Barbecues: How to buy the best barbecue Charcoal barbecues
Charcoal is the traditional fuel used for barbecuing, and grilling food on a charcoal barbecue can give you a great authentic chargrilled taste.
Here we explore the pros and cons of different types of charcoal barbecue, but to see which barbecues came top in our tests head straight to our barbecue review area.
And if you are considering buying a gas barbecue, make sure you check out our guide to gas barbecues.
Grilling food over white-hot charcoal and smoke from sizzling fat juices helps give it that authentic chargrilled taste.
You can buy charcoal – either lump charcoal or briquettes – from most DIY stores, hardware shops and petrol stations. During the summer months you’ll also find it in supermarkets.
Lump charcoal and briquettes vary slightly in composition and size but there’s not much difference between the two. Charcoal can be tricky to light, so you might want to use fire lighters to get the flames going. These cost less than £2 for a pack of 15.
Expect to pay £5-£8 for a 5kg bag of standard charcoal – enough for two medium-sized barbecues. You can now buy instant light charcoal which is easy to light without the need for fire lighters, though it can cost more than twice the price of standard charcoal.
To see reviews of all the charcoal barbecues we’ve tested use the compare barbecue features tool to filter results for charcoal models.
Types of charcoal BBQ
Freestanding charcoal BBQs
These are grill-only barbecues and consist of a stand, grill and basin to hold the charcoal. You’ll find square and circular models, as well as some that are distinctively half-barrel in shape.
You can buy a basic freestanding barbecue for around £10-£20 at most DIY stores, supermarkets and high street retailers. More expensive models, costing £50 and over, will usually have additional barbecue features, such as a storage shelf, wheels to help you move it and a grill that can be adjusted towards or away from the heat to help you alter the heat levels while you’re cooking.
Most of the cheap and medium-priced freestanding barbecue grills you’ll find on the high street and in DIY stores will be own-label brands. Argos and Homebase also stock the Jamie Oliver range of charcoal barbecues – but before you buy one make sure you check out how the Jamie Oliver Portable Charcoal Grill BBQ fared in our tests.
Freestanding half barrel or oil drum BBQs
Freestanding half barrel or oil drum barbecues are large, distinctively-shaped barbecues that offer a huge amount of grill space. They’re ideal if you need to cater for large numbers.
Prices for half barrel or oil drum charcoal barbecues typically range from £50-£100. Brands tend to be own-label including the likes of Argos, B&Q, Homebase and Tesco, though popular barbecue brand Landmann has one in its range.
We’ve tested the Landmann Oil Drum Barbecue which you can buy for under £100.
Charcoal kettle BBQs
Kettle barbecues have circular bodies and distinctive hoods. These hoods fit tightly over the grill, heating the air trapped inside and raising the temperature, just like an oven.
You can use the kettle hood to bake or roast meat, fish and vegetables. The heat of the trapped air bakes food, just as it does in an oven. Pick one with a thermometer in the hood if you want to be able to monitor the temperature for more accurate roasting.
Read our guide to barbecue features for more information on accessories that a charcoal kettle barbecue might come with.
The best charcoal kettle barbecues will have air vents at the bottom and on the hood. Cold air is drawn in, which keeps the coals burning, and excess hot air is released through the hood vents. You should keep vents open when you’re lighting the barbecue, but makes sure coals are shielded from high winds.
Charcoal kettle BBQs – brands and prices
There are plenty of reasonably priced own-label models in Argos, B&Q and Homebase, as well as charcoal kettle barbecues from popular brands like Landmann and Weber.
You can buy a charcoal kettle barbecue for as little as £20, though you might find the grill too small and the basin too shallow to hold much charcoal on cheaper models. Plus you may find that the hood doesn’t fit tightly because it's too flimsy, and cheaper kettle barbecues are unlikely to have vents in the hood.
Prices for one with vents start around £30-£50 for an own-label model, but expect to pay a lot more for a branded, well-built model with high-spec materials and a solid construction. The archetypal Weber charcoal kettle barbecue will set you back over £100, but for this you'll get a porcelain-enamelled hood and basin, aluminium air vents, stainless steel grill and well-insulated handles.