Archive for Owen Burke

The Home Depot’s Black Friday sale is live now and the best deals are on tools and small appliances like Instant Pots and Blendtec blenders

Prices are accurate at the time of publication.

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Home Depot Black Friday 2021 2x1

Whatever it is that you want or need from The Home Depot, the best time to buy anything is usually during the retailer's Black Friday sale.

While Black Friday lands on November 26, The Home Depot has already advertised some sales, but we should see more deals starting on Black Friday and running through Cyber Monday, November 29, and into December. Generally, you can save up to 50% off major appliances and home improvement tools, as well as seasonal accessories like wreaths and faux Christmas trees. You'll also find deals for buying multiple large appliances at once.

If you're in a rush and delivery is too slow, there are usually hundreds of sale items eligible for free in-store pickup — mainly tools and holiday decor.

The best Home Depot 2021 Black Friday deals

While The Home Depot is advertising early deals here, most of the "early deals" we've vetted aren't actually deals. As with any retailer's claims of offerings being on sale, don't be fooled by what look like big markdowns based on manufacturer-suggested retail prices (MSRPs) that were never the price of a product or service to begin, and be sure to cross-check deals at other retailers. This is particularly the case with larger appliances like refrigerators and dishwashers. All the deals highlighted below are true deals.

We'll be checking for deals and updating this page frequently in the days leading up to and throughout Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

In addition to slow cooking and pressure cooking, the Duo Plus also does sous vide. It made tender, juicy steaks and pulled pork in our tests.
Originally $139.99 | Save 43%
Originally $139.99 | Save 43%



The Amazon Echo Dot features all the awesome smart features that you'll get on any other Alexa speaker, but comes at a fraction of the price.
Originally $39.99 | Save 50%
Originally $39.99 | Save 50%
Originally $39.99 | Save 50%



The Google Nest Mini is a compact and effective smart speaker that comes at an affordable price. Right now, it's one of the cheapest smart speakers available, not to mention among the most useful with Google Assistant.
Originally $49.00 | Save 49%
Originally $49.99 | Save 50%
Originally $49.00 | Save 49%



If you're going to buy just one grill for barbecuing, Traeger's Pro 575 is a tank built to maintain perfect temperature and last well over a decade.



High-powered and heavy duty, this work light attaches to anything magnetic, and you can focus it according to the distance you're working from it.
Originally $29.97 | Save 33%



A classic design with a multi-position split back, this is a modular take on a simple and understated piece that both fits anywhere and sleeps a guest or two.
Originally $320.00 | Save 25%



An ultra-quiet, state-of-the-art fan with a built-in air purifier, Dyson's TP01 is great for stuffy spaces and crowded indoor get-togethers.
Originally $399.00 | Save 25%



There are few blender brands that have been around as long as Blendtec, and for the price, you won't find much better.
Originally $279.00 | Save 29%



Grinders, a Hackzall, drivers, a multitool, four batteries, and a rolling case make for the ultimate on-the-go power toolbox. Right now, this set is nearly half off, and as cheap as we've been able to find it.
Originally $799.00 | Save 50%



Home Depot Black Friday 2021 FAQs

Does the Home Depot have a Black Friday sale?

Yes. The Home Depot has a Black Friday sale that vaguely runs the entire month of November into December, but the best time to keep an eye out for deals is during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and often the weekend between the two events.

How does Insider Reviews vet the best Black Friday Home Depot deals?

  • We only choose products that meet our high standard of coverage, and that we've either used ourselves or researched carefully.
  • We compared the prices against other retailers like Best Buy and Lowe's and only included the deals that are the same or better (not including promotional discounts that come from using certain credit cards).
  • All deals are at least 20% off, with the occasional exception for products that are rarely discounted or provide an outsized value.
  • Read more about how the Insider Reviews team vets deals here.

When is The Home Depot Black Friday 2021 sale? 

Black Friday falls on November 26, and while there are "early deals" listed on the site, make sure to cross-check them with other retailers, as they might not be deals at all. 

What Home Depot Black Friday deals did we see last year?

Last year, the best appliance deals we found included $150 off a Dyson vacuum, $70 off a Honeywell thermostat, $211 off a GE dishwasher, $79 off a Gorilla ladder, $1,051 off an LG smart refrigerator, and $50 off a Shark vacuumSelect tools and accessories were also on sale, including $100 off a Makita circular saw kit.

When does The Home Depot open on Black Friday?

Many of The Home Depot's physical store locations will open early on Black Friday, but check your local store's hours.

Is The Home Depot open on Thanksgiving? 

The Home Depot's brick-and-mortar stores will be closed on Thanksgiving, but you can take advantage of any deals that may pop up online during the holiday.

Should I shop The Home Depot's Black Friday or Cyber Monday deals?

Usually, deals are about the same online between Black Friday and Cyber Monday at The Home Depot. You may find better deals in-store during Black Friday, and better deals online during Cyber Monday, however.

What are The Home Depot's return policies?

In case your Black Friday purchase doesn't turn out as expected, you can return it to The Home Depot for free. You can bring it back to the store or schedule a UPS pickup from your home. Read more about The Home Depot's return policies here.

More Black Friday 2021 deals coverage

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The best blender for every budget in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
  • A blender is essential to most kitchens, but the best blender for you depends on how you'll use it.
  • We've tested 13, and the user-friendly, high-powered Vitamix 5200 is our favorite.
  • It blends everything from smoothies to nut butter faster and more consistently than the rest.

Whether you're a daily smoothie drinker or use your blender for everything from soups and purees to nut flours and butters, the right blender makes the process of blending, preparing, and cleaning more seamless.

Your main considerations with a blender are power, functions, and size. Most blenders can handle making a basic smoothie well (and quickly) enough, but when it comes to pureeing, or preparing any number of ingredients for baking, or making something like nut butter, you'll need more power and speed.

During our tests, we made everything from frozen berry smoothies and kale smoothies to nut flour and butter, and also timed how long it took for each blender to grind up eight ounces of ice cubes into a uniform shave-ice-like consistency. We also consulted multiple experts about what makes a great blender. You can read more about our methodology below.

Here are the best blenders in 2021

Best blender overall
a photo of the vitamix 5200, the best blender in 2021

The Vitamix 5200 is an easy-to-use, easy-to-clean blender with the power and speed variation to handle any task.

Pros: Simple but sufficient controls, powerful enough for any task, the best pitcher shape of any blender we tried

Cons: Tall, doesn't easily fit in or under many cabinets

The Vitamix 5200 is possibly Vitamix's most popular blender, and we think it's the best blender out there, period. It has the power to tackle any task within reason, it accelerates and decelerates as smoothly as a finely-tuned sports car, and the design of the jar minimizes splatter.

Out of all of the blenders we tested, none performed so quickly or consistently. Through every test we ran, the 5200 came out shining, and it was the only blender to produce both almond flour and butter without any assistance (we didn't even need to use the included tamper). It also made a sorbet-like substance out of eight ounces of frozen strawberries in under five seconds with no tamping or shaking needed.

Rather than getting stuck in the corners and sides of the blending jar — as we found to be the case with other blenders — the pile of almonds automatically and neatly folded back onto itself as it was ground first into flour and eventually butter. While there are plenty of blenders out there with a dizzying list of presets, we found this simplistic design — with nothing more than a power dial, on/off switch, and a high-power switch (which functions like the 5200's overdrive mode) — the easiest to operate and adjust.

Cleaning this blender was relatively easy. There are no tough-to-reach grooves or gasket channels and the blade is simple enough to work around (though it's best to remove it for proper cleaning).

As a further vote of confidence, we went around New York City noting which blenders smoothie stands were using, and this one was by far the most popular.

Now, there's no way of getting around that this blender costs half a grand, but it will likely last you well over a decade. If spending this kind of money on a blender is out of the question, we have perfectly capable recommendations below for less than half the price.

Best mid-priced blender
a photo of the Cleanblend 3HP Commercial Blender, the best mid-priced blender in 2021

The Cleanblend 3HP Commercial Blender can handle most any task nearly as well as some blenders more than twice its price.

Pros: Powerful, easy-to-use design

Cons: Not as smooth as others, bottom can't be unscrewed for cleaning (voids warranty)

The Cleanblend 3HP Commercial Blender is a surprisingly powerful machine for its size and price. It can take on any basic task with absolute ease, and while making nut butter and almond flour is a bit of chore, it will get the job done.

We found that we needed more than the included tamping tool to scrape the butter-in-the-making off the sides multiple times before we got anywhere near the final product, and ended up having to turn the machine off and use a spatula to do so.

I've been testing this blender for two years and while it doesn't operate as smoothly as some pricier options, it has no trouble reducing ice cubes to uniform shave ice in almost as little time as the Vitamix 5200, and I've easily made 100 smoothies and blended drinks without any issues. 

Cleaning, as with the Vitamix 5200, is about as easy as it gets for a blender. The shape of the jar and the positioning of the blades doesn't leave much in the way of hard-to-reach spaces, there are no strangely-placed gaskets, and the lid and lid cap are easy enough to take apart and clean. 

The only downside is that you can't unscrew the bottom to give that region a thorough wash. Still, in two years of testing, we haven't noticed any alarming signs (such as mold) that would suggest anything is getting trapped in the bottom.

If you want something close to the Vitamix 5200 but just can't reason spending so much on a blender, the Cleanblend is a great alternative and almost identical in design. Nut butter and almond flour aside, it works and cleans almost every bit as well for less than half the price.

Best blender for smoothies
a photo of the KitchenAid K150 blender, the best budget blender in 2021

If all you're making is the odd smoothie, the Kitchenaid K150's timeless design will more than suffice.

Pros: Simple single dial, easy to clean and operate

Cons: Not very good for making almond flour or nut butter, relatively low power

If you're the type of person who only makes smoothies or frozen cocktails from time to time, you probably don't need a state-of-the-art blender. But you still want something that will last. We should note up top that the Kitchenaid K150 is half the price of our budget pick, but that's because we didn't find it particularly effective if you need something that can perform a wide array of tasks outside of smoothies, soups, and purees.

When it came to making nut butters and flour, we were unable to produce either. But that's okay; if you're not getting too ambitious with what you blend, the Kitchenaid K150 is all you need. It has a no-fuss design with one control knob and three settings, plus a pulse setting for crushing ice.

Speaking of ice, when we were comparing blenders, one of the most telling tests was how quickly and evenly they could reduce eight ounces of ice cubes into shaved ice. This one wasn't the fastest, but we still got the results we were looking for within about 10 seconds. We then followed with strawberry-banana and kale smoothies using ice as well. Again, it wasn't the fastest, but within 30 seconds every time, we had perfectly thick smoothies with no inconsistencies, chunks of fruit, stalks, or leaves. Frankly, we couldn't differentiate smoothies that came from this blender from what came from our top pick (more than four times the price).

We also like that the K150 is extremely lightweight, easy to store, and doesn't take up much counter space. And, if you're after the classic Kitchenaid aesthetic but want a slightly beefed-up blender, look at the larger K400, which packs 1,200 watts, five dial settings, and four presets.

