charcoal, barbecuing with this grill is the most widespread barbecue variant in Germany.
How does grilling with a charcoal barbecue work?
How much does a charcoal grill cost?
|Disposable barbecue||approx. 2-3 euros|
|Barbecue for on the go||approx. 10-90 euros|
|Balcony barbecue||approx. 30-40 euros|
|Indoor barbecue||approx. 120-160 euros|
|Barbecue for garden/patio||from 30-100 euros|
Larger charcoal barbecues that can be set up in your own garden or terrace also vary in price depending on their adjustment options, product features and sizes. Simple kettle and funnel grills are available from 30 to 50 euros. If you want a barbecue station or even a barbecue fireplace, you can expect to pay several hundred euros for these appliances.
Are there smoke-free charcoal barbecues?
What is a charcoal barbecue with active ventilation?
Is a gas barbecue or a charcoal barbecue healthier?
Regardless of the type of barbecue, burnt meat is harmful to health and the substances released can even be carcinogenic.
What are the alternatives to a charcoal grill?
|Gas grill||A gas grill offers the perfect temperatures to grill your meat to perfection. Plus, you don’t have to worry about harmful benzopyrene, which can be produced when grilling with charcoal.|
|Electric grill||An electric grill is a good alternative to conventional grills, especially because it is easy to use and uncomplicated to set up. The special thing about electric grills is that they can also be used indoors.|
|Lava stone barbecue||A lava stone barbecue is a special gas barbecue with lava stones that achieve an even heat. This means that the food can no longer be burnt.|
When making your decision, you should pay attention to the various features of the different grills to find the right one for you. To make your decision easier, we have summarised the advantages of a charcoal barbecue compared to two of the most popular alternatives.
What are the advantages of a charcoal barbecue over gas and electric barbecues?
A good steak or tasty sausages can be prepared on an electric or gas barbecue as well as on a charcoal barbecue. Nevertheless, die-hard barbecue fans and purists swear that nothing beats authentic charcoal barbecuing in terms of taste.
Overall, the following advantages of a charcoal barbecue over gas or electric barbecues can be noted:
- Barbecue aroma and flavour due to typical smoke development
- Flexibility: independent of gas and electricity
- Large range of different charcoal barbecues available
- Conveys an adventurous and authentic flair
If you are convinced by the advantages, our buying criteria listed below can help you find the charcoal barbecue that is right for you.
Decision: What types of charcoal grills are there and which one is right for you?
Basically, charcoal barbecues can be used in the following four places:
- Indoor barbecues
- Balcony barbecues
- Charcoal barbecues for garden and terrace
- Charcoal barbecues for on the road
Depending on where you want to barbecue, the requirements for a charcoal barbecue vary. Although it is possible to use several types of grills in one place, specific grills with the appropriate features may be better suited for one location than another. In the following section, we would like to help you find out which type of charcoal barbecue is best suited to your specific needs. For this purpose, we will introduce you to all the above-mentioned charcoal barbecue types and their requirements for the different places of use and clearly list the advantages and disadvantages of the barbecues in each case.
How do indoor grills work, what are their requirements and what are their advantages and disadvantages?
Like a conventional outdoor barbecue, indoor barbecues are heated with charcoal. The charcoal is placed in a special container and lit by a lighting aid. An active air supply (e.g. a fan) ensures that the charcoal is supplied with sufficient oxygen. In addition, the height of the grill grate can be adjusted so that different degrees of cooking are possible. The advantage of indoor barbecues is that they produce no or hardly any smoke and therefore carbon monoxide emissions are not a danger. For this reason, indoor grills are suitable for use indoors. In addition, the design offers the advantage that fat from the grilled food does not get onto the charcoal, thus avoiding unpleasant odours. In addition, harmful gases caused by burning fats are avoided. Even though indoor charcoal grills are suitable for use in your own home, it is important to take precautions to protect your health. You should make sure that the barbecue area is properly ventilated.
When using such a barbecue indoors, make sure that it is adequately ventilated, as smoke cannot be completely avoided.
As indoor grills are mainly used in the catering industry and are considerably more expensive than conventional charcoal grills, the range for private use is quite limited. Indoor grills, as they have been offered on the market so far, are suitable if you grill in a smaller circle.
