You don’t need an expensive, complex backyard grill to cook amazing food. You want a 22.5" Weber One-Touch Gold Charcoal Grill. It costs around $150 and will serve you well for years.
If you’re the sort of person whose veins pump marinade and rub, this guide’s not for you. You know how to cook and what you like to cook on. On the other hand, if you’re new to grilling or have been at it for a few years and want to up your game without spending too much money, read on. Over the past few weeks, I spent hours talking to chefs, cooking nerds, award-winning barbecue cooks and businesses that specialize in the sale of propane, charcoal, natural gas and pellet grills.
Here’s what you need to know in a nutshell: Gas grills are easy. Hook up a propane tank or natural gas line, ignite the grill’s burner and bring it up to temperature. Boom. Cook. Done. They burn hot, cook fast and clean up quickly. You get more consistent heat, and temperature control is a cinch, but the tradeoff is that gas fuel is comparatively expensive to charcoal and the flavor of your food will suffer a bit. Wood pellet grills are the new hotness of the barbecue universe. They burn pellets made of compressed sawdust. They’re low maintenance, have a low pre-heat time, can grill or smoke your food and thanks to the fact that their temperature and cook times are regulated by computer, you can slap your dinner on it and let it do most of the work for you. Too bad they’re wicked expensive. An entry-level pellet grill will set you back at least $1,000. Electric grills? That’s not barbecuing: Just stay indoors with the windows closed and shamefully sear your chicken into submission with a brick and a frying pan.
What you want is a charcoal grill: They’re relatively cheap, easy to maintain and can be used to grill or smoke your food. With a little bit of patience and technique, you’ll be able to produce some of the most flavourful, mouth watering meals of your life. I asked Jeff Potter of Cooking for Geeks what kind of grill he recommends. He told me that while gas grills are easier to use, clean up fast and are better for the environment, propane can’t beat charcoal. “If you’re doing real BBQ though, wood and charcoal are better, and give off that smokey characteristic that grilling just won’t get.” Craig ‘Meathead’ Goldwyn knows a lot about barbecues too. For many outdoors cooking enthusiasts, his Amazing Ribs website is gospel. Yapping with him on the phone last week, I asked about what people should look for when they’re shopping for a grill.
“If you are a big steak lover, you really want charcoal,” says Goldwyn. “Charcoal gets much hotter than gas grills and it imparts a nice flavor. If you like smoking, again charcoal tends to induce the best flavor, and there’s a whole lot of interesting options out there for smoking. The secret to really good outdoor grilling is temperature control, and the best way to have temperature control on a gas grill for example, is to have half the burners off. If you have half the burners off, you can move the food from the hot side to the cold side and that makes all the difference in the world.”
Goldwyn explains that this same principle applies to charcoal grills as well. You want one side of the grill stacked with charcoal, and the other set up to cook with with less intense indirect heat. This can be achieved by simply pushing the majority of your charcoal to one side of your grill once it’s up to temperature. “You can start the meat at a low temperature and gently bring it up to the temperature you you like, and then move the meat over to the hot side and sear it.” In order to achieve this, you’ll need a grill that’s sized proportionate to your needs. Goldwyn suggests that barbecue cooks decide how many people they want to feed, figure out how much space will be needed on the grill to cook enough food for those people, and then multiply that number by two. Doing so will ensure you’ve got enough space for both direct and indirect heat cooking zones.
The Weber One-Touch Gold Charcoal Grill covers all of what Goldwyn suggests and more. Available in three different sizes—18.5”, 22.5” and 26.75”–chances are you’ll be able to find a Weber One-Touch Gold Charcoal Grill to meet your needs. For most people, the 22.5-inch iteration of the One-Touch Gold will be large enough. With a cooking surface that size, you’ll be able to cook three or four big steaks or say maybe six average-sized burgers.
Constructed from heavy-gauge porcelain covered steel, the barbecue’s kettle and lid are tough and rust resistant, but still light enough that you’ll still be able to manhandle the grill around your back yard: a task made even easier by the fact that the One-Touch Gold has a pair of wheels attached to its base. The tripod stand the One-Touch Gold sits on is made of aluminum, but it feels sturdy. The barbecue’s three plastic nylon handles (two on the kettle and one on the lid) are designed to stay cool enough to touch even with the fires of Hell blazing away underneath.