What else we tested

What else we recommend and why:

Beast Blender: You can think of this blender as a slightly souped-up Nutribullet Pro, and if you're in the market for a smaller option, this is a great, stylish choice for your kitchen. The thick plastic jars are much heavier duty than most, and the 1000-watt motor is just powerful enough to handle most tasks. What we don't really like is the shape of the jars, which like Nutribullet's, are great for smoothies, but not reducing solids. Still, if you want a basic, attractive blender for your counter, this is a solid choice (and the water infuser and bottle is a nice, if unrelated inclusion).

Breville Super Q: Despite being a large, heavy blender with lots of buttons, this is a truly powerful appliance that runs every bit as smoothly as our top pick, but it wasn't as convenient to clean or store (or move). If you want a food processor and blender in one, and especially if you have your eyes set on stainless steel appliances, this is a great choice.

Kitchenaid K400: This model worked only marginally better than the K150, and while it holds its aesthetic, we think spending just a bit more to get the Cleanblend 3HP, our budget pick, is the wiser move. That said, if you like the looks of it (it's our favorite blender to look at) and only ever make smoothies or frozen drinks, it won't do you wrong.

Ninja Chef: This is Ninja's older model, which we like better than the Foodi. As far as electronics go, this one is highly intuitive, with a dial and recommended settings that light up. As was the problem with any of the more advanced blenders we tested, the recipe settings are calibrated to produce certain amounts, which may not fit your needs.

Vitamix A3500: This model performed about as well as our favorite, the 5200 did, but it also offers five program settings for smoothies, soups, dips and spreads, and frozen desserts. Compatible with all Vitamix containers (as are all bases) this model detects the size of the container you're using and adjusts programming accordingly. This option is overkill for most blender implementations, but if you plan to rely on it for food processing, too, you'll have a very hard time doing any better. We especially like the interface, which is impressively capable while also maintaining simplicity and user-friendliness.

Vitamix 750 Professional Series: This is similar to the Vitamix 5200 in almost every way, except it's slightly more powerful (2.2 horsepower to the 5200's 2 horsepower), and the jar is shorter and wider. We found the jar shape of the 5200 to be the best, and highly recommend it over any other Vitamix, unless you are preparing for larger households or parties, or regularly making the same recipes and looking for something programmable.

What we don't recommend and why:

Cuisinart Hurricane Pro/CBT-2000: Perfectly sufficient for making smoothies, the jar for this model was too wide for other applications, and we found bits of food tended to clump together around the edges and evade the blades.

Ninja Foodi: While this machine is affordable and offers an impressive interface, we found the basin of the jar too large for the blades, and we also found out the hard way that the blades are not affixed to the jar, so when you pour something out, the blade comes with it. We think that by and large, this needs to be addressed by the manufacturer. That aside, it obliterated ice with the best of the blenders we tested.

Vitamix A3300: This is clearly a very powerful machine, but the electronics on it were puzzling, and while we're aware of the initial error in our ways when first loading it (not enough liquid), we received a series of error messages with no option to resolve, even after turning it on and off again. This is far too complex for most people who just want to turn a blender on and get on with their food or drink preparation.

Oster Versa: This is a heavy-duty piece of machinery, and it's priced competitively. We just found that it didn't blend particularly well due to the shape of the jar. If you have short storage space either in or under your cabinets, though, this one is much squatter than most other models.

Our blender testing methodology
blenders filled with smoothie ingredients sit on a counter as part of testing - best blender

We consulted Erika Wong, PureFish's in-house registered dietitian and nutritionist, who also worked as a counselor at Massachusetts General Hospital. Her biggest concerns when choosing a blender are power (her favorite blender carries 1,380 watts), speed (at least a handful of speed settings beyond "high" and "low"), and simplicity. Too many buttons or settings corresponding to specific foods can become confusing, especially when you vary ingredient amounts. "Simplicity is key, and the control panel needs to be easy to use."

With all of that in mind, here's how I evaluated each of the 12 blenders I tested: 

Ice: The blenders we ended up recommending were all able to evenly reduce ice cubes into shaved ice in under 10 seconds. Along with the almond flour and almond butter tests (more on those below), the ice test really set the fast, powerful machines apart from their slower, slightly rougher competitors.

Frozen strawberries: We put six ounces of frozen strawberries in each blender and set them to high in order to see how fast they turned the fruit into mush. The more powerful blenders achieved the task within about 10 seconds. The weaker ones, as well as those with a wider jar design, struggled to finish the job, leaving stray larger pieces to the side or in many cases lacerating but not separating the frozen berries.

Strawberry-banana smoothies: We made strawberry-banana smoothies using frozen strawberries and fresh bananas because of the difference in texture (and also this particular flavor combo's popularity). Across the board, we ran into almost no issues with all of the blenders we tested. The only real difference was the time it took, which corresponded almost perfectly with increments of price. Still, it came down to about 10 to 15 seconds.

Kale smoothies: Because kale is relatively light and airy (we used curly kale), it did prove a little trickier for blenders that didn't make a narrow vortex like the Vitamix 5200 and the Cleanblend 3HP, and the blenders with wider pitchers almost invariably required the use of a tamper. This wasn't a big deal, but it might be a consideration for some.

Almond flour: While our budget and smoothie-only recommendations didn't quite manage an even flour (there were chunks of almond still left behind while the flour at the bottom was beginning to turn into butter), our top recommendation performed the task flawlessly.

Almond butter: Almond butter was by far the most demanding test of them all. While we're confident that with practice and more intimate acquaintance with each blender we could pull it off with any of them, it was a real chore with most, and several didn't make it past the flour stage on the way to almond butter. Again, the wider jars performed the most poorly, as did the lower-powered blenders. In every case save for the Vitamix 5200, we still had whole or nearly whole almonds lingering amongst the flour while at the bottom, the flour was turning to butter. 

Settings: While we tried to work with presets on those machines that had them available, they're only useful if the set portions make sense for your needs — most of us don't really want to make 32 ounces of nut butter at once, for example.

Wattage: We found that at the lowest end of the blenders we tested, 600 watts was still plenty of power to achieve a uniform smoothie. Similarly, while our budget pick packs 1800 watts, our overall pick carries only 1,500 watts, but runs much more smoothly and processes much more quickly. Wattage doesn't always dictate how a blender will perform.

Cleanup: We stated this above as well, but again: Don't underestimate the value of an easy cleanup. Some blenders had a lot of hard-to-reach spots that even a dishwasher might not always effectively hit. Others were downright perilous to clean, and we have the scars to prove it. All of our recommendations above took these considerations into account.

Blender FAQs
blenders filled with nut butter ingredients sit on a counter as part of testing for the best blender in 2021

What is the best blender on the market?

We find that Vitamix's blenders are the best around for power, durability, and versatility. You can do just about anything from blending to food processing with them, and the components are highly durable and scratch-proof.

Do I need a Vitamix?

Deciding whether to invest in a Vitamix can be tricky, but the short answer is absolutely not. If you aren't the type of person who's regularly using their blender for any and all possible tasks, there's no need to make such a steep investment.

But, if you use your blender daily, there are some important considerations to make. Blenders have their work cut out for them: they're built using tiny motors and we tend to demand a lot from them. Like humans, they burn out under too much demand. A powerful machine is a better choice where longevity is concerned, particularly with regular use.

How do you clean a blender?

First and foremost, as always, follow directions from the manufacturer.

The most important part of cleaning a blender is making sure to take everything apart, including the bottom and blades. Moisture has a habit of finding its way into any and all crevices, followed by bacteria and mold.

Depending on the materials of your blender, you may be able to wash its parts in the top rack of your washing machine, but it's generally best to hand-wash them (especially those that warn against blending hot items, as dishwashers could heat and melt certain parts).

The best blender deals from this guide

Blenders can be a pricey upgrade to make in your kitchen, so it's always better to buy with a discount. Blender deals, specifically for our picks, are sporadic throughout the year, but when they do crop up it's usually worthwhile — the Vitamix 5200, for example, typically sees discounts of $50 or more. We rounded up the best blender deals for our picks below. You'll be sure to find a miniature appliance that suits your preference and budget.

Here are the best blender deals available now.

Read more about how the Insider Reviews team evaluates deals and why you should trust us.

Check out our other small appliance buying guides
product image of the Breville 98xl juicer
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If you drink beer you should invest in a set of these glasses that make everything (even Budweiser and Coors) taste more nuanced

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Made-In Teku Beer Glasses

  • Direct-to-consumer kitchenware brand Made In recently launched Teku-style beer glasses.
  • We're fans of their tulip shape and relatively thick, titanium-reinforced shatterproof glass.
  • We tried them with everything from cheap beer to fine microbrews and cider. Here are our thoughts.
Table of Contents: Masthead StickyTeku-style beer glasses, Set of 4 (small)

I'm the kind of person who drinks simple lagers most of the time. And while I love beer, I don't like to fuss too much over the stuff, so by default, I'll drink Coors or Budweiser.

So when I was approached to try Made In's Teku-style beer glasses, I had my reservations. Budweiser and Coors' Banquet beer taste perfectly fine from the can, as far as I'm concerned, and they fit perfectly inside my HydroFlask Cooler Cup.

But, on second thought, maybe the reason I've struggled to get into microbrews is because I don't have the right vessel. Suddenly, a few stemmed beer glasses seemed like a potentially worthy addition to my kitchen cabinets.

What is a Teku beer glass?

If you've ever been beer tasting, there's a decent chance you've encountered glasses of this shape. It's basically a wine glass with some flourish and is also called a tulip glass for somewhat obvious reasons.

A relatively new design in beerware, Italian beer experts Teo Musso and Lorenzo "Kuaska" Dabove brought the Teku (a portmanteau of the duo's name) to life in 2006 as a glass fit for all beers alike. The bulbous, 14-ounce bowl and tulip-shaped rim are what define the glass, and they're designed to offer the most aroma, concentrating it near the top.

"This shape allows beer to cascade, almost like a waterfall, over the rim as you drink," Mandy Naglich, Advanced Cicerone and journalist told me. That resulting motion "forces volatile aromas from hops, malt, and fermentation character out of solution and into the air right as the glass is below your nose. It's like a huge helping of the best parts of beer aroma as you drink."

The bulb shape is also not dissimilar to a wine glass with plenty of room for your nose to pick up aromas, but the tapered rim also supports the beer's "head" or foam by "forcing it in on itself [and] creating a more compact mousse-like texture that will last longer (and look better!) than beers that are poured into your standard pint."

Naglich also said not to overlook the inclusion of a stem, which you can hold to keep certain beers, like lagers, cold, or bypass to warm others, like stouts, with your hand.

First impressions
Made-In Teku Beer Glasses in box

Being on the kitchen beat, I've received a number of barware glasses in the mail. More than a few have arrived in a pile of shards rattling around at the bottom of a box. Made-In, however, did it right. Each glass was individually positioned with extra-thick cardboard with not so much as a micrometer of give. I'd wager that box could be kicked down a flight of stairs or two and the glasses (which also happen to be titanium-reinforced) would remain no worse for wear. Good on them.

How we tested
Made-In Tepu Tulip Beer Glasses with various beers

Before I decided to sully my palate with my usual Budweiser and Coors, I figured I'd try some beers people are more likely to drink from fancy glasses like these.

I went to the bodega around the block and grabbed a dozen different beers, including pilsner, ale, IPA, and cider. Using this guide from Firestone Walker on how to pour a beer into a tasting glass, I sat outside and poured about half of each bottle (or can) into a glass, and left the rest in the bottle for comparison.