For the reasons mentioned above, indoor barbecues provide barbecue lovers with the pleasure of grilled sausages and steaks even outside the classic barbecue season thanks to their simple and quick lighting, authentic aromas and, above all, the absence of smoke.
How do balcony barbecues work, what are their requirements and what are their advantages and disadvantages?
Although different types of smaller charcoal barbecues can be used on balconies, special balcony barbecues are particularly suitable. These make ideal use of the limited space. Balcony grills resemble a flower box and are attached directly to the balcony railing. They work according to the classic principle of preparing the embers and then placing a grill grate with the food to be grilled on the “grill box”.
The advantages of balcony barbecues are the small space requirement and practical handling. The size of the grilling surface is particularly suitable for grilling for a few people. In addition, attaching the barbecue to the balcony railing allows the barbecue smoke to escape directly upwards so that the balcony area is not “smoked”. However, the versatility of balcony barbecues is somewhat limited. Often, the grill grate cannot be adjusted in height. In addition, only direct roasting is possible. Finally, the limited grilling surface only allows a small amount of food to be grilled at the same time, which means that several people have to grill several times or several balcony grills are necessary. Although larger balcony grills are available, they are much more expensive in relation to the smaller, more practical versions.
Although charcoal grills of various types can be used for the balcony, a special “flower box grill” is suitable because it is easy to use and requires little space. Nevertheless, you should make sure that you buy a grill that offers adjustment options. Especially if you have higher demands on the grilling result.
How do charcoal barbecues for the garden and terrace work, what are their requirements and what are their advantages and disadvantages?
Charcoal barbecues for the garden or patio are available in different designs, sizes and price ranges. These grills work according to the classic grilling principle, in which the meat is cooked directly over the heat of the embers.
Because there is usually more space available, larger charcoal barbecues can also be used. This makes them suitable for larger parties with several people. Larger barbecues can also have different features (e.g. height-adjustable grill grate, shelves), which help to meet higher demands for grilling food.
Depending on the design, shelves can also be available, which nevertheless significantly increases barbecue comfort.
Since any type of barbecue can be used in the garden or on the patio without major problems, it depends very much on your needs and requirements which one you choose.
How do charcoal barbecues for on the go work, what are their requirements and what are their advantages and disadvantages?
Charcoal grills for on the go should be compact, easy to set up and easy to transport. They are particularly suitable if you are going camping or on an excursion and don’t want to miss out on your barbecue fun.
Table grills, small stand grills and also disposable grills are suitable for on the road, if you want it to be particularly quick and uncomplicated. The main advantage of “travel grills” is their flexibility and mobility. Their compact size means that they can easily be taken along by bicycle or even by hand. Stowing them in the boot is also no problem.
A charcoal barbecue for on the road is suitable for outdoor barbecues with a few people and is usually available at a reasonable price.
However, it may lack a height-adjustable grill grate and an adjustable air supply. Another disadvantage is the low durability and service life when not maintained.
However, they are certainly suitable for barbecuing fun on the go and also provide barbecuing pleasure for those who do not have a garden or balcony available.
Buying criteria: These are the factors you can use to compare and evaluate charcoal barbecues
In the following, we would like to show you which factors you can use to compare and evaluate charcoal barbecues, because the answer to which barbecue is the best depends on the requirements you have for a barbecue. You can use the following criteria as a guide to find out which grill is best suited to your personal requirements. In summary, these are:
- Preparation methods
- Product dimensions
- Product material
- Type of ventilation
- Additional equipment and product features
In the following paragraphs, we will explain what is important for the individual criteria.
In the guide section, we already briefly discussed the possible cooking methods. A distinction can be made between direct grilling, indirect grilling and smoking. Depending on how a grill is designed and constructed, the food can be prepared in different ways If you are considering buying a charcoal grill, ask yourself whether you only want to prepare a few steaks and sausages quickly or whether you would like to try out different cooking methods and cook larger pieces of meat, for example. Ultimately, it depends on what your personal requirements are and which methods you prefer.
First of all, you can assume that direct grilling is the standard form of cooking on a charcoal grill and that every grill is capable of it as long as there is enough heat. The direct heat of the embers is used to cook the food. As a rule, the temperatures are relatively high, which is particularly suitable for fast grilling.
