Whether you want to slow-roast an entire leg of lamb in your backyard, or simply grill burgers and bangers the old-fashioned way, a good barbecue is a garden essential. But which barbecue should you buy? We’ve rounded up the best outdoor cookers you can buy right now.
Barbecues range from basic budget grills to fully fledged garden kitchens with all the bells and whistles for a veritable summer feast. We’ve covered all charcoal-fuelled bases in this roundup, reviewing 15 models.
There are two that stand out. For the ultimate cooking experience, and the ability to griddle everything up to a whole turkey, the Char-Broil Kamander Charcoal Grill is a great choice. If you just want a simple and cheap BBQ that uses direct heat then the Dancook 7100 will happily do the job.
How we pick the best BBQs
When picking the best BBQ, it’s the quality of the cooking that counts. There are two ways that BBQs tackle this: direct heat and indirect heat. With the direct heat method, food is cooked by the heat from the charcoals below. Typically, for direct heat you’d use an open BBQ or one with the lid off.
For indirect cooking, you use a BBQ with a closed lid, placing the food out of the direct heat of the charcoal. In this way, your food cooks more like it would in the oven, but with the circulating smoke giving you that distinctive BBQ taste.
BBQs without lids tend to be cheaper and easier to use: you just light the coals and put your food on the grille, turning regularly to avoid charring or burning. We tell you how easy these BBQs were to light and how much food you can fit on the grill. We also test how well the BBQ cooked, looking at the various options offered. These could include the ability to adjust the height of the cooking grill, which would effectively let you adjust the temperature by moving your food further from the heat source.
For those BBQs with a lid that use indirect heat, the level of adjustment becomes important. Vents (or dampers) let you adjust the airflow through the BBQ, enabling you to raise the temperature by increasing airflow and burning the charcoal hotter, or vice versa. We test how easy it is to control cooking temperature, whilst also reviewing the amount of charcoal needed to cook, and how long it lasts.
In all cases, we cover maintenance of the BBQ, too: how easy each model is to clean up after use, including cleaning the grille, emptying ash, and cleaning up any fat spills.
1. Char-Broil Kamander Charcoal Grill
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- Built-in temperature gauge
- Easy to clean
- Fast heat-up times
- Can’t see progress
- Investment buy
A Kamado-style BBQ, the Char-Broil Kamander Charcoal Grill is built from double-walled steel, which lets it heat up quickly and evenly, adding in fine temperature control to adjust to the way you cook. It has a temperature range from 50ºC for smoking to 345ºC for searing.
With a 20-inch diameter grill, there’s enough space inside for a turkey, large joint of meat, or up to 14 burgers, making this model ideal for larger parties.
Two vents (one on top for smoke control, one on the side for airflow) provide fine adjustment, letting you control the temperature of the grill. They’re clearly marked with settings from one to five, letting you more easily make adjustments.
Using less than 1kg of charcoal, we got the BBQ to 180 degrees in 25 minutes with the vents on setting 3; opening these up further boosted the temperature. With this BBQ it’s important to leave the lid in place, resisting the urge to check numerous times. The result was juicy chicken skewers with no charring.
At this price, the Char-Broil Kamander Charcoal Grill isn’t for everyone, but for serious BBQers looking for perfect results, it’s a great investment.
2. Dancook 7100
- Small cooking area
- No lid
- No temperature gauge
The simple and affordable Dancook 7100 box barbecue is everything you’d want from a budget grill. It’s sturdy, lightweight and cooks well, with a minimalist design that makes cleaning it a doddle. There are four slots to adjust the cooking height above the coals, and you can even position the grill across the back and then fill the space behind it with hot coals for a vertical barbecue.
The barbecue cooks slow and steady, and the optional extra of a battery-operated spit will transform it into a rotisserie for spinning cuts of meat. Cooking capacity is smaller than some barbecues, but this is easily outweighed by affordability and great design.
If you’re after a cheap barbecue that goes the extra mile, the Dancook 7100 is your answer.
3. Char-Broil Kettleman
- Large capacity
- Hinged lid
- Even cooking
- Slow to light
- Slow to cook
If you’re after a big charcoal barbecue that offers good heat control, then look no further than the Char-Broil Kettleman. Billing itself as the UK’s first infrared kettle BBQ, the Kettleman operates using coals and a porcelain-coated cooking grill, which retains and radiates an even heat. A metal zig-zag grill allows fat to drip down, but prevents flames and flare-ups from burning food.
Since there’s less hot air rushing upwards, food retains its moisture. Coals are surprisingly close to the grill, which means you’ll need to use a lot less charcoal. Plus, tiny holes in the grill enable the charcoal’s aroma and smokiness to seep through for a traditional barbecue taste.
The lid is a large, domed affair provides adequate space for roasting, and it also houses a handy temperature gauge.