Then, I poured Budweiser and Coors, just to see if these glasses changed the drinking experience significantly. 

Lastly, when I was fairly buzzed, I decided it was time to clean up. If these glasses were going to break, now was the time. I purposefully clanked them, knocked them against the hardwood banister leading to my patio, and accidentally let the screen door hit them on the way in, but there wasn't so much as a crack.

Our review of the Made In Teku beer glasses
One of four Made-In Tepu glasses, in-hand, being taste-tested

I sipped from each bottle or can first and then tried the beverage out of a Teku glass, followed by more regular pint glasses you'd find in a bar. I felt that the tulip shape opened the profile of the beer more in its delivery.

I'm not going to describe each and every beer and cider note for note, but I'll say that everything was much more invigorating, and aromas were hard to ignore with the Teku glasses. I got floral notes, sweet notes, and stonefruit notes where I otherwise found little worth noting when I drank straight from the bottle or a pint glass. As beer and cider channeled and flowed over the rim, it was elegantly delivered onto my tongue. We're not talking big, glugging mouthfuls of beer coming from a standard pint glass, but thin, velvety flows.

Ales and pilsners I've always liked well enough, and ones I can recall having drunk from glassware, were suddenly a little more curious to me. Even in the case of my beloved but predictable Budweiser — sipping from the can and the glass, back and forth, I noted an orange-blossom-like aroma and flavor from the glass. Still yet, with the added sweetness it was much drier on the back end than it was from the can, to my palate at least. Coors' Banquet beer was another surprise, and also put out a similarly floral-citrus profile compared with the plainness I tend to find (and still enjoy) from the can.

Each and every beer I tried in these glasses was markedly different from how it tasted from the bottle, and while that will hardly apply to me, I will now be able to appreciate my Budweiser and Coors that much more from here on out.

How long they will last
Two Made In TeKu-style beer glasses, one full, one empty, sitting on a dock.

Made In's beer glasses come with a limited lifetime warranty, which means they'll only cover manufacturer defects. In other words, they're probably not going to help you out of you knock one off your kitchen counter and it bursts into smithereens, but you can't expect to be covered for broken glassware.

To that end, they are dishwasher-safe, and the little included titanium helps reinforce the glasses, but that won't keep protect them from a fall from the countertop. As with any glassware, they'll last as long as you can manage to keep them intact.

The bottom line
Made-In Teku Beer glasses beside other pint glasses

If you're looking for new beer glasses and really want to appreciate the finer notes of your microbrews, I don't think you can do much better. The glass is thick, the tulip shape offers a much more aromatic and flavorful experience, and they're not so dainty that they're likely to end up broken in the bottom of your sink.

I avoid buying anything and everything at all costs. I am not a big consumer. But I'm sold on having a handful of nice beer glasses, and I'd buy these and, furthermore, save space in a kitchen cabinet for them.

Pros: They'll really open up your palate to the beer you're drinking, thick, shatter-resistant glass

Cons: They take up more space and are pricier than your run-of-the-mill pint glass, 14 ounces might seem an odd size (but then a 12-ounce beer with room for head fits pretty well)

Teku-style beer glasses, Set of 4 (button)
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Here’s what you get in a $350 cast iron pot: better handles, but not much else

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The Finex Dutch oven and lid, seasoned on a kitchen counter

  • From stews and roasts to chowders and chillis, a cast-iron Dutch oven is a worthy kitchen addition.
  • We tried popular direct-to-consumer brand Finex's new take on the classic for a range of dishes.
  • While it lacks the fine finish of other brands, we're in love with its handles and heat retention.
Table of Contents: Masthead StickySeasoned Cast Iron Dutch Oven (small)

I've tried more cast-iron cookware brands than I can recall while on the kitchen beat here at Insider, and I've always preferred more affordable brands. Apart from aesthetics, there's not enough difference between the $350 options and the $50 ones for most people. No matter what you spend, cursory maintenance is all it takes to make your cast iron pot last a long, long time.

This is a roundabout way of tritely saying "Enter Finex," an incredibly expensive brand of cast iron cookware. While I'm naturally a skeptic when it comes to pricey cookware, I thought I'd give it a try and see what you get in a $350 cast iron Dutch oven.

First impressions of the Finex Cast Iron Dutch Oven

Just pulling the thing out of the box, I immediately realized what was (arguably) wrong with almost every piece of cast iron in my kitchen. Why hadn't anyone thought to make thick and agile cast iron handles before Finex? These stainless-steel coil springs are the substantial kind you'd find on heavy-duty equipment and outdoor grills in public spaces. They're smooth and rigid, so there's no give, and far as we can tell, little likelihood that they'll ever become dislodged.

They are a definitive alternative to most cast-iron pots and pans, which generally have perplexingly scant handles that make grabbing hold of them (with or without an oven mitt) somewhat precarious, especially for those with weaker wrists.

The other thing that caught my eye was the octagonal design, which simplifies pouring as opposed to a single- or dual-spout design, or no spout at all. This might not matter to some, but it does make pouring that much easier, especially if you're passing it around the dim light of a campfire.

Still, I have to remind you that you can get the same size 5-quart Lodge, Victoria, or Camp Chef Dutch oven that will work every bit as well for about a tenth of the price. Those may not necessarily become family heirlooms you'll pass on, and the small handles can be tough on your wrists. But that's the classic Dutch-oven design, which no one is in any real position to knock.

That said, Finex offers something decidedly more accommodating. Some, like myself, won't take that lightly: decades of repeated wrist injuries have left mine in rough shape, and Finex's design offers relief where others do not, which might be the best thing about this piece of cookware.

Seasoning the Finex Cast Iron Dutch Oven
A seasoned Finex Dutch oven on a kitchen counter

Just like with most any piece of cast-iron cookware, you'll want to season this Finex's Dutch oven pretty well, even though it's already pre-seasoned with flaxseed oil. You can read our guide to seasoning and caring for cast iron here. You'll also do yourself a favor by cooking something exceptionally oily or fatty for your first use (bacon, for instance, is ideal).

The finish is surprisingly a little on the rough side, and in serious contrast with what I've seen from similarly-priced pans from Smithey and Stargazer, in which you can almost see your reflection. Instead, it resembles the finish on the more affordable brands like Lodge, Victoria, and Camp Chef. That's probably the only upsetting part about these ovens. I would have thought (and hoped) that for this price you'd get something much more machined.

Baking no-knead bread
No-knead bread atop a plastic cutting board and beside Finex's new cast-iron Dutch oven.

I hadn't made bread before, so if anyone was going to screw this up, it was going to be me. But lo and behold, a little oil before the dough went in and we had bread in 45 minutes flat.

I can't say it's any better than when I've watched friends bake in cheaper cast iron or All-Clad stainless steel, but it did the job and cooked perfectly evenly. The crust was perfectly crunchy all the way around from top to bottom. I'll chalk that up to the extra weight, as at 12 pounds, this thing weighs almost double what Lodge's version does. Either way, I'm done buying bread from here on out, but that might say a little more about the virtues of no-knead bread than it does about this oven.

Cooking smoked trout chowder
Finex's cast-iron Dutch oven atop a gas stove, cooking fish chowder with a ladle.

I had a pile of trout fillets that needed use after I'd smoked them, so I made a chowder to test how sautéing bacon, onions, garlic, and a few other vegetables and herbs worked out. I had very little trouble with ingredients sticking, and although it let a lot of steam out when I over-cranked the heat, you really don't want to do much heavy boiling in cast iron anyhow. Apart from searing, these types of ovens shine with "low and slow" cooking.

Preparing bouillabaisse (or something like it)
Bouillabaisse and bread served from the Finex Dutch oven

Because everyone recommends against prepping anything with a heavy tomato base in cast iron, I decided to do just that to see how bad it could get. I also left it in the fridge for another two days. While I had a bit of scrubbing to do on the lid, the oven itself was pretty easy to revive with a quick rinse and a fresh coat of oil as I'd treat any piece of cast iron.

Otherwise, the heat retention throughout both cooking processes was impressive, to which I'll also credit the extra weight. Once up to temperature, I dialed the flame back a bit and did not have to adjust anything over the course of an hour.

Compared with my Lodge and Victoria ovens, which tend to get a little too hot a bit more easily, this was appreciated. Is it worth the roughly $360 price jump? No. But it did its job, and when I needed to move the Finex, I didn't burn my fingers to oblivion. In fact, at low-and-slow temps, I found I could generally grab the handles with my bare hands. Just note that while the rapidly cooling coils are great on the stovetop, they're screaming hot (as you'd expect) out of the oven.

Cons to consider
The more coarsely finished Finex cast iron beside Smithey's mirror-like finish.

This pot has some downsides, and it's important to acknowledge them before buying one.

Firstly, and mainly, it's not finished nicely. While the iron is much more solid than what you'll find with cheaper options we recommend and mention above, it's not what I'd expect for the price. Is that really a problem? Certain things like flapjacks and cornbread will not come out as smooth, but it's still going to sear a steak (or anything else) every bit as well.

While the rapid-cooling handles alone are the greatest standout, they don't really matter if you're mostly putting your Dutch oven in the oven. Still, they're easier than most to grab (see the Smithey pan above for contrast), even if you have to use a mitt to do so.

How long it will last
Finex's Dutch oven directly on a campfire

Cast iron is hardy stuff no matter the quality, but the better stuff is almost entirely indestructible and this pan can take about all you can throw at it.

Finex's cookware comes with a "good forever" guarantee, and claims they'll repair or replace the product if you encounter any problems.

If you manage to damage this Dutch oven, though, we'd be shocked. A tiny bit of care goes a long way with cast iron, and this one should last no less than a couple of generations.

For a little guidance, here's the brand's guide to use and care of cast iron, and our own tutorial on how to clean and season cast iron.

If you'd like to shop around for models, have a look at our guide to the best Dutch ovens.

The bottom line

If you're looking to save money, look elsewhere. You just don't need to spend this kind of money on any cookware, period. If you're looking for something to stand proud in your kitchen or around the firepit for many decades to come, you have a bit of money you want to spend, and you also want something that's a little easier to handle than your average Dutch oven, Finex's Dutch oven is a great choice.

On your list of top-shelf cast-iron cookware, file this next to Le Creuset and Staub unless you want a finer finish, which is entirely understandable and something the brand should rethink.

That aside, Finex's take on the Dutch oven is a lot easier to handle than most if not all other options (again, especially for those with weaker wrists), and it cooks bread, stews, and roasts right there with the rest of them. And maybe this is just me, but I think it's a whole lot better looking.

Pros: Great heat retention, heats evenly, shape is great for pouring, quick-cooling and easy-to-grab stainless-steel spring handles

Cons: Not the finest finish, heavy, expensive

Seasoned Cast Iron Dutch Oven (button)
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The 4 best fans we tested in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
  • Fans are useful all year long, and having the right one makes all the difference.
  • Vornado's 660 is our favorite fan overall for most spaces and budgets.
  • It's small, quiet, and comes with four distinct settings, from a gentle breeze to a blast of wind.

Fans are great for in-between weather and shoulder seasons when you're not quite ready to lug out the air conditioner. Depending on where you live and how your home is situated, they can also serve you well all year long.

Even in the dog days of summer, the right fan, or the right system of fans, will eliminate hot spots and help you save on your electricity bill, relatively speaking.