Grills with lids usually allow indirect grilling of the food. With this type of grilling, the heat from the embers is reflected and transferred to the food. You can think of these as charcoal-fired ovens. If you feel like cooking larger pieces of meat at a lower heat so that they stay nice and juicy, then you should definitely look out for a charcoal grill with a lid.
Finally, you can smoke meat at low temperatures using a smoker (see explanation in Trivia).
|Method of preparation||cooking by Suitable for|
|Direct grilling||direct heat from the embers Small grilled food (sausages, steaks, skewers)|
|Indirect grilling||reflected heat Larger grilled food (roasts)|
|Smoking||reflected heat and smoke Larger grilled food (roasts, suckling pigs)|
The special thing about this is that you can use different woods that can give your grilled food a very specialflavour. Alittle tip from us: cedar wood is great for giving your meat a great aroma.
The dimensions of a charcoal barbecue naturally depend on its design. Think carefully about where you want to set up, use and store your barbecue. Here, too, there are different variations, ranging from space-saving options to complete barbecue stations. The most space-saving options are balcony and camping barbecues. Compact smokeless grills are available for indoor use, which can also be conveniently stored on a kitchen shelf.
They are also easy to transport, but usually do not offer the features found on larger barbecues. In addition, their charcoal capacity is smaller, so you need to plan for enough charcoal for several barbecues.
Larger charcoal barbecues often offer the advantage of more extensive equipment. Depending on the space available, you can choose between grills of different sizes. Make sure you have enough space to store and cover them properly so that they stay in good condition for a long time. Another aspect here can be the working height. Especially for tall people, a small kettle grill can be uncomfortable, especially if you don’t have a table available. Basically, it can be said that the size of the barbecue is proportional to the professionalism of the barbecue. The larger the grill, the better the possibilities for preparing the grilled food. You should bear in mind that larger barbecues can look smart in the garden, depending on the design, but on a balcony or small terrace they can take up space, so you need to think carefully about the location for which you need your barbecue.
Main grill area/diameter
In relation to the point above (product dimensions), the grilling area or diameter is crucial. Consider beforehand how many people you usually grill for – are there two of you or are you grilling for a family of four? Of course, you can also use a smaller grill to grill for many people. Note, however, that you will need to grill several times, which can lead to delays if you have to keep reheating the fuel. Also consider that you want to use the main grill surface not only for cooking, but also to keep the food warm. In this case, a larger grill may be worthwhile, even if only a few people are using it. Although there is some information on the recommended grilling areas depending on the number of people, it is important to remember that this is highly dependent on your personal preferences of the food you like to grill. An example would be to load a smaller grill with lots of Nuremberg sausages and grill them for many of your friends. According to our research, the following grill dimensions are roughly recommended, depending on the number of people:
|Small grill||2,200 cm2||up to 2 people, mostly camping or balcony grills|
|Medium grill||2,200-3,500 cm2||up to 4 people|
|Large grill||3,500 cm2||Large family, professionals/ catering|
You should therefore think carefully about how many people the barbecue will usually be used for in order to find the right charcoal barbecue for you.
The materials that make up a barbecue play an important role in various aspects. On the one hand, quality aspects can be mentioned, which are primarily aimed at heat resistance and the lifespan of the barbecue. In addition to visual factors, factors relating to cleaning can also be important when making a purchase.
In principle, it can be said that stainless steel grills are a resistant option. However, it is important to consider whether the entire grill is made of stainless steel and is therefore in the higher price segment, or whether only the most heavily used parts are made of stainless steel. From a visual point of view, a pure stainless steel barbecue may not go down too well with barbecue fans, as it is too reminiscent of the appliances used in the catering trade and ignores the rustic feel.
Enamel & powder coating
As an alternative, other metals with an enamel or powder coating are used. These are very suitable as corrosion protection. Nevertheless, care should be taken that they do not flake off and thus allow rust. Check at regular intervals whether the grill is still intact, otherwise damaged areas can be repaired with special paints.
Barbecue grill material
We generally recommend grill grates that are heavy and solid. The reason for this is that they have better heat properties and the heat from the embers can be stored better.
