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Small charcoal grills for camping, tailgating and picnics

Portable grills are designed for picnics, camping and tailgating, and they're usually large enough to cook for two or three people. Although cheap portable charcoal grills are commonplace, experts say you will have to spend at least $30 for something dependable. Furthermore, if you plan to transport your portable charcoal grill regularly, a locking lid is a must.

Unsurprisingly, Weber sits atop the portable charcoal grill heap with the Weber Smokey Joe Silver (*Est. $30) and Smokey Joe Gold (*Est. $35), which resemble mini versions of the excellent Weber One-Touch grills. The slightly more expensive Weber Smokey Joe Gold's lid also doubles as a windscreen, locking both to the top of the grill and to the side. When you're ready to move the Smokey Joe Gold, the lid locks for easy transport.

Slate.com rates the Weber Smokey Joe as the best portable grill, period, even when compared against gas and electric grills. Editors say this grill is stable, user-friendly and cooks reliably. About.com's Derrick Riches says the Weber Smokey Joe is one of the most solidly built portable grills overall, but he also points out what may be its only real flaw -- the Smokey Joe Gold's ventilation holes are located on the grill's sides instead of on the bottom. Riches prefers the Smokey Joe Silver, despite its lack of locking lid, because its bottom-mounted vent makes for better airflow control. Users like the Smokey Joe Gold very much and are divided into two camps: Some say the Gold model's locking lid is indispensable. Others say the Gold's flames tend to quench when you put the lid on, a problem that's solved by the Smokey Joe Silver's bottom-mounted vent.

Amazon.com users give both Weber Smokey Joe portable charcoal grills high ratings, but some owners say the smaller, box-shaped Weber Go-Anywhere Charcoal Grill (*Est. $50) travels better. It features a top-mounted carry handle on a locking lid. Downside? Some owners gripe that the Go-Anywhere's cooking space is too small. The Smokey Joe and Go-Anywhere charcoal grills also have a distinct advantage over the numerous cheap portable grills available because they're backed by Weber's 10-year warranty on the bowl and lid and one year on the cooking grates.

If you're simply seeking a charcoal grill that's suitable for compact spaces, a hibachi-style grill might work for you. Hibachis are small cast-iron grills that feature a heavy grate over a bed of very hot coals. Once common, only a few models still exist. The best of these is the Lodge Logic Sportsman (*Est. $80) by Lodge Manufacturers. This hibachi is basic -- it's essentially an iron coal basin with a two-position cooking grid. The Sportsman can reach very high temperatures, so it cooks quickly (and can burn food if left unattended, reviewers say). The Lodge Logic Sportsman is recommended by both About.com's Derrick Riches and Food and Wine magazine's Christine Quinlan. It also earns reasonably high ratings -- an average of 4.6 out of 5 stars -- from more than 200 Amazon.com users.

Big Green Egg Mini (*Est. $250) charcoal grill offers the same versatility and efficiency as a regular-sized Egg (discussed in the section on luxury grills), but it's compact enough to fit under a table. The grill itself has a 9-inch cooking grid, which is roughly enough space to cook two chicken breasts. The only issue critics have with Big Green Egg Mini is its portability. As with its full-size siblings, the Egg's ceramic components are fragile (compared to other portables), which can make transportation risky. The Mini also weighs about 30 pounds, about three times as much as a Weber Smokey Joe. Derrick Riches recommends Big Green Egg Mini for apartment dwellers or patios with limited storage space, rather than for traveling.

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