ISSUE 18  |  Shaker Style

10 Easy Pieces: Outdoor Charcoal Grills

May 05, 2009 10:15 AM

BY Julie Carlson

The charcoal vs. gas grill debate will go on as long as there are backyards and patios. Suffice it to say we are on the charcoal side of the debate—hotter flame, richer flavor, albeit with more sooty mess and less spontaneity. In the charcoal arena, there are three types of grills to choose from: kamado, open fire, and kettle.

Kamado Cookers

A kamado is a traditional Japanese wood- or charcoal-fired earthen vessel. The modern versions of the kamado cooker are marketed as barbecues for outdoor use. Their special appeal is the ability to cook at lower temperatures, so meats and vegetables emerge more tender.

Below: Kamado-style cookers are made from a variety of materials, including high-fire ceramics, refractory materials, traditional terra cotta, and a mix of Portland cement and crushed lava rock. Outer surfaces are usually a high gloss ceramic glaze. The leader in the category is The Big Green Egg with five sizes from XL ($900) to Mini ($220), and an active BGE Bulletin Board Site with over 500,000 posts about cooking almost everything under the sun on a Big Green Egg—from Thanksgiving turkeys to the perfect brisket to grilled pizzas.

Below: At the high end, Viking has introduced a Charcoal Ceramic Cooking Capsule, a $2829 at AJ Madison.

Open Fire Grills

Below: The leader in this category is the Grillery. Pundits such as Tom Brokaw and the late R. W. Apple of the NY Times put this open-flame grill in a league of its own. Available directly from the manufacturer, Grillworks Inc., each unit is custom manufactured in the US. The grill is available in two sizes: an 18-inch-by-20-inch-wide Grillery is the original model ($1,975), and now there is also The Grillworks ($3,875), which at 18 inches deep by 42 inches wide, is perfect for Texas-size barbeques.

Below: California FirePit has several models that double as both a cooking surface and an open pit fire for warmth and ambience. Until recently only available on the west coast, they are now available across the US. The Monterey Firepit ($399 from Amazon) is the smaller model—24 inches in diameter—while the Sequoia ($1,167 from Woodland Direct) is 30 inches across and has a rotisserie rig that grills 4 chickens, or 8 steaks, or 20 burgers.

Below: In a more modern direction, we like the looks of this sturdy, all-steel Piet Hein Eek Grill, which has two cooking levels and a shelf for storage. The price is €1,054 plus shipping from the Netherlands.

Kettle Grills

Weber has dominated the kettle grill category since the first one was invented by George A. Stephen, Sr., one of the co-owners of the Weber Brothers Metal Works, a Chicago custom order sheet metal shop. Stephen took two half-spheres that were destined to be buoys in Lake Michigan and fashioned them into a dome-shaped grill with a rounded lid, and the classic Weber kettle grill was born. We like the Weber Blue or Green Kettle Grills ($150) in addition to the standard black (unfortunately, red is no longer manufactured).

Below: As usual, the Scandis do us one better in the design department. Danish company Dancook’s stainless steel and aluminum 1400 Kettle Charcoal Barbeque is sleek and stylish; £154.99 at Raw Garden.

Grills on the Go

For nomadic grillers, a unit that can hide snugly out of site or travel to a park, beach, or neighbor’s yard is useful.

Below: The tried and true Weber Smokey Joe, for under $45, is always at the ready. The other Weber we like in this category is the Weber Table Top Grill ($50), which folds up nicely for travel.

If you’re in Europe and need a travel BBQ, the City Boy Picnic Grill from Lumi (€159 or $200) is both stylish as well as practical. Lumi will also ship to the US for less than $30 extra (via

Below: This compact Table Grill by Eva Solo from Danish designers Claus Jensen and Henrik Holbaek is perfect for urban outdoor spaces. The wooden base protects your outdoor table from the heat. After grilling, the bowl, rack and insert can be put in the dishwasher for easy clean-up. Without the rack and insert, the porcelain bowl doubles as a salad bowl. Found at Unica Home for $340.

Below: Finally, although it looks like something our our grandfather might have jerry-rigged in a couple of minutes for a family picnic, the rustic-looking Portable Grill from Pottery Barn might just do the trick as an easy, pick-up-and-go BBQ. Only $39.