Barbecue lovers will enjoy a better grill pattern on the food, the so-called branding, where thin grates, on the other hand, cannot keep up, because they absorb the heat and give it off quickly to the food, so it is difficult to get an appealing grill pattern. Cast iron grates are popular with barbecue enthusiasts because of the grill pattern, as these reliably produce the characteristic branding. Although these have very good heat properties, they are more susceptible to rust and breakage. As an alternative, cast iron grates can be mentioned here, which are covered with an enamel layer, thus protected against rust and are also easier to clean.
In addition, grill grates with a chrome alloy are common, but these also tend to rust if damaged. With proper care, however, this can be avoided. Charcoal grills with grill grates made of 100% stainless steel cost more, but they do not rust, are easy to clean and have good heat resistance.
Type of ventilation
The fuel for a charcoal barbecue needs oxygen, otherwise you can wait a long time for an ember. Depending on the design of the barbecue, there may be “static” air supply, which can be seen in the form of small holes and slits. In addition, there are adjustable air feeds, which are operated by a small rotary disc. Finally, barbecues for use in the home offer active ventilation (see advice section for explanation). https://www.grilltiger.de/holzkohlegrill-mit-aktivbelueftung-test/ Especially if you have higher demands on the grilling result and want to have more influence on the grilled food, you should consider getting a grill with adjustable air supply. The adjustable temperature allows for more demanding grilling results. This is not the case with smaller, compact charcoal grills without a lid, so the fuel is fired through small holes or slots. However, this is always sufficient for simple grilling. However, it is advisable to buy a grill with a height-adjustable grill grate so that you can control the heat intensity.
Additional equipment and product features
Additional features can make barbecuing a real pleasure and increase the comfort and possibilities. A distinction can be made between those features that have a direct influence on cooking and those that make barbecuing and “service” for guests more comfortable. Basically, most grills come with a height-adjustable grill grate. A distinction can be made between the grill handles and the way in which the height can be adjusted. With simple grills, you will find the classic metal handles that are attached directly to the grill grate. You usually need a protective glove for this so that you don’t burn yourself. Other grills can be adjusted using wooden handles or, in the case of larger grills, by manually turning the crank, which allows the grill to be raised and lowered comfortably. An integrated barbecue thermometer offers the advantage of controlling the internal temperature, especially with indirect grilling and smokers, and thus achieving an optimal grilling result through even cooking. It also helps to avoid having to permanently open the lid, which can lead to heat loss inside the “grill oven” and thus affect the cooking of the grilled food. Larger grills are also often equipped with side or front storage options. These can be used to place the food prepared for the barbecue as well as plates and cutlery. This helps to have everything on hand, especially at larger events, and to turn the barbecue experience into a true gastronomic feast. By having everything at hand, you can concentrate fully on your barbecue experience. A height-adjustable grill grate may be missing, especially with smaller grills for on the go. Nevertheless, it is recommended because it allows you to control the intensity of the heat much better and thus prevents burning. In addition, certain product features, such as hooks for barbecue cutlery or bottle openers, can provide additional convenience for a complete barbecue experience.
Smoke-free charcoal barbecues
Can’t do without barbecuing outside the summer months? Or do you like to barbecue at home, but don’t want your home to resemble a smokehouse? Then smokeless charcoal barbecues are probably for you.
Normally used in the catering industry, you can also find smaller and compact devices for home use.
Here, the intense smoke development is avoided by the fact that the chamber with the fuel (the charcoal) is protected by a cover from dripping meat fat. This prevents the formation of smoke. In addition, active ventilation can ensure a quick start-up, which also minimises the development of smoke. By the way, these charcoal barbecues are also ideal for balconies, especially if you live in a densely populated area.
If you plan to place your barbecue in different places in your garden or on your terrace, then you should consider buying a barbecue that is either easy to transport with carrying handles or is equipped with wheels. Larger grills, such as smokers or barbecue carts, usually come with wheels. If you are more the type to use your barbecue at the campsite or like to unpack it on the go, smaller models are more suitable. Case-like, lockable grills and smaller kettle grills are practical here.
Ease of cleaning
How quickly and easily barbecues can be cleaned can also be an important aspect when buying. Convenience is not the only factor here, because who wants to spend ages scrubbing their barbecue? From a health perspective, this also plays a role, as food residues that are difficult to reach provide an optimal breeding ground for germs. In addition, grills with many edges, constrictions and screws are inconvenient to clean and should therefore be chosen with care. If you have a dishwasher, you can also consider buying a barbecue with a stainless steel grill. Smaller grill grates in particular are easy to wash. Furthermore, barbecues with a separate ash container offer the possibility of disposing of ash residues cleanly. Charcoal barbecues with a grease trap also ensure a cleaner barbecue experience.
