What are the features that make for the best portable charcoal grill? For starters, these grills offer a compact size that’s perfect to take with you anywhere you go. Plus, with a sturdy design, lid lock options, and plenty of cooking space, these are the best grills for creating nearly any kind of delicious meal on the go.
If you want something with a user-friendly, compact, lightweight design for your RV or to take on your camping trip, you can’t go wrong with the best portable charcoal grills. Plus, if you pair your grill with the right accessories, you’ll get a cooking appliance that rivals even the most expensive gas or pellet grills.
Keep reading to learn more about the best portable charcoal grills and how you can choose the right option for your barbecuing needs based on key features and design considerations.
Top Portable Charcoal Grills
#1 Cuisinart CCG190 150-Square-Inch Grill
Award: TOP PICK
WHY WE LIKE IT: This grill has a triple lid-locking system to secure the grates and interior parts during transit. It has a simple ash catcher and enamel-coated parts that provide excellent heat retention.
- Triple lid locking system
- Sleek appearance
- Enamel coated grates
- Ash catcher is not removable
- Lacks temperature gauge
- Legs are not collapsible
This Cuisinart CCG-190 150-square-inch grill is available in red and black variants, which have a sleek, rust-resistant finish. It has a dual venting system with adjustable dampers, giving users control over the level of airflow and heat. With three secure lid locks, this device secures cooking tools during transit. The grill is remarkably compact and it’s small enough to be transported in the trunk of a car. However, the ash catcher is not removable, complicating cleaning.
This device has an enamel-coated firebox and ash catcher that provide reliable performance. A sleek black finish and shiny silver-gray feet add a touch of sophistication to any space. This model has an ergonomic lid handle that makes it easy to monitor the progress of the food, and an advanced heat delivery system distributes the heat evenly around the cooking surface for excellent cooking results. With high-quality grates, this unit retains heat and stands up to high temperatures.
#2 Oklahoma Joe’s Rambler 218-Square-Inch Grill
Award: BEST BUILD QUALITY
WHY WE LIKE IT: Heavy-duty steel construction with cast-iron grates offers durability. This device boasts advanced features such as large dampers and a temperature gauge, and it has a glow-in-the-dark accent that provides visual appeal.
- Heavy-gauge steel construction
- Integrated temperature gauge
- Cast-iron grates
- Lacks wheels
This Oklahoma Joe’s Rambler 218-square-inch grill boasts heavy-duty steel construction that stands up to regular grilling. The device resists rusting and corrosion, providing durability. With thick cast-iron grates, this device is suitable for searing, roasting, and grilling. It has a height-adjustable charcoal tray that lets users precisely control the level of heating. This grilling system features a rubber grip handle that stays cool during cooking. However, this model doesn’t have casters, so it can’t be wheeled around.
Large air dampers on this model limit the airflow, allowing users to control the level of heat. The grill has a full-size removable ash pan that is easy to clean. A professional-grade temperature gauge with glow-in-the-dark accents allows users to regulate and monitor cooking in real-time. This model has sturdy side handles for transporting the grill easily. Equipped with sturdy legs, this device can be used on tables, countertops, or vehicle tailgates.
#3 Weber Go-Anywhere 160-Square-Inch Grill
Award: BEST HEAT DAMPING SYSTEM
WHY WE LIKE IT: With dual dampers, this grill enables users to control the air supply to the grilling, controlling the temperature easily. It has porcelain-enameled parts that provide outstanding heat retention.
- Excellent porcelain-enameled base and lid
- Adjustable dampers
- Sleek design
- Small cooking space
With space for up to six burgers, the Weber Go-Anywhere 160-square-inch grill enables on-the-go cooking. This device comes with a lid to lock in heat during grilling and lid locks to secure cook tools during transit. Glass-reinforced nylon handles on the grill and lid stay cool during cooking. With a sleek black finish, this fine Weber grill adds visual interest to any space. However, with a total of just 160 square inches of cooking space, this grill is a bit small.
This unit has a rectangular shape that maximizes space in the trunks of small vehicles and it has collapsible legs that protect tables and other surfaces from heat. Thanks to a porcelain-enameled lid and base, this device offers excellent heat retention, locking in the heat for fast results, and it resists rusting, corrosion, and cracking for durability. This model also has an adjustable damper that cuts off the air supply to the grill, helping users to control the heating easily.
#4 Isumer ISUMERBBQ03 180-Square-Inch Grill
Award: BEST BUDGET GRILL
WHY WE LIKE IT: With a nonstick grilling grid and heavy-duty steel construction, this device provides durability and supports simple cleanup. It has dampers and an air vent for heat regulation as well as handles and collapsible feat for hassle-free transportation.
