Portable Charcoal Barbecues

Wednesday, 22 September 2010 | Tags: ,

Great for camping, a picnic, or small spaces, portable barbecues are a must-have for those who enjoy the flavour of charcoal-grilled meat and veggies. We put three BBQs to the test to find out which one earns the A & K Stamp of Approval.

The Basics

  • Barbecue enthusiasts prefer charcoal units, which cook foods at high temperatures to seal in juices and create that sought-after smoky flavour that purists really prefer.

  • Compared to gas grills, charcoal barbecues require a lot more time to heat up, but have fewer flare-ups, which can inadvertently char your meat.

  • Look for a BBQ with good quality parts: porcelain-coated steel cooking surface, bowl, and lid.

  • Because charcoal BBQs take longer to heat up, you may be interested in one that has a gas-ignition system, which makes it easier to light.

  • Some portable BBQs come apart easily for cleaning, and even have parts that are dishwasher safe.

  • Think about what you’ll be using it for. Though you want it to be portable, it should also be big enough to suit your needs.

  • Look for features that will enhance the unit’s portability. Some have tabletop legs that convert into carrying handles for transport, for example. Others have latches that keep the lid on for easier portability.

Other Considerations

  • Most reputable brands offer a warranty so be sure to consider this in your purchase.

  • You can often find great deals on barbecues towards the end of the summer as retailers are making room for winter season inventory.


We invited Park Heffelfinger, a BBQ champion and the grill guru behind the award-winning Memphis Blues BBQ restaurants in Vancouver.

  • Master Chef Portable Charcoal Grill Kit: $29.99
. . Canadian Tire
  • Weber Smokey Joe Charcoal Grill: $49.99
. . Amazon.ca Amazon.com
  • Cobb Premiere Portable Charcoal BBQ: $149.99
. . Overstock.com Amazon.com

(Note: prices listed above are approximate and in Canadian dollars)

Grill Test

  • The very compact Master Chef was slow to get going. The grill was very close to the coals so it could easily burn your food. It also cooked somewhat unevenly.

  • The kettle-shaped Weber generated the most heat out of our three test products. It also provided even cooking all around.

  • Time Magazine’s 2001 “Invention of the Year”, the Cobb Premier’s grilling surface was “weird”, kind of like a frying pan. The food on the Cobb had a somewhat grey-ish hue compared to the others and looked the least appetizing out of all of them. It just wasn’t barbecue-esque.


We all agreed that the mid-priced Weber Smokey Joe was the clear winner when it comes to grilling away from home. The others were just as portable, but the Weber was consistent and held its heat. It was a clear top choice.


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