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ust the smell of charcoal heating up in a grill wakes up your taste buds. It’s classic summer: ripples of heat rising from the grill, quality meat sizzling away, and people coming together over great food. Barbecue is something to enjoy and take pride in. Like many of the best things in life, the journey is half the fun. 
That’s why you need more in a grill than just your own powers of creating amazing ‘cue. It needs to be easy to use, enjoyable, and hassle-free.  You should be able to pop it open and light it at the drop of a hat, ready to take on the first nice day after a rainy winter or the impromptu visit of the new neighbor. 

Here, we’ll go into detail about two high-performing candidates for the best charcoal grills under $500. Feature-packed and rock-solid, either of these grills could play a starring role in your backyard kitchen. Read on to find out exactly why we think these are some of the very best grills you could get your hands on at this price.  We’ll be comparing the Weber Original Kettle Premium 26-Inch Charcoal Grill and the Weber Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill.

Calling the Kettle Black: A Classic Design

American families fell in love with backyard grilling in the years after WWII. The newly prosperous nation wanted to get out and cook with friends, sparking a surge in popularity for the open brazier grill. These small charcoal grills were suitable for home use, but heat control proved difficult and the cooking process was highly sensitive to weather.
Sick of the blowing ash and uncontrollable flare-ups, a man in sales at Weber Brothers Metal Works named George Stephen tried out something new. He used a metal buoy in two halves from stock the company manufactured for the Coast Guard, filled it with charcoal, punched holes in it for airflow, and the first covered grill was born.
This design protected the food inside from weather and trapped heat for quicker, more thorough, and more consistent cooking. It also prevented clouds of smoke and ash from blowing into the cook’s face or disturbing guests. Even sweeter, that smoke could flavor foods inside the grill instead of annoying people outside of it.
Naturally, Stephen made refinements to his design in the form of wheels, a taller lid, and porcelain enamel. The resulting grills were easy to use, cooked well, and resisted the elements. It didn’t take long until they became a cultural icon. The National Museum of American History even has one as part of their collection. The familiar design remains popular today and, chances are, you’ve eaten food grilled on one.

What to Look for in Charcoal Grills

Materials

A piece of lit charcoal can be hotter than 2,000°F. Your charcoal grill needs to be made out of stern enough stuff to take the heat. A sturdy coating like porcelain enamel won’t peel from the high temperature and will resist rust if the grill gets exposed to moisture.
A thicker, heavier metal for the body of your grill will maintain the heat and keep it even. If the grill feels light and flimsy, it probably is. 
Consider the material of the smaller features of the grill, too. A grill won’t be sitting on a high shelf in your kitchen when not in use. Handles, hooks, legs, and shelves that could bend or break easily aren’t a good fit for outdoor equipment. 

Temperature Management

The right temperature is essential for cooking food the way you want it. Searing over high heat and prolonged cooking over a moderate fire are important steps for preparing many foods. Look for a grill that has enough room to set up multiple fire zones, where some or all of the coal is heaped in certain areas to establish indirect heat in others. You’ll also want a thermometer that tells you exactly how hot the grill is so you can manage the fire with confidence.
Improvised grilling with no thermometer? Keep this handy test in mind for tracking your fire’s heat.
Without airflow, you’re going to have a hard time getting anything to happen inside a grill. Fire breathes oxygen, so circulation is a must. Look for a grill that has vents or dampers at the bottom and in the lid. This setup creates a draft of air that travels through the bed of coals, circulating the hot air inside and introducing fresh oxygen to the combustion process. 
You should be able to open the vents fully or partially depending on your needs at the moment, so make sure the vents feel sturdy. They should stay in place without constant adjustment as you take the lid on and off and move things around. You’d much rather be focusing on your food than fiddling with the grill!

