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What better way to enjoy good company than an alfresco nosh-up around a flaming barbecue.?
In this guide we’re looking at small, mostly portable barbecues for patio and balcony use, camp sites, picnics and wilderness grilling.
How to choose a portable barbecue
There are three main types of barbecue fuel – charcoal, gas and compressed wood pellets. Portable BBQs come in a variety of sizes and styles. Some of them are too heavy to carry a great distance.
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But on the plus side, they take up little space in a car and are absolutely perfect for balcony and patio use. Grill size is an important consideration when choosing a suitable model but the good news is that most portables will have enough grill space to entertain from four to six people.
Charcoal is far and away the most readily available fuel source and the most authentic. In fact, many chefs swear by it for imbuing flavour. Charcoal barbecues are also the cheapest to buy, which is hardly surprising given that they are so simple in structure and concept.
The main issue with charcoal of the lump-wood variety is that it burns quite fiercely and very quickly, so the key thing is to light it about 40 minutes before putting on the first sausage. Add the food too soon while the charcoal is still flaming and it’ll be scorched to a cinder and taste like burnt wood. Put it on too late and the charcoal may run out of puff before the food’s cooked through.
Briquettes are much easier to use because they burn for much longer and at a much steadier pace, though they take even longer to reach optimum temperature. However, choose your briquettes wisely because some of them are full of nasty chemicals. We would recommend Weber and Heat Beads.
Gas makes barbecuing really easy because you can tame or turn up the flame instantly simply by fiddling with a knob. Gas barbies also heat up really quickly and are ready to grill on in about 15 minutes.
While all large gas barbecues run off 5kg propane cylinders (usually the Patio Gas variety), the majority of small portable grills like those reviewed here use disposable camping gas canisters that you can buy online or from any outdoor pursuits outlet.
The average camping gas canister is filled with about 440g (16 fluid ounces) of propane gas which lasts for just over three hours – plenty of time for about three separate barbecue sessions. On the negative side of things, gas barbecues almost always cost more to buy and if there’s any assembly involved (unlikely with a portable), it’s usually more complicated.
Granted, gas may not be considered as authentic as charcoal but most people won’t be able to tell the difference. And besides, gas is considered safer if grilling in open air public spaces like campsites and wooded or dry areas. In fact, charcoal barbecues are banned from most campsites. So, if you want an easier, less volatile route to grilling then perhaps consider opting for a gas grill.
The pellet barbecue is a relatively new addition to the pantheon of outdoor grilling, at least in the UK. But if you’ve ever used the system you’ll know that it’s the Holy Grail of grilling.
It uses compressed wood pellets – available in a variety of woods from maple and mesquite to cherry and apple – that gives grilled food an authentically woody flavour. It’s almost impossible to burn the food because the grill’s temperature is controlled by a computer processor.
In fact, a pellet grill behaves just like an indoor oven so that when you set the preferred grilling temperature, it remains within two degrees for absolute consistency. You simply put the food on the grill, close the lid and chat to your guest, turning the food just once or twice during the whole process.
The only issue with pellet grills is that they require an electricity source to run the corkscrew-like auger that feeds the pellets from a hopper. But this small inconvenience is more than compensated for by the effortless way it grills meats to perfection.
Best for: Camping and picnics
Key specs: Heat source: Camping gas; Grills for: Up to four; Weight: 4.6kg
This cute camping gas barbecue is of equivalent size and weight to the LotusGrill above so definitely consider this option if charcoal is a no-go. The Kuchoma weighs in at 4.5kgs and comes with its own built in metal and oak carry handle.
To use, simply screw in a camping gas canister, fire it up via the Piezo ignition button, open the tall rectangular lid and throw 20 sausages or even a whole small chicken onto its ample non-stick 40cm x 24cm die-cast aluminium grilling plate. Now close the lid and adjust the intensity of the Kuchoma’s single burner using the gas regulator knob.
The food on this barbecue cooks indirectly and produces a succulent feast for a small bevy of hungry guests.
The Kuchoma is one of the simplest and most portable barbecues on the market right now and a perfect choice for camping, picnics and boating, mostly because it can be carried in one hand and set up in a thrice. Granted, its two folding legs are a bit spindly but it feels solid enough when placed on a level surface. However, the overriding factor is that it grills food really well and with zero hassle.
Best for: Smokeless grilling on the go
Key specs: Heat source: Charcoal; Grills for: Up to three; Weight: 2.8kg
This small fan-assisted barbecue creates less smoke than any other models on the market so it’s perfect for balcony use and campsites that allow the use of charcoal.