We tested several types of fans, measuring everything from average wind speed and electricity consumption to decibels. We also spoke with Duncan Freake, a mechanical engineer at Epam Continuum, to learn what, if anything, has changed about fans in recent years (or decades).

They have become quieter, safer, more energy-efficient, and more effective, thanks to overlapping blades and bladeless designs with built-in HEPA air purifiers.

The most modern, state-of-the-art fans will cost you and don't suit most budgets, but you can read our other recommendations below. Below are picks meant for all budgets, because we don't think the more modern technology is worth the price jump for most people.

Here are the best electric fans in 2021

Our methodology
Our Methodology best fans

We tested seven fans side-by-side for two weeks to determine which ones offered the best combination of airflow, speed, and energy efficiency. We also spoke with Duncan Freake, a mechanical engineer at Epam Continuum who likes taking apart home appliances in his spare time, about qualities to look for in a fan.

Here's what we looked for in our top picks:

Ease of use: Most fans are fairly easy to use, but the convenience of visible controls or a remote made a big difference.

Durability: More features often mean more problems, and while we still recommend oscillating fans (like our tower fan pick), they're not the sturdiest. 

Power: We measured airflow in feet per second using a wind meter at 6 feet away to determine the average wind speed coming off of each fan.

Energy consumption: We used a basic digital energy consumption meter to measure fans' consumption at their lowest and highest speeds.

Volume: We used a decibel meter to measure how loud fans were at their lowest and highest settings.

The best fan overall
The best fan overall Vornado 660

The variation in speed, five-year warranty, and convenient size make the Vornado 660 the best fan for most spaces.

Pros: Small, quiet, lots of speed variation, smooth 90-degree tilt mechanism

Cons: No remote, a bit large to put on a desk

When you take price, wind speed, energy efficiency, and noise into account, Vornado's 660 Whole Room Air Circulator is the electric fan that fits the widest range of needs and living spaces. 

Its comprehensive variation in wind speed is what sets the Vornado apart from the competition. From a light, cool breath of air to an absolute calamity, the Vornado 660 can offer relief for everything from mild discomfort to, say, a bad spill or even a flood.

Because of its high velocity, it is the fan I turned to after a recent roof leak, and I've also used it to dry wet bicycles after a day in the rain. 

Admittedly, it gets a little loud at top speed, but you probably won't find yourself sitting too close to it at that level. And it's not outrageous; its noise level is on par with that of any high-powered blade fan.

On the other hand, you can barely hear it running when it's at its lowest setting, which offers just enough air for a small room.

The relatively long 6-foot power cord is also appreciated, as it allows you to reposition the fan as needed. 

Considering the Vornado's size and might, we think a couple of these fans would address most anyone's needs, and storing them is completely manageable.

Best budget fan
Genesis best fan 2021

Genesis' Max Cool 20-Inch Box Fan is a great budget option because it moves a lot of air and doesn't take up much space.

Pros: Easy-to-use design, more child-safe than some other options we tested

Cons: Loud, dial could be better marked (but there are only three settings)

A box fan stirs up a lot of air and can be stored easily, while other types of fans may fall short when it comes to output or stowability. Box fans also tend to be more affordable, and while Genesis' 20-inch option isn't the cheapest out there, it's steady, sturdy, and powerful.

It's also relatively loud, though, so keep that in mind if you're looking for something a little more discreet.

We especially like box fans for home-improvement projects that require drying out a room, and they're great for keeping mosquitoes at bay outdoors.

The Genesis is one of the prettier models we've encountered. Thanks to the location of the speed-setting knob, it doesn't have any awkward parts sticking out to prevent it from being stashed away in the attic.

If you want to invest in something quieter, Dyson's Pure Hot + Cool series also heats (at that price, you may as well get a heater, too) and comes with a built-in HEPA air purifier.

Best tower fan
The best tower fan Genesis

The Genesis Powerful 43-Inch Tower Fan offers 18 settings and a sleep timer, as well as the lowest noise levels and the best energy efficiency of any large fan we tested.

Pros: Quiet, easy to use, lots of settings, highly efficient

Cons: Takes up a lot of space, tower fans aren't terribly durable

Tower fans are efficient; often remote-controlled; and covert enough that apart from a relatively subtle drone, you'll hardly notice they're there.

Of the tower fans we tested, the Genesis Powerful 43-inch performed best across the board. It's quiet; offers 18 settings; comes with a programmable timer; and so far, oscillates without any trouble.

We should note that tower fans do have their drawbacks. They tend to break after a few years or as soon as they're mishandled. They are also notoriously difficult to clean. This one requires you to remove a couple of nuts and bolts.

That being said, tower fans tuck away neatly in corners and closets. They're typically quiet, and they usually come with programmable timers and remotes, which are great features for those who don't want to sleep with the fan running (or get up to adjust the settings).

I can sleep easily with the Genesis, thanks to its "natural" and "wind" modes, which are soft and softer, respectively. I find the natural mode works best at night because it's barely audible, and it doesn't wake me with a chill, even with the fan placed at the foot of the bed.

Best tabletop fan
The best table top fan genesis

The most practical and effective fan for small spaces and desktops, Genesis' 6-inch Clip Convertible Table Fan is quiet, adjustable, and moves plenty of air for one or two people.

Pros: Compact, powerful, convertible between clip-on and stand

Cons: Kind of loud, can be too strong if positioned closely

Clip-on fans are ideal for tabletops, largely because you're a lot less likely to knock them to the ground. The Genesis Convertible Table-Top and Clip Fan offers both a clip and stand (easily switched out with a screw and nut), so you can place it wherever and however you like. This comes in handy on desks and in smaller rooms where space is a precious commodity.

We like this fan because it is sturdy, doesn't have an overly ambitious oscillating mechanism (but does rotate manually and clicks firmly into place), and is easy on the electricity bill.

The only real downside is that it does run on the loud side for a small fan, even at the lower setting. But it's still not as loud as most larger fans.

Otherwise, it's great for just about anywhere you might place it within a small room. About 3 feet of distance is more or less appropriate, though we still enjoyed the relief it offered at 6 feet.

What else we tested

What else we recommend and why:

Dyson Pure Hot + Cool Cryptomic HP06: This bladeless fan comes with a built-in HEPA air purifier and also works as a heater, which makes it tempting. Our initial notes are that it offers the best airflow with almost no noise. While that's all great, we find that the price tag doesn't justify that alone. It does work wonderfully as a heater, though, and while we can't say we really noticed a difference in air quality, the filter seemed to be working by the looks of it. If you're looking for the quietest fan possible and happen to need a space heater, too, you'll be happy with this fan. Note: This fan is often out of stock due to its popularity.

Genesis Twin Window Fan: This fan works perfectly well and will likely fit in most windows (you can also install it vertically). However, we prefer using a smaller model like the Genesis 6-inch Clip Convertible Table-Top as a window fan because you can angle it. 

Honeywell Quietset 8-Speed Tower Fan: We highly recommend this fan, which came extremely close to beating out our top pick for a tower fan. The only issue so far is that it's a little on the loud side, topping out at 60 dB, about that of a refrigerator compressor or normal conversation. We're going to keep testing this one for longevity, and it may well knock our pick from Genesis out of its standing.

Honeywell Table Air Circulator Fan: A highly functional fan, this is a great option for small bedrooms, offices, and all budgets. Still, it's a little on the noisy side compared with most desk fans, so you won't want to place it too close to you.

Honeywell TurboForce Tower Fan: We've recommended this fan in the past, but it's relatively loud, and we've since found quieter tower fans. Still, we like the design, and it's powerful, so if you're looking for a tower fan for a particularly large room, it's worth considering. 

Lasko Outdoor Living Oscillating Tower Fan: We're testing outdoor fans for next year because they seem to work better than citronella candles at keeping bugs away. So far, we've only tried this one. While we like and recommend it, we need to perform a little more testing.

Lasko Wind Curve: We've never had any trouble with Lasko's fans (and we've tested a number of them). This one works perfectly well. If you want to save a few bucks, it will certainly suffice in the place of our tower fan recommendation. But it doesn't offer as many settings and programming, especially compared to the Genesis model we recommend above. It's also slightly louder, which might affect light sleepers.

Rowenta Turbo Silence Oscillating Fan: We've recommended this fan in the past, but considering the price, we bumped it out for more efficient, technologically advanced options.

Vornado 173 Whole Room Tower Fan: With Vornado being such a favorite with regular fans (see our recommendation above), we hoped this design would offer something other tower fans don't: a better solution to oscillation. Most oscillating tower fans we've come across eventually start making a clicking noise. Sometimes it's repairable. But it's annoying, especially when you're trying to sleep. This fan has a grate set on a spiraling angle, so it's supposed to cool the whole room without oscillating. While it did span a great deal of the room, it just wasn't powerful enough to compete with our other picks.

What we're testing next

Holmes Lil Blizzard: This might be a contender for our tabletop pick. But we're wary of oscillating fans in general, let alone more budget-friendly ones. Still, it's a favorite around the web, so we'll be giving it a go soon.

Lasko's Xtra AirAn extraordinarily thin tower fan with four different speed settings plus LCD dimming and nighttime settings, this fan is designed and priced well to compete with the Genesis, our top recommendation for a tower fan.

FAQs

What is the quietest fan?

Generally speaking, the quietest type of fan is a tower fan, which also tends to be the most energy-efficient and has the smallest footprint. The only problem with tower fans is that they tend to be more delicate than basic box fans. Still, they pack the most punch for the most compact unit.

If you want the absolute quietest fan we've tried, that'd be the Dyson Pure Hot + Cool Cryptomic HP06. Otherwise, our picks above should more than suffice.

What is the best fan placement for optimal air circulation?

Depending on the type of fan and the shape of your room, there are several ways to optimize circulation.

A window fan tends to be the most effective option when you have a cross breeze and cooler outdoor temps. Obviously, those sit in your window. Multiple fans (of any type) can also help create a cross breeze, especially with as many interior doors open as possible.

For all other fans, including desk and tower fans, face them opposite the wall where you will be the least. This causes the air to disperse and create a wind chill as it mixes with the stagnant air in the room.

Here are a few more tips for cooling down the house.

 

Check out our other heating and cooling guides
Best air conditioner 2021 FAQs
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I’m done with pricey American bed-in-a-box brands. Here’s why.

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Side sleeper mattresses stacked on a floor in a bedroom

I've tested close to a dozen mattresses during my tenure here at Insider; I've donated every damned one. Nothing seems to qualify as firm enough for me. Currently, I'm on yet another "firm" mattress I loathe. Quel freaking surprise.

Testing mattresses might sound delightful, even luxuriant, but haul a dozen mattresses up and down two flights of stairs, packaging and all, and then talk to me. Better yet, just ask our premier mattress tester, James Brains. He'll quell any romantic imagery your mind might have conjured of casually prancing from one bed of clouds to the next throughout the workday.

I'm on a quest to find my be-all, end-all sack. My slumber-till-they-haul-me-out-in-a-body-bag mattress.

At one point, I tested Plank, by Brooklyn Bedding, a two-sided "firm" and "ultra-firm" mattress. I was impressed but passed it along to test yet another mattress I didn't like. While Brooklyn Bedding's Plank was probably my favorite yet, I still feel like I can find something more suitable, especially after bopping around Europe between couches and floors for the better part of a month and deciding that I was sleeping better than I had at home.

