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Trying charcoal grills requires a lot of cooking practice, and results will obviously vary depending on technique and ingredients, among other factors. Depending on the season and how your charcoal grill is set up, your cooking and grilling experience will likely be very different than ours. For example, a kettle-style charcoal grill left in the July sun all day will run much hotter than in the cooler spring months.

Also, a note on grill thermometers. None of the bell thermometers built into these grills reflected the temperatures recorded by our own thermocouples and data software. It’s not uncommon for grill thermometers to indicate a high reading, so we recommend having an oven thermometer or Bluetooth thermometer on hand while grilling, whether for the meat or the temperature of the grill itself.

We placed two steaks on each rack near the center and seared them for five minutes before turning them over and searing them for another five minutes. With a good, reliable grill, this will give you a steak with a charred exterior and a medium-rare to medium center. If you prefer the meat more well-done, you can extend the cooking time, or brown it and finish cooking in the oven.


Searing over high heat was our first grill test.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The best charcoal grill for searing steaks in our range was the Weber Classic Kettle. The steak had nice grill marks and maintained a medium doneness on the inside. The worst was our Tacklife review unit, which didn’t retain much heat and didn’t burn while cooking. The steak on that grill needed an additional five minutes to reach a temperature of 135 F, the minimum for medium-rare.

Chicken and indirect over medium heat.

Next, we tested each grill’s medium-heat cooking capabilities by roasting whole chickens. The trick here is to keep the grills at a temperature hot enough to cook a chicken for more than two hours.

For our testing, each grill has a chimney full of lit charcoal and a 6-pound chicken in front of the coals for indirect heat.


Each grill had a chimney of hot charcoal.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Cooking over charcoal takes longer than cooking with a gas grill, and we typically need to add more fuel during cooking to keep our grills above 350 degrees F the entire time. Our favorite bird from this batch was the one cooked in the Weber, although it was a difficult decision. The bird cooked on the Nexgrill cart-style grill came in right behind, in second place in terms of flavor and texture.


We cooked the chicken over indirect heat until it reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees F.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The difference between the two lay largely in the crispy texture of the skin, and Weber produced superior results. The meat on the Nexgrill was delicious, with a little more flavor than the Weber. Between them, I would say that it largely depends on your budget and the style of grill you prefer for other meats like burgers or steak. Weber certainly had the upper hand in that category.

Low and slow ribs

Our final test is grilling ribs, specifically baby back ribs. This style of cooking requires strict temperature control over a period of several hours. Ideally, a quality charcoal grill (or any smoker) will keep the fire burning near 225 degrees F for as long as possible.


Stack the charcoal briquettes in two rows of two along the inside wall of the grill.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

First, we set each grill to burn low and slow, using the charcoal snake method. In models with a kettle, the coals are placed in a semicircle around the inner wall of the grill. Charcoal briquettes (Kingsford Blue) form a line two coals wide and two coals deep. We also dropped some pieces of firewood on the snake (aka fuse). On cart style grills, we modify the snake to run at right angles to match their rectangular shaped combustion chambers.

Next, we light each grill snake on one end of the chain with five lit briquettes (tumbleweed lighters work too). We place all the air vents of each grill (upper and lower) in the half-open position. Lastly, we placed a rack of ribs on each grill for indirect cooking, without the meat being directly on the coals.

The classic Weber Kettle Grill treats ribs perfectly.

Brian Bennett/CNET

The Weber was the undisputed king in this test. No other grill in this group could match the solid temperature control of this iconic cooker. Readings from our own thermocouples, plus a digital well. thermometer, confirmed this. During the Weber’s 6 hour and 32 minute cook time, the grill’s internal heat levels never deviated more than 25 degrees from our goal, 225 degrees F. In fact, most of the time the temperature ranged between 220 degrees F and 230 degrees F. As a result, Weber-cooked ribs were tender, juicy, and full of smoky flavor.

The ribs cooked on the Napoleon grill were delicious, although with the crust a little dry.

Brian Bennett/CNET

The Napoleon grill came in second place in this test. Indoor temperatures had a greater swing, jumping up to 300 degrees F during cooking periods. Their rack of ribs was ready in just 4 hours and 30 minutes. While his ribs were tender and juicy overall, the outside crust had some burnt areas.

The ribs cooked on the Nexgrill had a lot of crust but were juicy and tender inside.

Brian Bennett/CNET

We noticed similar temperature performance from the Nexgrill, along with similar results from the ribs. Cooking ribs low and slow on the Nexgrill took just 4 hours and 30 minutes. Her rib also came out well, although, like the Napoleon, her bark was more pronounced than that produced by the Weber.

Our ribs experience with some of the other grills was far from ideal. Tacklife was particularly bad. At times, the inside of this grill reached temperatures as high as 400 degrees F. And unfortunately, the ribs it produced were left burnt, charred, and overcooked.


See this: 4 unexpected tricks for a better cookout


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