5 things experts want you to know before buying a charcoal BBQ

Want flame-grilled burgers on tap? There are some things you need to know first

arden furniture, kitchen island, utensils, bbq, barbecue, alfresco, wooden decking, herbs, plants, lanterns,
(Image credit: Future PLC)

There’s something about grilling sausages and burgers over lumps of flaming charcoal that makes people happy. But whether you want to revert to your primitive roots or you’re just hungry for a flame-grilled burger (with all of the trimmings, of course), there are some things you need to know before buying a charcoal BBQ.

Yes, the best BBQs come in so many shapes and forms, but we’d be lying if we said that the best charcoal BBQs didn’t have a special place in our hearts. The flavours from cooking over charcoal are unmatched, and these BBQs can cook everything from beef burgers to vegetable kebabs with ease.

And while you could simply buy a charcoal BBQ and fire things up as soon as possible, doing your research and choosing the right charcoal BBQ will make a huge difference to your barbecuing experience. Plus, knowing how to properly use it will make your food taste even better.

5 things you should know before buying a charcoal BBQ

The best gas BBQs are all worthwhile additions to a garden, but there’s nothing quite like the flame-grilled taste of barbecued food. The best charcoal BBQs can obviously help with that, but there are some things you should consider before splashing the cash and investing in this outdoor kitchen essential.

1. Size matters

outdoor kitchen with Big Green BBQ, tiled walls, storage, shelves, condiments, glassware, low table, storage for cutlery, compost, logs

(Image credit: Future PLC)

With so many charcoal BBQs on the market, it can be easy to choose a charcoal BBQ based on looks alone. And while aesthetics is certainly important to some people, looks should be fairly low down on your priority list. Instead, you should focus your attention on choosing the right size - as this can help you determine the type of charcoal BBQ you need.

Hilary Anderson, BBQ expert at @BBQlads and Char-Broil BBQ’s brand ambassador, explains, ‘For small spaces, a kettle-style BBQ is a clear winner.'

'Light and portable, a kettle will support most of your BBQ styles and are easy to clean. Look for a style that has an ash basket, temperature gauge, ways to arrange the charcoal for direct and indirect cooking - and most importantly, a quality lid to close whilst cooking.’

‘For families, choose a barrel or cart style that has a good cooking area large enough to cook for family and friends. Look for models with two tiers to allow you to remove food from direct contact with the heat but will keep warm. A temperature gauge and lid is a must to produce the best results.’

Of course, you should also consider the size of your garden or outdoor kitchen when buying a charcoal BBQ. It’s essential to place your charcoal BBQ on a flat surface that’s well away from your house, any nearby trees or greenery, and fences. After all, you don’t want to (quite literally) play with fire.

2. The key is cooking to temperature

A red Kamado Joe egg-style bbq with open lid cooking food

(Image credit: Kamado Joe)

When you cook food in the oven or air fryer, you typically cook the food according to the timings on the packaging. However, cooking is a little different on a charcoal BBQ.

As Lawrie Chandler of Bison Hill explains, ‘The key to barbecuing is cooking to temperature, not time.’ Because of this, you need to make sure that you buy a charcoal BBQ that is equipped to reach these temperatures.

Lawrie says, ‘Ensure you get a BBQ with a lid. This will allow you to use more cooking styles, such as indirect or using the BBQ as an oven. No one wants food that is burnt on the outside and raw in the middle.’

But that’s not all. Although a lid is essential, there are also other features of a charcoal BBQ that are non-negotiables.

‘Ensure there are air vents on the top and bottom,’ Lawrie adds. ‘This allows for heat convection, and you can close the vents to reduce the amount of air getting through the bottom to create a lower temperature.’

‘An open-air vent at the top creates an air current for smoke to infuse the food. If cooking on indirect heat (not directly over the heat), then having the lid air vent open on the side above the food allows for smoke to be directed to come over and out above the food. That creates awesome taste and the killer difference to a gas BBQ.’

3. Don’t underestimate the power of charcoal

food cooking on a large big green egg charcoal bbq

(Image credit: Big Green Egg)

Although you may need a helping hand to light a charcoal BBQ, you need to buy the charcoal before you do that - and this is something you shouldn’t take lightly.

Speaking as part of National BBQ Week, Brian George, President of the National BBQ Association, explains, ‘BBQ purists would argue that you can only get true BBQ taste from charcoal which adds flavour and depth to food, whereas gas simply cooks. Certainly, charcoal offers a smoky style, which can be enhanced by adding wood chips.’

Choosing the right charcoal won’t just improve the taste of your food, though. It’s also considered to be healthier, safer, and much more ethical.

