WE'VE selected the best charcoal BBQ options whether you're hosting garden parties or looking for something more portable for a picnic.
Read on for tips on making the most of your barbecue and see our selection.
You might be wondering whether you should go for a charcoal barbecue or a gas one.
The answer is down to your preference as both have their benefits.
Gas barbecues are fast and easy to use, and can be fired up in around 10 minutes depending on the model you go for.
You can adjust the temperature up or down with ease, and you don’t have the faff of having to lift up the grill to add more fuel during cooking.
All this means that whether you’re cooking for one or two, or a whole party, the gas barbecue is always ready to go.
You can read our guide to choosing the best gas barbecue here.
Charcoal barbecues take a lot longer to get started, but coals can reach a higher temperature than gas can achieve, which means it’s easier to sear meat for better flavour.
When the fat from cooked food drips onto the coal, it creates that lovely smoky flavour that’s hard to recreate on gas barbecues.
And because charcoal gives off radiating heat, you can cook different things at different temperatures at the same time.
Of course, charcoal is a bit harder to work with, and ideally you’ll want to cook for a larger number of people to make the most of the coal. But once you get the hang of it, the results are hard to beat.
1. We tested: Bar-Be-Quick dual BBQ and fire pit
- Bar-Be-Quick dual BBQ and fire pit, £45 from Argos – buy here
For homes with smaller gardens or patio spaces, Bar-Be-Quick’s dual BBQ and fire pit is the ideal alternative to the traditional barbecue.
Its 2-in-1 design means you can use it as a normal barbecue first and then put the mesh lid on to enjoy the residual heat as a fire pit.
The rounded base is supported by three fairly sturdy legs that can also be folded up for storage.
A mesh lid fits neatly over the top and there’s a long handled hook that you can use to lift it when it’s hot.
The barbecue comes with two wire racks – a stainless steel one that rests at the top as the grill and another metal one that rests in the base to allow any ash from the coal or wood you use to fall through.
We tested it on a really windy day and, once we got the fire going, the mesh lid managed to stop all the debris flying out until we were ready to cook.
Even so, we’d recommend using a chimney lighter to start your barbecue, just to reduce the amount of ash that ends up in the bowl.
Another thing we found was that the height was a little low compared to a traditional barbecue so it works much better if you have a raised surface to set it on or you don’t mind squatting to cook.
But the barbecue itself was a good size for a small crowd and for the price and the dual purpose design, we’d be happy to recommend it.
2. Valiant FIR551 folding portable picnic barbecue
- Valiant folding portable picnic barbecue, £49.98 from Amazon – buy here
If you’re cooking for just a few people, this portable barbecue is a great option.
It opens up to a 32cm x 23cm cooking surface, which will fit more than a couple of burgers and sausages.
And once you’re done, it folds up into a neat suitcase that weighs just 3.3kg.
3. Argos Home 43cm kettle charcoal BBQ
- Argos Home 43cm kettle charcoal BBQ, £25 from Argos – buy here
This kettle charcoal barbecue is great for small gatherings.
The grill features handles that are easy to lift if you need to add more coal, and there’s also an ash catcher at the bottom so the bowl never fills up with debris.
The two front wheels make it move it around the garden or into storage.
4. Weber Smokey Joe premium portable charcoal barbecue
- Weber Smokey Joe premium charcoal BBQ, £89.24 from Weber – buy here
Weber’s Smokey Joe premium portable charcoal barbecue is designed to be taken with you on trips.
It features a special lock that secures the lid in place, as well as a heat-resistant handle that makes carrying it around super easy.
You also get a measuring cup to help you measure out the perfect amount of charcoal every time.
5. Argos Home extra large charcoal oil drum BBQ
- Argos Home extra large charcoal oil drum BBQ, £75 Argos – buy here
This budget-friendly barbecue is great if you’re cooking for bigger groups of people.
As well as a generous cooking area, there’s an elevated warming rack where you can keep food warm.
To one side, there’s also a fold down table that you can use for resting sauces, spices or food that you’re queuing up to cook.
6. Texas starter smoker and BBQ
- Texas starter smoker and BBQ, £120 from Homebase – buy here
This versatile barbecue combines a BBQ grill with a smoker so you can experiment with a range of different recipes.
There’s an integrated temperature gauge, with a vent in the side shelf, that allows you to adjust the temperature as you’re smoking your food.
There’s also a chimney to one side to create a smoke free cooking environment.
7. Symple Stuff BK Cookware 118cm charcoal BBQ
- Symple Stuff BK Cookware charcoal BBQ, £166.99 from Wayfair – buy here
For a larger barbecue with plenty of storage, try this one from Symple Stuff.
The grill is split into two so you can remove one side to add more coal, or open the door at the front, and there’s also a resting shelf over the top where you can keep food warm.
Perhaps the best feature is the height-adjustable coal shelf, which you can move up and down to increase or decrease the cooking temperature.
8. CosmoGrill XL charcoal smoker barbecue
- CosmoGrill XL charcoal smoker BBQ, £224.99 from Amazon – buy here
The CosmoGrill XL charcoal smoker barbecue is very similar to the Symple Stuff one, but has even more storage space.
There are shelves on both sides of the grill, as well as underneath the barbecue.
The addition of a chimney also means you can close the lid and use it as a smoker.
How to light a charcoal BBQ
There are two main ways you can light a charcoal barbecue.
The most basic way is to stack the charcoal into a mound, leaving plenty of space between the briquettes to allow air to circulate.
In these gaps, you can stuff scrunched up newspaper, or other natural firelighters like wood shavings or wool – these are what you light to start the fire, which will then spread to the coals.
Using lighter fluid, gels or cubes can speed up the process but these are toxic and don’t always break down while they burn, so they’re best avoided and especially if you’re cooking for kids.
Charcoal chimneys are a great alternative way to light your barbecue, especially if it’s a windy day.
It’s basically a cylinder with a handle and a shelf in the middle where you stack the coals on top and the scrunched up newspaper at the bottom.
Once you light the newspaper, the flames will travel up and the coals should catch.
When the coals are ready – you’ll see white ash covering the surface – you simply tip the contents of the chimney into your barbecue.
Make sure you have a suitable heatproof glove for this bit!
How to clean a charcoal BBQ
To properly clean your charcoal barbecue, you’ll need a sturdy brush with metal bristles, old rag, wooden brush, and a strong metal scraper.
Always allow your barbecue to completely cool down before you start cleaning.
Start with the grill. Use the brush with the metal bristles to remove any stuck on food debris and grime and then wash off any grease with warm water and washing up liquid like you would with an oven shelf.
If there are any stuck on bits, soak the grill in some warm soapy water to loosen these before you brush them off.
To clean the base and the lid, you use the wooden brush to brush away any deposits of ash. If there is stuck-on food, use the metal scraper to remove these.
Finally, using the old rag, wipe down the interior with warm soapy water until it's spotless.
You should clean your grill and lid, if you’ve used it, after every barbecue session.
If you regularly use your barbecue, you should thoroughly clean the base when you start to see build up. Or if you don’t use it very often, you should clean it before you put it away.
If you’re preparing for a summer of barbecues, check out our guide to all the tools you’ll need to host one.
As well as the best charcoal BBQ, we’ve also rounded up the best gas alternatives.
And to keep your barbecue in top shape, we’ve rounded up the best barbecue covers.
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