When it comes to preparing a meal over an open flame, nothing compares to the smoky flavor of good old-fashioned charcoal. And with a portable charcoal grill, you can take that delicious food preparation wherever the party is.
The best portable charcoal grills start out compact or button up into small packages for easy transport. Keep reading to learn more.
- BEST OVERALL: Weber Jumbo Joe Charcoal Grill 18 Inch
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Cuisinart CCG190RB Portable Charcoal Grill
- BEST GRILL SMOKER COMBO: Char-Griller E82424 Side Fire Box Charcoal Grill
- BEST HIBACHI: ISUMER Charcoal Grill Barbecue Portable Hibachi
- BEST COMPACT: Weber 121020 Go-Anywhere Charcoal Grill
- BEST FOLDING: Moclever Portable Charcoal Grill Space-saving
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Portable Charcoal Grill
A portable grill or easily transported tabletop grill can make you a star at the next barbecue. But before you decide which is the best portable charcoal grill for your next outdoor event, you’ll need to consider a few things, such as the type and size of grill you need, among a few other key factors. This section outlines key shopping considerations.
The best portable charcoal grills come in many shapes and styles. The ideal choice for you depends on how you plan to use it. Here are the types of portable charcoal grills you may see as you shop:
- Kettle grills have the classic dome shape with the round, removable lid. Basic and inexpensive, these grills do a good job on steaks, burgers, dogs, and basic barbecue fare.
- Barrel grills, when turned on their side, look like a barrel. In fact, many professional BBQ masters use actual metal barrels. They offer lots of cooking area, and they hold a lot of charcoal for long-lasting barbecue and smoke sessions.
- Kamado grills bring the latest and greatest in charcoal grill technology. These oblong or egg-shaped grills have thick walls that retain and distribute heat evenly. Kamados make great grills for steaks, chicken, burgers, dogs, pizzas, and breads.
- Hibachi grills might conjure up visions of a Japanese chef cooking at your table, but the flat-top griddle they typically use is not actually a hibachi. True hibachis (called shichirin in Japan) are large, uncovered open-grated charcoal grills with a large cooking surface.
A grill’s construction materials help determine the price point. Inexpensive grills may employ thin painted steel, while more expensive models bring in sleek stainless steel or other thicker steels. Inexpensive steel doesn’t last as long as stainless (though a porcelain coating can help), but it’s usually light and portable. Stainless and heavy-gauge steels last longer and retain heat better.
Grill grate materials vary, too. The options range from inexpensive steel to higher-end stainless steel or cast-iron grates. Cast iron and stainless steel last longer, and they’re easier to clean, though cast iron needs a thin coat of oil to keep from rusting.
Size and Weight
Size and weight are key to portability. A grill that’s too large or heavy to transport won’t do much good unless the party is in your own backyard.
As far as size goes, it’s best to choose a grill large enough to cook your average meal but compact enough to fit in a vehicle. In a large truck or SUV, a larger grill might be doable. For transport in a small car, a portable grill should be no larger than 20 or so inches from side to side and top to bottom.
An inexpensive grill made from lower-grade materials might weigh just a few pounds. In fact, some weigh less than a bag of charcoal. Those made with better materials might weigh 20 to 30 pounds, which is still relatively easy to transport.
Egg or kamado-type grills have to be heavy, as they have thicker walls for retaining the heat. Even a small one can weigh up to 75 pounds, but they’re usually worth lugging to the party.
Charcoal grills create a lot of heat, and that heat has to escape upward to cook the meat or veggies on the grill. For that reason, all charcoal grills have open grates that let the heat rise and equalize as well as possible inside the grill.
Many of the best portable charcoal grills feature stainless steel grates, and it’s for several good reasons. First, long-lasting stainless steel helps to ensure a portable grill doesn’t become a throwaway after a season or two. Second, lighter than cast iron, stainless steel makes these grills easier to transport. Finally, easy-to-clean stainless steel makes cleanup quick before the grill goes back in the trunk.
Heat Output and Control
On a charcoal grill, heat control means adjusting the amount of charcoal and throttling back airflow. Many of the best charcoal grills have air dampers that grill masters can open or close to control the amount of oxygen-rich fresh air that flows into the burning coals. More oxygen means a hotter fire, but the charcoal won’t last as long. It’s best to leave the damper wide open when starting the grill and then cut it back to a lower airflow to make the charcoal last longer.
Dampers do more than just control the airflow through the grill. Beyond throttling back the temperature, the top damper, or vent, controls the smoke, which can have a big impact on the taste of the food.
Most people who prefer charcoal grilling enjoy it for its smoky flavor. For those folks, closing the dampers one-half or three-quarters of the way will retain smoke (though do remember it also will cut back on oxygen and lower the temp). For those who prefer a less smoky flavor, leaving the top damper completely open will lighten up the bold, smoky flavor.
