A charcoal grill is one that uses charcoal briquettes as a fuel for cooking food over an open flame. It's one of four major grill types along with gas, pellet and electric. Charcoal grills have a strong following, with many people claiming that better food flavors result from using them. While opinions on flavor may vary, there are some advantages to charcoal grills, such as being less expensive than other models and taking up less space. There are other considerations, however, in choosing a charcoal grill; these include grill type, cooking space, ease of cleaning and added features.
The three principle grill types available are kettle, drum and portable; the selection will usually depend on the amount of grilling space you need. For the average household, a general recommendation is 300 to 400 square inches of cooking space as a minimum.
Traditional round kettle grills range from small tabletop varieties to medium-sized standalone units. Drum grills are often rectangular and are available in much larger sizes, making them more useful for large gatherings. Smaller, portable grills are ideal for frequent travelers, including cheap single-use models and tabletop units; these can be handy for camping and picnics.
Some charcoal grills have features that enhance their cooking abilities and make cleaning easier. Adjustable grates and vents will allow more control over flame proximity and temperature, since charcoal flames cannot be accurately controlled. Grills with propane lighting systems will eliminate the need for lighter fluid, and a deep, removable ash can is easily emptied. Some grills offer rotating skewers and additional shelves or warming racks, and those with locking lids will offer safer transport.
Higher-end grate materials include heavy-gauge stainless steel or cast iron coated with porcelain; iron is especially durable and heats quickly and evenly. A porcelain coating prevents sticking and is easily cleaned with a bristle brush, whereas bare cast iron will need oiling after each cleaning. There are also chrome-plated aluminum and heavy-gauge nickel grates that are rust-resistant, and all grates should feature hinges for easy coal addition and height adjustment.