What’s The Best Small Charcoal Grill? [2020]

Need the best small charcoal grill for your next picnic, tailgate, or camping trip?

We’ve got you covered with the 5 best small charcoal grills on the market today. Extensive research went into this guide to save you time and make sure you don’t end up making a purchase you’ll regret.

We’ve also prepared a guide on how to use a charcoal grill and the differences in charcoals that you can choose. Also if a charcoal grill is right for you so you can make the most informed decision possible

Top Picks For The Best Small Charcoal Grill

The Weber Smokey Joe is a nice little grill that’s basically a mini Weber kettle.  We always expect quality when it comes to Weber products, and this is constructed very similarly to the iconic Weber kettle.  The Smokey Joe is a 14 inch round grill.

Weighing under 10 pounds this grill can go anywhere. Without the lid, it’s only about 12 inches tall.  This grill is ready for you to take on the road tailgating or camping. This grill often gets used over my gas grill even at home, you just can’t beat that charcoal taste.

The Smokey Joe has two vents built into it.  One vent is located on the lid, and the other is on the very bottom of the kettle.

It has a porcelain-enameled lid and a coated steel grate.  Assembly of this grill is very straightforward, I put mine together in about 5 minutes.  The instructions are easy to follow and it doesn’t require any tools.

They say it has a 5 burger capacity, but I have fit 9 burgers myself with no problem.

I enjoy using my Weber Smokey Joe and I really have no complaints.  I can take it with me camping or tailgating, or I can just put it on a table on my back deck when I’m craving that charcoal flavor and don’t require the full size Weber Kettle.

I definitely recommend this little Weber to anyone that is looking for a small charcoal grill, I’ve been super happy with mine.

Pros
  • The Weber Smokey Joe is a durable and well built grill that should last for many years
  • Easy to assemble out of the box
  • Inexpensive
  • All the benefits of a Weber Kettle in a smaller, transportable package
Cons
  • Doesn’t have a thermometer
  • No side handles

The Weber Jumbo Joe is another great small charcoal grill.  Very similar to the smokey joe but in a bigger package with some nice added features as well.  The Jumbo Joe weighs 18 pounds, so still very easy to take with you.

The Jumbo Joe is an 18-inch grill, so quite a bit bigger than the Smokey Joe. It also stands a bit taller.  Weber says this grill fits 8 hamburgers.

It has a high quality build that you would expect from a Weber product.  Plated steel cooking grate, and a porcelain enameled lid and bowl. It also has the same venting system as the Smokey Joe, with a vent in the lid and another at the very bottom.

The Jumbo Joe does have some extra features over the Smokey Joe other than just the bigger size.  It has a tuck and carry lid lock that allows you to fold the bar up over the handle on the lid, which allows you to carry both parts with one hand.

The lid lock also doubles and a place to rest the lid when you have the grill open, so you don’t have to put it on the ground which is a nice touch.

If you’re looking for a small charcoal grill to take with you and you think you could benefit from the bigger sized cooking area, the Jumbo Joe is a grill you should definitely check out.  Personally, I went with the Smokey Joe, and I’m extremely happy with it, but I would love to have that tuck and carry lid. And you never know when a couple more people show up at the campsite and you start wishing you went for the Jumbo Joe.

Pros
  • Larger 18 Inch size
  • Convenient Tuck-N-Carry Lid
  • High build quality you would expect from Weber
Cons
  • A little big if you are looking for an ultra portable grill
  • Some customers have found the top vent to be difficult to turn

If you prefer a rectangular shaped small charcoal grill, the Weber Go-Anywhere Charcoal Grill is another option you can look at.  You get the benefits of top notch quality you would expect from a Weber product and the space saving design in a rectangular shape.

Definitely a nice portable option, it features a nice tuck and carry lid that makes transporting the grill very easy.  It has the capacity for 6 burgers with a 160 square inch cooking area.  

It is made with a porcelain-enameled lid and base, and a plated steel cooking grate.  These are the same materials used for the Smokey Joe and Jumbo Joe, with a different shape.

The Weber Go-Anywhere Charcoal Grill has two vents on the lid for controlling grilling temperature.

Some minor assembly is required, but it only takes a few minutes and is very simple.

Pros
  • 160 Square inch cooking area
  • Tuck-N-Carry lid for easy transportation
  • Easy assembly
Cons
  • Some customers have said that the grill is too shallow so the food is too close to the charcoal

This Hibachi style grill from Lodge is made to last a lifetime.  

Lodge has been making cast iron products since 1896, and they have become very good at it to say the least.

This grill is an open style, so there is no cover.  This takes a little getting used to if you’ve only grilled on a traditional style grill with a lid. Some users have reported that the grill ends up being too high of a temperature and doesn’t cook the inside of the meat properly, being an open design it does not need very many coals, some trial and error should be used your first few times using it.  

Start with just a few coals and add more each time you grill with it until you find the perfect amount, too many will make the temperature too high.

It comes seasoned with 100% vegetable oil.

The cooking surface can adjust to two different heights according to your needs, whether being closer to the coals or a little farther away.

There is a flip down door where you can access the coals.

It is fairly small and portable, but being completely cast iron, it is heavier than other options.  The Lodge Cast Iron Sportsman’s Grill weighs around 30 pounds.

A great grill that will last a very very long time.

Pros
  • Extremely durable cast iron construction
  • Adjustable grill surface
  • Flip down door to access coals
Cons
  • Can rust if left outdoors
  • Cooking temps can become very high if too many coals are used

The Chargriller Akorn Jr is definitely the largest and heaviest grill on our list of best small charcoal grills.