The LotusGrill’s battery-powered fan heats up charcoal in less than five minutes while its lock-on 11.5-inch grill grate provides enough meal estate for three, or four if loaded with space-saving sausages.
Available in six lovely powder-coated colours, the LotusGrill Mini is superbly designed and very well built. Granted, it doesn’t have a lid for indirect grilling but the fan’s adjustable speed coupled with the grate’s solid circular centre help prevent flare ups.
The LotusGrill Mini weighs just 2.8kgs and comes in a natty bag for lightweight transport. It not only looks über cool but the speed with which it reaches cooking temperature and the commendable lack of smoke makes it a worthwhile shoo-in for fuss-free barbecuing on the go.
Char-Broil Grill2Go X200
Best for: Tailgate barbecuing
Key specs: Heat source: Camping gas; Grills for: Up to six; Weight: 9.7kg
This rugged, tank-like camping gas grill comes with a robust handle on each end for easy transport from car to campsite pitch or picnic spot. It is also an ideal size for balcony and patio use.
Char-Broil is a hugely popular US company famed for its unique TRU-infrared barbecue grills. In this instance the term infrared applies to a corrugated metal sheet just below the stainless steel cooking grate. According to Char-Broil, TRU-infrared ‘cooks food evenly, prevents flare-ups to give up to 50 per cent juicier food, and uses up to 30 per cent less gas’. We can’t vouch for all of those facts but we do know that the system really does produce succulent food and, being of the gas variety, it sears steaks to perfection, too.
The Grill2Go comes with a single stainless steel burner, Piezoelectric ignition and a grate large enough for about 12 hamburgers or a shed-load of sausages. The tall porcelain-coated steel lid – with an integral thermometer – has plenty of height to accommodate a whole chicken and is a crucial element throughout the grilling process, so always keep it closed. Rather handily, the lid also latches firmly to the main unit for rattle-free transport.
If you’re after a tough, keenly-price and eminently portable grill that grills food exceedingly well, this model is well worth consideration.
Best for: ease of use
Key specs: Heat source: Wood pellets; Grills for: Up to six; Weight: 27kg
This portable pellet grill from the USA is too heavy to carry more than about 25 metres and it requires an electricity feed to work, but it grills and smokes meat, fish and vegetables to utter perfection. Simply load the ample hopper with your wood pellets of choice, select a temperature on the large LCD interface (180˚F will do) and leave it for about 20 minutes to reach optimum temperature.
Now place your selected ingredients on the 184 square inch grill and sit back and chat to your guests in the knowledge that the food will be succulent and full of flavour, and not burnt to a cinder because you took your eye off the ball.
Like all pellet barbecues, the Ranger has a hidden motorised auger that delivers just the right amount of pellets to the burner below the grill’s baffle plate. Once set, the temperature will remain as constant as an indoor oven. Hence the chances of burning the food is almost zero as long as the lid is kept closed and the food is turned once or twice during the process.
This model will easily feed up to six people and possibly more – there’s enough space under the hood for two whole medium chickens. And if you enjoy smoked food that’s been cooked ‘low and slow’ (for up to eight hours), then this model will deliver the goods time after time. In a nutshell, the Traeger Ranger is one of the most efficient – albeit heaviest – small barbecues on the market and one that you will use on a regular basis, even during winter.
Everdure The Cube by Heston Blumenthal
Best for: Style and efficiency
Key specs: Heat source: Charcoal; Grills for: Up to four; Weight: 8.1kg
Designed by foody wizard Heston Blumenthal, this brazier-style charcoal grill is one of the classiest portable grills around.
Constructed out of lightweight steel, the porcelain enamelled Cube comes with a small 10-inch grill that sits about half an inch below the casing to stop obstreperous sausages from rolling off into the furnace below.
It’s the perfect size grilling area for two and up to four at a pinch. The sealable lid, meanwhile, also serves as a prep board – very handy when grilling in the great outdoors.
Where some portables are equipped with a bulging lid for convection style grilling, this model is of the fast and furious brazier variety so you will either need to place the charcoal in the middle and cook on the sides or keep an eye on the food and turn it regularly.
In our test the Cube grilled half a dozen sausages and burgers really well. It was also light enough to carry 50 metres or so and the base never got hot enough to scorch grass. If you have a small patio or are going to a campsite that allows charcoal barbecues, then this simple but effective model will do the trick and do it well.