Charcoal grills rely on airflow to regulate heat. More air moving over the charcoal lets a fire burn hotter while limiting airflow (oxygen) keep the charcoal just lit, for low-and-slow cooking. Look for a model with a tight-fitting lid and solid dampers or vents.
Accessible charcoal bed
If you’re cooking for an extended period, you’ll need to add charcoal. It’s observed that the temperature of charcoal peaks within 20 minutes after they’re lit. Look for a charcoal grill with a dedicated door to add coals to your fire, or one with hinged grates that allow you add more coals or rearrange them while you cook.
Grill size and shape
Because charcoal briquettes all burn at about the same temperature, the size and shape of your grill will dictate how heat is concentrated or diffused. Wider models, including most barrel grills, can cook more foods at once, but over a thinner coal bed, so they’re better for a burger and bratwurst cookout. Kettle and kamado grills tend to have deeper and narrower coal beds, which can concentrate heat for searing or, if you close the dampers, slow the rate at which charcoal burns, for long and slow cooking.
Adjustable coal or cooking grates
Foods close to the coals sear faster but are prone to burning before they cook through. Look for a grill with a coal bed or cooking grates that can be raised or lowered with a crank—it’ll give you one more way to tame the flames and control the heat.