With lockdown easing, the Euros on their way and longer, warmer days looking more likely, now is not the time to be let down by your barbecue.
More than ever, getting together is about enjoying the company of your friends and family rather than being chained to a grill, which is why the barbecues included in our round-up were tried and tested for their trouble-free credentials. We have only included barbecues that took the grind out of a day’s grilling.
We fired up new and already popular models from a range of manufacturers, which promised to take the hassle and guesswork out of producing succulent food.
One of the first things we tested was how good the cooker was at managing temperature, which is essential for good barbecue.
We prioritised models that made it easy to get cooking quickly, with grills that held the heat well and had good venting, ensuring the temperature could be easily manipulated to produce a variety of juicy meats and nicely charred vegetables.
We also tested to see how easy it was to get direct and indirect heat to the grill, which is important if you’re cooking food like bone-in chicken, where the direct heat browns the skin and the indirect heat finishes it off.
After weeks of basting, searing, smoking, roasting and baking, here are our cookout kings for 2021.
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Best charcoal BBQ 2021
Best all-rounder – Original Jerk J cut: £800, Originaljerk.co.uk
Best for smoking – Napoleon apollo 300 charcoal grill: £379, Thebbqshop.co.uk
Best for temperature range and control – Weber summit kamado E6 charcoal grill: £379, Wowbbq.co.uk
Best for tandoor dishes – Bar Be Quick tandoori smoker & grill: £129, Onbuy.com
Best for heat retention and distribution – Morsø grill ’71: £249, Morsoe.com
Best for slow cooking – Weber master touch GBS E-5750: £313.95, Riversidegardencentre.co.uk
Best for grill size – Rösle kettle grill No.1 sport F60 black: £390.350, Amazon.co.uk
Best for portability – Suck UK BBQ toolbox: £65.52, Amazon.co.uk
Best on high heat – Weber go-anywhere charcoal barbeque: £113.86, Amazon.co.uk
Best value for money – Bar Be Quick kamado egg BBQ grill: £249, Barbequick.com
Best flavour – Char-broil Gas2Coal 2.0 210: £369.99, Birstall.co.uk
Original Jerk J cut
This south London company has taken the oil drum barbecue to the next level, by taking a steel drum and expertly cutting, strengthening and hinging it to turn it into a beautifully engineered piece of kit.
A massive 34in cooking surface encloses the fire grate, turning the firing up of the barbecue into an event in itself. The glow from the flames and coal light up the laser cut picture grill, which holds the heat well and makes it very easy to control the temperature and find direct and indirect heat for different menu items.
The grate is also designed to create a central hot spot on the grill, so you have complete control over how much heat is applied to your food. Plus, there is a cooler upper shelf for resting and warming.
In addition, sliding vents on the base of the drum and the chimney make it easy to control the fire and smoke load. The addition of two oiled scaffold boards on either side of the barbecue means there’s plenty of space for food prep, tool storage and the chef’s drink. The whole barbecue is finished in high temperature satin black paint that you can touch up once the summer is over to keep it looking fresh.
Buy now £800.00, Originaljerk.co.uk
Napoleon apollo 300 charcoal grill AS300K-2
Best: For smoking
Offering real versatility, this modular 3-in-1 smoker and grill will give you the chance to up your game and begin smoking foods at a constant temperature, as well as have a compact portable charcoal barbecue that’s ready to go at a moment’s notice.
The ingenious design means that each of the three stacking cooking chambers make up the barbecue smoker (along with the lid). With the charcoal burning in the basket at the bottom, a water pan in the middle chamber creates the smoke, which can circulate around the grates in the middle and top sections or the lid, which is fitted with a horizontal bar for hanging and smoking.
The generous grates are 20in and the whole barbecue is well vented at the top and bottom, which means that temperature control isn’t a problem, and can be tracked with an accurate gauge which is inset on the lid.
Buy now £379.00, Thebbqshop.co.uk
Weber summit kamado E6 charcoal grill
Best: For temperature range and control
One of the big names in barbecuing has made its first foray into kamado cooking, a style renowned for its impressive temperature range and control.
The E6 is constructed from porcelain-enameled steel that circulates and retains the heat to such a degree that you can enjoy more versatility and adventurous (but, headache-free) barbecued fare.
Temperature control was straightforward thanks to a hinged damper on top of the lid, which opens up completely, so coals heat up faster, and you can raise the temperature mid-grill, if required.
