Thanks for checking out this BBQ Buying Guide. If you’re here, you or someone very close to you enjoys cooking out, grilling, smoking meat, or some other form of “live fire cooking.” That’s awesome! Obviously, as the author of a BBQ blog, I love it, too!
You’ve come to the right place. I’ve divided this BBQ buying guide into the following categories:
- Best Charcoal Grills and BBQ Smokers
- Best Gas Grills and BBQ Smokers
- Best Electric Grills and BBQ Smokers — Coming Soon
- Best BBQ and Grilling Accessories — Coming Soon
BBQ Buying Guide – Best Bet Charcoal Grills
Key to this BBQ Buying Guide is the idea that learning to control live fire is a skill you really should master. Buying a charcoal grill or BBQ smoker is a great choice if you have the space (live in a home vs. say, a condo or apartment) and you really want to learn how to manage a fire for both direct and indirect live fire cooking. At its base sense, using charcoal grills and BBQ smokers means working with the base elements: smoke, meat, and fire.
In my time writing this blog, I’ve learned a few things about cooking with charcoal in any sense. One, never use lighter fluid (including charcoal briquettes that have it in them) and use all natural lump charcoal whenever possible.
Lighting your lump charcoal is a snap if you use a chimney starter. Or, you can use paraffin starter cubes. My preference is to use the chimney starter. If you want to go really crazy and have a large amount of coals to get going – say, for a long 12 hour smoke – you can use a propane torch attachment. Hey – big fire means big fun, right?
The standard bearer for best charcoal grills has always and continues to be the Weber Original Kettle 22 inch grill. Perfect for direct “hot and fast” grilling for quick seared steaks, burgers, hot dogs, etc. as well as indirect “low and slow” style smoked ribs, pork butts, and brisket.
You can’t beat the relatively low cost of the Weber original kettle and the durability it provides. If you want to learn how to manage fire using a grill that’s going to last you for years to come, I absolutely recommend this grill.
Weber Original Kettle Features and Specifications
The Weber original kettle provides 363 square inches of available grilling and smoking space. Porcelain-enameled body and glass-reinforced nylon handles resist rust. Aluminum used for the ash catcher and vents resist rusting as well.
Why I’m Recommending the Weber Original Kettle 22 inch grill
If you want to learn how to manage a grill, how to cook using both the direct (over the coals) and indirect (coals to one side) methods, and also how to reverse sear thicker cut steaks, loins, etc – there is no better choice than this grill. Weber makes their original kettle out of durable steel coated in their excellent ceramic porcelain. Kept under a lanai or protected using a good quality grill cover, this grill will last 20 years.
I’m a big fan of what Char-Broil has done with their TRU-Infrared Kettleman grill. As my friend and respected food blogger Chris Grove over at Nibble Me This references though there are some similarities between the Kettlman and a Weber kettle, there are some key differences between Weber’s product and this grill.
The lid design on the Kettleman offers a bit more head room than the Weber – which is again, a great grill and one I still recommend. The vents on top of the Kettleman are larger than what you find on the Weber as well. Finally, Char-broil places the grates a bit closer to the lid surface, providing for the patented infrared cooking design in this charcoal grill.
Char-Broil TRU-Infrared Kettleman Grill Features and Specifications
Char-Broil’s Kettleman Grill provides 360 square inches of cooking space on a porcelain-coated, rust-resistant cooking grate. Food won’t fall through the specially designed grill grate, which also prevents flare-ups offers even heat distribution.
You can manage temperature control via the lid vent and move the charcoal grate closer to or further away from the food as desired. The grill’s lid hinge leaves your hands free to adjust food as needed. A feature other kettle grills don’t often offer. (See the Kettle Lid Hinge here for alternatives.) A limited 10 year warranty rounds out this grill offering.
Why I’m Recommending the Char-Broil TRU-Infrared Kettleman Grill
Users report that they appreciate that the Kettleman is a bit more robust in construction than the Weber. Pricing is also comparable, thought the Kettleman can sometimes run a bit higher than the basic Weber Kettle. It is probably most closely aligned with the Weber Original Kettle Premium 22 inch grill.
So, in short the grill’s robust build is a big selling point here. If you live in an area where rain is prevalent in the summer or snow hits hard in the Winter, this grill should stand the test of time.
The last charcoal grill I want to mention as part of this BBQ buying guide is the PK Grill. This class grill has been around since its origin out of Texas in 1952. Offering a nice, flat bottom for easy coal placement for either direct or indirect cooking, the grill presents an ample 306 square inches of cooking space. Made of cast aluminum, this grill will never rust, and many have been handed down across multiple generations with pride.
The PK Grill is a solid cooker, and I am confident that you’ll enjoy its even heating and durability. I also think it’s just a really cool looking grill.
