We’ve happily made do with Weber’s basic kettle for years. But would newer, more tricked-out charcoal cookers be worth the upgrade?
Last Updated Nov. 15, 2018. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 14: Quick and Easy Rib Dinner
Weber updated both of our favorite charcoal grills. After buying and testing the new models, we found that the new features improve both winning grills.
Our winner, a 22-inch kettle grill embedded in a convenient rolling cart with a push-button gas ignition system, is now called the Weber Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill. The cart surface is now made of sturdier aluminized steel rather than plastic, and comes equipped with a well-designed removable timer, a metal shield built into the lid handle to protect hands from heat, and Weber’s Gourmet Barbecue System, a grill grate with removable center that allows grillers to insert several accessories (sold separately), such as a wok, griddle, or pizza stone. While we reviewed the Gourmet Barbecue System a few years ago and were lukewarm on its merits, we like that the included grill grate is now heavier-duty steel.
Our Best Buy has been renamed the Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill, 22-Inch. It features a new, sturdier leg attachment system with metal tabs that snap together more securely, as well as a thermometer built into the lid, a metal shield on the lid handle to protect hands from the heat, and tool hooks built into the nylon handles on both sides of the kettle.
There’s a lot to be said for the basic Weber kettle. The company’s 22.5-inch One-Touch Gold model, the test kitchen’s longtime favorite charcoal grill, accommodates a full 6-quart chimney’s worth of charcoal and features a large enough cooking surface to grill burgers for a crowd. It also has a domed lid tall enough to house a whole turkey, and its well-designed venting system allows barbecue buffs to jury-rig the unit into a competent smoker. The sturdy ash catcher keeps cleanup to a minimum. Moving and storing the kettle’s small frame is easy, and the price tag is nice.
And yet it’s never been a perfect package. This model’s tripod base is notoriously wobbly and prone to lose a limb, and when we’re adding food to or removing it from the fire, we wish there was a place to set down a platter. Drawbacks like these led our eyes to wander back over the charcoal grill marketplace, where we discovered a vast array of competitors across an even more vast price scale—everything from simple, comparably priced designs to beefed up, luxe models fetching significantly more than $2,000. The Rolls-Royce of charcoal grills wasn’t our target, though. We wanted a well-engineered, user-friendly model that’s up to any outdoor cooking task—ribs, pork loin, fish, burgers, chicken—without having to take out a second mortgage. So we set an upper price limit of $400 and lined up seven promising grills, including our trusty Weber kettle. Our battery of cooking tests included both grilling and low, slow tasks: big batches of burgers, skewers of sticky glazed beef satay, and thick salmon fillets, as well as barbecued ribs. We ran a height check by shutting—or, in some cases, cramming—each grill’s lid over a whole turkey; we threaded thermocouple wires under the lids to monitor temperature retention; and we kept track of how easy the grills were to set up when new and to clean up after cooking.
The good news was that most of the grills did a decent job grilling, and several models also fared well with barbecued ribs. The problem was that even when a grill was capable of both grilling and slow-cooking food, some models had design flaws that limited how easy they were to use. Grilling requires, for example, regularly flipping and rearranging multiple pieces of food, so it’s crucial that the food be within easy reach—a glaring issue with one grill we tested. This long, horizontal tube, which is billed as both an all-purpose grill and a smoker, features a lid that only partially uncovers its generous cooking surface. As a result, the cook must reach underneath the covered area to access food—not a big deal when you’re infrequently reaching f...
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Lisa is an executive editor for ATK Reviews, cohost of Gear Heads on YouTube, and gadget expert on TV's America's Test Kitchen.