Portable grills are designed for picnics, camping and tailgating and they're usually large enough to cook for two or three people. Although cheap models are commonplace, experts say you need to spend at least $30 for something dependable. Furthermore, if you plan to transport your portable charcoal grill regularly, a locking lid is helpful.
Unsurprisingly, Weber sits atop the portable charcoal grill market with the Weber Smokey Joe Gold (Est. $35) , which receives the most reviews and highest ratings in our research. It resembles the excellent Weber One-Touch grills, with its porcelain-coated bowl and lid, glass-reinforced nylon lid handle, plated steel grate and unmistakable domed appearance. It also has a lid lock that doubles as a lid holder when the grill is in use.
The Smokey Joe Gold receives a top rating in one professional test of portable charcoal grills. In addition, Slate.com rates the Smokey Joe Gold as the best portable grill, with writer Jude Stewart calling it a "rock solid" and reliable performer. About 115 owners posting to Amazon give this model an average rating of 4.2 stars out of 5 and more than 70 users combine to give it 90 points (out of 100) on Viewpoints.com. Owners say it's roomy and durable and it performs well, although some complain that because the air vents are above the coals, the fire tends to go out. Some also say the grill has a tendency to tip over in the car, spilling out ashes.
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 Hibachi Grill (Est. $100) , according to reviewers. This grill is basic: essentially a cast-iron coal basin with a cooking grid that has a choice of two height levels and a flip-down door for easy access to charcoal.
The Lodge Logic earns an average rating of 4.6 stars out of 5 from more than 370 Amazon reviewers and a 4.8-star rating at Walmart.com from about 50 users. Owners report that it's solidly built and versatile, but some point out that it gets and stays extremely hot, so they advise keeping children far away and avoid placing it on valued surfaces. Some also say it is easy to use and clean, although we did read reports of rusting and some note that because the grate has no lip, food can roll right off.
Food & Wine senior editor Christine Quinlan, interviewed on CBS' "The Early Show," calls it a great tailgating grill, but adds that because there's no lid, it can be prone to uneven cooking. The Sportsman grill has no formal warranty, but the company states on its website that it stands behind the grill and will resolve all problems to the customer's satisfaction.