The Best Portable Charcoal Grills out There
he only thing better than a summer camp out is a summer camp out combined with a summer grill out. Food cooked over a fire pairs perfectly with the great outdoors. Or maybe the tailgate party is more your speed?
Whatever your personal cookout style, a portable charcoal grill is ready to go where you go. These pint-sized pits bring fun and authentic barbecue flavor to any gathering near or far. Read on to explore our picks for the best portable charcoal grill.
We’ll be comparing the Weber Jumbo Joe Charcoal Grill, the Weber Go-Anywhere Charcoal Grill, the PK Original Outdoor Portable Charcoal Grill and Smoker Combination, the Fox Outfitters Original Folding Charcoal Grill, and the Char-Broil Portable Tabletop Charcoal Grill. Add one of these to your life and a juicy grilled hamburger will never be far away.
You don’t have to be an outdoorsman or have a big yard to use one, either. These small grills can be set up in a park or even in a driveway and tucked away for storage. All you need to satisfy your smoky barbecue ribs craving is a sack of charcoal and a few simple tools. And the ribs, of course.
Charcoal: The King of BBQ
No other form of cooking quite replicates the flavor created by searing food over red-hot glowing coals. Heat crisps and caramelizes the surface of meats and edges vegetables in just the right amount of delicious char. Your food absorbs the savory, irresistible flavor of the smoke. Cooking over fire was, of course, the first kind of cooking and for many of us, it still holds an echo of that primal thrill.
Grilling innovation has come a long way since our cave days. Other kinds of grills like gas and electric have their strengths. Traditionalists agree, however, that nothing will be quite the same as grilling over charcoal.
The first charcoal cooking would have happened as hot coals built up in a pit fire that had been tended for hours or even days. Water and volatile organic compounds in the wood burned off, leaving an intense, clean heat with less smoke. Modern charcoal is made by doing those messy first steps before packaging. What you buy as the lucky end-user is either chunks of processed wood (“lump charcoal”) or charcoal briquettes that are compressed blocks of charcoal dust.
Get This Party Started
Sure, it’s hard to get easier than flipping the switch on an electric grill. Some, especially newcomers to charcoal grilling, find that getting the charcoal burning is tricky. The great thing about lighting charcoal, however, is that it’s technology-free. No outlet needed and no electronics to fail.
The best way to start your charcoal is by using a chimney starter. They’re metal cylinders with a handle that look sort of like a large pitcher with vents at the bottom. The purpose of a chimney is to allow fire from a quick-burning starter material like paper to pass through the charcoal from below in a concentrated area. The fire has plenty of room to draw in oxygen and is able to spread quickly through the charcoal.
A chimney starter is an excellent addition to your grill kit whether you’re using a large or small grill. They’re inexpensive and make starting a grill much easier. They also eliminate the need for lighter fluid, which can add undesirable flavors and chemicals to food.
To use a chimney starter, pile in your favorite charcoal. Tuck a loosely wadded piece of newspaper in the bottom underneath the grate, then use a long-handled match or lighter to light the paper. Set the chimney on your grill grate where any falling embers will land safely inside the grill.
The charcoal will take five to ten minutes to light. You’ll know it’s all burning when a layer of white ash begins to accumulate on the topmost pieces. From there, give it about ten more minutes to build the heat up, then carefully pour it into your grill. Remember, it’s very hot! Use a grilling glove.
Give Your Grill a Breath of Fresh Air
Once the coals are started, you’ll want to control the airflow to make sure they stay hot but only as hot as you want. Most grills will have one or more vents, or “dampers”, at the bottom and the top. Heat rises and fire needs oxygen to burn. Burning coal draw air in at the bottom and the rising heat pushes it out the top, creating an updraft that feeds the fire. How far open these vents are will determine how hot those coals are burning.
For a more in-depth look at using a charcoal grill, check out this overview Bon Appetit’s editor-in-chief.
