With so many possible ways to do your backyard grilling, I'd like to share some of what I know about kettle grills and why I enjoy using them.
The most popular type of metal charcoal grill in the U.S is the kettle grill. It is what many people consider the “classic American grill,” with Weber being the most popular brand. Named for its shape, a kettle grill consists of a domed lid, a bowl-shaped body, an ash-catching plate under the bowl, and two grates: one in the lower part of the bowl for supporting the charcoal and one across the upper part of the bowl, which is where you put your food to cook.
A kettle grill typically has air vents on the lid and at the bottom of the bowl. Even when the lid is closed, the air vents allow oxygen to flow through the grill to fuel the fire. The air vent in the bowl also allows for charcoal ash to fall through the vents to the ash collector. In tandem with controlling air flow, the amount of opening in the top vents can be adjusted to help regulate the temperature of the grill. Closing the vents partially or completely allows less air flow into the grill, which, in turn, lowers the amount of flame (and heat). Opening the vents creates more air flow, hotter-burning coals, and higher cooking temps. It is a good practice to position the lid air vents over the food that you are cooking, especially when using indirect heat. This channels the air and smoke over or through your food, to help cook it and to penetrate your food with that wood-smoked flavor that is the hallmark of grill cooking.
You can find many other box-shaped metal charcoal grills that function very similarly to kettle grills. I prefer the kettle style because, in my experience, the rounded shape distributes the heat more evenly.
Kettle grills come in multiple sizes, and I have owned several over the years. I currently own a Weber Smokey Joe (retail price around $35) and a Weber Master-Touch with Gourmet BBQ system (retail price around $220).
I love the Smokey Joe because of its small size (just a 14” diameter and only 17” high) and portability. It is great to take camping or even while travelling to an AirBnB (use outdoors only!). It heats more quickly than the larger sizes, so the Smokey Joe is also convenient for that reason (if you only need to cook a couple burgers or brats, or maybe a single steak or pork chop).
For my primary grill, I have chosen the Weber Master-Touch (22” diameter and 42” high), largely because of the Gourmet BBQ system. The gourmet grate system is hinged down the middle so that you can lift one side of the grate. That allows you to add charcoal or wood into the bowl without removing the food grate — awesome during long cooks or if you misjudge the amount of coals needed. There have been many times in the past where I would need to gingerly remove and have someone hold the grill grate with food on it as I added more coals or wood.
Another feature (a real game changer) on the Gourmet BBQ system is that the center of the grill is removable and allows you to insert different cooking accessories, such as a specially fitted wok, griddle, pizza stone, poultry roaster, sear grate and Dutch oven. Of course you can also buy the special hinged grate separately to retrofit your existing Weber.
Besides these features, the larger Weber grills like the Master-Touch also have an ash collection container (rather than just a plate) under the bowl, and they have wheels, which are obviously very convenient for moving a grill around your yard or into or out of your storage area.
Weber is only one brand of kettle grills, and the kettle grill is only one style of charcoal grills. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I really don't believe there's any one best choice for every person and every situation. I hope to share some of what I know so that you can make your own choice about the grill that's best for you!
Check out Related Pages below for other backyard grill types.