Original PK Grill Features and Specifications
The PK grill is built of cast aluminum that will never rust. Hand cast in the USA, cooking body (capsule) is covered by a 10 Year Limited Warranty. A four-way venting system allows for easy temperature control, so you can use it for either hot and fast or low and slow cooking styles without a hitch. Users report that this grill holds temperatures for long periods of time ranging from 180-700° F, and that the same coals can often be used for multiple cooking sessions.
Why I’m Recommending the Original PK Grill
I love the PK Grill mainly because of the build. This cast aluminum work horse distributes heat evenly with no muss or fuss. It’s perfect for either direct grilling or offset (indirect) grilling. Users report being able to hold steady 250° F temperatures with ease, providing for a perfect smoking environment.
BBQ Buying Guide – Best Bet Charcoal BBQ Smokers
In writing this BBQ buying guide, I want to be sure we’re on the same page when we’re talking about BBQ smokers, we’re talking about cookers designed for operating at and holding relatively low temperatures (225°-275° F) for long periods of time. Can you grill on a Weber Smokey Mountain cooker? Absolutely. People use them for this purpose simply by placing your food on the bottom grate and adjusting the coals in the basket below as desired for either one or two-zone cooking.
However, low and low is what these BBQ smokers are meant to do.
The following BBQ smokers represent what I feel are the best on the market right now offered at a relatively low cost of entry.
When it comes to cooking low and slow with charcoal, there are just a few I recommend from an entry level standpoint. Once again, Weber shines in this category, as you can’t do much better in terms of value and functionality than their Weber Smokey Mountain cooker. In either its 18 or 22 inch format, it’s a beast of a smoker and again, an incredible value. The other option that’s developed a solid following is the Pit Barrel Cooker. This cooker is a barrel style model “drum smoker” that allows food like ribs or chicken to be hung from the top of the smoker or cooked on traditional style steel grates.
Let’s take a look at each of these now…
As I mentioned, Weber products play a repeating role in this BBQ buying guide because they’ve proven effective and productive over a very long period of time. Without question, the Weber Smokey Mountain cooker has an continues to show its sticking power in the world of low and slow BBQ cooking in backyards and even on competition teams all across the world.
One of the things I really love about the Weber Smokey Mountain (WSM) is that its developed a very strong following of enthusiasts who love sharing their recipes and even cool modifications they make to this device. Without question, the best web resource for WSM cooker enthusiasts is the Virtual Weber Bullet, a site Chris Allingham started back in 1998 and still maintains with great success today.
Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker Features and Specifications
Weber Smokey Mountain cookers hold temps for a really long time. We’re talking 12 to 14 hours, no sweat. Adjusting temps is pretty simple. Just open and close the vents as desired and let the smoker ride it out from there. The flagship WSM is the 18 inch model. I love this cooker. It maintains a steady temperatures as low as 225° F like a dream. This temperature is the de facto “go to temp” for most kinds of low and slow cooking you’ll want to do – especially for ribs or pork butts. Want to kick it up a bit for beef ribs, no problem. Again, tweak the vents and you’re there.
Design wise, the WSM is porcelain-enameled, has glass-reinforced nylon handles, and aluminum doors, heat shield, and vents that resist rust. There are sites like BBQSmokerMods.com that have cool options for your smoker should you desire to “pimp your ride” a bit. I’ll leave you to check those out on your own time. You’ll love it.
The WSM is charcoal fueled, so you’ll want to get a chimney starter or some fire starter cubes as I’ve mentioned above to get those coals going. Again – please use natural wood lump charcoal or at least an all natural briquette charcoal. Steer clear of anything that has lighter fluid or other potentially harmful stuff built in. There are so many great natural charcoal options these days.
If you want to really “Nerd Out” to some lump charcoal facts, check out the Lump Charcoal Database and Reviews site called The Naked Whiz.
Why I’m Recommending the Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker
Simple. No other cooker is better designed, has better online support, and can stand the test of time like a WSM. Period. There are several similar style cookers on the market, and they’re all fine. But if you ask me, I’ll tell you to go buy a WSM time and time again. I’ve used them with great success, my brother in Colorado started out with one years ago and still gets great use out of his, and like I said… the Virtual Weber Bullet is a goldmine. That site alone will guide you from “How do I light this thing?” to “How to I add cool modifications to this thing?” and beyond. Yes, the price often seems a little high for some buyers. However, considering that the average WSM remains in constant use well into its 20s and beyond, I feel the price is justified.
