Best Kettle Grills

Updated October 2020
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Buying guide for best kettle grills

There’s nothing like a plateful of freshly grilled, flavorful food served hot off a charcoal grill. In fact, some charcoal aficionados wouldn’t consider grilling with any other type of fuel. And for many, the kettle grill is the best way to get maximum performance from charcoal, imparting those great grill flavors to meat, poultry, vegetables, and breads.

Even though the design of kettle grills seems simple, choosing the best one for your needs can take some time. You don’t want to purchase a kettle grill that’s either too small or too big for the outdoor cooking you plan to do and the number of people you want to feed.

Our buying guide includes some helpful tips for picking the right size charcoal grill, what you can expect to pay, and how to get the best performance and longest life out of your kettle grill. We’ve included some of our favorites to make your shopping even easier, too.

Store your kettle grill in a shed, garage, or another shelter during the winter. If you don’t have storage space, place a cover over the grill and move it under an awning.

Key considerations

The kettle grill is probably the most familiar type of charcoal grill. Its rounded shape is still a popular choice because it maintains the charcoal at a steady temperature and heats evenly over the entire cooking surface.

What’s nice about kettle grills is that they are very easy to fire up and cook on: just pour in the charcoal, light, and cook your food on the grate. But experienced grillers know that there are plenty of other factors that go into charcoal grilling. Adding the right amount of charcoal and knowing when it’s at the optimum temperature for grilling is considered an art form by many. Most grill experts also use various accessories like chimneys and thermometers to make it easier to light and monitor the grill.

Size and shape

Size: Kettle grills come in various sizes, from 12-inch tabletop varieties to 48-inch mega grills. Some are even built into larger grilling cabinets that allow you to place your utensils and plates next to the grill during cooking.

Lid: The lid of a kettle grill is rounded. This dome shape is key to the grill’s ability to heat food evenly, without the temperature disparities that other grills may have.

Bowl: The rounded bottom half of the kettle grill also plays a role in the way that heat surrounds the cooking surface. Further, ashes from the charcoal fall to the bottom of the bowl and continue to help maintain a consistent temperature inside the grill. Handles on either side of the bowl make it easy to shift the grill from one location to another.

Materials

Kettle grills are mostly made of rust-resistant metal, from the lid to the body to the legs. The only exceptions are the handles on the sides of the bowl and top of the lid, which are made of wood or another heat-resistant material.

Maintenance

Cleaning a kettle grill can be quite a chore. The bottom of the grill gradually fills with fine ash and unburned bits of charcoal, and all this needs to be removed periodically and disposed of safely. Likewise, the cooking grill surface must be cleaned after every use, a chore that involves plenty of scrubbing with a nylon or metal brush to clean burned-on food from the metal grate.

Features

Legs

Small tabletop grills may have three legs, but most freestanding kettle grills have four legs to provide good stability. Larger models may also have two wheels so the grill can be rolled from place to place.

Vents

Look for a kettle grill with vents in the lid and at the bottom of the bowl that can be opened wide or closed to varying degrees to increase or decrease the airflow to the charcoal and raise or lower the cooking temperature.

Ash collector

Pricier kettle grills have an attachment underneath the bowl where the cooled ash can drain or be dumped. The ash collector can be emptied into a heat-safe container for disposal.

Accessories

Charcoal chimney: Weber 7429 Rapidfire Chimney Starter
Start the charcoal more easily and bring it up to cooking temperature quickly by using a chimney starter. This durable one from Weber has an ergonomic handle.

Remote thermometer: ThermoPro Wireless Meat Thermometer
Monitor your steak’s temperature on the grill from a distance. This digital thermometer has an 8.5-inch probe and comes preprogrammed for nine types of poultry and meat.

Grill cover: Weber Kettle Grill Cover
Protect your entire 22-inch grill from the elements, and especially from rust, with this premium polyester cover.

Gloves: Homemaxs BBQ Gloves
Maneuver safely over a hot grill by shielding your hands and wrists with gloves. These triple-layer gloves can withstand temperatures as high as 1,472°F.

Cooking utensils: Cuisinart Premium Grilling Set
Long-handled metal tools with heat-resistant grips allow you to reposition food on the cooking grate without leaning over the hot coals.

Grill brush: Char-Broil Cool Clean Grill Brush
Cleaning the cooking grate after the grill has cooled down is essential for maintaining your grill. This inexpensive nylon brush is a safer alternative to brushes with metal bristles.

Kettle grill prices

Inexpensive: You can find tabletop grills for as little as $25 to $45. Large freestanding kettle grills start at $47 to $90.

Mid-range: The sweet spot for kettle grills, where size and build quality meet, is in the $98 to $280 price range.

Expensive: Premium kettle grills with advanced ash disposals systems and optional cabinets range from $290 to $424.

Tips

  • Find the right spot for your kettle grill. Place the grill on an even surface so that it doesn’t rock or shake when you’re turning the food on the grate. Kettle grills radiate a lot of heat, even when the lid is on, so don’t set yours too close to where people will be standing, sitting, or walking. Also, keep your kettle grill away from buildings and flammable objects. Even though charcoal is less prone to giving off flying embers than other types of fuel, flare-ups can happen.
  • Use the vents. To increase the temperature of the coals, open the bottom, top, or both vents to increase airflow through the grill. Be careful when opening the vents to increase the temperature. If you raise the heat too quickly, it can either burn the meat or make it tough.
  • Clean the grill. Clean the cooking grate after each grilling session by using a good-quality wire or nylon grill brush. Some grillers clean the cooking surface before each grilling session. When the charcoal is at its hottest, shut the lid to char any remaining deposits on the grate, then use a wire brush to scrape them away. Don’t remove the ashes until they’re completely cool, and then dispose of them in a fireproof container or bag. Clean the inside of the grill periodically by scrubbing it with a steel wool pad, sponge, and soapy water. Finish by rubbing a little cooking oil onto the cooking grate to prevent rust.
Replace your grill brush every year, especially if it’s metal. The bristles can detach from the brush, and there’s a risk of a stray bristle getting into the food.

FAQ

Q. I’ve noticed small flakes of black material on the inside of my kettle grill’s lid that fall onto the cooking surface. Is the interior of the lid deteriorating?
A.
If you’ve been protecting your grill from the elements, those odd flakes are more likely bits of ash and grease that have collected on the underside of the lid. When the grill is cool, brush away these deposits with a nylon cleaning brush. To keep them from recurring, wipe the lid with a solution of soap and water after each grilling session.
 

Q. My kettle grill never seems to get hot enough to cook food properly, and I have to finish it in the oven. What’s going on with my grill?
A.
Two things may be causing the heat problem: not using enough charcoal or not letting it come to full temperature before cooking. Use more charcoal to get a good flame going. Once the flame dies down, watch the coals closely: As they heat, an exterior coating of ash forms, and the coals begin to glow red. Put the lid on the grill to bring the interior surface up to the right temperature for grilling. Cooking with charcoal doesn’t offer the precise control you get when cooking on a gas grill or a stove, so it takes practice to get lighting and temperature control right.

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