Combination cooking with direct and indirect heat was also simple, so our chicken was cooked through with a delicious browned skin.
The 24in cooking grate means that no one is going to be kept waiting for their food, and the standard Weber one-touch cleaning system made resetting the grill for next time pretty much effortless.
Buy now £379.00, Wowbbq.co.uk
Bar Be Quick tandoori smoker & grill
Best: For tandoori dishes
Another modular barbecue which offers a very unique cooking experience, over and above the traditional grill and smoker, as it can be turned into a tandoor oven.
A pressed-steel kebab rack attachment fits snugly over the rim of the barbecue and smoker chambers, and with hot coals burning in the fuel basket at the base you can load the supplied 12 x 30cm skewers with marinated chicken for a tandoori feast.
The chicken we cooked was smokey and succulent, cooking quickly and evenly so that everything was ready at once – this made for a great start to any barbecue. Then, all you have to do is let the smoker chamber cool sufficiently before reverting to a traditional barbecue. This has a 17in grill and three vents for efficient temperature control.
Buy now £129.00, Onbuy.com
Morsø grill ’71
Best: Heat retention and distribution
As the name suggests, this grill from the Danish manufacturer has been in production since 1971, and we can see why it’s enjoyed such longevity, particularly for cooking steaks, which it excelled at. The shallow fuel chamber doesn’t take a lot of charcoal and gets hot very quickly, making the solid enameled cast iron grill the perfect place to ensure you can wow guests with nicely caramelised steaks and burgers.
The grate’s heat retention and distribution meant that several steaks could be cooked at one time, leaving behind an appetising grilling pattern. The adjustable height also means you can lower or raise the grill according to your food – getting a nice sear on a steak by bringing it close to the heat or raising it away from the source for smoky, slower cooked food. For resting meat you can just move the grill grate out of the way.
Buy now £249.00, Morsoe.com
Weber master touch GBS E-5750
Best: For slow cooking
The last time out with this barbecue, we found assembly a little tricky, but this time everything came together very easily, even the spring loaded hinged lid, which is still a really nice feature of this classic kettle.
This cooker will take the headache out of a range of barbecue dishes, from burgers to brisket, thanks to the two charcoal baskets which make it easy to get both direct and indirect heat to the 22in grill, and good venting. Low and slow cooking can also be achieved with the lid down, and we were impressed with the accuracy of the built-in lid thermometer.
The hassle-free nature of the barbecue extends to when the coals have died down, and Weber’s one-touch cleaning system makes cleaning a very straightforward affair. It’s currently out of stock online, but you can search by postcode on Weber’s website to find local stockists and you can sign up to be notified when it comes back online too.
Buy now £313.95, Riversidegardencentre.co.uk
Rösle kettle grill No.1 sport F60 black
Best: Grill size
Another kettle that performed really well was the F60 with its sizable 24in grill, which means you have lots of room to work with when the coals are up to temperature. It allowed us to get an easy sear on steaks and burgers, and the vent on top of the dome allowed us to control the temperature for lower and slower dishes. 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, you can. The hinged lid also means that you won’t have to worry about where to put or hook it when cooking.
Buy now £390.35, Amazon.co.uk
Suck UK BBQ toolbox
Best: For portability
If you’re taking your barbecuing out of the back garden and down to the park or beach, then this eye-catching and well-designed portable grill is compact and robust, and allows you to cook on a 15in stainless steel grill within minutes of filling the fuel tray. Opening the tool-box lid reveals the grill, warming rack and a storage tray for cutlery or condiments. Quick to cool, the charcoal is easily emptied as the tool box is so light, and the red paint coating is temperature resistant, so looked as good as new even after a summer’s worth of cooking.
Buy now £65.52, Amazon.co.uk
Weber go-anywhere charcoal barbeque
Best: For cooking on high heat
Another compact and well-designed portable that offers a chipolata-sized amount of extra room to grill than the toolbox, with a 16in cooking area. Light and easily carried with plated steel legs that pivot to keep the lid in place during transit, the shallow rectangular shape keeps the charcoal close to it, so we found it excelled at searing juicy burgers and even steaks on high heat. The flat-bottomed fire pit also made cooking with indirect heat much easier, as you can simply pile the coals at one end and place the food at the other.
Buy now £113.86, Amazon.co.uk
Bar Be Quick kamado egg BBQ grill 21in ceramic
Best: Value for money
Kamado cooking usually comes at a price because of the materials used in the construction, but the Bar Be egg manages to use good quality high-spec ceramics from dome to body and keep a lid on the price too.
