Small grills are designed for picnics, camping and tailgating and are also useful for cooks with limited outdoor space or who only need to cook for one or two people. Just as with larger grills, portable grills can be powered by gas or charcoal, depending upon your fuel preference.
As is the case in other grill categories, Weber sits atop the portable charcoal grill market. The Weber Smokey Joe 14\" Charcoal Grill (Est. $30), formerly known as the Weber Smokey Joe Silver, receives the most reviews and highest ratings among comparable models. It resembles the larger Weber Original Kettle grills, such as the top rated Weber Original 22-inch Kettle (Est. $100),with its porcelain-coated bowl and lid, glass-reinforced nylon lid handle, plated steel grate and unmistakable domed appearance. Its 14-inch grill surface results in a total direct cooking area of 147 square inches. It's also lightweight at 10 pounds, which makes it highly portable. An upgraded version, the Smokey Joe Premium 14\" inch Grill (Est. $40) (formerly the Smokey Joe Gold) has a lid lock that doubles as a lid holder when the grill is in use. There is also a Weber Jumbo Joe (Est. $60), an 18-inch grill with a 240 square inch cooking surface and a few more features. The Smokey Joe Premium is the only one of these three grills that does not include an ash catcher.
The Smokey Joe line of grills receives top ratings from both experts and owners, who say it's roomy for its size, durable, and performs well. A few users say the vents can become clogged with ash, but that problem can be eliminated if you clean the grill between each use.
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 remain available at retail. Reviewers say the best of these is the Lodge Sportsman's Grill (Est. $120). 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 the charcoal. However, basic or not, it gets great reviews for its versatility and performance.
The Lodge is a small grill that earns high ratings from owners who give its cast-iron construction a lot of love. Users report it's solidly built and versatile and most say it is easy to use and clean -- although cast iron requires some special care, you can find information on using and seasoning cast iron on the Lodge website. A lot of reviewers point out that, at about 30 pounds, the Lodge is heavy for a portable grill, but plenty of others say it makes food taste so good that they don't mind its heft. The Sportsman Grill has a 120 square inch cooking surface, the smallest in this category.
Among the portable gas grills on the market, we found that the Coleman RoadTrip LXE (Est. $150) earns very good ratings in owner reviews and is the number two pick at OutdoorGearLab.com. It's an oval grill on a stand with a clever design that folds up when not in use, resembling a rolling suitcase, for easy transport. That design makes it a bit heavy for a portable grill -- it weighs 44 pounds on the stand -- but it's also a larger grill overall, with a cooking surface of 285 square inches. Another advantage is that you don't have to find a surface to place it on. The Coleman RoadTrip has cast-iron grates, and a powerful heat output of 20,000 Btu. Most users say it's easy to clean, but a few disagree, saying grease builds up or pools in the bottom, posing a risk of flare-ups. Others point out that cleaning is easier if you line the bottom with foil, which doesn't affect performance.
Owners like that the RoadTrip grill can be used to prepare everything from morning coffee and pancakes to a steak dinner, with many noting that they purchased the optional RoadTrip Cast Iron Griddle (Est. $35) and RoadTrip Stove Grate (Est. $25) accessories as add-ons. The pullout shelves and built-in hooks for utensils also earn praise for their usefulness.
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