This kamado style grill weighs 37 pounds, but can still easily fit in the trunk of a car and not take up too much of the space.  It’s about 25 inches tall and 21 inches wide. 

It has a circular cast iron grill grate that is 14 inches in diameter with 153 square inches of cooking space.

You adjust the temperature with dampers located on the top and the bottom.

Although not ceramic like some of the larger and more expensive kamado grills, it is made of triple walled 22 gauge steel with a nice looking red powder coated exterior finish and porcelain coated interior.

The triple walled insulated steel helps retain heat.

Another plus is that it is a much cheaper option than other larger kamado grills, so you can see if you like using kamado grills and figure out the quirks of cooking with them without the big price tag of others.

Pros
  • Low Priced for a Kamado style grill
  • Triple wall insulated to retain heat
  • Wide range of temperatures can be achieved
Cons
  • On the large and heavy side of portable charcoal grills
  • Kamado grills take some practice to get used to

Our Top Pick

Our top choice for the best small charcoal grill is the Weber Smokey Joe.

This is one of the grills I own and I have been so satisfied using it,  It is also the least expensive on our top 5 list.

If you prefer a slightly larger size, the Jumbo Joe is very similar but is an 18 inch grill as opposed to the Smokey Joe which is 14 inches.

Honestly, it was difficult choosing a winner for the best small charcoal grill.  Any of our top 5 could easily be the right choice for you based on the different features and styles.

 

How To Use a Charcoal Grill

If you’re new to charcoal grilling and you’ve only been using gas, we will run through the typical setup to how to use your charcoal grill.  And if you’ve already been using charcoal, you may pick up a couple of pointers in this little refresher.

 

How To Light The Charcoal

There are a few different tools you can use to help you with lighting the charcoal.  Many people use lighter fluid, and some charcoal briquettes also come with lighter fluid already built in.  

 

I strongly suggest you stay away from lighter fluid.  You will taste it in the food, and maybe not so surprisingly, it doesn’t taste very good. 

 

Charcoal chimney starters are my favorite way to start a charcoal fire.  You can put a couple pieces of newspaper balled up in the bottom of the chimney with your charcoal on top, then light the newspaper through the holes.  When your charcoal is ready, use the handle to just pour out the charcoal into the grill. Easy!

 

 

You could also use organic firestarter cubes or an electrical charcoal iron.

 

Any of these ways will do the trick.  But I’m really begging you… skip the lighter fluid.

 

Get The Charcoal To Temperature

How do you know when the charcoal is ready to be spread out?  

 

If you’re using briquettes, you can tell that they are ready to be spread out when they turn white or gray.

 

Lump charcoal is pretty similar, it will look like hot coals with a little bit of smoke.  Not completely white or gray.

 

Spread Charcoal Out Into The Grill

Once you’ve determined that your charcoal is ready, spread them out along the bottom of the grill.  The best tool for this is a pair of tongs with long handles.

 

You can choose to spread them evenly along the bottom, or you can leave them to one side.  If you leave them to one side, you have the ability to sear right above the charcoal, and also have a cooler side to allow food to cook all the way through.

 

Prepare Your Cooking Grate

At this point, you want to put your cooking grate on top.  I recommend oiling the grate so you have less of a chance of food sticking to it.

 

Controlling The Temperature

Alright, we’re all set to go now.  But there are a few rules of thumb I like to use before just throwing the food on.

 

I call it the “One Foot Rule”, basically you hold your hand about a foot above the charcoal.  If you can only hold it there for 1-2 seconds, you have a perfect fire for searing some steaks. 

 

 If you’re looking to cook chicken or pork, something that needs to be cooked through, you will want to wait and let it die down a little. 

 

 I find that if you can hold your hand there for 3-4 seconds, you’re good to go for food that needs to cook through.

 

Charcoal grills don’t have temperature knobs like a gas grill.  What we use to control temperature on a gas grill are the vents.

 

Having the vents mostly open will allow more oxygen in and let the temperature get hotter.  With the vents more on the closed side, you will be blocking off the oxygen which will lower the temperature.

 

Some grills have multiple vents, so play around with it and have fun.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, just improve over time and you will get the hang of it.

 

Lump Charcoal vs. Charcoal Briquettes

There are two different types of charcoal that you can use, lump and briquettes.

 

Lump charcoal is made from wood that has been charred and burned down into chunks.  Briquettes were actually invented by Henry Ford. They are made of burned wood that has been compressed into a little brick, usually with some filler material.

 

Try to use solid hardwood briquettes, these tend to have much less filler material. This allows them to burn cleaner and hotter.

 

I’ll caution you again to stay away from briquettes that have lighter fluid in them.  These will make your food taste like lighter fluid, not good.

 

Lump charcoal burns hotter than briquettes, they can get over 1400 degrees.  Briquettes usually burn about 800 – 1000 degrees.

 

Either type can work very well with your charcoal grill, you can even mix the two to get the best of both worlds.

 

Pros Of Charcoal Grills

  • Charcoal grills tend to be cheaper on average than gas grills
  • There are fewer flare ups with charcoal grills
  • Charcoal grills are typically lighter and more portable than gas grills
  • Ability to move charcoal to one side to have a searing section and a cool section
  • Pretty much universally agreed to have a better flavor

 

Drawbacks of Charcoal Grills

  • More work to set up than a gas grill
  • Dirtier and more effort in cleaning up
  • Overall less convenient than a gas grill
  • May have to add more charcoal mid-way if you are doing a long cook
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