Consumer Reports: Top tested charcoal grills

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There may never be an answer to the great debate - what's better, grilling with gas or charcoal? (WLS)

There may never be an answer to that "great debate" - what's better, grilling with gas or charcoal? But after 20 years, Consumer Reports has resumed their testing of charcoal models, to see which are most user-friendly and do a good job of cooking.

During the week, Stanley Plasencia grills professionally for parties - mostly on gas grills. But at home he prefers to grill with charcoal.

"Gas is great, but I prefer to grill on charcoal because it gives the food a better flavor. People enjoy it better, especially because of the smoky taste," Plasencia said.

Consumer Reports tests a charcoal grill's ability to maintain even temperature as well as the quality of indirect heating, for foods that cook on the cooler part of the grates, like skin-on chicken or fish.

But cooking performance isn't everything. Convenience plays a bigger part in your grilling experience. Consumer Reports says to consider how easy a grill will be to use.

The ever-popular 22-inch Weber Kettle Grill came out ahead of the other kettle grills tested. It's a very good performer when it comes to evenness - a plus when you're grilling lots of burgers at the same time.

This barrel-style Kingsford, with cast-iron grates, rated very good for evenness. But Consumer Reports' testers gave it excellent marks for convenience - the large front opening lets you access coals during cooking, and the easily removable pan makes it simple to clean.

If you're ready to spring for a bigger grill that will support a party, consider this Dyna-Glo. It cooks well and is easy to clean. You can replace coals through the front door, and the coal grates can raise or lower easily in order to control cooking.

In the end, good food is what it's all about.

Consumer Reports has two simple tips to make you a better griller. Always take the time to get the coals to the right temperature, covered with fine gray ash. Avoid using lighter fluid or those self-lighting coals. They can produce an off-taste that distorts the flavor of the food.

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