Easy to fire up, it just needs ten minutes alight and a further five with the dome down before you should be ready to go. It’s also well designed internally, in terms of hot air circulation and radiant heat, holding the heat and smoke well. We produced some of the best food in the egg, both meat and veggies, from the multi-level grills inside the dome, and the 21in grill ensured that there was plenty to go around.
Buy now £649.00, Barbequick.com
Char-Broil gas2coal 2.0 210
Best: For flavour
If you like the flavour that charcoal imparts on food, but aren’t too keen on the hit or miss nature of getting the fuel started in the first place, then this dual fuel product allows you to load up the charcoal tray and get it lit via a gas burner. There was good even heat across the 19in porcelain coated cast iron grill, and there are plenty of details that add to the enjoyment of cooking with the Char-Broil. There is an integrated bottle opener, as well as a separate grate lifter, which allows you to lift the grate and manage the charcoal as well as control the heat.
Buy now £369.99, Birstall.co.uk
Charcoal BBQ FAQs
What to look for in a charcoal BBQ
Before you crack out the “kiss the cook” apron, have a think about the maximum amount of mouths that you’ll be feeding in one sitting because that will dictate the size of your grill. For two to four people you’ll be fine with a kettle grill – the classic, spherical shape cooks hot and fast and will give you enough room to keep the burgers coming until everyone is satisfied. If you’re just planning the occasional cookout, rather than a grillstock summer, a kettle will mean you can serve up a range of foods quickly and won’t have to spend valuable chilling time cleaning the barbecue afterwards. With basic kettles starting at around £50, they can be real value for money if you can guarantee quality.
If you need more grill space (for more than four people, for example) then you could consider an oil drum or half barrel barbecue. They cost more and take up a lot of room, but make it easier to manage and master cooking a lot of different foods that require different temperatures. It’s easier to create hot spots for searing and sizzling while also creating lower temperature zones for low, slow and well-smoked food.
Finally, ceramic charcoal grills, aka kamados, are typically egg-shaped and their construction is all about cooking versatility, so if you’re looking to up your barbecue game, the efficient insulation and heat circulation means that you will be able to produce all the usual fare, as well as slow-roasted meats and even pizzas with a perfectly crispy bottom crust. They are robust, long lasting and very good looking but they’re a serious investment with even the most basic models costing several hundred pounds.
Whatever you decide, all grills need to retain enough heat to cook everything you need in one sitting and put those appetising sear marks on burgers and steaks. Also, think about how the barbecue can make the whole process easier too. For example, is there a warming rack or an in-built side table? Are there places to hang tongs, forks and other utensils when you step away from the grill? Finally, if your barbecue isn’t going to be stored away then it’s best to make room in your budget for a cover to protect it from the elements when not in use.
How to safely light and use a charcoal BBQâ
Before you can enjoy your barbecue’s benefits, you’re going to have to light the thing. Make sure you don’t spend half the afternoon blowing at coals, burning your fingers and getting covered in lighter fluid by using a charcoal chimney. Simply stuff the base with newspaper (old egg cartons are good too) then load the chimney with charcoal – halfway is plenty for a basic grilling session, but if you need more heat and more cooking time you can fill it to the top. Light the paper, or cardboard, and place the chimney on the barbecue’s grate. When the coals are glowing red-hot, pour them into your grate and you’re cooking with charcoal. Don’t forget that the coals need oxygen to keep going, so open up all the vents on your barbecue.
Where can I buy sustainable charcoal from?
Green grilling is a major issue these days as charcoal comes with a sizeable carbon footprint, especially as most of the charcoal purchased in the UK is imported. It’s important to try and mitigate the impact and source some British lump-wood charcoal, if possible. A good place to start is to look for local producers whose product is certified for sustainability with the strict Grown in Britain (GiB) Standard, which provides a mark that assures quality and sustainability for British woodland products, including charcoal.
The verdict: Charcoal BBQs
Made from scratch by skilled blacksmiths, there’s nothing out there quite like the Original Jerk J cut – the craftsmanship is clear to see in the barbecue’s build quality, and it looks the business. Ultimately, though, it’s the ease of barbecuing and the control over fire and food that makes this the king of the charcoal grills. The barbecues are made to order, so there is a waiting list of up to three weeks from placing an order to delivery – but good things come to those who wait.
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Planning a summer cook-out? Check out our round-up of the best BBQ essentials to invest in