And so, lo and behold, I'm reignited. I'm on a mission to find a truly firm mattress again. After sleeping on a slew of cheap mattresses, mattress pads, and camper van beds, I think I may have finally seen the light. How could it be that sleeping on this array of relatively cheap beds in the sweltering southern European summer with no air conditioning was better than my very own state-of-the-art, top-dollar bed at home?

Coming home from an extensive time on the road with what you might otherwise expect to be weeks of poor sleep, the root of my problems became illuminated when I collapsed into my hulking 14-inch-thick mattress from a brand not to be named - I'm not here to trash them - and back into a familiar state of despair. I realized I'd probably get a better night's sleep on the cold, hard, ground, than in my four-figure mattress. The truth was finally clear: no bed-in-a-box brand was going to offer the type of support I'm after.

After a conversation with my partner (she has every bit as much say in the matter as I do, after all), we settled on starting with cheap futon mattresses. The first one we're ordering is this tri-folding one from Milliard. But if that doesn't do it, we're looking to Brains' expertise, and might consider investing in something from Airweave, like its futon mattress, maybe on a platform. His top pick for those looking for a firm mattress is the Airweave Mattress is a little pricier, but it's a little out of our budget, for now. I'll report back soon.

Tri Folding Mattress (Queen) (small)Plank Mattress (small)Mattress (Queen) (small)Futon (Queen) (small)
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I used to scoff at ‘fancy’ charcoal, but these hexagonal briquettes with double the burn time have significantly upped my grilling game

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Prime6 charcoals glowing in chimney starter

  • Prime6 makes charcoal from compressed hardwood sawdust that burns cleanly and lasts up to four hours.
  • We used it alongside our tried and true favorites all summer long, and here's why it wins out.
  • It's also a favorite of "meat magician" Pat LaFrieda.
Table of Contents: Masthead StickyCharcoal (small)

My first experiences with grilling were, far as I can recall, with match-light briquettes, lighter fluid, and goodness knows what else. Of course, go to any park or campground and you'll see much of the same. After all, lighting charcoal is nothing short of a pain in the neck, especially when you're hungry.

Unfortunately, there's no quick way to speed up the process of lighting charcoal, but there are tools, and apparently shapes, that can make it go as smoothly, evenly, and quickly as possible.

I was on the phone with Pat LaFrieda this spring, picking his brain as I often do, and amidst conversations of grilling tools, knives, and sharpeners, I asked him if there was anything new he'd recommend. "Randy Fisher [founder of CREaM] gave me this charcoal. You have to try it," he said.

With that, a strange, hexagonal prism arrived at my door one day shortly thereafter.

What makes Prime6 charcoal different
A venison shank cooking on Kudu grill over Prime6 coals

Before you scoff at the $18.99 price tag for a 9-pound bag of charcoal, know that the four-hour burn time and the claim that it's equivalent to a 30-pound bag of hardwood lump charcoal is no gimmick. In sum, you get double the burn time from one-third the amount of coals.

We held several small gatherings that lasted through the better part of each afternoon, and a small stack of six coals or so did the trick for a steady procession of burgers, hot dogs, and grilled vegetables.

One day, I decided to really put the coals to the test. I pulled out a two-pound bone-in shank, easily a four-hour task. After four hours, I had a fully cooked roast and there was still enough heat leftover from the coals to cook dinner that evening.

How to light Prime6 charcoal
Prime6 charcoal in a chimney starter

You'll want to adjust how many coals you're lighting for how much food you're cooking, but here are the brand's directions, and here's a basic rule of thumb from our guide to the best charcoal grills.

A starter chimney is far and away the easiest way to light these coals. Just place any type of starter beneath the chimney, line the coals up vertically in the chamber, light the starter, and position the coals over the flames.

I used the above amount — about four coals — for two of us, which was plenty to take care of four sausages, peppers, and onions. Had I planned for dessert, s'mores would have been an easy feat with plenty of time to spare. Instead, we sat around the coals for over an hour before we watched them die down.

Light smoking with Prime6 charcoal
Lobster, eggplant, peppers, and venison shank on charcoal grill

Through a little playing around with Cutting Edge's cooking Firewood, I found that lining Prime6's long-burning coals with a piece or two of wood can create a trickle of smoke without being too overwhelming. Everything in the photo was delicately seasoned with a hint of cherry, and we've continued to cook almost everything this way this past summer.

The bottom line
Prime6 charcoals on grill

In the end, these coals are cleaner- and longer-burning than your average charcoal, and they take up about a third of the space of a regular bag of charcoal. And, Prime6 works with One Tree Planted to plant one tree for each pack of Prime6 purchased, so, along with the fact that these coals are chemical-free, you can feel a whole lot better lighting your fire.

Charcoal (button)
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The best coffee grinders for a perfect cup of Joe at home

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

Regardless of whether you brew your coffee with a French press, pour-over setup, drip machine, or espresso maker, the key to getting the perfect cup lies in the quality and consistency of the grounds. In other words, you need a top-notch coffee grinder.

There are two basic types of coffee grinders on the market: burr and blade. Burr grinders are pricier, but they offer more uniform results, carefully crushing coffee beans between two revolving sharp-edged surfaces, or "burrs." You can adjust the space between those burrs to determine the size of the grounds.

Blade grinders, on the other hand, work similarly to blenders, pulverizing coffee beans with a propeller-like blade attached to a motor. While they don't offer the same consistency or control as burr grinders, they're significantly more affordable and can be used to make a decent pot of drip coffee.

We tested every grinder in this guide for grind-size consistency on multiple settings, measured their noise levels, timed how quickly they turned beans into grounds, evaluated their ease of use, and noted any special features. During testing, we found that the brands' recommended settings were often off-target, so we included our own additional suggestions for each machine. You can read more about our testing methods here, along with a rundown of which grind size to use for which brewing method.

What is the best coffee maker?

Here are the best coffee grinders in 2021

The best coffee grinder overall
Best coffee grinders   Baratza's Encore 4x3

The Baratza Encore is a solid entry-level burr grinder that will suit most coffee drinkers' needs, thanks to its wide range of settings, quiet motor, and consistent results.

Pros: Sturdy, nicely weighted, 40 grind settings

Cons: Not ideal for espresso

The Encore won't get you immaculate grounds, but it will reduce the number of boulders and fines (how coffee pros refer to too-large and too-small particles) in each grind. Using Kruve sieves — a set of stacked sifters that separate coffee grounds at your determined grind size from any outliers — we found that the Encore managed between 70 and 80 percent of our target French press grind (600-1100 micrometers), outperforming the other grinders we tested. 

However, when we tried a finer grind for espresso (250-500 micrometers), the results were only 50 to 70 percent on-target, with the irregular particles mostly being fines. A too-small grind can lead to over-extraction, which results in a bitter brew. So, while this machine will serve most home coffee brewers very well, we recommend upgrading to the Baratza Sette 270 if you plan on making espresso regularly. 

Although many of its competitors feature ceramic burrs, the Encore's is made from stainless steel, making it significantly more durable. That being said, all burrs will eventually require replacement, regardless of material. This machine is also among the quieter burr grinders we tested, registering at 74 decibels, or a little louder than a vacuum at a yard away. 

The best coffee grinder on a budget
Best coffee grinders   OXO's Conical Burr 4x3

The OXO Conical Burr Grinder is equipped with a stainless steel conical burr, 15 grind settings, and an attractive finish.

Pros: Stainless steel burr, attractive stainless steel finish

Cons: Only 15 settings, not ideal for espresso, some plastic parts

The quietest of the machines we tested at 70 decibels (a noise level we compare to a vacuum cleaner one yard away), OXO's Conical Burr Grinder is the gadget to buy if you're a French press, drip, or pour-over enthusiast who is ready to trade in their blade grinder for an entry-level burr grinder. 

We ended up with a little more than half of our target French press grind, with lots of fines mixed in, but fared slightly better when we switched to a coarser setting. Our coffee was certainly a step up from the batches made with blade grinders, and if you mainly drink pour-over or drip coffee — in other words, anything that uses a paper filter — the difference in taste between the OXO and more expensive burr grinders is close to negligible.

While we applaud OXO for outfitting this grinder with a stainless steel burr without sacrificing affordability, we found the Baratza Encore's burr to be more robust (it's a leap up in price for a reason). To that point, the OXO Conical Burr Grinder has 15 settings to the Encore's 40, and the former's burr is held in place by a plastic cap while the latter's is secured with a stainless steel wingnut. This isn't to say the OXO grinder isn't worth buying — it's a solid starter burr grinder — but it is a bit flimsier than the other models on our list. 

Espresso is where this machine falls short. If you're looking for an espresso grinder, it's best to choose one of our other picks

The best coffee grinder upgrade
Best coffee grinders   Baratza's Virtuoso 4x3

From ultra-fine espresso grounds to the coarsest settings required for French Press coffee, you can get a quick and consistent grind out of the Virtuoso+ with minimal effort.

Pros: Works for all grind sizes, stainless steel burr, stainless steel finish

Cons: Only one programmable setting, some ground retention within machine, some plastic parts

If you want the best possible grinder for as little investment as possible, the Virtuoso+ from Baratza is the strongest contender we've encountered. It isn't as immaculate in its performance as its sibling, the Sette 270, but it covers just about every grind size and it's equally as dependable. 

This machine's capabilities are right at the threshold of what is required to get truly good espresso (the most finicky grind size) at home. The Virtuoso+ is also what barista trainer Sum Ngai of Coffee Project NY chooses to use at home, citing that it's easy to use, easy to clean, churns out consistent grounds, and offers just enough settings (40 in all) to be viable for any brewing method.

This machine has the same basic plastic basin you get with most budget grinders, so dosing becomes a little more of a chore when you're working with espresso because you can't grind directly into a portafilter like you can with the Sette 270. 

That said, this is a do-it-all package at a reasonable price, and if you take your home coffee seriously, it's a great step toward improving your setup without making a major investment (top quality burr grinders can easily go for four figures). 

The best coffee grinder for espresso
Best coffee grinders   Baratza's Sette 270 4x3

Perfect for home espresso brewers, the Baratza Sette 270 handles grinding and dosing as meticulously as a commercial grinder, but on a consumer scale.

Pros: Perfect for espresso, macro and micro grind settings, high speed, user-friendly interface and programming

Cons: Not ideal for coarser grounds, loud

Achieving the perfect espresso grind requires a finely-tuned auger designed for working with precise, minuscule particles. If you're exclusively making espresso, the Baratza Sette 270 is one of the best machines you can buy.

One of the common issues with coffee grinders is that most will pulverize your beans to dust much smaller than the generally recommended 250-500 micrometers for espresso. This is where the Sette 270 shows what it's made of. While every machine up to this price point left us with 10 to 20 percent fine particles, the Sette 270 produced such a negligible amount of fines that not only could we not weigh them, we couldn't scrape enough together to transfer them from the basin to the scale. 

This machine is easily programmable, with three timed settings you can adjust down to the one-hundredth of a second. 

Going back and forth between a portafilter (for espresso) and a grind catcher is also simple. There are two arms that will hold a portafilter, but by pushing the left one inward and outward, it clears the way for the catcher. Other machines require removing fittings, and we found this to be the easiest to switch back and forth by far. 