Started in 2010 by Navy Veteran Noah Glanville, the Pit Barrel Cooker company has steadily developed a strong following based on its flagship product’s ability to produce consistently good to great BBQ. Novel in its approach for the backyard BBQ enthusiast, the Pit Barrel Cooker uses a combination of on the rack cooking and “hanging” bbq style cooking – a style used by many old school BBQ restaurants across the country for a very long time.
So let’s talk about the hanging method here for a bit. If you’re like me, the first time you saw meat smoking away on hooks, with the delicious juices and fat from the meat dripping down onto coals and coming back up as lovely flavored smoke that bathed said meat in its goodness… you were amazed! Yes, it’s pretty darned cool! Now understand, the flavor of meat smoked in this manner might be a bit different from meat cooked in wood smoke without the added “drippings effect.” That said, I can personally vouch for the deliciousness of meat smoked in this manner. You’ll love it.
You can still do pork butts, planked salmon, and the like in the Pit Barrel Cooker. Just use the flat grates that come with it.
Pit Barrel Cooker Features and Specifications
Constructed of an 18 gauge steel porcelain coated 30 gallon barrel, this cooker will last you a very long time. The company also does a great job of providing tutorials, recipes, tips, and videos to ensure that you continue to enjoy your purchase for years to come. When shipped, the Pit Barrel Cooker comes with 2 Hanging Rods, 8 Stainless Steel Hooks, Standard Grill Grate, Charcoal Basket, and a Hook Remover Tool.
Why I’m Recommending the Pit Barrel Cooker
As previously mentioned, I believe the Pit Barrel Cooker provides a versatile and novel way to learn both how to control a fire as well as cook using the “hanging” method of smoking meat. The company backs its product with excellent customer service, also.
BBQ Buying Guide – Best Gas Grills
Not surprisingly, when we look at the best gas grills on the market, Weber again leads the pack, with Broil-King following closely behind. This BBQ buying guide is all about cookers that combine excellent value with affordable pricing, and I think the Weber Spirit E-310 3 Burner Gas Grill and the Char-Broil Classic 4-Burner Gas Grill with Side Burner fit this description nicely.
The Weber Spirit line has always been about value backed by the company’s warranty and customer care. The Weber Spirit E-310 3 Burner Gas Grill is no exception. Yes, the steel used for this grill is a little lower in quality than what you’ll find on say, the Weber Genesis line. But I argue that for the money, it’s really tough to beat the general functionality, features, and reliability of the Weber Spirit E-310. When kept out of the elements using a quality grill cover, this gas grill should bring you years of cooking enjoyment.
Weber Spirit E-310 3 Burner Gas Grill Features and Specifications
Quality is the name of the game where Weber grills are concerned. Right out of the gate, your grill is ready to go with porcelain-coated burners and grates that require no seasoning before your first cook. With 529 square inches of cooking space, you’ll be able to feed your family or small group gatherings with ease.
The porcelain enameled lid will maintain its durable finish for years to come, and the hand hooks and easy-moving casters make storing grill items and moving the grill around a breeze. Lastly, a nice fuel gauge helps you keep track of propane levels in your 20 gallon tank (not included).
And remember to be sure to keep your grill protected year round with a good quality cover.
Why I’m Recommending the Weber Spirit E-310 3 Burner Gas Grill
The Weber Spirit E-310 gas grill is one of the most straight forward and functional grills in the 3 burner category. Shelves on each side of this grill provide a good bit of space for holding trays, pans, and the like. The burner knobs are large with clear markings from lowest to highest temps. The porcelain enameled cast iron cooking grates do a great job with heat retention, and the space inside the grill easily accommodates a couple pork butts, a 20 lb turkey, or a combination of steaks and vegetables. The cabinet below the burners houses the propane tank, which has a weight-based gauge to give you an idea of how much gas you have available.
The Char-Broil Performance 475 4-Burner Cart Gas Grill with Side Burner is another value priced gas grill that many users report as having solid features and great performance. This grill offers 475 square inches of main area cooking space on porcelain-coated cast iron grates, with an additional 175 square inches of cooking area via the swing-away side burner.
Char-Broil Classic 4 Burner Gas Grill Features and Specifications
The Char-Broil Performance 475 4-burner gas grill provides ample heat across a 475 square inch cooking surface. Sized perfectly for a large family or gathering, the cooking surface is equipped with porcelain-coated cast iron grates, that resist rust, help keep food from sticking, and are simple to clean. The lidded side burner is perfect for sides and sauces, and it folds down to both protect the burner and offer an additional work surface when not in use. Stainless steel burners ensure longevity of use, and the electric ignition makes lighting the grill a snap.
Why I’m Recommending the Char-Broil Classic 4-Burner Gas Grill
For basic value and size, the Char-Broil Performance 475 4-Burner Cart Gas Grill simply fits the bill. Stainless steel and porcelain-coated cast iron components mean that it should be around doing its job for the long haul. As always, the durability of any grill is dependent on how well you take care of it. So, be sure and protect it with a quality all-weather grill cover.