Speaking of heat, you’ll want a way to regulate how hot the the barbecue gets as you use it. As with most other charcoal grills, the Weber has a top vent that can easily be spun open to allow for more oxygen to get at your coals and vent the smoke and gases caused by burning charcoal, wood chips and your food, or closed up to varying degrees, to allow for a slower cook, a smokier taste or to snuff your coals out completely after you’re done with them. There’s also a secondary set of vents near the base of the kettle, to allow air to get at your coals more directly. Just like the top vent, these can be opened wide to allow for the kind of intense heat that cooks using a gas barbecue can only dream of, or levered closed in order to take the temperature down a notch.
Need to pile on more charcoal to pour on the heat? No problem: Weber ships the barbecue with a hinged cooking grate that allows you access to the coal bed while you’re cooking. Move your food off to one side, lift up a section of the grill and pour your fresh fuel in. Best of all, the One-Touch Gold boasts a patented One-Touch (thus the name) cleaning system that, with the flick of a lever, will whisk all the useless crud left over from your cookout into an ash catcher seated at the base of the kettle.
Tons of people love this grill. Gizmodo editor-in-chief Joe Brown used to be a chef before he got all geeky. When I was talking grills with him last week, he told me “…the best grill in the world is the Weber kettle-style grill…. They are indestructible, made of high-quality steel, super versatile, and they cost $100. You see them everywhere from backyards to the competition circuit. You can grill on them and you can smoke on them. You can cook a lot, or you can cook a little.”
The editors at Cheapism.com praised the One-Gold’s durability, saying, “Weber grills come with a 10-year limited warranty for the bowl, lid and nylon handles, and a two-year limited warranty for the grates and other parts. That right there tells us these cheap BBQ grills are built to last.” Derrick Riches, who does reviews for BBQ.com, knows his barbecues. He awarded the 26.75” version of the One-Touch Gold five stars: “All in all, if you have the money and you want a seriously big charcoal grill, then this is the unit for you. Fantastic cooking abilities like any Weber kettle, with great construction of durable parts and the space to cook for the largest parties make this a great grill.” Craig ‘Meathead’ Goldwyn has also used one and liked it enough to give it his site’s Best Value Gold award. Even the devout barbecue fanboys at the Smoking Meat Forums love what the Weber One-Touch Gold and the company’s other kettle-style grills have going — and they’re a pack of picky backyard gourmets, to say the least.
As cool as they are, The Weber One-Touch Gold Charcoal grills aren’t perfect: The 18.5” model is great for anyone who doesn’t plan on cooking a lot of food at once, but its smaller, rounded bottom tends to lump all of your charcoal together, and it’s not large enough to easily section off for direct and indirect cooking. There’s no out-of-the-box method for raising coals closer to your cooking surface in order to increase direct cooking temperatures required to quickly sear meat, and unlike many of its competitors, the One-Touch Gold doesn’t offer a side table to set your grilling tools, plate or condiments on while you’re cooking.
If you like the look and build quality associated with Weber, you could always go with one of the charcoal grills from their Weber Performer Charcoal Grill. They feature the same great kettle design found in the One-Touch Gold, but they’re built into a four-wheeled cart that features ample shelf space, a bin for unused charcoal and an ash catcher. Amazon’s selling the 28.5-inch version of the Performer for $329. While those features might sound appealing, you don’t really need them. What’s more, the Performer weighs close to 100 pounds without any charcoal in the kettle or its bin. It might be fine sitting on a deck, but if you need to haul it across your lawn, be prepared to sweat. If you’re cooking for one or live in an apartment with a small balcony, consider picking up a Weber 14.5” Smokey Joe Portable Grill. You can find it for under $40! I own one, and it’s never failed to cook my steak, chops, fish and burgers to perfection, at home or when I’m camping. That said, it’s really small. I’ll be buying a Weber One-Touch Gold before the end of the summer.
Best Gas grill (for most)
You could also opt to forgo low-end grills altogether and throw your money at a high-end cooking solution. Many people consider the Big Green Egg to be the pinnacle of grilling technology. It’s a Japanese Kamado-style charcoal and wood grill that performs well at high and low temperatures. Its ceramic shell holds consistent heat, which makes it great for maintaining a constant temperature, and like the Weber, a Big Green Egg is designed to last for ages. Unlike the Weber One-Touch, a Big Green Egg isn’t cheap — they start at $700 and are priced higher, depending on size. Remember we talked about pellet grills? One like the Mac Grills 2 Star General will electronically maintain its own temperature, combustion and the amount of pellets it consumes. It comes equipped with an insanely accurate digital thermometer, gives off even heat and even comes with a meat probe so that you can check on the internal temperature of what you’re cooking. Sounds amazing right? Priced at $2,299, it’d better be.