Overall, the Sette 270 is an excellent choice if you're serious about espresso, or use a moka pot (which also requires particularly fine grounds), but it might be overkill for less-precise brewing methods. Our top pick, the Baratza Encore, will suit most other coffee-making needs.

The best blade grinder
Krups FT203 blade grinder best coffee grinders 4x3

Krups' F203 blade grinder is powerful, durable, affordable, and features a clear lid so you can monitor the grinding process. 

Pros: Simple, small footprint, long-lasting

Cons: Inconsistent and uncontrollable grind

While burr grinders produce far more consistent coffee grounds than blade grinders, there's no getting around the fact that they're significantly more expensive. And while particle size uniformity is crucial when it comes to making complicated drinks like espresso, that level of precision isn't necessary if you use a drip machine. 

The best blade grinder we've tried is by Krups. It has a simple on and off button, which you hold down to keep the blade spinning. The longer you hold it, the finer the grind will be. 

It took about 30 seconds to produce a somewhat coarse French press grind that landed us on the safer side of not being left with too many fines. If your go-to brewing method involves a paper filter, it's even easier to get away with using a blade grinder: the paper filter will catch the fine particulate so that it doesn't end up as sludge.

We still ran this machine through some espresso tests, but they proved what the pros had warned us about, and we were unable to get anything close to a consistent pour. 

Blade grinders can last an incredibly long time — some friends and family members have had this exact model for over 20 years — while burr grinders require more consistent upkeep and replacement. And, if you ever decide to upgrade to a burr grinder, you can still use your blade grinder to grind spices (burr grinders, on the other hand, are single-purpose machines).

The bottom line is, blade grinders will break your beans down into grounds and you will be able to make decent coffee — provided your go-to brewing method isn't fussy — but you're probably not going to get top-tier results by using one. If all of that sounds fine, the Krups will more than suit your needs. 

What else we tested

Bodum Bistro Electric Grinder: This machine works well enough, and the borosilicate grounds catcher is far more durable than many of its competitors' plastic versions, but there weren't enough settings for this one to make the cut. 

Breville Smart Grinder Pro: This is a good grinder by any measure. It puts out fairly even grounds, it has multiple fittings to accommodate espresso portafilters of different sizes, and its interface is user-friendly. However, we found that the Baratza Virtuoso+ produced more consistent grounds, especially when it came to espresso.

Chefman Electric Burr Mill: For the price, this is an impressive machine. There are some problems with static and consistency, and the ceramic (as opposed to stainless steel) burr isn't ideal, but compare it a blade grinder, and it's worth the extra $15 to $20.

Rancilio Rocky: This is a highly capable, professional-grade grinder, and while we wholly recommend it, we think the smaller, similarly equipped Baratza Sette 270 is a better, more kitchen counter-friendly option for most folks.

Our testing methodology
Best coffee grinders   together 4x3

In testing coffee grinders, I applied several years of tireless personal and professional research on my quest to achieve the perfect espresso pour and all the necessary and auxiliary accouterments that accompany and assist the art of espresso making. We also consulted the more distinguished expertise of Sum Ngai (co-founder of the SCAA-accredited Coffee Project New York), Brooklyn Roasting Company founder Jim Munson), and Home-Barista.com founder and editor Dan Kehn.

Consistency: The most important factor when determining the quality of each coffee grinder was consistency. We used the brand-recommended settings for French press coffee and espresso on each grinder, as well as our own settings, based on expert input, personal experience, and guidelines set forth by The Craft and Science of Coffee. We then measured the grounds with a set of Kruve sifters — a series of stacked screens that separate coffee grounds at your determined grind size from any outliers — to see how many fine particles and boulders were left behind after each grind. 

Once we achieved the best yield of a target size (measured in micrometers), we repeated the process to make sure it wasn't a fluke. In the case of espresso, the aim was 250-500 micrometers. For French press grounds, we shot for between 600 and 1100 micrometers. Keep in mind, though, that these are just general suggestions, and we were testing for uniformity of particles above all; taste-wise, you may have your own grind size preference. 

Settings: We recorded the number of settings on every machine, and tested to see how each grinder performed on several of those settings, noting accuracy, consistency, and speed. Espresso is the most demanding grind size, and you'll need a machine with stainless steel burrs and at least 40 settings. 

Programming: We noted whether or not you could program your own settings, and tested this function on each machine that offered it, docking points for grinders that made the process overly complicated. 

Espresso compatibility: While the ability to produce consistent, uniform grounds in the 250-500 micrometer range is the most essential coffee grinder requirement for making espresso, it's not the only factor we considered. Having a portafilter holder and a programmable interface also streamline the espresso brewing process, and we made sure to note machines with these features. 

Noise: We measured noise levels with a decibel meter, but ultimately this didn't factor too much into our final rankings. Some of the best burr grinders also happened to be the noisiest, but it's an inconvenience we can live with for quality coffee.

What we're looking forward to testing

Capresso Infinity Conical Burr Grinder: This is another burr grinder with an approachable price tag that could be a contender for a budget option.

ComandanteA favorite of Lance Hedrick of Onyx Coffee Labs, several Brewer's Cup champions have used this very grinder in competition. With a cult following online, the Comandante manual burr grinder comes with a language unto itself, as each click on the dial is 30 microns, which helps immensely when learning to grind and brew. Case in point: this overview from Prima Coffee.

Hario Skerton: We're in the process of re-testing this manual coffee grinder for our next update, but you can read our review here in the meantime. Both our original tester and other experts consulted at Coffee Project NY praise it for its portability, consistency, and ease of use.

FAQs
bodum pour over coffeemaker 3

Which grind size should you use for which coffee brewing method? 

In order to decide grind size ranges for particular brewing methods, we consulted experts including Dan Kehn of Home-Barista.com, Sum Ngai of Coffee Project NY, Kruve's grind size guide, and The Craft and Science of Coffee. These are some basic parameters to help you get started.

Brew methodGrind sizeParticle size
AeropressMedium500-900 micrometers
Cold brewVery coarse600-1100 micrometers
DripMedium400-900 micrometers
EspressoFine250-500 micrometers
French pressCoarse600-1000 micrometers
Moka pot/Turkish coffeeFine350-700 micrometers
Pour overMedium400-800 micrometers
SyphonMedium400-800 micrometers

 


How do you clean a burr grinder? 

A quick cleaning of stainless steel burrs involves using a small brush that is almost always included with your purchase of a grinder. Remove the hopper, pop out the burr, and brush it off.

In some cases, especially if it's been a while between quick cleanings, you'll need to do more work to remove the grounds and oils that have been wedged between the burrs. Remove them both and feel free to wash them with soap and water, but they must be perfectly dried — no exceptions — before going back into the machine or you're going to face corrosion.


Are coffee grinders worth it?

Dan Kehn, founder of espresso enthusiast forum Home-Barista.com said a coffee grinder is one of the key investments you can make to get the most out of your coffee. "This is not a weed whacker, it is a precision instrument," he said. A coffee grinder pulverizes your coffee beans to a precise size so that you can extract the most flavor.

A good coffee grinder also consistently produces uniformly sized grounds. That's because the less even your grounds are, the less even the extraction will be, and the more likely your cup of coffee will be over or under-brewed, bitter, or weak. 

Glossary

Blade (grinder): A grinder that works like a blender or a propeller, employing a set of blades attached to a motor.

Boulders: Large grounds that are undesirable because they will under-extract and leave coffee watery.

Burr (grinder): A mill, usually made of ceramic or steel. It consists of a rough-edged pair of abrasive surfaces, one a disc-like shape, the other forming a ring around the first. 

Basin: The container into which the grounds fall.

Fines: Small grounds almost dust-like in size, these are too small to brew as they'll be over-extracted and leave coffee tasting bitter.

Hopper: The basin that stores the beans in the top of a burr grinder, ahead of grinding. You'll usually have to remove this to access, clean, and replace burrs.

Micrometers: The standard unit of measurement for coffee grounds (.001 millimeters).

(Grounds) Retention: The amount of grounds left trapped in the machine and/or burrs after grinding.

Check out our other great coffee-related buying guides
Best espresso machine 2021 flair espresso maker

The best coffee makers


The best espresso machines


The best French presses


The best milk frothers


The best coffee and espresso pod machines


The best stovetop espresso makers and moka pots

Read the original article on Business Insider

The best charcoal grills for the perfect home BBQ

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky
  • A good charcoal grill offers steady heat retention, weather resistance, and years of use.
  • Our favorite charcoal grill is the tried and true Weber Original Kettle Grill.
  • It's well-built, versatile, and offers just the right space to feed two to six people.

A charcoal grill is, at its core, a simple fire basin. The most basic requirement is that it can withstand the elements of any given climate or season as well as a 500-plus degree fire for hours on end.

Related Article Module: The 5 best gas grills in 2021

When it comes to charcoal grilling, kettle grills - sphere-shaped models with vents at the and bottom - tend to be the most user-friendly. Kettle grills come in a variety of materials, which can impact durability and cook quality. We spoke with chef Shola Olunloyo of Studio Kitchen, who told us that if you're opting for a metal charcoal grill, look for stainless steel models, which often cost a little more.

"Cheaper models tend to be made of galvanized steel that's painted with heat-resistant paint," Olunloyo said. "They will work, but they don't last more than a couple of seasons with normal use and exposure." Olunloyo also said pricier ceramic grills are a better option for those with room in their budget because they "encapsulate heat very well, allow good airflow, and work almost like a tandoor."

We also spoke with Steven Raichlen, the television host of "Barbecue University," and author of dozens of barbecue grilling books, including his forthcoming "How to Grill Vegetables." Raichlen backed up Olunloyo, adding that if you're just getting your toes wet with barbecuing, a stainless steel kettle grill is a good starting point, but you can only expect about five years out of them; ceramic grills offer much more durability.

Here are the best charcoal grills of 2021

The best charcoal grill overall
best charcoal grill overall 2021 weber kettle

Weber's Original Kettle Grill has a tried and true design that grills perfectly, lasts years, and doesn't break the bank.

Pros: Easy to use, clean, outfit, and repair

Cons: Not the thickest steel, likely won't last much more than five years

It's hard not to love the design of the Weber Original Kettle 22-inch charcoal grill. It's been around for decades with hardly any changes.

The simple, circular shape naturally gathers charcoal evenly in the basin and makes for even heat distribution. Top and bottom vents allow heat control for direct and indirect cooking (as well as ash catchment on the bottom), and the basin is deep enough to add a pan of water to keep meats from drying out when you're cooking low and slow. 

It's also a fairly weatherproof and highly mobile grill. The tripod leg design makes tilting and rolling a cinch (as does the handle), and because it's such lightweight stainless steel, you can easily pick it up and place it in the bed of a pickup, or store it away for non-grilling season (if such a thing exists). 

We also love how effortless cleaning is; the three-blade ash sweeper and removable ash catcher make disposing of ash easy as can be.

Save for grills made with painted galvanized steel (which, again, aren't built to last), you're not going to find a cheaper grill.

The Weber Original Kettle grill comes in three sizes — 18, 22, and 26 inches in diameter. We like the 22-inch model because it allows you to roast a whole brisket or pork shoulder, but you may want to size up or down depending on your needs. It's also our pick for those on a budget. Buy a cheaper grill as you like, but the difference of about $20 (give or take) isn't worth the loss of several, if not more, years of the good use you'll get out of a Weber.

