Weber Kettle Grills: The Five Worst and Five Best Charcoal Barbecues

Weber Performer Deluxe Grill

What we now know as a Weber kettle grill evolved from an invention by George Stephens in the 1950s.  George’s original charcoal grill was a metal buoy that had been chopped in half, placed on a stand and modified with bottom air vents.

George’s initial design was a massive success and fundamentally transformed how America grilled.  The original design has been modified over the past 60+ years but the heart of the grill has remained the same.  The rounded bowl with a lid and precision air control has been an unbeatable design that is now an iconic part of American backyards.

If you ever been curious about how these grills are made then take a peak at this factory tour!

If you are serious about grilling then a Weber charcoal grill is an amazing cooker that you will love for years on end.

Why are Weber Charcoal Grills Special?

Weber kettles are more expensive than any comparably sized charcoal grill   A pretty common question among people new to grilling is, “Why spend $100 on a Weber when the other brand only costs $40?”  The answer comes down to Performance and Construction.

Grill Performance

The defining performance characteristic of a Weber charcoal grill is the ability to precisely control the temperature of the grill.  You can use a Weber charcoal grill for searing ribeye steaks at 600F or slow smoking baby back ribs at 225F.

A Weber kettle has multiple adjustable air inlets at the base of the kettle and an adjustable outlet on the lid of the grill.  This design allows you to precisely control the flow of air through the charcoal bed which in turn allows you to control the temperature of the grill.

The rounded shape of the kettle also means the charcoal grate can be kept a significant distance away from the cooking grate.  The exact distance varies between the different sized kettles but is usually about five inches. This helps greatly with temperature control since the hot coals are not immediately below the cooking grate.

Grill Construction

The body and lid of a Weber kettle is made of porcelain enameled steel.  Porcelain enameled steel will not rust or suffer burn through. As long as you do not crack or chip the enameling the body of a Weber kettle will last longer than you.

You will eventually have to replace the grates and legs for your kettle but the heart of the grill lasts forever.  Compare that to the thin metal $40 grills at Wal Mart that you are going to be throwing away every year or two.

Five Worst and Five Best Kettles

While all of the Weber kettles are perform well there are some differences in details between the models that set them apart.  In fact, Weber has some charcoal grills that should be completely avoided.

The Five Worst

This is a list that will make a few Weber fanatics angry.  That’s okay, I am willing to stand behind this and am very comfortable steering you away from all of these grills.

Weber Smokey Joe Silver/Gold

Weber Smokey Joe Grill

The 14 inch Smokey Joe grills have been loved by many people who want a small grill for their patio or a portable charcoal grill for camping and tailgating.  The reason why this lovely small grill is on the “Worst List” is because when the 18 inch Weber Jumbo Joe was introduced a few years ago it made the Smokey Joe grills completely irrelevant.

If you want a small, portable charcoal grill then the Jumbo Joe is 100 times better in every single way.  If you buy a Smokey Joe now and find out about the Jumbo later then you will be very sad to learn that you could have gotten a much better grill for just a little more money.

Weber Original Kettle 18 inch

Weber 18 inch kettle grill

The Original 18 inch Kettle has two major problems.

The first problem is that while it looks like a full size grill it is actually a little too small.  This kettle has the same general dimensions as the portable 18 inch Jumbo Joe. While an 18 inch kettle is a great size for a portable camping grill it is too small for use as a serious backyard grill.

The first time you try to smoke a couple of slabs of ribs or a full packer brisket on an 18 inch kettle you will understand why size matters.

The second problem with the Original 18 inch Kettle is the ash removal system.  This kettle has the One Touch Cleaning system that helps sweep ashes out of the kettle and it works very well.  The problem is that when the ashes leave the kettle they are supposed to fall onto a shallow metal saucer where you can collect and dispose of them.  Instead, the ashes fly everywhere. Eventually the metal saucer ALWAYS gets lost or damaged.

You will find that the best way to get the ashes out of this grill is to take out the grates, turn the grill upside down and then pull out a shop vac to clean up the mess.  That sucks.

Weber Original Kettle 22 inch

Weber 22 inch Original

This grill has the same awful ash removal system as the Original 18 inch kettle.

Weber Premium 22 Jumbo Joe

The Weber Premium 22 Jumbo Joe is a weird grill that Weber created to sell through Wal-Mart.  It has the same crappy ash catcher design as the Original 18 and Original 22 and is mounted on very short tripod legs.

This grill makes absolutely no sense.  Even if the ash system didn’t bother you why would you want to buy a grill where you had to constantly bend over to use it??

Weber Ranch Kettle

Weber Ranch

The purpose of the MASSIVE 36 inch Ranch Kettle is to be a showstopper.  The grill is beautiful to look and will draw a crowd. The Ranch is seriously impressive to behold.

The Ranch is also over priced and impractical.  For the price of a Ranch you could buy two 26 inch kettles and have more cooking area, greater flexibility and plenty of money left over.

If you buy a Ranch you are going to need a huge deck or a special area for storage.  You are also going to need to get a shovel to clean out the ashes and find a custom upholstery shop to make a cover.