If you’re a handy sort that doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty in the name of superior grilling technology on a somewhat inferior budget, you might also want to take a look at Joe Brown’s epic instructional love letter to grill hacking How I Got At Least $2,000 Worth of Grill for $54o. Brown explains in detail how, with a few power tools, accessories and research, he was able to tinker a mid-ranged grill and smoker into an amazing collection of hardware that’s able to stand toe-to-toe against the results of gear that worth three times as much money.
But let’s be honest: Do you want to spend more on a grill than many families are likely to spent on half a year’s worth of groceries? For most people reading this, the answer will be no. Trust me, buy a Weber One-Touch Gold Charcoal Grill. It’ll provide you with years of excellent service, beautiful food and no matter what size you pick, it’ll do it for under $300.
What to Look Forward to
There’s no denying that electronically controlled pellet grills are both efficient and cool. As more companies begin to offer them, the prices associated with them are bound to drop. I’ll let you know when it happens.
Last Year’s Model
Weber’s been selling kettle-style barbecues since the mid 1950s. Their design hasn’t changed very much since then. If you’re looking to go cheaper than the One-Touch Gold, the company also offers their One-Touch Silver Kettle Grill in a number of sizes. The 22.5 inch model will cost you $99. Me? I’d spend the extra $50 and spring for a One-Touch Gold. It comes equipped with the One-Touch cleaning and venting system. The silver doesn’t.
Weber One-Touch Gold Charcoal Grill on Amazon
Weber One-Touch Gold Charcoal Grill on Weber.
Review of Weber 26.75" One Touch Gold Charcoal Grill, BBQ Bros, 1-10-2012,"If you grill a decent amount of food for small gatherings/parties, then the 22.5″ would probably be a good fit, but if you’re cooking for a lot of people or thinking about using it to smoke foods (so placing a water pan inside…) like large Boston butts, baby back ribs or briskets, then I’d probably recommend the big 26.75″ model."
Weber One-Touch Gold Charcoal Grill Review, Charcoal Grill Reviews"The top class craftsmanship of the unit is perhaps its greatest asset. The materials used for manufacturing it are all sturdy and reliable, and the kettle itself is porcelain-enameled, which means that it’s practically rust free. The lid seals easily, and the ash catcher and venting system work to provide you with the best experience in terms of convenience. You will also be pleasantly surprised to notice that virtually none of the parts rust even if you leave the grill out in the rain".
Weber 26 ¾" One-Touch Gold Charcoal Grill, About.com,"The Weber Charcoal Grill has been amongst the world's most popular pieces of outdoor cooking equipment for decades. In some parts of the world this grill means barbecue. Now Weber has reintroduced the 26 3/4" unit after many years. While not as big as the Ranch Kettle, this huge grill gives you 508 square inches of cooking area, more than enough for most anyone. With this kind of space you can grill a lot of food, even indirectly. In addition this kettle can, if you know what you are doing, be used as a smoker, making this, like other Weber Kettles, a very versatile grill."
ADVICE: Need a new grill - Weber or Char-Griller, Smoking Meat Forums, 1-11-2010,"No question, go with the Weber, it will last you a lifetime and is extremely versatile. I'm a little bias because I grew up them but have also grilled on my friend Char-griller units.. No comparison. I have a 22.5 I love but my favorite is my 26.75 Weber my Mom bought for my Dad 2 years before i was born, I'm 41!"
Best Grill Ever Made, About.com,"I have cooked on a 26" Weber for many years. As an avid griller, and having 20+ years professional cooking experience, I can whole heartedly endorse this product. I am very pleased that Weber has reintroduced the 26" - maybe now I can purchase a replacement cooking grate - I use mine year round and the original is still servicable - just not quite as pretty as it once was. The price point is a bit stiff - but if you are a grilling purist - no gas for me thank you - and you cook for lots of folks - this is the best grill ever made."
Weber One-Touch Gold is a Terrific Grill, Amazon.com, March 23, 2004,"We've been using Weber grills for years and the One-Touch Gold is the best yet. Cooks well, durable and easy to clean with the one touch/ash catcher combo. Cooks better than propane units and as easy, if not easier, to use. Start the charcoal with a chimmey unit (Weber makes a nice one for about $15)- No starter fluid or electric coils --, buy the charcoal (Kingsford) at warehouse clubs & home centers -- 48# for $10, and you're good to go. Weber has terrific customer service too -- phone and web."