Convenience

Your grill is more than just the device responsible for heating your food up. It is also your outdoor workspace. Wheels make a grill easy to position where you want it in your yard or on your deck. An ash catcher keeps your space clean and makes emptying the spent ashes from the grill easy and simple if it’s well-designed. 
Features like a side table, tool hooks, a lid holder, or a storage rack can make your setup more convenient. You’ll use a convenient setup more often than equipment that takes a lot of time or hassle to get going and cook on. For many backyard cooks and grillmasters, it’s worth spending a little extra cash for the extra features that will make your experience more comfortable. There’s no value in a grill you don’t use. 

The Best Charcoal Grills Under $500

At a glance: 

  • 43.5″H X 48″W X 30″D
  • 363 square inches of cooking area
  • Porcelain-enameled steel body and lid
  • Stainless steel One Touch cleaning system
  • Steel cart with a storage rack and four wheels
  • Electronic gas ignition system

Are you a die-hard accept-no-substitutions charcoal griller who secretly longs for the ease of instant ignition? Your grill has arrived. A sturdy Weber kettle grill sits in this convenient cart, attached to their Touch-N-Go gas ignition system. An electronic igniter fires the charcoal in the belly of the grill, eliminating the need for lighter fluid, a chimney starter, or any other messing around.  Just push the button, and you’re cooking. What could be better?

The Performer Deluxe is a full-service grilling station. It’s on wheels, so roll it anywhere you want to set up. There’s a holder for the grill lid and a built-in thermometer. A wire rack underneath lets you store things within reach but not on the ground. The heavy side-table gives you prep space, room for the next round of burgers, and a spot for your drink. Underneath the table, a weatherproof bin keeps your charcoal nice and dry. Three tool hooks on the front give you a spot to hang your tongs without getting grease on your worktable.  There’s even a removable back-lit timer so you can cook with precision even while chatting with your best buds.
This grill also features Weber’s Gourmet BBQ system of grates. The stock grate on the grill is good quality stainless steel with a hinge so you can add charcoal. A good standard. But, Weber offers a variety of optional grates in addition, including a cast-iron skillet, rotisserie, and pizza stone. 

Cleaning this grill out after use couldn’t be easier. Weber’s One Touch cleaning system sweeps spent ashes into a large ash catcher underneath the bowl so all you have to do is slide it out and empty it.

At a glance:

  • 42.9″H X 27″W X 33″D
  • 508 square inches of cooking area
  • Porcelain-enameled steel body and lid
  • Stainless steel One Touch cleaning system

Weber’s Kettle series is a classic, and this big grill is a shining example. If you’re the go-to grillmaster in your family, neighborhood, or workplace, a large grill like this one is a must. There’s enough room on the grate to put up to 19 hamburger patties at a time, meaning you won’t keep your hungry friends waiting. The lid has a built-in thermometer to keep an eye on the internal temperature, and two molded-rubber wheels make for easy transport.

Beyond just being a honkin’ big grill, the 26” Original Kettle Premium is packed with other features that make your life easy and your cookout fun. The heavy stainless steel cooking grate has a hinge so you can add charcoal without having to pause cooking. The tuck-away lid holder spares you from having to juggle the hot grill lid or set it on the ground when you’re not using it. Two tool hooks on either side of the front handle give you an easy place to stash your tongs and spatula so you’re never casting about when it’s time to get flipping. A heat shield protects the handle from getting searing hot. 

This grill also features Weber’s One Touch cleaning system for easy ash disposal, which is a big upgrade from a simple aluminum ash pan.

A Grill With its Skates on

The Weber Performer Deluxe is a truly excellent grill. Weber’s craftsmanship shines, and it’s got an unbeatable selection of great features. The electronic ignition system makes getting it up and running effortless. We love the cart and
the storage bin — no more saggy bag of charcoal tipping over in the garage! 

For a grill that’s ready and rarin’ to go, our vote for the best charcoal grill under 500 goes to the Performer Deluxe. This thing will have you out and cooking in no time, and the additional Gourmet BBQ grates mean you could probably cook every meal on it if you wanted to. Going out in the backyard and never coming back in gets pretty appealing after a stretch of bad weather keeps us cooped up inside, so call us up when it’s time to grill up some pancakes.

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