10 best charcoal BBQs that will satisfy any garden gathering this summer
Summertime and the grilling is easy with these high performance, low maintenance grills
Another bank holiday is almost upon us and the smell of charcoal is (soon to be) in the air. However, if your current barbecue’s days are numbered, having not weathered the winter well, you might want to start thinking about an update.
To test the new range of charcoal models available we began by noting how easily the larger barbecues came together out of the box, including fiddly installations like vents and ash catchers as well as legs, housings and carts – after all, you want to spend your time in the garden with tongs in hand rather than a screwdriver.
Unlike with gas models, where you can control the heat easily, charcoal barbecues rely on vents to manage the heat your food is exposed to, so these have to be efficient and it’s crucial that the heat to the grate is distributed evenly, so you don’t have to worry about hot and cool spots spoiling your alfresco fare.
Finally, the food. We needed to know how each grill performed cooking with high heat so that you wouldn’t have to worry about scorching a batch of burgers to satisfy friends and family.
Also, we got hands-on to see which grills coped best with slower grilled foods, like chicken, and whether they could hold a lower temperature across the whole grate to ensure the food didn’t dry out.
Once the ash settled, these were the barbecues that stood out as serious contenders to satisfy any garden gathering this summer.
Napoleon pro cart charcoal kettle grill: £429.99, Napoleon
Cart cookers can be a bit tricky to put together, but this well-thought-out model assembled easily and looks the business – with a smart looking cart and platinum porcelain coating to the lid and base that protects it from rusting. The hinged lid also means that you won’t have to worry about where to put or hook it when cooking and the kettle even spins in the cart so that you can position it in a way that’s most comfortable for you.
The cast iron cooking grill means you can take advantage of the fact that charcoal burns hotter than gas and we got an easy sear to all our food, and the vent on top of the dome allowed us to control the temperature.
The grate itself held the heat well throughout cooking and is hinged so that if you want to boost your charcoal load during cooking, or even add some wood for smoking the food, you can. The grate can also be raised or lowered to three different heights for low, medium and high heat exposure, depending on the menu. The heat diffuser eliminates the hot spot that you often get with a lot of kettle barbecues, (which have a tendency to radiate heat to the centre of the grill) so you can take your eye of the food occasionally, without worrying about returning to incinerated grub.
There’s an easily detachable ash catcher for a quick clean up and add to this a 10-year warranty and you’ve got a dependable grill that looks good and cooks better.
Original Jerk vert drum: £300, Original Jerk
This south London manufacturer is elevating the humble drum to something that will get your guests talking before you’ve even lit the charcoal. Limited edition and hand made, it offers up a good thick heavy grill that’s laser cut, gives good sear and retains the heat well. One of the things that we really loved about the drum was its generous cooking area, which means that you’ll be able to turn out mountains of meat and veggies without having to worry about quality control. Another bonus was that we didn’t lose any food over the edge because there was a good overlap between the rim of the grill body and where the grate actually sits so we didn’t have to worry about losing our sausages over the side if we got overly ambitious with our tongs.
Everdure by Heston Blumenthal CUBE portable charcoal BBQ: £149, John Lewis & Partners
With no assembly required, this well-priced, nicely designed, portable is up and running as soon as your charcoal turns white and it gave us juicy cooked steaks and some nicely charred veggie sides. What we really liked about this model was that it’s fit for purpose as the grate sits nicely underneath the porcelain enamel firebox so you don’t have to worry about wind whipping up the ash and cooling your food. The bamboo lid doubles as a prep board and the chrome handles mean you can move the barbecue around even during cooking. Simple to clean, once cooled, you’ll be ready for your next cookout in no time.
Weber master touch GBS E-5775: £369, Weber
The original kettle kings have been refining their craft for decades now and it shows with their latest incarnation. The only problem we had with assembly was attaching the spring loaded hinged lid, which was a little fiddly, but the effort is worth it because it frees you up to concentrate on the grill without having to play unwanted games of lid frisbee. The barbecue created a nice even heat across the stainless steel grate, which includes a cast iron insert in the middle to ensure you can wow with nicely caramelised steaks and burgers. It really excels at lid-down roasting too with a built-in thermometer and the ability to move the charcoal to the sides of the kettle in two baskets (overcoming the classic kettle problem of having too much heat in the middle) to provide indirect heat for a perfectly cooked bird. Ash is dumped with a simple handle pull, which also controls the vents and there’s plenty of hanging space for tools.
Argos BBQ kitchen: £120, Argos
The high street brand are increasingly becoming known for producing good value outdoor cookery products that are designed with convenience in mind. We liked a lot about this barbecue, notably the straightforward setup and the good sized grilling area which turned out everything from juicy burgers to succulent steak, which we could rest on the warming rack away from the direct heat of the charcoal. There’s also plenty of hanging space for tools and storage space for marinades and sauces.
Outback orion: £199.99, Outback
This model successfully gets around the problem of overloading on charcoal and getting too much heat to the grill by having an adjustable charcoal tray that you can raise or lower to intensify or reduce the temperature. The barbecue assembles easily onto a sturdy cart that includes a folding side table and if you’re building up a thirst, don’t worry – there’s a bottle opener for your beer too.
Aldi oil drum charcoal barbeque: £49.99, Aldi
If you want good barbecue on a budget this summer then you can’t go far wrong with this drum which has ample grill space for a family feast and some handy extras like a warming grill and built-in lid thermometer, which will give you a good indication of when you’re up to temperature and ready to cook. We also liked the fact that the drum had a good cooking height (32”), which meant that we didn’t get a bad back after flipping burgers all afternoon.
Char-Broil kamander: £699.99, Char-Broil
Kamado grills produce beautifully flavourful meat thanks to the fact that their construction from ceramic materials means they can hold in the heat and smoke to influence the taste of the food. The one drawback is that this construction usually influences the cost too. However, this kamado-style grill has an insulated double wall made from steel that replicates kamado cooking without the price tag. It also gets around the fact that the temperature of many kamados can be tricky to control with convenient, quick adjustable vents that will ensure that you can get the desired heat without any fuss. A good sized grilling area also means that no one will have to wait for their food.
Weber go-anywhere: £84.99, Weber
Another compact, well-designed portable, which is light and easily carried with plated steel legs that pivot to keep the lid in place during transit. There may only be room for a meal for two on the steel grill, but the shallow rectangular shape keeps the charcoal close to it, so we found it excelled at searing juicy burgers and steaks on high heat. Also, the flat-bottomed fire pit made cooking with indirect heat much simpler, as you can simply pile the coals at one end and place the food at the other.
Barbecook joya: £143.46, Amazon
This is a fun table top cooker designed for communal barbecuing and it comes complete with four bamboo hand tongs so that everyone can get involved with grilling their own grub. The cooking was even across the grill and it didn’t take long to get through some meat kebabs, which were all succulent and satisfying. The water filled outer bowl also makes sure that surfaces and over-eager fingers don’t get burned on the base.
The verdict: Charcoal barbecues
We’d bet our last briquette that you won’t regret investing in the Napoleon pro cart charcoal kettle grill, which consistently produced excellent barbecued fare. The bespoke design of the Original Jerk vert drum meant that it’s perfect for larger families and parties; and for portable barbecuing the Everdure CUBE is well designed, practical and produces perfect food for a day at the beach or the park.
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