There’s nothing more pure than cooking with a charcoal grill. Using a real, man-made fire to get a bunch of rocks hot enough to cook your food is about as primal as it gets. It’s no wonder that, even with the convenience of gas grills, charcoal continues to remain a popular choice among grilling connoisseurs. In fact, to many people, charcoal is the only way to go. After all, propane doesn’t give your food the same smoky flavor that we associate with grilling.

But not all charcoal grills are created equal. They come in a variety of styles across quite a large price range. For the grilling beginner, all of this can be overwhelming. After all, it’s not like your charcoal grill is just for decoration. You’re going to be eating off of that thing, so it needs to be a solid piece of equipment. There’s no need to cower in fear, because MadeMan is here to help you make the right decision when it comes to choosing charcoal. Behold; the Beginner’s Guide to Charcoal Grills.

Check The Weight. Chances are you’re not buying this grill to last you one season. If you’re putting down good money on a charcoal grill, you want it to last for years. That’s why the material that it’s made of is so important. You don’t need to have a degree in metallurgy to get a handle on how sturdy a grill is. You can simply feel its weight. If you take two grills that are the same size, but one weighs significantly more, chances are good that the heavy one is made out of stronger material. It’ll resist the wear and tear that comes with housing hot coals year after year.

Where Does The Charcoal Go? Okay, we all know the charcoal goes under the grill grates, right? Ah, but how does it get there? Sure, you can pull the grate off, put in the charcoal, get the fire going, and then put the grate back on. That’s fine for starting the grill, but what if you’re grilling for a long time? Charcoal briquettes will eventually burn out and lose their heat, meaning you’ll need to add more. If the grill still has meat on it, this can be problematic. That’s why the best charcoal grills have another way to add more coals without taking the grill apart. Look for a grill that has a separate door or compartment for conveniently adding charcoal.

Cleaning and Care. Charcoal requires a little more maintenance than gas. Don’t worry; it’s worth it for that charcoal flavor. But still, it’s worth taking note of a few things before you buy your grill. First, you need to be concerned with ashes. The remains of briquettes and food particles will build up the pit, and from time to time over the grilling season you’ll need to clean the grill. A good charcoal grill will have what’s known as an “ash pan.” It should be something with high sides that comes out easily, so you don’t end up with ashes spilled out all over the place. Beware of ash bowls or ash pans that don’t slide out easy, because you’ll be doing extra work just to keep the grill clean.

Apart from the ashes, you need to be concerned with the material from which the grill grate is made. Generally, you have two choices. You can go with cast iron, or you can go with stainless steel. Steel is easy to care for, you just need a stiff brush and that’s about it, your grates will be clean. However, steel doesn’t retain heat as well as cast iron, and it won’t yield those desirable grill marks. Cast iron is the choice for that, but cast iron requires extra work. You’ll need to season it regularly with oil (sort of like glazing) to prevent food particles penetrating the iron and causing rust spots to form. However, once you’ve done some initial care, your cast iron will keep humming along, and a seasoned cast iron grate is non-stick, as well!

What About The Warranty? It’s easy to overlook the warranty, but for a beginner, this is important. Not everyone makes the right pick on their first try, so do your research when it comes to manufacturer’s warranties. As a general rule, look for a longer warranty. That’s an indication that your grill is well-made and built to last.

-Stu Moody