In fact, Chef Mark Hartstone from La Fosse at Cranborne explains, ‘We are exceedingly lucky that La Fosse at Cranborne has many traditionally managed coppice woods close by. They’re managed for conservation and offer a constant supply of wood for our heating and charcoal for us to cook on. Ethically, it is the best, but it also imbues a delicious flavour into our cooking.’

He adds, ‘So, the long and short is to ensure you have a great local source of charcoal. It’s fun to make your own, but this is obviously not always feasible!’

But even if you can’t make your own, you should always try to buy sustainably-produced charcoal that’s Forestry Commission-approved and free from accelerants.

4. Look out for added extras

Cuckooland Lotus Grill BBQ in Plum with Free Fire Lighter Gel & Charcoal

(Image credit: Cuckooland)

A charcoal BBQ on its own is a great addition to your outside space, but if you want to make the most out of sunny summer evenings, you might want to look out for added extras - such as specific features and BBQ accessories.

Liam Glennon, Senior Buyer at VonHaus, suggests, ‘If you plan on taking your charcoal BBQ on the go, consider the portability of the grill. Look for a lightweight and compact design that is easy to transport and set up. Some models even come with wheels for added mobility.’

Of course, you should also consider cleaning when choosing a charcoal BBQ and look to see if your desired charcoal BBQ comes with any features to help with that. ‘Some models come with removable ash pans or trays for easy cleaning,’ Liam adds.

But that’s not all. After years of cooking on open flames, Lawrie from Bison Hill also swears by BBQ accessories. He says, ‘Most BBQs come with a grate only. Get a cast iron pan or flat cooking plate to allow for cooking vegetables and smash burgers that do better cooking on a flat surface.’

5. The price will reflect the quality

Wall beside raised beds with a stainless steel barbeque inset, roses and fig growing up sheds. Susan and Henry Parker's garden at their four bedroom Victorian house in Fulham, London.

(Image credit: Future PLC/David Giles Photography Ltd)

At Ideal Home, we’re all about getting the most bang for your buck - and we never want anyone to pay more than they have to. But there’s a difference between paying more than you have to and shelling out a little more for a high-quality product. And when it comes to charcoal BBQs, the price really will reflect the quality.

As Louise Perry-Warnes from Flames & Feasts explains, ‘Buy cheap, buy twice. A BBQ is an investment, and the supermarket or online knockoffs are definitely something to steer away from as they are not designed to last or keep heat in well.’

In fact, this is something that Marcus Bawdon, owner of UK BBQ School, knows for himself. He says, ‘A good quality charcoal BBQ such as a Weber 57 kettle will last you many years, I have a portable go-anywhere BBQ from 1981 that I still regularly cook on.’

This doesn’t mean that you have to overspend and take out a second mortgage when buying a charcoal BBQ, though. Liam says, ‘Prices can vary greatly depending on the size, material, and features of the grill. Set a budget and stick to it while shopping around for the perfect charcoal BBQ.’

The best charcoal BBQs - our top picks

FAQs

How to choose a charcoal barbecue?

Although looks can certainly play a part in your buying decision, you should also choose a charcoal BBQ by its size and features.

You want to make sure that the charcoal BBQ suits your family and your garden and is equipped with all of the vents and lids needed to cook your food perfectly. After all, charcoal barbecuing is all about cooking to temperature rather than abiding by cooking times.

You should also consider the price. Although charcoal BBQs can be cheaper than gas alternatives, you should avoid products that look too cheap. Do your research, come up with an affordable but appropriate budget, and opt for a high-quality charcoal BBQ when you can.

What is the best charcoal to buy for BBQ?

Opt for high-quality, natural, ethical options when buying charcoal for a BBQ, like this Marienburg Organic restaurant-grade charcoal from Amazon. This will provide a wonderful taste while also being quick to light.

You should also avoid any charcoal that has added accelerants or chemicals, as you don’t want this stuff around your home, your family, or your food.

Now you’ve considered what the experts want you to know before buying a charcoal BBQ, are you ready to buy one?

Lauren Bradbury
Contributor

Lauren Bradbury is a freelance writer and major homes enthusiast. She graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing from the University of Chichester in 2016, before dipping her toe into the world of content writing. After years of agency work, writing everything from real-life stories to holiday round-ups, she decided to take the plunge and become a full-time freelancer in the online magazine world. Since then, she has become a regular contributor for Real Homes and Ideal Home, and become even more obsessed with everything interior and garden related. As a result, she’s in the process of transforming her old Victorian terraced house into an eclectic and modern home that hits visitors with personality as soon as they walk through the door.