Benefits of Charcoal Grills | Buying Guide
Why Cook with Charcoal?
Quick Answer: Charcoal affords the most versatility of any fuel type and delivers amazing flavor.
Versatility? Well, that’s just charcoal’s job. Charcoal grills not only operate at both higher and lower temperatures than most other grills, but they also achieve one as easily as the other (along with everything in between). High-heat grilling and low-heat smoking are yours to command, and even the simplest charcoal pit lets you manipulate the coals to create direct heat, indirect heat, and even both at once. As if that wasn’t enough, these grills facilitate flavor by infusing food with smoke from either vaporized drippings on the hot coals or wood chips added to the coal bed. Our experts have spent more than 20 years cooking with charcoal, and even they’re still occasionally blown away by the versatility and flavor this fuel type provides. We think you’ll be, too.
Charcoal Grill Advantages
Unlike gas grills, charcoal pits have no max temperature setting. That means you can get them as hot as you want (within reason, of course).
Charcoal can produce both direct infrared heat and indirect heat. Depending on the grill’s design, you can grill, smoke, sear, bake and more.
Arranging dual zones on a charcoal pit is incredibly easy — just bank some or all coals to one side, and multiple cooking styles are yours.
When direct-heat grilling, charcoal instantly vaporizes food drippings into smoky, aromatic flavor particles that work wonders for flavor.
Charcoal placed below food cooks it using infrared heat, which results in less moisture loss when compared with other types of heat transfer.
Easy Wood Flavor
By simply adding wood chips to the top of your coals, your pit becomes filled with wood-fired flavors. No need for smoker boxes here!
Because they lack highly priced components like burners and valves, charcoal pits generally cost less than gas grills at the point of purchase.
Sense of Pride
Many consider charcoal grilling a skill passed down from one generation to the next, making it a tradition you can share with others.
The Versatility of Charcoal Grills
Like a classical instrument, charcoal grills are simple devices that can be wielded by anyone — in the hands of a master, though, what comes out is nothing short of art. A charcoal smoker or grill’s results vary depending on the user’s skill, but we aren’t pointing out this learning curve to scare you away. We just want you to know that it’ll take a little patience, research, and practice, but you’ll soon be able to create results that rival your local BBQ joint. Plus, charcoal grilling can be an extremely rewarding hobby and a highly satisfying skill to master over time (quite frankly, it’s borderline addictive). So, if you’re considering taking up grilling or smoking with charcoal, your journey should start with an exploration of the different kinds of heat these pits produce and how their properties contribute to different cooking methods.
Cooking with Indirect Heat
Along with smoke production, this type of heat transfer is necessary for tasty, slow-cooked BBQ. Charcoal just so happens to be great at creating both, making it the ideal — and usually the competition-required — fuel for low-and-slow cooking. You might think only large charcoal smokers can churn out tender and flavorful BBQ bathed in smoke for hours, but any charcoal pit is actually just as capable. All you need for indirect heat is a heat deflector or a setup where your food and coals are on opposite sides of the grill, then you can smoke, roast, and even bake. We told you these things were versatile!
Cooking with Direct Heat
Most steakhouses use infrared burners to sear their beef. Why does this matter for charcoal? Well, roaring-hot coals actually radiate infrared waves in the same manner, heating only what they come into contact with instead of just the surrounding air. This type of energy transfer doesn’t disturb the moisture barrier of your meat, meaning that it gets cooked without drying out (all told, infrared heat results in 35% less moisture loss than other kinds of heat). That’s not even accounting for the amazing flavor that comes from cooking directly over the coals, which transform food drippings into tasty smoke.
The Power of Dual-Zone Cooking
Both direct and indirect heat are great on their own, but where charcoal grills really shine is their ability to use both at once. A two-zone setup is by far the most versatile cooking method known to mankind, which has been doing this cooking-over-fire thing for quite some time. Just push your coals to one side of the grill — for direct heat, place food on the grates directly above the coals; for indirect heat, place food on the opposite grates with no coals below. Certain charcoal pits make dual-zone grilling easier by design, and many brands make heat deflectors or charcoal basket accessories that help, too.
Top Charcoal Grill Brands
Specialty Features of Charcoal Grills
The term “charcoal grill” means different things to different people. Some see it as the standard backyard barbecue grill, others think of a ceramic cooker, and there are certainly people who picture a massive smoker loaded with fuel. The wide variety of models has naturally given rise to many unique features and cooking systems, a trend that continues alongside each new innovation. We thought we’d highlight a few specialty features to show you that this category of products has much more to offer than a cooking grate over some coals.
Ceramic Charcoal Grills
We couldn’t write this article without mentioning kamado grills. Charcoal kamados have their roots in ancient Asian cooking vessels, and today’s models take advantage of ceramic’s outstanding thermal properties. As an insulator, ceramic needs a while to get hot but is extremely efficient at trapping and evenly re-radiating heat toward food. Sounds great for low-and-slow smoking, right? Even better news: kamados have far less airflow than most other grills, meaning moisture stays trapped inside the grill body for juicy results. It’s also possible to reach high temperatures in kamados
Gravity Fed Charcoal
Masterbuilt Gravity Series grills and smokers changed the game by introducing a charcoal cooker that operates on the same principles as a pellet grill. Instead of arranging coals below the cooking surface, Masterbuilt designed and trademarked a vertical GravityFed hopper attached to the side of the main body. At the bottom of the hopper sits a grate where charcoal burns, creating heat and smoke that’s transferred into the cooking chamber. When ash and burned-out coals slip through the grate, gravity pulls the heavier coals from above into the fire to keep it rolling. All you have to do is fill the hopper, sit back, and let physics do its thing!
Hidden Rotisseries & Automatic Starters
The Everdure Hub II charcoal grill offers a sleek new take on the age-old technique of rotisserie grilling. At the push of a button, 2 stainless steel rotisserie poles hidden within the grill body emerge to any of 3 different positions. The poles can be raised and lowered at will, all while supporting up to 85 pounds of meat above the Hub’s wide charcoal basin (hello, suckling-pig roasts). Everdure’s innovation extends to the 4K charcoal grill, which includes a digital thermometer with multiple probes and an electric heating coil at the base of the charcoal chamber to automatically light fuel for you. See, charcoal pits aren’t so basic anymore.
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