Are you ready to sizzle? We’ve been dodging the early summer rain clouds to test charcoal barbecues in time for peak sausage-burning season and have picked out some star performers below. For anyone intent on replicating the kitchen cooking experience outside, gas barbecues are worth considering, but for the more authentic sounds and smells of fizzing fat and smoke, we prefer the charcoal burning options.
When choosing your BBQ there are a few broad considerations which will affect price and what you can cook. Open grills are great for cooking up the meat and veg standards – sausages, burgers, kebabs, etc – but if you’re intent on more extravagant meals, such as a whole chicken, then invest in one with a lid and vents to help control the heat. Anyone keen on feeding the entire street will obviously need a large grilling surface, such as a drum- or barrel-shaped barbecue, but make sure it’s not too unwieldy if you’re going to be moving it in and out of the shed each time you want to fire it up.
Like most modern cooking devices, barbecue makers have developed numerous techniques to improve the grilling experience, adding extra cost to the kit, with Weber offering some of the most hi-tech models on the market. But there are plenty of cheaper alternatives worth looking at, although you will likely have to sacrifice some solidity and cooking performance.
We’ve also fired up numerous portable and small patio BBQs, along with plenty of unique grilling options, and have featured our favourites in this list. So cast your eyes over our selection, pray for sunshine, and let the sizzling begin.
If you're after a gas BBQ instead, check out our round-up of the very best, as well as all the food, beer and accessories you need.
1. Napoleon Rodeo Professional charcoal kettle BBQ: £260.99, GardenSite
This moveable beast has more fab features than most kitchens, making it an excellent all-round performer. A porcelain enamelled steel body, stainless steel heat diffuser and air vent helped us reach scorchingly hot temperatures but gave us enough control to cool things down and avoid burnt meat. It has a generously sized cooking area above the coals and an ash catcher below providing a tidy and tasty cooking experience.
2. LotusGrill smokeless charcoal grill: £144, Cuckooland
This portable griller has a battery-powered fan which can be adjusted to allow for temperature-controlled cooking. A handful of charcoal goes into a central cylinder which, with the fan set to maximum, reaches cooking heat in minutes. It cooked the best burgers in our trial and was easy to clean after use – the stainless steel grid and inner bowl can even go in the dishwasher, but we would be surprised if you’ve packed one of those if using on the road. It only weighs 3.7kg so is certainly portable (there is an XL version, as well, which weighs 6.5kg), and it’s available in a range of bright colours. At this size, we reckon you could fit five burgers on it at once.
3. CoolTouch: £595, Halo
For adventurous outdoor cooks with money to burn, the CoolTouch should suitably fire their imagination. The high tech, triple-layer design does indeed mean the exterior stays cool to touch throughout, but the best stuff happens on the inside. Once at cooking heat the coals can be kept at a constant temperature with an adjustable vent in the lid and, when closed, they’ll maintain a steady heat all night. Besides successfully grilling chicken pieces we also baked the perfect spud and slow cooked a lamb joint for five hours, with plenty of cooking time left in the tank.
4. Prakti charcoal rocket stove: £84.99, The Charcoal Burner Company
This chunky little Indian stove can hold a single pan or small grill plate suitable for no more than eight fat bangers, so you’re not going to feed the masses in one go. But there’s something satisfyingly primitive about turning out a meal over its burning embers. A central chamber holds a handful of charcoal above an ash tray, on which your initial fire-lighting device is placed, while the tray’s doors double up as the air vent. It’s simple, effective, built to last a lifetime and portable – it’s no bother to chuck in the boot for a camping trip, say. For those who like bigger flames lapping around their supper, a wood-burning version is also available.
5. Original fire bowl on gothic stand: £430, Kadai Firebowls
Fire pits are one of the hottest trends in garden accessories, ranging from small portable devices (check out Tepro’s Silverado) to Kadai Firebowl’s monster iron vessels. Perfectly suited to contain a roaring fire at the heart of a Neil Young sing-along, they can also be fitted with various cooking attachments, including a huge BBQ grill, to turn them into multipurpose cooking devices. We also liked the charcoal maker (sold separately) allowing you to make your own fuel for future barbecue sessions. A common cooking feature at Indian weddings, they’re a great choice for sociable get-togethers. Sizes range from 60cm, recommended for two to six people, all the way up to 170cm.
6. Half cut in stainless steel: £400 (+VAT), Original Jerk
Original Jerk BBQs are custom-built, using 100 per cent green energy, from recycled, stainless steel oil drums which make for a sturdy, spacious cooking contraption. Lidded ones with attached chimney exhausts are available but our favourite is the classic, half-cut model with its sleek bamboo side shelves and capacious laser cut grill. There’s enough room on top to fit an entire family of pig parts – just the ticket for keeping the fired flesh flowing at large family gatherings or corporate events. These BBQs are limited editions and are in hot demand, so you’ll need to move fast to sate your meaty cravings.
7. Cyprus spit deluxe: £279.99, The American BBQ Company
This traditional Cyprus-inspired “foukou”-style grill is the BBQ of choice for fans of kebabs and spit-roasted feasts. It’s a versatile piece of kit, offering up space for twelve kebab skewers on the lower rack, with room for three large meat swords on the upper level. Connect the two motors to the skewer racks, flick the switch and this BBQ comes alive – the skewers will automatically rotate like a marvellous meaty merry-go-round, cooking your kebabs to perfection. You can raise or lower the rig should things start to sizzle a bit too quickly, and the stand assembly has wheels, making this BBQ easy to scoot it under cover when it inevitably starts to rain. It runs of 12v alligator clips (included) or standard 240v mains power (with a six-metre transformer lead also included).
8. OFYR classic 100-100 firepit/BBQ: £1695, John Lewis
Part sculpture, part meat-sizzler, this showy behemoth of a BBQ will sit majestically in your garden like your very own Olympic flame. It’s incredibly heavy – you’ll need two burly friends to help seat the cone and cooking plate atop the corten steel base (the box it comes in is so big it deserves its own postcode) but once in position, it can be kept outdoors all year round. Light a log fire in the centre, wait 30 to 40 minutes and the hot plate will be ready to rock. The cooking plate bends inwards when hot to help drain the fat away from your foods, so keep an eye on your sausages which have a habit of rolling off the surface and into the flaming abyss. We reckon it could comfortably feed around 50 people.
9. Big Green Egg minimax: £599, John Lewis
Based on a “kamado”, a traditional Japanese wood-fuelled stove, this ceramic, floor-hugging oven covers all bases: grilling, roasting, slow cooking, smoking; it can do the lot. Its ability to hold low, precise temperatures over long periods makes it ideal for slow-cooking large pieces of meat. The Egg will accommodate a chicken quite comfortably (which itself throws up all kinds of philosophical questions) – fire it up, close the lid and you can be tucking into juicy, crispy skinned flesh in under an hour. Just be aware that despite its diminutive size, this oven is quite a heavy beast to move around. Watch your back when lifting.
10. Volkswagen Picnic Hamper Barbecue: £44.99, Lakeland
This travelling pack uses disposable barbecues, so cooking quality isn’t a patch on our other choices, but it’s worth a mention for providing a fun and practical option for away-day feasts. A VW-branded cool bag has a lid with handles that converts into a barbecue stand, allowing you to keep your sausages cool (with room a few beers as well) before committing them to flames. A great idea for chillin’ and grillin’.
If you want to impress your neighbours with a fancy looking barbecue then Halo’s CoolTouch is an exceptional piece of kit. But for great performance at half the price, Napoleon’s Rodeo is this year’s hottest prospect.
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