Best Gas BBQ Smokers
Gas powered BBQ smokers provide for a handy and portable option compared to their electric cousins, which is why I include them in this BBQ Buying Guide.
Just grab your propane tank, smoker, and you’re good to travel. Unfortunately, some manufacturers put less than the recommended amount of effort into gas BBQ smoker construction, and you are often left with doors that don’t seal properly, pre-set temperature controls that limit the heat levels you can attain, etc.
The two best gas BBQ smokers on the market right now are built by Smoke Hollow and Camp Chef. Both of these units do a very good job of containing smoke within them during your cooking sessions. That said, you still might want to consider buying some easy to apply high temperature gasket materials to seal up some areas. Though, not critical, it’s a good option to appease the perfectionist in you!
The Smoke Hollow 44-Inch 2-Door Propane Gas Smoker, made by Outdoor Leisure Products, gets my first and heartiest recommendation for a smoker of its type. As previously mentioned, many gas or propane smokers lack the quality of build I get normally get behind. Not so with this model from Smoke Hollow.
The door to this smoker latches securely, and I like that it comes with two porcelain coated wood chip pans to give you some play in terms of how much smoke you want on your meat. The porcelain coated water pan is also a nice size. There’s no reason you should have to keep checking on your smoker, and the folks at Smoke Hollow have made it so you don’t have to.
Smoke Hollow 44-Inch 2-Door Propane Gas Smoker Features and Specifications
This smoker comes equipped with 2 12,000 BTU stainless steel burners and a push button ignition system. Easily vary the types of meat you’d like to smoke using a combination of the 2 standard cooking grids, 2 jerky style cooking grids, the combination cooking grid/rib rack, and the sausage hanger. A tempered glass window allows you to maintain a visual on your products as they cook. However, you’ll want to wipe down this window and keep it nice and clean between smoking sessions, or it will become covered in smoke residue. Again, door security is maintained as this unit comes with cool-touch spring wire door handles and a “sure-lock” latch system.
Why I’m Recommending the Smoke Hollow 44-Inch 2 Door Propane Gas Smoker
Quality of build and ample cooking space earn this gas smoker from Smoke Hollow my primary recommendation. It gets great feedback from users who quickly come to value the wide variety of foods it prepares. The dual burner set up gives you a good amount of flexibility where smoking temperatures are concerned. It’s nice to know you can ramp up your temps to finish faster or to render tougher cuts like brisket if need be. I personally cook pork at between 225 and 250 while brisket and beef ribs normally cook at 275.
Camp Chef puts out easy to use smokers that do what they’re advertised to do. Period. Their Big Chief model electric smoker is featured in my Electric Smokers Buying Guide, and giving their propane gas BBQ smoker a nod here is an easy call.
The Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24 (and its smaller cousin the Camp Chef Smoke Vault 18) is constructed out of powder coated steel with a stainless steel door.
Again, temperature variability is a plus with the Smoke Vault model propane gas smokers from Camp Chef. Users report being able to achieve temperatures ranging from 150 to 500 degrees. However, nearly all users advise that it’s worth picking up some liquid gasket adhesive and high temperature gasket material when you buy this smoker to really make the unit function as well as it possibly can.
Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24 Features and Specifications
The Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24 comes with two adjustable smoking racks, one jerky smoking rack, a good-sized water pan, and a heavy’gauge steel wood chip tray. The removable tray at the base of the Smoke Vault is porcelain-coated to make clean-up easier.
The Smoke Vault is equipped with three adjustable damper valves (one on top and one on each side of the unit) and uses a matchless snap-ignition system. Cooking tips and recipes are also included with this unit, which should help get you started off the bat.
NOTE: The external thermometer on the front of the Smoker Vault units (both the 18 and the 24) is not the most reliable. To get a solid fix on your smoker’s internal temperature, I suggest using an independent thermometer. My personal favorite is the Smoke Dual Probe unit by ThermoWorks or the ThermoPro TP20 Dual Probe model.
Why I’m Recommending the Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24
I know, I know… I’ve advised you to buy additional high temperature gasket material and told you the built in thermometer in the Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24 can’t be trusted. So, why am I saying that this is a great buy. Simple. It does its job day in and day out with little muss or fuss.
Nearly every user who has taken time to tinker with the Camp Chef Smoke Vault 24 and its little cousin, the Smoke Vault 18 gives it top marks for consistently good quality smoked food.
Is this unit perfect? I think I’ve done my part to explain that it is in fact, not. However, for the money, I can’t advise you to buy a better overall propane gas smoker.