Gas might be the market leader for home grilling, but plenty of folks love to cook with charcoal.
The high heat, potential for amazing flavor, and affordability of charcoal have kept it popular as a cooking fuel over the years.
Buying a new charcoal grill isn’t as simple as comparing a few different brands.
There are different styles of charcoal grills.
Notably, there are two which are often compared.
We’re going to define the two main styles of charcoal grills and find out which is better when comparing barrel vs. kettle charcoal grills.
What is a Kettle Grill?
A kettle grill is a popular style of grill used for home cooking.
The name comes from the original Weber Kettle developed in the 1950s.
The kettle style has a distinct shape like a large kettle or bowl.
These grills are typically attached to sturdy carts and are cost-efficient to manufacture.
You can get a high-quality kettle grill at a reasonable price, and the cooking performance is as good as anything out there.
Weber Kettle is the most popular model but a whole range of manufacturers produce similar designs in the kettle style.
The round grilling surface and large hood are ideal for family cooking, slow grilling, and gatherings of friends and family.
What is a Barrel Grill?
A barrel grill, also known as a drum grill, is a type of charcoal grill made in the shape of a storage drum.
The barrel design originated from improvised grills.
Before big companies made them,
DIYers and small shops would clean, seal, and cut surplus barrels in half.
Hinges were added so that barrel grills could be used for cooking with the top up or down.
The barrel design is efficient, and it provides a lot of space for cooking the largest ingredients or serving big groups of people.
The cooking surface is rectangular, which some people prefer over the rounded surface of a kettle grill.
When comparing barrel vs. kettle charcoal grills, it often comes down to preference and overall quality.
Because some of the best manufacturers in the world all make kettle grills, the quality is sometimes better.
However, there are more manufacturers producing barrel grills today, so the market is getting interesting.
You’ll find a few options to compare as you look for your next grill.
Barrel grills purchased from large manufacturers are purpose made and the barrels haven’t been used for shipping or storage.
Kettle Grill vs. Charcoal Grill Barrels for BBQ Cooking
One area where the barrel design excels is in smoking and BBQ cooking.
The BBQ method requires long cooking times, plenty of basting, and a lot of smoke.
The barrel design insulates well, and the large surface allows for big cuts of meat like a rump roast, pork belly, and even specialty game cuts.
Because the surface is rectangular, it’s more efficient to arrange large cuts.
If you want to cook in the classic BBQ style, then you should lean towards the barrel style when comparing a kettle grill vs. charcoal grill barrels.
It’s important to note that barrel grills are available in a variety of sizes and aren’t tied to standard drum sizes.
As we mentioned, modern barrel grills are made specifically for grilling and were never used as shipping barrels.
A Barrel is your best choice when comparing a kettle grill vs. charcoal grill barrels for BBQ.
Kettle Grill vs. Charcoal Grill Barrels for Smoking
Barrel grills often serve two purposes. While it’s possible to add charcoal to the main body of the grill, some models have an offset smoker section.
This allows for indirect heat and plenty of smoke to cook food slowly with maximum flavor.
If you compare a kettle grill vs.charcoal grill barrels, the barrel will perform much better with wood chips, chunks, or pellets.
Smoking is often linked to big ingredients like large cuts of meat, poultry, and game.
The largest barrel grills are much bigger than the largest kettle grills.
Kettle grills provide a good seal with the hood down, but they aren’t designed specifically with smoking in mind, so there will always be some compromise there.
A Barrel is your best choice when comparing a kettle grill vs. charcoal grill barrels for smoking.
Barrel vs. Kettle Charcoal Grill for Everyday Cooking
We’ve looked at two specialty applications.
Smoking and BBQ cooking can both create flavorful meals, but most people don’t prepare this type of food regularly.
A kettle can still smoke and is suited to low and slow cooking, so you could use one for smoking and BBQ in a pinch.
Where the kettle shines is with everyday cooking.
Kettle grills are more portable thanks to the bowl design.
It’s easier to work across the surface because it’s rounded and right in front of you.
Kettle grills will heat up quickly and they’re easier to clean because all of the ash and debris is directed to a tapered section at the bottom.
If you are grilling burgers, hot dogs, sausages, steaks, chops, chicken pieces, or any of your typical ingredients, you’ll have a better time doing it with a kettle grill.
You can still do a lot of the larger ingredients on a kettle, but you won’t get as many ingredients on the surface at the same time.
A Kettle is your best choice when you consider versatility while comparing barrel vs. kettle charcoal grills.
Do Looks Matter When Comparing Barrel vs. Kettle Charcoal Grills?
Grilling is more than just a way to cook.
There’s a whole culture surrounding this cooking method.
Home cooks like the personal reward and satisfaction that comes from grilling.
As you can imagine, people take their grills seriously.
You will too when you invest in a kettle or barrel grill.
Knowing how strong of a connection people can develop with their grills, it’s probably not hard to understand that looks do matter.