4. Dancook 9000 Fireplace
- Doubles as a fire pit
- Looks great
- Barbecues surprisingly well
- Can’t adjust heat
- Low down
- No lid
The Dancook 9000 Fireplace is a minimalist, Scandi-style barbecue that doubles as an attractive fire pit, providing a toasty gathering point at family barbecues. It will happily burn wood or charcoal, but barbecue aficionados might not take kindly to its lack of heat controls; the only way to adjust the heat is by moving the coals.
Still, as a fire pit it’s impressive, standing at 50cm high and 78cm wide. It’s safe, too, with a wide surround around the cooking area to keep the edges from becoming too hot. The cooking area is large, and there’s a durable grill made from 6mm chromium-plated steel, which distributes heat evenly. It will brown a burger and crisp up kebabs much better than the average garden grill.
Accessories are available to make the barbecue more versatile. There’s a cover, a raised barbecue grill and pan that can sit higher above the flames, and a stainless steel lid that turns it into a handy patio table.
5. Big Green Egg MiniMax
- Versatile cooking
- Stunning foodie results
- Very pricey
- Weighs a tonne (okay, 30kg)
If you’re a foodie with a big budget but a small garden, the Big Green Egg MiniMax will prove hard to resist. It’s a unique-looking ceramic cooker that takes its design from a kamado, a traditional Japanese wood or charcoal-fuelled stove. It’s certainly got the looks, and if it’s perfect small-scale barbecuing you’re after, it’s got the brains, too.
The smallest size in the Big Green Egg range, the MiniMax can cook four burgers, a chicken, two steaks or a whole rack of ribs. There’s a built-in thermometer in the lid, which is handy given most of your cooking is done with the domed green lid firmly shut. You light the charcoal, leave the lid open for ten minutes to let the fire catch, then shut the lid and adjust the air vents at the top and bottom to control the heat.
Even following the instructions closely, we found the heat control a little difficult to master – we failed in bringing it down to 120°C from 170°C by adjusting the vents.
Still, the enclosed cooking method keeps meat incredibly moist and juicy, making it perfect for roasting. It’s fuel-efficient, too – you can cook using the same charcoals a couple of times. There’s an optional £40 ceramic slab – or “plate setter” – that we found useful for cooking, roasting and baking.
If money is no object, you’ll enjoy the delicious results of the Big Green Egg MiniMax.
6. Thüros Tabletop Grill
- Good value
- Elegant design
- Doubles as a fire pit
- Arguably looks boring
- No lid
- Cooks food too quickly
Safe to use on a table-top, the Thüros Tabletop Grill is a portable BBQ that also doubles as a neat firepit. As a BBQ it’s super-easy to use. Chuck the coals into the bottom and light, then simply stick the grill on top. The sturdy legs and air vents keep the grill off the surface that it’s sat on, so the heat won’t damage a table or lawn.
The downside of this BBQ is that the top grill sits close to the coals brneath, so food cooks extremely quickly. We found that we had to turn our food regularly to prevent it from burning. There’s no way to control temperature, bar a slight reduction in the amount of fuel that you use.
Still, as a fire pit first, and occasional shared cooking around the table, the Thüros Tabletop Grill is a good choice.
That was our pick of the best BBQs, for more information on choosing the right model keep on reading.
Best BBQs buying guide
Best BBQS – Which type should I buy?
The main choice with BBQs is whether to opt for a gas or charcoal model. Gas models (not featured in this list) are easier to light and are ready to go whenever you need them. Plus, they cook for as long as you have gas, so you don’t have to worry about topping up with fuel. You don’t quite get that proper BBQ taste, however.
Charcoal BBQs offer a more authentic experience, with food emerging with the smokey flavour you’d expect. Lighting the charcoals is harder than starting a gas BBQ, and you get less control over temperature. However, with a little practice, you get the full-on BBQ experience.
Best BBQs – How big a BBQ do I need?
Make sure you buy a BBQ with enough space to cater for everyone. Smaller kettle BBQs are good for gatherings of a few people or a family of four. However, look for a larger model, or one with multiple grilles, if you need to cater for larger groups, or want to tackle bigger cooks such as joints of meat.
Best BBQs – Should I get one with a lid?
A lid lets you cover your food, retaining heat and, with a charcoal model, smoke. With a lid, you’ll be cooking more like you would in an oven, using the ambient temperature of the BBQ to cook rather than the direct heat from the coals. This can give more succulent results, and lets you tackle bigger joints of meat. However, placement of coals becomes important, or else direct heat can result in burnt food.
The quality of the air vents (dampers), which let you control the airflow (and temperature), and how well insulated the BBQ is, all have their part to play in the quality of the food. Typically speaking, the more expensive BBQs have well-insulated bodies, with fine damper control. These models can cook for longer on a load of fuel and give finer control over temperature.
Best BBQs – What else should I look for?
Adjustable grills can be useful, particularly on models that use direct heat, since this lets you adjust the distance between your food and the charcoal. Look out for warming racks, which can be used to keep food up to temperature after it’s cooked, or just to heat up burger buns.
Don’t overlook how easy a BBQ is to clean after use. A dedicated BBQ cleaning brush can help tackle the grille, but consider how easy it will be to remove ash and clean out any dripped fat.