A Ranch kettle is like a condominium at the beach.  Fun to see and dream about owning but usually a pretty bad investment.

The Five Best

Any one of these grills will make you happy.  The right one for you will depend on which features you value and how many people you are feeding.

18 inch Weber Jumbo Joe

Weber Jumbo Joe

If you want a small charcoal grill then there simply is not ANYTHING better than the Jumbo Joe.  The Jumbo made my list for one of the best charcoal grills under $200.

The 18 inch grate on the Jumbo is an impressive size for a small grill and the locking lid latch truly makes this grill portable.  The lid lock mechanism also doubles as a “Slide A Side” lid holder.

I have ranted at length about the Jumbo at length on this post of Why I Love the Jumbo Joe.

Weber Original Premium 22

Weber 22 inch Premium

The Original Premium 22 is the grill that will be the best buy for most people.  The 22 inch cooking grate on this grill has plenty of space and there is an enclosed ash catcher assembly that makes disposing of ashes EASY.

The 22 Original Premium is the best balance between price and features.  There are nicer kettles than this one but if you are on a budget then this one will treat you just fine.

The two important upgrades that are missing from this grill are a side lid holder and a side table for food prep.

The 22 inch kettles can be confusing so the folks over at BBQ Guys shot a great video that shows the difference between them.  The one on the far left is the one with the awful ash catcher.

Weber Master Touch 22

Weber Mastertouch Grill

The Master Touch 22 has multiple upgrades over the Premium 22.  The Master Touch upgrades include:

  • Side mounted lid holder
  • Gourmet Grate System with removable center insert and hinged sides.
  • Charcoal Baskets
  • Second Tier Warming Rack

The Master Touch is also a few inches taller than the Premium making it a little easier to work with.  Out of all of the upgrades my favorite is the lid holder. Having somewhere to easily place the lid is really nice.

The only drawback to this grill is that it does not have a side table.

Weber Performer Deluxe

Weber Performer Deluxe Grill

The Performer Deluxe is the ultimate 22 inch kettle.  The Performer Deluxe has all of the upgrades found on the Master Touch (except, oddly, the warming rack) and comes mounted on a spacious cart.

This is no ordinary cart.  The cart on the Performer Deluxe comes with:

  • A large side table for food prep
  • A built in charcoal storage bin
  • An electronic cook timer
  • Tool hooks
  • A propane ignition system to light your charcoal

While all of these upgrades are nice it is the propane ignition for lighting the charcoal that makes this grill stand out.

There are two other versions of the Performer grill available but neither of them have the propane ignition system.  To learn more about the other Performer grills you can read this post about the Weber Performer Premium vs Deluxe.

Weber Original Premium 26

Weber 26 inch Premium Grill

The 26 inch Weber kettle is the most overlooked and underappreciated grill that Weber makes.

The grate on the 26 inch grill provides 40% more grilling area than you get with a 22 inch charcoal grill.  If you want a massive charcoal grill then this is a grill you need to consider.

This grill comes standard with the enclosed ash removal system and side lid holder which are the two most essential upgrades for any kettle.

The two downsides to the 26 inch kettle is that it does not have a side table and the heavy lid can be awkward to handle.

Other Brands to Consider

Char Broil Kettleman

The Kettleman from Char Broil is fundamentally different than a Weber kettle as the Kettleman is designed to grill hot and fast with infrared radiation.  The charcoal for a Kettleman is located directly below steel panel which, when heated, emits infrared radiation to grill your food. The benefit of an infrared grill us that food stays juicer as it is being heated by infrared radiation instead of hot blowing air.

You will not get precision temperature control with a Kettleman but if you like the idea of infrared grilling then it is worth a look. Another approach to infrared grilling on a charcoal grill is to simply add a set of GrillGrate panels to a Weber kettle.

PK Grills

The PK Grill brand started in Texas about the same time that the Weber kettle was being developed in Illinois.  The company went out of business in the 1970s but was brought back to life about 20 years later.

PKs are extremely high quality charcoal grills made of thick cast aluminum and will NEVER rust.  The fan base for PK Grills is smaller than Weber but they are just as fanatical.

The biggest drawback to PK grills is their cost.  If you would like to learn more about this brand then check out this article on PK grills.

Warranty, Maintenance and Parts

Weber kettles come with a generous warranty.

  • Bowl and Lid: Ten year warranty
  • One Touch Cleaning System: Five year warranty
  • Plastic Components: Five year warranty
  • All Remaining Parts: Two year warranty

Taking care of these grills is pretty easy and you can see how to clean the kettle in this video.  If you are worried about the paint that is peeling inside the lid of your grill the video covers that as well 🙂

I have owned a lot of different kettles over the years as my collection has evolved and have had a blast learning about theses beauties.

I hope you found my insights useful and I promise that when you buy one of these grills that you will love it.

FYI….here is an awesome list of Weber charcoal grill accessories that you can get to have even more fun with these grills!

My Weber Kettle Grills

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