The best upgrade charcoal grill
best charcoal grill 2021 kamado joe

The Kamado Joe Classic II is a ceramic-lined grill with a teardrop design that burns charcoal efficiently, doubles as a smoker, and retains heat best.

Pros: Excellent insulation and heat retention, fuel-efficient, doubles as smoker, grates set at different heights, sturdy wheel locks

Cons: Heavy, tricky to learn how much charcoal to use (easy to overheat)

As Olunloyo told us, if you have the money, a ceramic kamado grill — a design that originated about 3,000 years ago in Japan — is the best investment you can make in a charcoal grill.

We like Kamado Joe's Classic II because it makes few, if any, concessions in quality, but is priced well. Shockingly, you could find yourself paying much more for a grill of similar if not equal construction.

Unlike some of its competitors, Kamado Joe's Classic II comes with a robust frame, sturdy (if somewhat small) locking wheels, an adjustable grate, and is virtually weatherproof (still, buy a cover).

Unlike simpler, less-sealed grills (including the rest of our recommendations), this one will allow you to cook between 225 and 750 degrees Fahrenheit, and maintain a consistent heat while doing so thanks to the inner ceramic layer, which has an oven effect. This also makes it unbelievably efficient, and you'll be amazed at how little charcoal you have to use to heat it ("Barbecue University" host Steven Raichlen recommends using about half of what you normally would in a stainless steel kettle grill). By the same token, that does make it a little tricky to learn how to use, but with a little practice you'll get the hang of it.

This grill is good for just about anything you might use a charcoal grill for, save for smoking a whole hog, or feeding large parties (but that's obvious of an 18-inch grill), and it excels at both low-and-slow and hot-and-fast cooking.

The only real downside to this grill is that there's no ash-catching tray and you have to clean it out with your hands or a vacuum. Still, if you're looking for the best-performing grill without spending several thousand dollars, you won't find much competition for the Kamado Joe Classic II.

The best portable charcoal grill
best charcoal grill 2021 weber smokey joe

Weber's Smokey Joe is everything we love about the brand's Original Kettle grill, but is travel-sized and even more affordable.

Pros: Lightweight, same design as our top pick

Cons: Not entirely spill-proof, bulky for a portable grill

If you're in the market for a portable charcoal grill, the first thing that you need to know is that they're messy. They're all liable to leak, spill, and trash the trunk of your car, so don't set out without a storage bin or a large, heavy-duty sealed bag to contain grease, ash, and grit.

There are tons of portable grills out there, but the most basic and familiar is the miniature version of our top recommendation, Weber's 14-inch Smokey Joe.

It handles about five (crowded) burgers on the grate, so it's plenty for a normal carload of people, which we find is just right.

If you're looking for something highly portable for camping, there are plenty of fancy options out there, and if you want to spend a few hundred dollars on something extra compact, we really like Snow Peak's. If you're looking for a fire pit and charcoal grill in one, check out Picnic Time's X-Grill, which folds and comes with a pouch to contain the mess — I tend to keep this one in my car, and while it's not the best for cooking, it manages just fine.

Still, if you're looking for something basic and affordable, the Weber Smokey Joe is as convenient and easy to use as our top pick, and it's going to last every bit as long.

The best extra large charcoal grill
best charcoal grill 2021 masterbuilt

Masterbuilt's charcoal grills are ruggedly built to accommodate the largest jobs, but cost a fraction of the price of the upscale grills on the market.

Pros: Solid steel and cast-iron materials; easily loads from front; adjustable rack height; large, sturdy casters

Cons: Heavy, relatively lengthy setup process, doesn't seal perfectly, 1-year limited warranty

If you're looking for a big charcoal grill, barrel-style smokers are the most common. Because these grills (which are traditionally made using 55-gallon steel drums) are favored for use as smokers, they depend on a quality gasket system that doesn't allow smoke or heat to exit anywhere but the chimney(s). 

That's why, after scouring retail store floors as well as the decks and patios of neighbors and friends, we settled in on Masterbuilt's 36" Charcoal Grill. We haven't found anything quite as heavy-duty for anywhere near the price, though we did find plenty of similarly-priced grills made using lesser materials. 

For most people, this is a great and affordable option (the brand also offers a 30-inch model at $200). Its outer parts are made with robust stainless steel and cast iron, and the cast-iron grates (while a pain to clean) are hardy.

There are two side-arm tables, which offer a lot of resting and work space that comes in handy when working with a grill so large. Speaking of which, you can easily fit over 20 burgers on here, or a couple of racks of ribs, or up to about eight chickens, and when you're not cooking for a full party, simply start a fire on one side and you have a massive multi-zone cooking station that'll allow you to do anything from sear, to cook low and slow, and even smoke. 

Lastly, it's great for wood-smoking, too, thanks to the front-loading door that lets you slide entire split logs into it.

What else we considered
best charcoal grill 2021 what else

Big Green EggThe Big Green Egg and the Kamado Joe are almost identical and stack up neck and neck, with the exception just a few considerations. The Kamado Joe comes with everything you need, while the Big Green Egg is merely the egg itself, meaning you'll need to buy the stand and the side tables, so it gets a bit more expensive (and also more complex to set up). The Kamado Joe  also has sturdier (if smaller) casters (wheels). In terms of cooking, the Kamado Joe is designed with adjustable grates for cooking at different levels, and also has a counterbalanced lid so that it's both easier to lift and it doesn't slam shut on you while your hands are full.

Broil King Keg 5000: A kamado-style grill but made with double-walled stainless steel instead of a ceramic liner, this should function like a Kamado Joe or Big Green Egg, but might not last as long. It probably won't do you wrong, but you may want to save up and invest in a ceramic model down the line. 

Char-Griller Acorn Kamado Kooker: A more affordable take on the kamado (made without a ceramic liner), this grill outperforms our top pick in heat retention, but at more than twice the cost. It's a fine grill and we wholeheartedly recommend it, but we think the Weber is the better pick for most people and most budgets.

Char-Griller Double-Play: A two-in-one gas-and-charcoal grill, this is a fine option, but it's not built as well as we'd like, as we noted a few flimsier parts including the wheels, the hardware, and the grate, and the lid doesn't seal terribly well. You'd do better buying your gas and charcoal grills as separate items.

IG Charcoal Grill: We're a big fan of this grill, especially considering the price. If you want to cook over a large, open, adjustable bed of coals, this stainless steel grill can take a beating. We've left it out in the elements (and a stone's throw from the Chesapeake Bay) for two years and counting without so much as a spot of rust. Still, we wouldn't recommend it for most people as it's oversized and doesn't come with a cover, so you have no way of trapping heat. Read our full review of the IG Charcoal grill here.

Kudu: If you want a heavy-gauge steel grill that's going to last ages and make you feel like you're homesteading across the great divide, look no further. We love this grill, and highly recommend it. It also makes for an excellent campfire. But when it comes to cooking, it's probably a little too involved for most people. That said, if you want to sit beside a grill and enjoy the heat and atmosphere (this thing also excels with wood fires), it's a wonderful option. Steven Raichlen is a big proponent, too.

Nexgrill 29-inch Barrel Charcoal Grill/Smoker: if you're on a tight budget or you just want a charcoal grill (and smoker) in a pinch, this is the best you're going to do, and you will make do. Our hesitation is that this is one of those grills that you could outfit with gaskets to function very well, but the quality of the parts means it's not destined to survive past a couple of years with moderate use.

Our testing methodology
best charcoal grill 2021 methodology

During our most recent round of testing, we retested our top pick alongside two other contenders to determine which ones were the most convenient to use, offered the best surface area (and use of said surface area), and considered ease of cleaning as well.

In order to select the grills we tested, we walked through The Home Depot and Lowe's to consider options, disregarding grills made with inferior parts or use questionable construction materials, and also taking price ranges into account.

We also spoke with several experts in the field about what to look for in a charcoal grill, from chef Shola Olunloyo of Studio Kitchen, to veteran author and TV host Steven Raichlen, and famed New York City butcher Pat LaFrieda.

Here's what we looked for in our top picks:

Ease of use: While a reasonable surface area is a given, we looked for grills with sturdy stainless steel or cast-iron grates, good (open) spacing to allow heat to pass through, and a raised edge to prevent food from rolling or falling off the surface. We also considered the ease of cleaning, and made sure there was a reasonable way of disposing of ashes. Surprisingly, we learned that many charcoal grills don't offer ash catching systems.

Material quality: Grills have to live outside, generally, and while you should purchase and use a cover, a grill is going to have to stand up to some abuse with normal use. We looked for quality stainless steel or ceramic, and seeing that those grills tend to get expensive, we also looked for thinner steel with enamel coating (rather than easily chippable and not-so-rust-proof paint). We also took caster and wheel quality into consideration.

Performance: Of course, performance was a factor we considered as well, but because charcoal grilling depends so largely on the material of the grill, as well as the type, amount, and placement of fuel you use, we chose to focus on the experience of using the grill and the quality of the materials and the design itself. We didn't encounter any grills that cooked poorly, but if we did, they would've been immediately disqualified.

Warranty: While there's not much a warranty will cover if you misuse (or neglect) your grill, it's good to know when a brand stands behind its products. Because of its prolific presence and its 10-year warranty (on the bowl and lid) to many other brands' one-year warranty, Weber was an easy pick in this department. And while Masterbuilt sadly only offers a year, it's in line with contenders of similar size and price (though we'd still love to see a better warranty offered by the brand).

What we look forward to testing
Best charcoal grill 2021 what we’re testing next

Masterbuilt Gravity Series: These are pellet-grill style charcoal grills, that self-feed charcoal from a hopper into the grill box. We are enamored with this idea as you can't always go around the corner to the hardware store or bodega to get pellets, but charcoal is almost always widely available. We've also heard pretty good things, but we'll wait to try first hand.

Napoleon 22" Pro Charcoal Kettle Grill: About twice the price of our top pick, but roughly the same design, we're looking to see if there's anything that makes it worth the price jump.

Everything you need to know about charcoal grills

How charcoal grills work

A charcoal grill is a metal/ceramic container that can hold burning charcoal in the bottom. You place the food you want to cook on a metal grate in the center of the container, above the charcoal. Closing the metal container's lid when cooking holds in the heat. The direct heat from the charcoal sears the bottom of the food, while the indirect heat circulating throughout the grill cooks the food. Leave the lid off the grill if you only want to use direct heat.

When it comes to techniques for lighting charcoal and for understanding how charcoal works, charcoal manufacturer Kingsford is a great resource. Charcoal is the ideal fuel for grilling because it burns hot for searing, but it also burns for a long time, creating plenty of indirect heat for slow cooking. You can add wood for smoky flavors with charcoal grilling, too.

Charcoal grills differ from propane or gas grills in that charcoal doesn't produce a continuous flame. Charcoal leaves a gray ash after the flame consumes it, while a propane grill leaves no ash.