The Best Portable Charcoal Grills
At a glance:
- 19.7”H X 19.7″W X 20.5″D
- 240 square inches of cooking area
- Weighs 18 pounds
Weber’s classic round kettle-style grill is an icon of backyard cooking. They took a good design, perfected it, and then shrunk it down to bring you the Jumbo Joe. The body of this grill is the same porcelain-enameled metal as its older siblings, meaning it resists rust and the paint doesn’t peel. The wide ash pan helps control the mess and make sweeping the grill out easy. Weber’s heat shield protects your fingers when you grab the lid.
Joe’s cute, but don’t underestimate his cooking power! This super-transportable grill can fit up to eight burgers at a time. The Tuck-N-Carry lid lock can be used as a holder so you don’t have to set the lid on the ground when you’re not using it. It’s the little things.
At a glance:
- 14.5″H X 21″W X 12.2″D
- 160 square inches of cooking area
- Weighs 14.5 pounds
The Go-Anywhere Charcoal Grill, also from Weber, is about the size of a toolbox. The clever base folds up to lock the lid in place when being stored or transported. It’s got a sturdy handle on the top and both sides, and four vents to help you control the fire.
There is absolutely room in your trunk to take this on your next road trip. It’s downright diminutive. That small space is efficient, however. Cook up a half dozen burgers for yourself and a few friends, then stow it away again while you move on to your next destination. It’s an endless summer in a box.
Even in so small a package, Weber doesn’t scrimp on quality. The porcelain-enameled steel won’t rust and the handles are the same glass-reinforced nylon as their big grills. The Go-Anywhere grill is ready to keep up.
At a glance:
- 14.5” H X 26.3” W X 19.5” D (without stand)
- 310 square inches of cooking space
- Weighs 48.5 pounds
This grill-smoker combo is where portable grilling gets really serious and seriously awesome. PK’s capsule design is made out of heavy gauge cast aluminum with an airtight seal, meaning it holds heat and you have total control over how much. This design allows it to achieve and maintain steady temperatures anywhere between 180°F and 750°F. Sear a perfect medium-rare steak? Yes. Smoke a turkey all day long? Also yes!
When you’re done, you can close it up and cart it off to your next adventure. The removable stand is easy to move, provides some storage underneath for necessities and a side table for prep space. The grill is the real star here, though.
If you like to be in charge of the barbecue at community events or family gatherings but want the control of your own equipment, this is the grill for you. Your services will definitely be in demand.
At a glance:
- 8.5”H X 17.5”W X 13”D (assembled)
- 18.5″ X 7.25″ X 2″ (folded)
- 210 square inches of cooking space
- Weighs 7.6 pounds
Fox Outfitters’ folding Quick Grill maximizes the relationship between cooking area and storage space. When assembled, there’s a generous amount of room to cook up a good meal for a group. When you’re done, the Quick Grill folds flat into an included storage bag. The whole thing is made out of food-grade stainless steel so it’s easy to clean and long-lasting. It’s also quick to set up with no tools needed.
At a glance:
- 15” H X 20.5” W X 12” D
- 190 square inches of cooking space
- Weighs 8 pounds
The Char-Broil Portable Tabletop Grill is the most affordable grill on our list. It’s basic, simple, and light but still has enough room for a half dozen hamburgers. The folding legs double as a lid lock, meaning you can tote it along easily with no hassle.
This small and easy grill is a great way to take your next picnic up a notch to on-the-go barbecue. There’s no fuss taking it places and setting it up, so a grill out away from home is not a huge production. We’re always there to bring more barbecue to life!
Best of the Best
Even at just under 20” high, the Weber Jumbo Joe stands highest in our esteem. There’s just no denying that this solid, well-crafted piece of equipment has all the features and functions of a big grill, miniaturized. When space is at a premium but you still need the durability and performance Weber is known for, Jumbo Joe will not let you down.
Keep your next party sizzling with a portable charcoal grill. You can have all the biggest flavors no matter how small your space is, or how far you choose to roam.