Facts worth knowing about charcoal barbecues
Finally, we would like to answer a few important questions about charcoal barbecues and their use. You will find out which pan you can use for a charcoal barbecue, what a smoket is, when is the right time to put the meat on the barbecue and much more.
Which pan can I use for a charcoal barbecue?
For a charcoal grill, we recommend uncoated cast iron pans. Not only because of their resistant material, but also because cast iron has a positive effect on cooking in an appropriate pan, according to the opinion of various chefs, these are particularly recommended. Especially when grilling in a smoker (see next question) or a sealable kettle grill, side dishes (e.g. vegetables) or larger pieces of meat can thus be prepared in a pan. This allows food to be grilled indirectly with less heat.
What is a smoker?
In a smoker, the food is grilled indirectly and smoked by the rising smoke from a separate grilling chamber. The grilling chamber in which the food is cooked is connected to a smaller, cylindrical chamber. The smaller chamber is used to hold the embers and, if necessary, to add aromatic woods. https://www.sternefood.de/smoker-test/ The much lower temperature means that cooking with a smoker takes much longer. However, the grilled food can take on a special aroma through the different aromatic woods.
When should the meat be placed on a charcoal grill?
The food should only be placed on the grill as soon as it has reached operating temperature. The time can vary depending on the design of the charcoal grill. The rule of thumb is 20 to 40 minutes. It is important that the charcoals are completely covered by a grey-white layer of ash and no longer give off any flames.
How do you light a charcoal barbecue?
In principle, charcoal barbecues can be lit using special barbecue lighters or by supplying heat from an external source. A distinction is made between liquid and solid grill lighters, which are placed in or under the coals or underneath and then lit. A heat gun or a Bunsen burner can be used to supply the charcoals directly with heat and finally make them glow. A simple and quick method is to use a kindling chimney. This is a cylindrical container that is divided into two chambers on the inside. The charcoal is placed in the larger chamber. The fireplace is then placed on a fireproof base and a barbecue lighter is lit in the lower chamber. The advantage is the quick and safe ignition phase. If none of these options are available, you can take a wine bottle, wrap it with newspaper and place it in the grill. Then pile the coals along the bottle to form a small pyramid and carefully lift the bottle out. Finally, light the newspaper and wait until the coals start to glow. This works very well with grills that have an air supply from below.
How hot should a charcoal grill be?
The ideal grilling temperature depends on the grilling time of the food and thus on its dimensions, composition and the desired grilling method. Direct grilling tends to use high heat, while indirect grilling uses lower temperatures. These are mainly created by the reflected heat within a closed grill. The following three main grilling temperatures can be distinguished:
|Heat||Temperature in °C|
For the perfect grilling result, the internal temperature of the grilled meat and the cooking level to be achieved are ultimately also decisive.
How much charcoal is needed for a charcoal barbecue?
There is no general answer to the question of how much charcoal is needed for a barbecue. This depends primarily on the dimensions of the grill and the number of foods to be grilled. Another factor is whether direct or indirect grilling is used. The size of the food to be grilled also plays a role.
Is a charcoal barbecue allowed on a balcony?
There is no specific law prohibiting barbecuing on a balcony. In principle, the principle of mutual consideration applies. This means, above all, that you have to make sure that your neighbour is not smoked to death and that smoke does not get into his or her flat. Otherwise, fines may be imposed. In addition, barbecuing on the balcony is only allowed as long as it is not expressly prohibited in the tenancy agreement or by house rules.
How long do you have to preheat a charcoal barbecue?
A charcoal barbecue is ready for use as soon as all the coals or briquettes are glowing. However, they must not be burning. As a basic rule, all glowing elements must be covered by a grey-white layer.
|Heat||temperature in °C||time span Hand test|
|High||230 and above||1-4 seconds|
If no thermometer is available, the hand test can also be used to roughly check how hot the charcoals or briquettes already are. Picture source: 123rf.com / Valentina Gabdrakipova