This is always subjective, but we can point out a few general trends here.
- Kettle grills, when considering models from manufacturers like Weber, are often more presentable than barrel grills. The design is more interesting, the materials are sometimes better, and the whole thing just looks more “at home” on a patio or within a yard setting.
- Barrel grills look more utilitarian and industrial. Some people love the look, but it’s not always the best fit for a modern home.
- Kettle grills often incorporate stainless steel and polished aluminum, which creates a high-end aesthetic that some barrel grills lack.
Looks don’t affect cooking performance but they can impact how you feel about your grill.
A kettle is your best choice when comparing the look of barrel vs. kettle charcoal grills.
Kettle Grill vs. Barrel Grill for Ease of Use
Simplicity and ease of use are important for most grill owners.
Kettle grills are far easier to use thanks to the design.
Coals go in the bowl, ashes are cleared by opening the bottom of the grill, and there’s not a lot else to the process.
Some barrel grills need to be cleaned manually by scooping ash and debris from within the cooking chamber.
This makes for more mess and a less user-friendly experience (there are exceptions with premium models).
There are also barrel grills with the offset smoker which brings in extra complexity that some people will have trouble adapting to.
Ultimately, it all depends on how far you’re willing to go to get your perfect grilling experience.
If you value simplicity and ease of use, then you will be much happier with a kettle grill out of the box.
However, it’s worth noting that with some time, you can get used to any grill that you own.
A kettle is your best choice when you want the ease of use and convenience.
Which Type of Grill Produces the Best Flavor?
Whether you choose a kettle or a barrel grill, you can get an excellent flavor.
The barrel design will perform much better for smoking and BBQ styles, so if those are the flavors you’re chasing, go for a barrel.
If most of your flavor comes from searing heat and seasoning without a long cooking process, then a kettle will provide all the flavor that you need.
Kettle and barrel grills both provide mouth-watering flavor in their ways.
Barrel and Kettle Grill vs. Regular Grill
When most people think of a regular grill, they think of gas.
Flavor potential between barrel and kettle grill vs. regular grill styles is essentially the same with basic cooking methods.
There are some points to note…
- When comparing barrel and kettle grill vs. regular grill designs, the charcoal options will give you the versatility to add smoke chips and pellets right into the firebox.
- Price is something to consider when looking at barrel and kettle grill vs. regular grill High-quality gas grills cost far more than their charcoal equivalents.
There are also some downsides to cooking with coal.
Carcinogen levels are higher when compared to gas, but there are no documented cases of charcoal cooking leading to an illness or health condition.
Charcoal also takes a while to master, as you will manually control ventilation and the number of coals to set the heat.
A regular gas grill only requires the twist of a control knob.
The Best Barrel and Kettle Grills to Consider
Start comparing grills today to find the perfect one for your needs.
- It’s affordable, easy to use, made from high-quality materials, and provides excellent flavor. The Weber Kettle is the original kettle grill. If you could only use one grill for the rest of your life, this model would be a good choice. The shape is convenient for backyard cooking, and you can cook away from direct heat when you need to keep large cuts cooking for longer.
- If you want something more modern to suit your home, you could consider the Weber Performer Charcoal Grill. This follows the same basic design principles as the original kettle but adds better materials, an improved ash collection system, and there’s an integrated preparation cart to keep things convenient. Even with the jump in price, this model remains competitive with gas grills that have less usable cooking space.
- If you want to grill and smoke or make BBQ with a barrel grill, the Char-Griller Outlaw is a great starting point. The 950-square-inch cooking area will keep you prepared no matter the ingredients or the number of guests that will show up. While it’s not quite as nice looking or as easy to clean as a Weber, you’ll still get a lot of value from this huge outdoor cooking station.
- If you want to cook with an offset smoker, the Char-Broil American Gourmet Offset Smoker Grill is a great choice. It’s incredibly simple and affordable and is perfect for those low-and-slow sessions where you want to create maximum flavor over several hours.
- There are ultra-premium options available for barrel grills. If you want a large cooking area, the ease of a pellet hopper and the best performance for grilling, smoking, or BBQ, the Weber SmokeFire EX6 Wood Fired Pellet Grill could be exactly what you’re looking for. It commands a high price but it’s an excellent long-term investment that can go from a low smoke right up to a high sear at 600°F.
You’ll notice that these grills, despite their sizes and features, are priced competitively.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get a reliable kettle or barrel grill.
Conclusion – Barrel vs. Kettle Charcoal Grills
There are a few important points to take away from here.
- If you want an everyday grilling experience that can provide smoke flavor and slow cooking when you need it, a kettle grill is right for you.
- If you want something that can do proper low and slow smoke and BBQ sessions, a barrel grill will be your best choice.
There’s a reason that the Weber Kettle is more popular than ever. It provides an excellent cooking experience with versatility at a low cost.
When you want something more specialized, there are barrel grills available.
Buy the grill that best suits your needs and have more fun cooking your favorite ingredients outdoors.