No matter how advanced you are at playing with fire (or if you’re shopping for the resident barbecue master in your household), buying the right grill is crucial for achieving low, slow, indirect cooking. But out of the endless options on the market, how do you choose the right one for you?
“To start, in the world of barbecue, simpler is always better, ” says Kimberly Plafke, production manager at the Meat Hook. “You don’t need a flashy, fancy gigantic automated grill to produce a perfectly charred steak.” What you do need, says Megan Day, the pitmaster and a co-owner of Burnt Finger BBQ, is to focus on your lifestyle needs rather than marketing claims that one model “can do all.” This can include thinking about your budget and what type of grill you’re comfortable using (charcoal, pellet, or gas). Matt Abdoo, executive chef of Pig Beach BBQ, says another important point is choosing one that “matches up with the amount of food you’re typically looking to cook.”
Taking all these factors into consideration (along with a few more detailed below), we asked pitmasters, barbecue experts, and a couple of Strategist staffers about the very best barbecue grills.
What we’re looking for
Picking the appropriate size is key — especially if you have limited outdoor space to work with (or plan to churn out glizzies by the dozen). That’s why we’ve included both smaller, more portable models and larger options for feeding a crowd. Below, we’ve noted the cooking surface area of each grill as listed on each manufacturer’s website.
For the body of the grill, our experts mainly recommended steel builds and porcelain-enameled finishes, which help prevent rusting and peeling. What the grates are made of can be a bit more flexible, as they can be swapped out on most models; these can be cast iron (which is highly durable but needs to be seasoned or it can rust) or stainless steel (more affordable, but food can stick).
Just about every grill out there has some add-ons, such as a warming rack for your burger buns, easy-to-maneuver wheels, temperature gauges, lid rests, or a Bluetooth-enabled thermometer system. For each pick on this list, we’ve written out any additional characteristics that add to the grilling experience.
Best overall barbecue grill
Size: 363 square inches | Material: Steel coated with porcelain enamel | Special features: Ash catcher, wheels
“Webers are my absolute favorite,” chef Ippy Aiona says. “Their ability to create almost a convection-like cooking effect with the dome lid makes them far superior in my opinion.” Plafke is another fan, calling this Weber “a tiny but mighty bad-boy classic” that’s suitable for beginners and pros alike. “For home and backyard use, this charcoal grill is incredibly reliable, easy to manage, and can still produce a good amount of barbecue,” she says. “With a little practice, even a beginner griller can make use of the rotational lid/damper and smoke items as well as traditional grilling.”
Durability is also why Strategist kitchen and dining writer Emma Wartzman stands behind the Kettle. “I knew the Kettle was a workhorse because my mom’s had one since I was a kid — she only finally got rid of it this year for a fancier gas upgrade, but not because it stopped working,” she says. Its affordable price and intuitive function were also selling points, Wartzman says, adding that the built-in thermometer on the lid can come in especially handy when cooking foods like chicken thighs where the reference point to an oven temperature can be a guide, Wartzman says.
Best less expensive barbecue grill
Size: 147 square inches | Material: Steel coated with porcelain enamel | Special features: Compact and lightweight
The Smokey Joe is a slightly cheaper but more portable version of the Kettle above. “It’s the best pick for most people who might grill occasionally given its affordable price tag,” Strategist writer Jeremy Rellosa says. “Plus, with its compact size, there’s the option to take it on the move.” Rellosa says he simply puts his Smokey Joe in his trunk and drives it to parks and tailgates, as well as campgrounds, where he “can place it anywhere on my camp-kitchen setup.” And since it doesn’t have long legs like a full-size grill, the Smokey Joe isn’t a pain to store, even in a small apartment (Rellosa keeps his in his pantry).
In a previous version of this story, the Smokey Joe was named our best-rated (less expensive) grill, with Amazon reviewers praising its portability and ease of use. “I love cooking on charcoal over gas, and these grills make it super easy,” one buyer wrote. “I bought one for a camping trip so I didn’t have to bring anything big, and this was up to the task. Still big enough to cook tons of food on at once and kept my friends well-fed on our trip.”
Best large barbecue grill
Size: 1263 square inches | Material: Stainless steel | Special features: side fire box
If you’re looking for a combination charcoal grill and smoker, Tania Apolinar and Giovanni Cervantes, owners of Taqueria Ramirez, bring out this versatile, large-gathering-friendly pick in the summer and fall for upstate barbecues. “When cooking for a large crowd, we use this as a standard grill on the main grill barrel and love the side fire box to smoke or for making veggies without the worry of them falling through the grates,” they say. “We also love this separate compartment to avoid cross contamination if we are cooking for vegetarians.” The pair say its two wheels and not-so-heavy weight make it plenty mobile, despite its size at 1,263 square inches of cooking space.