In the end, charcoal grilling is a balancing act between airflow, temperature, and flavor, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
On the surface, charcoal grills seem like simple cooking devices. But many include features to make them easier to use and transport. Folding or collapsible stands, for example, make for easier transport and take up very little room in a vehicle. Most grills have ash catchers attached underneath to catch burned coals, but some are easier to remove and empty than others. Hinged grates allow backyard chefs to add charcoal to the fire without removing the grate. Chimney starters offer a faster way to get a base of coals lit—a real benefit when it comes to charcoal grilling.
Our Top Picks
If all that information about charcoal grills sounds delicious, it’s time to start grilling. The following list includes some of the top models on the market to help streamline your search for the best portable charcoal grill.
Weber’s Jumbo Joe Charcoal Grill offers a combination of size and capability that’s hard to find in other kettle-style grills. A durable porcelain-coated steel lid and bowl will retain heat well at barbecue after barbecue. Dampers on the top and bottom offer extra temperature control.
While the Jumbo Joe holds up to eight burgers at a time, it measures just about 20 inches both wide and tall and weighs just 18 pounds. So, it’s easy to carry—especially with the lid lock engaged. While the base doesn’t fold, the compact Jumbo Joe fits in most vehicles.
Barbecue masters on an apprentice’s budget will appreciate Cuisinart’s CCG190RB Portable Charcoal Grill. One of the most portable options on the market, this compact grill measures just 15 inches wide and tall and weighs a scant 2 pounds. Because of its low price, most aspiring grillers can afford the investment.
Enamel coating on the firebox and ash catcher and chrome plating on the steel grate help prolong this grill’s lifespan. A dual venting system allows chefs to take control of this small grill’s temperature. Three locks keep the lid in place during pack-up and transport.
Barrel-style grills have a tendency to inspire amateur smokers, and the Char-Griller Side Fire Box Charcoal Grill will rise to the task. This grill features a heavy-duty steel body with cast-iron grates but measures just 19 inches wide, 17 inches tall, and 16 inches deep. A lightweight option for a barrel-style grill, it weighs in at 42 pounds.
A slide-out side firebox for charcoal or chips loads with ease. Two dampers help control airflow and contain smoke for that delicious smoky taste. And, for those who already own full-size Char-Griller barrel grills, this unit can attach to the side to act as a firebox for Texas-style smoking.
ISUMER’s Charcoal Grill Barbecue Portable Hibachi disassembles for easy transport. Just detach the legs and pack it flat. This model measures 16 inches wide, 11 inches deep, and just over 9 inches high and weighs just under 4 pounds. It makes a nice tabletop grill in a picnic area or on a back deck.
A stainless steel base and two stainless steel grates make for a lightweight, rust-resistant appliance. Ventilation cutouts on either end allow air to flow through to the charcoal.
Whether it’s a road trip, grilling around the campsite, or partying in the parking lot before the game, Weber’s 121020 Go-Anywhere Charcoal Grill can handle it. This charcoal grill measures 12 inches tall, 21 inches wide, and 15 inches deep. Folding wire legs keep it at a safe distance from the tabletop. The lid locks in place, and the grill closes up to roughly the same size as a standard tool box.
Grillers can throttle airflow with the dampers to control the temperature. The porcelain-enameled lid and base will stand up to many barbecue seasons. A plated-steel cooking grate handles up to six burgers at once.
When it comes to convenience and easy transport, a folding grill like Moclever’s Portable Charcoal Grill is hard to beat. This grill folds completely flat and weighs just over 5 pounds. To set it up, simply open the top like a book, unfold the side panels, and place the two stainless steel grates inside: one for the charcoal and the other for cooking.
The Moclever’s cooking surface measures 17 inches by 11 inches, which provides room for up to eight burgers at a time. Vents underneath the charcoal grate draw in fresh air for optimal combustion and heat.
FAQs About Portable Charcoal Grills
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about portable charcoal grills. Be sure to check for an answer to your question listed below.
Q. Does charcoal add flavor?
Yes, cooking with charcoal does add flavor to food. As the food heats up and drips onto the scorching coals, it combusts and creates the vapors and smoky flavor that make charcoal-grilled food so tasty.
Q. How much charcoal do you put in a portable grill?
Many factors go into this, but a good rule of thumb is to use about 30 briquettes of charcoal for small or portable grills.
Q. Is the smoke from charcoal dangerous?
Breathing in any byproduct of combustion isn’t healthy for you, and burning charcoal does also emit carbon monoxide. But as long as you stay out of the smoke and grill outside, there’s very little risk.
Q. How do you use a small portable charcoal grill?
Using a small portable charcoal grill is no different from a larger unit. Simply place the briquettes on the lower grate (or in the bottom of the grill, depending on the model), use a small amount of lighter fluid on the briquettes, open the vents, and light the charcoal with a match. Allow all the briquettes to light and ash over before cooking.
Q. How often do you need to clean a charcoal grill?
Truth be told, you should be cleaning your charcoal grill, or any grill, every time you’re finished with it. This will keep fats and oils from burning into the grates and adding unwanted flavors. Use a grill brush to scrub the grates until they’re clean.