Although there shouldn’t be any problem choosing a charcoal grill, there are a few things which should be considered first. It’s often said that those who use charcoal to grill are purist grillers and there is some truth in that. Of course originally it was done using wood and that method is still popular today, but the use of charcoal increased in popularity with the kettle grill invented by George Stephens in the 1950’s.
Charcoal is basically carbon formed from organic matter burned without air which produces a solid lump of char (source: wikipedia.org). It’s the fumes given off when burning that give food cooked in this way a unique flavor. Gas has rapidly increased in popularity due the fact that it’s quicker and cleaner, but nothing can touch the uniqueness from the taste of charcoal grilled food.
As with any grill, you’ll want to look out for something that’s built well and designed to last for years. Most of us, even if we don’t like to admit it, have bought one of those cheap ones at one time or another. To be fair, they can do a very good job but after one or two seasons are ready for the bin. That’s how and why they are made, they tend to be flimsy and rust easily but so what, it’s not expensive to buy a new one every couple of years.
This type of purchase is a false economy in the long run, once the deterioration begins to set in, it becomes less of a pleasure to cook with. The results won’t be so good either and they’ll get steadily worse. In the end, and it probably won’t be long, it’ll end up a rusty mess which won’t look good at all, especially if you’re holding a barbeque for family and friends.
Considerations for Choosing a Charcoal Grill
Your budget will probably be the first thing you take into consideration and if it’s more about value for money than buying cheap, that’s a good place to start. Size will also be a factor, if you like to hold big parties you’ll most likely need something a bit bigger. It’s good to be aware that even smaller grills can cook quite a lot of food at once and at many barbeque parties the food doesn’t need to all be ready at the same time. Part of the fun is going back for more, asking the often self-appointed chef if the next batch of burgers are ready yet!
The cooking surface does need to be large enough for your requirements but you might want to consider which materials it’s made from. There’s porcelain coated cast iron or stainless steel and other options of iron mixes too. The porcelain coated cast iron type tends to last longer than the others. Stainless steel has less chance of corrosion but the food can be prone to sticking to it.
Another option when choosing a charcoal grill is a cast iron grate which will last a long time, plus they tend to be naturally non-stick and they’re good at helping the heat to distribute evenly. Anything which reduces the chance of food falling through onto the charcoal is good as this can cause a flare up which might affect the end results.
Heat control is another factor as not everything needs to be cooked at the same temperature. Some are adjustable so the food can be moved closer to, or further away from the heat. If it has a lid, there should be some sort of ventilation which can be increased or decreased.
The lid is a good option because it helps to keep in the flavors being given off, but for temperature control ventilation is a must. There’s often a thermometer included to give an indication of the current temperature, but these can only be used as a rough guide.
Airflow to the fire is another important factor as this also helps to control the intensity of the heat. Adjustable holes in the base as the Char Broil Charcoal Grill has, allows the heat to be controlled quite well.
It’s obviously best if there’s enough charcoal in the grill to last the whole session, but it often doesn’t work out that way. If you need to add more during cooking, then it helps if it’s easy to place more on the fire. A firebox door or a hinged grill plate will make things a lot easier, not only for adding extra but also to stoke it up if it needs it.
Safety is paramount and along with this goes stability. The cheaper ones we mentioned earlier usually lack in this area which can make them dangerous if they’re not treated carefully. Most good models are made with stability in mind whether they have three or four legs. For three leg types, make sure they are well spread out because the further the better. A bottom shelf just above the ground is not only useful to stand things on, but also adds extra strength.
Perhaps not the most important thing, but something to certainly look out for, is ash removal. With cheaper options the ash doesn’t get separated and that’s not good at all. An ash pan underneath the fire is best but some have an ash bowl or plate. The bowls or plates can sometimes spill so a pan is better. The One-Touch cleaning system on the Weber Original Kettle Grill is a good option for a less hassle clean up.
You might also want to consider dual fuel, not as an option for cooking but for lighting up. For example, the Weber Performer Deluxe has what’s called a Touch-n-Go gas ignition system. This combines an electric spark igniting the gas, which then lights the charcoal. This makes life easier in getting the grill going, but gas isn’t used to cook. The downside to dual fuel is that you have to carry a gas cylinder.
Grilling is a marvellous way to cook and is a serious hobby for many people. If you want to go for that special flavor then charcoal is the only way to go. There are two types, rough and brisquette. The brisquette type is very dense, meaning it will burn longer and more evenly. The rough type burns hotter and for a shorter time, but it will give off a better flavor.
Price doesn’t have to be the most important consideration but there are obviously some expensive options if that’s what you want. On the other hand, going to the very cheap end isn’t really a good idea unless you’re someone who grills outdoors very rarely.
Safety has to be the number one priority and that’s mostly to do with stability as there’s no getting away from the fact there is always going to be an element of danger when you cook in this way. Common sense will help to make sure all is well, but things like having a separate ash pan and a cooking grate which helps prevent flare ups can really help too. Choosing a charcoal grill shouldn’t be a difficult task but considering the points we’ve mentioned will hopefully give you something to think about.