Best gas barbecue grill
Size: 424 square inches | Material: Steel coated with porcelain enamel | Special features: iGrill 3
“Gas grills like this Weber Spirit reach high temperatures quickly,” Abdoo says. “This model heats up for me in just ten minutes so I can cook faster. It also gets super-hot for searing.” If you’re looking for an everyday gas grill, Abdoo says this is his go-to for recommendation for its even and consistent heat, and its three burners that allow for zone cooking. This model is also compatible with Weber’s Bluetooth-enabled thermometer system that notifies you on the app when your meat is done.
In a previous version of this story, the Spirit earned the same title, with dozens of Amazon reviewers noting its speed and sturdy build. “I cannot say enough good things about this grill; it’s beautiful, well-constructed, starts easily and consistently, and reaches the highest temperature in less than 15 minutes,” one enthusiastic buyer wrote. Another highlighted the easy-to-clean grease-management system and the side tables that help with organization.
Best pellet barbecue grill
Size: 458 square inches | Material: Stainless steel | Special features: Wi-Fi smart control
The Green Mountain Grills Ledge Prime Pellet Grill also comes highly recommended by Abdoo. “If you’re looking for a ‘set it and forget it’ model (and willing to splurge a little), this pellet grill and smoker offers a fantastic compromise between gas and charcoal,” he says. It features a thermostat for consistent heat and “delivers tons of great flavor from the charcoal and wood pellets,” Abdoo says.
Two more noteworthy characteristics: its Wi-Fi capability, which Abdoo says lets you keep track of the pellet level and temperature from the accompanying app, and a clever system for cleanup, in which you use a household vacuum to suction out the ashes through a tube that connects to the base of the burn pot (instead of having to remove individual parts).
Best smoker barbecue grill
Size: 884 square inches | Material: Steel | Special features: Dual meat probes, digital temperature controller
“Matty Mattheson and Benny Blanco turned me onto the Traeger ProSeries, which is a wood-pellet grill and smoker you can use for a whole lot,” food stylist and cookbook author Jess Damuck says. With 884 square inches of cooking space, this is the second-largest grill on this list — but despite its ample size, Damuck says the temperature control is spot on. “I opt for this model for its consistency,” she says. “I smoke a hefty brisket for eight hours and don’t have to worry about its temperature fluctuating. Or I throw oyster mushrooms on there for a few minutes to smoke and then bump up the temperature to get a great sear for the best appetizer ever.” And because it uses pellets, Damuck says, you get “the bonus of the great flavor of cooking with wood.”
Best kamado barbecue grill
Size: 447 square inches | Material: Triple-wall steel; porcelain coated interior | Special features: Side work stations
Thanks to its double-walled, insulated steel body, this kamado-style grill creates and maintains even, consistent heat for smoking, grilling, or roasting, Abdoo says — ”which is the key to great barbecue,” he adds. (While these Japanese grills are known for their thick ceramic structures that contain heat for long periods of time, the Akorn has a porcelain-coated steel body.) This model also gives you all the perks of cooking with charcoal, Abdoo says, as it can be used as both an indirect cooker and smoker with the option to add wood for flavor.
In a previous version of this story, the Akorn won the same title after thousands of buyers, from seasoned grillers to beginners, gave this unit five stars on Amazon for its “perfect temperature control” that produces “the best meat you’ve ever grilled/smoked in your life,” as one reviewer put it. Another buyer said they prefer the Akorn’s metal construction to the more traditional ceramic because “it’s much lighter and less fragile … and provides great control over temperatures.”
Best splurge barbecue grill
Size: 262 square inches | Material: Shuttle-quality ceramic | Special features: Temperature gauge; air-tight chamber
“I love my Big Green Egg,” says Courtney Storer, culinary producer for The Bear. “It was a bit of a splurge but worth every penny. The ceramic core holds heat for many hours, which makes it very versatile for entertaining and cooking at home.” Like the Akorn above, the Big Green Egg is a kamado-style model that’s good for low and slow cooking or smoking meats because its adjustable venting systems can maintain a steady temperature. But while it can crank up to super-high heat levels (and stay that hot), Storer says, it also keeps moisture in as it chars steak and pizza dough without drying it out. Nick Offerman, meanwhile, highlights the Green Egg’s meticulous enginerring, calling it “delightful” and a work of art. “I love it so much that I got ones for my dad and my three siblings that all live within a block from him,” he says. “We’ve all become Green Egg devotees.”
Some more barbecue grills we’ve written about
• Matt Abdoo, Pig Beach BBQ executive chef
• Tania Apolinar and Giovanni Cervantes, owners of Taqueria Ramirez
• Ippy Aiona, chef
• Jess Damuck, food stylist and cookbook author
• Megan Day, pitmaster and co-owner of Burnt Finger BBQ
• Kimberly Plafke, production manager at The Meat Hook
• Jeremy Rellosa, Strategist writer
• Courtney Storer, The Bear culinary producer
• Christie Vanover, pitmaster and owner of Girls Can Grill
• Emma Wartzman, Strategist kitchen and dining writer
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