Key differences in charcoal grills

Here are some of the biggest differences to consider when shopping for the best charcoal grills:

  • Grilling versus smoking: Some charcoal grills can double as smokers, meaning they cook meat very slowly, using more indirect heat than direct heat. You'll need a charcoal grill with an especially large interior to smoke meat.
  • Large versus small: A large charcoal grill will offer a big cooking surface, making it good for someone who wants to cook for several people at once. If you want more of a portable grill to take to tailgates or camping, though, you'll have to sacrifice the cooking surface for portability.
  • Using indirect grilling: If you are looking to cook meat slowly without searing, but you don't have the time for smoking, indirect grilling is the technique to use. You'll place the lit charcoal on one side of the charcoal grill and the meat on the opposite side. You need a large charcoal grill to make use of this method, though.
  • Controlling cooking temperatures: Achieving precise temperatures with a charcoal grill is difficult. However, if you want a bit more control over the temperature inside the charcoal grill, the unit should have air vents on both the top and bottom. Additionally, you should be able to adjust the height of the grate over the charcoal.
  • Headroom: If you plan to cook poultry or beef roasts — any food with some height to it — make sure the charcoal grill is tall enough to accommodate the food with the lid attached.

How to build a charcoal grill

Charcoal grills can be as elementary as you want them, so yes, you can absolutely build a charcoal grill if you have some time and patience. Pitmasters have cut barbecues out of 55-gallon steel drums for generations, and while that's a little more involved, it's not unfeasible.

One of the easiest methods, as told to us by Olunloyo, is a three-walled structure with a fourth side exposed, using cinder blocks and cement, making sure to start on a safe surface:

  • The size and shape is entirely up to you, but stack the cinder blocks in a U-shape as high as you'd like, but not so high that the heat from your fire below won't reach the grate you'll place on top.
  • Once you've decided on your dimensions, you can cut or order a grate from any industrial metal metal supplier that sells fencing or square grates, and ask for 3/16" or ¼" stainless steel (either a grate or a flat top, as you like) to be cut to size. This will be the costliest portion of the build, but also the most crucial.
  • Once you have the grate or flat top, be sure to hone the rough edges for safety, and then place it on the cinder-block structure and wipe or spray it with any cooking oil (Olunloyo recommends olive oil spray), saturate it, and get it plenty hot before cooking.
Check out our other great grilling gear guides
best charcoal for grilling
Read the original article on Business Insider

30 gifts for the outdoor lover in your life – including gear for camping, climbing, fishing, and traveling

When you buy through our links, Insider may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Friends eating and drinking with Hydro Flask Outdoor Kit
  • Footwear, cookware, drinkware, and outerwear; it takes a lot to accommodate a 21st-century human in the great outdoors.
  • There's an endless list any outdoorsperson is in need of but we've compiled a few ideas to make shopping easier.
  • If you need more gifting inspiration, check out all of our gift guides here.

The easy thing about shopping for the outdoorsy sorts in your life is that chances are good they're in need of one thing or another - be it an upgraded pair of hiking boots, a new set of binoculars, or any sort of knickknack or otherwise they can stuff into a backpack.

And no, playing around in the dirt and water is not a cheap hobby: Whether they're climbing, fly fishing, camping, surfing, or just hanging at the beach, there are certain pieces of equipment that are simply essential, no matter the cost. But not just anything will do - good gear is good gear, and there are no cutting corners to produce it.

Below is a roundup of some gear (most of which we've tried and depended upon ourselves) that should fit the bill.

The top 5 gifts for outdoor lovers:

  1. A smokeless fire pit that also charges their phone ($250)
  2. A cast-iron set equipped for any fire ($93)
  3. A pair of comfortable, yet durable hiking socks ($26)
  4. The wildly popular L.L. Bean Boot ($139)
  5. A wool blanket that'll be in their kit for decades ($150)

Here are 30 gifts fit for any fan of the outdoors:

This gift guide includes a sponsored product that has been suggested by Hydro Flask. It also meets our editorial criteria in terms of quality and value.*

A nearly smokeless fire pit (and grill) that charges your phone
BioLite fire pit

BioLite FirePit, available at Uncommon Goods, $250

Thanks to the vortex created by its Bluetooth-controlled fan, Biolite's Firepit is so smokeless you could almost light it indoors. Biolite strongly discourages your doing so, but it's good peace of mind for those who fear a faceful of campfire smoke. 

Boots fit for it all
Bean Boots

Men's Bean Boots, available at L.L. Bean, $139

Women's Bean Boots, available at L.L. Bean, $139

If they've never owned a pair of these, it may be about time.

An outdoor kitchen set fit for any meal
Friends eating and drinking with Hydro Flask Outdoor Kit

Hydro Flask Outdoor Kitchen Set, $287.60

Picnics, hikes, or campsites — no matter what your next adventure brings, it'll likely be even better with some good food. Hydro Flask's complete outdoor dining set comes with a plate, bowls, a tumbler, flatware, and serving spoons, so your next meal will be ready to follow you wherever life takes you.

*Sponsored by Hydro Flask

A guide to mastery of outdoors-person-ship
Kaufman Mercantile guide

The Kaufmann Mercantile Guide, available at Amazon, $24.95

Chop wood, build a fire, carry water, and so on.

Comfortable, yet durable hiking socks
Darn Tough socks

Darn Tough Merino Wool Hiking Socks, available at Darn Tough Vermont, $26

Dubbed our best overall hiking socks, these socks are just as Darn Tough as the name implies, all while remaining snug and flexible. 

A waterproof, drop-proof, virtually life-proof smartphone case
Lifeproof cases

LifeProof cases, available at LifeProof, from $39.95

If they really spend time in the great outdoors, this will save their phone exactly 15 times per year, give or take.

A boxful of fishing tackle
mtb

Mystery Tackle Box Gift Boxes and Subscriptions, available at Karl's Bait & Tackle by Catch Co, starting at $16.99 per month

Available in three sizes, and in subscriptions, you (or they) can pick the general type of tackle they receive based on their target species and angling methods.

A small but perfectly functional, does-it-all packable cutlery set
Opinel Nomad Kit

Opinel Nomad Kit, available at Amazon, $85

Opinel Oyster Blade, available at Amazon, $20

This kit, complete with hardwood cutting board, microfiber towel, serrated blade, straight blade, peeler, and wine opener, is all you really need to perform campfire meal prep. Toss in an oyster shucking tool for good measure.

A handmade bota bag
Bota bag

Traditional Handmade Bota Wineskin Bag, available at Amazon, $106.95

Nothing screams an afternoon sauntering through the Pyrenees like a bota bag. And there's nothing more romantic than that.

A sleeping bag built for bivouac, alpine camping
Patagonia Hybrid Sleeping Bag

Hybrid Sleeping Bag, available at Patagonia, from $158.99

Grade VII Down Parka, available at Patagonia, $899

For serious climbers, this half-weight (already lightweight) down sleeping bag, paired with a belay parka, is all they need for a sound(ish) night's sleep dangling from Half-Dome.

A backpack for all the essentials
Osprey Atmos

Osprey Atmos AG 65 pack, available at REI, $270

The Osprey Atmos/Aura AG 65, is incredibly versatile, spacious, and comfortable – the combination of which has earned it the Insider Reviews title of the best overall hiking backpack

A portable stove (and pizza oven) they can pack in that also charges their phone
BaseCamp PizzaDome Bundle

BaseCamp stove and PizzaDome, available at BioLite, $299.95

Okay, so maybe it's a bit cumbersome for a true trek, but a short hike to a campsite with this handy little kit will have them cooking, baking, or firing off pizzas just about anywhere they so please. The heat this thing generates also charges a battery, which can then power anything that runs through a USB port. Far out, indeed.

A waterproof, drop-proof, and virtually life-proof power pack
lifeactiv

Lifeactív Power Pack 20, available at LifeProof, $79.99

At 20,000 mAh, it can even charge their laptop out in the wilderness and also comes equipped with a flashlight.

An eco-friendly scarf for the slopes
stioscarf

Stio Turpin Fleece Scarf, available at Stio, $35

If that gator isn't quite their cup of tea, this recycled heather fleece scarf ought to do the trick.

Sturdy cooking irons for the campfire
Cooking Irons

Cooking irons, available at Camp Chef, from $18

No more flimsy sticks or dropping precious dinners into the fire.

A wool blanket to last a lifetime
Faribault throw

Faribault Cabin Wool Throw, available at Faribault Woolen Mill, $150

Few wool brands bear as much heritage as Faribault.

A fresh pair of binos
Nikon binoculars

Nikon 8x30 ProStaff Binoculars, available at B&H, $186.95

Whether they're tracking game or wayfinding, be it by land or sea, these won't go unappreciated.

Proper gear protection
Pelican suitcases

Pelican luggage, available at Amazon, from $316.24

Cameras, laptops, lights: Whatever they're dragging around the world, they can always use another one of these (and if this is their first, then it's about time).

A campfire defender to keep their campfires (and maybe them) dry
Campfire Protection

Campfire Safety Cover Pro Kit, available at The Grommet, $150

It's not much, but it'll make all the difference.

A 6-piece cast iron set built for any fire
Camp Chef iron set

6-Piece Cast Iron Set, available at Camp Chef, $93

A dutch oven, another one with a skillet for a lid, a regular-sized pan, and even a steel stand for the fire. What else do you really need for cookware in the bush?

A bracelet to save the seas
4ocean

4ocean Bracelet, available at Amazon, $20.55

4ocean pulls a pound of trash from the oceans and/or coastlines with every bracelet purchased. Since the project began in 2017, 4ocean has removed nearly 10 million pounds of trash from waterways and coastlines.

A highly stowable vacuum sealer
foodsaver

FoodSaver Space-Saving Vacuum Sealer, available at Kohl's, $87.99

So they (and you) don't have to endure any more spoiled and/or freezer-burned fish and game.

A 2-in-1 beer cozy (can or bottle) and cocktail cup
Hydro Flask cooler cup

Hydro Flask Cooler Cup, available at Hydro Flask, from $18.71

Longnecks, stubbies, cans (of any size), cocktails: This thing can cradle them all.

A sleeping bag fit for winter
Nemo sleeping bag s

Nemo Equipment Inc. Sonic 0 Sleeping Bag, available at Backcountry, from $549.95

If they're into winter camping, or considering it, start them off right.

Sunglasses that contribute to shark conservation
Costa Del Mar Ocearch

Costa Del Mar Ocearch Sunglasses, available at Amazon, from $140

Ocearch is on the forefront of shark research, catching and tagging fish that, at points, scientists never thought possible. Help support Ocearch by helping your loved one(s) protect their retinas out there.

A highly durable reusable insulated water bottle
Person holding a reusable water bottle

Insulated TKWide 32-ounce with Chug Cap, available at Klean Kanteen, from $40

A trusty reusable water bottle is a must for anyone who spends even a little bit of time outside, be it camping, backpacking, or hiking. The fact they have such a positive impact on the planet doesn't hurt, either. 

An adventurer, after all, needs the right hat
Filson hat

Packer Hat, available at Filson, from $70

That ratty old baseball cap just doesn't speak to their soul. Get them something that does, and will last.

A palatial tent upgrade
Wawona 6 Tent

Wawona 6 Tent, available at The North Face, for $399

This will change their world.

A classy bamboo fly rod
Bamboo rods

Bamboo Fly Rods, available at Orvis, from $2,998

If they've put in their years with graphite and fiberglass, it's time they uphold the tradition of fly-flinging to its utmost.

A high-grade stainless steel decanter with magnetic tumbler glasses
highcamp

High Camp Firelight Magnetic Flask Decanter Set, available at High Camp Flasks, $125

So they stop smashing their fifth of fancy Scotch on their way up the mountain.

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