- Outstanding compact construction
- Dual heat dampers and an air vent
- Sturdy, collapsible feet
- Lacks a temperature gauge
- Small cooking surface
The Isumer ISUMERBBQ03 180-square-inch grill has a compact, lightweight design ideal for camping trips and tailgating. This device has a rectangular shape that easily fits in small car trunks for hassle-free transportation. With dual carrying handles, this device is easy to move from place to place, and it has a chrome-plated rack that provides superb heat retention. A portable grill charcoal pan simplifies refilling and cleaning up. However, this model doesn’t have a temperature gauge.
This grill also features an ash catcher that facilitates easy cleanup. With a handy tabletop design, this unit is quite versatile and boasts collapsible feet that offer stability. This model features high-quality heat dampers that facilitate temperature regulation, and an additional adjustable air vent facilitates air circulation for even cooking. The grill boasts tough steel construction that holds up well in the face of regular transportation and a non-stick grilling grid for simple cleaning.
#5 Char-Griller E82424 250-Square-Inch Grill
Award: BEST FOR ENTERTAINING
WHY WE LIKE IT: With a large cooking surface, this grill is ideal for small gatherings. It has a versatile design, working with select barrel or dual-fuel grills to become a Texas-style offset smoker.
- Versatile design works with select grills to convert into a smoker
- Heavy-duty steel construction
- Dual heat dampers
- Feet are not collapsible
- Relatively heavy
Featuring versatile construction, this Char-Griller E82424 250-square-inch grill will appeal to users seeking an all-in-one outdoor cooking solution. This unit has a high-quality ash pan that enables hassle-free cleaning. The device boasts dual damper controls, allowing users to increase and reduce the air supply to the grill to control the temperature. However, weighing 38 lbs and having a large footprint, this device is not easy to transport with a vehicle.
This model works with select Char-Griller barrels or dual-fuel grills, serving as a firebox to convert into an excellent Texas-style offset smoker. With heavy-duty steel construction, this device stands up to regular use. The dual side handles enable easy transportation. Cast-iron cooking grates on this grill retain heat, providing fast and even grilling. This grilling system has a powder coating that resists corrosion and rusting, making it a good choice for outdoor kitchens.
#6 Fire Sense Notebook 60508 228-Square-Inch Grill
We’re sorry, this product is temporarily out of stock
Award: HONORABLE MENTION
WHY WE LIKE IT: With an innovative folding mechanism, this device lays flat to save space during transportation and storage. It has 228 square inches of cooking space, providing adequate room for cooking food for small gatherings
- Remarkable folding design
- High-temperature, rust-resistant coating
- Compact, lightweight construction
- Lacks a lid
- So-so build quality
The Fire Sense Notebook 228-square-inch grill has an innovative open design optimized for fast heating. This device is foldable, laying down flat to allow for space-saving storage and transportation even in small cars. The grill is very lightweight, so it’s easy to carry around, and it has a steel build that stands up to high temperatures and resists rusting. However, this unit doesn’t come with a lid, complicating temperature control.
This charcoal grill has a sturdy grid that holds vegetables and meats and it features a high-temperature coating that stands up to the elements. With a 228-square-inch cooking surface, this device is adequate for small picnics, tailgating gatherings, and camping trips. Shipped pre-assembled, this device is easy to install, and it has a matte black finish that blends in with most outdoor kitchen color schemes. This grill is quite compact, supporting tabletop installation.
Beginner’s Guide to Portable Charcoal Grills
What Are Portable Charcoal Grills?
A portable, compact charcoal grill is an outdoor cooking implement you can take with you on camping trips or to the park. Some outdoor electric grills can be used this way in outdoor spaces too. These useful grills use charcoal as a primary fuel source to generate heat with which you can barbecue food. More importantly, though, these outdoor grills are smaller and more portable than other kinds, making them the perfect grill tools for campers, hikers, and outdoors enthusiasts.
Portable Charcoal Grills vs Traditional Grills
In general, most people consider charcoal grills to be traditional grills. However, it’s useful to compare charcoal grills to other types of grills so you can get a sense of their differences and similarities. For starters, the core concept of how charcoal grills work is essentially the same as other models. Once ignited, the fuel type produces heat inside the main grill body and underneath the cooking surfaces, whether they be cooking grates, griddle plates, or warming racks.
The major differences between portable charcoal grills and other types of full-sized grills come into play when you consider fuel type, size, portability, and heat control. In terms of fuel and heat, these grills can only use charcoal. This results in some design specifics that differ from other grills. For example, the air dampers on portable charcoal grills are usually found either on the lid or near the bottom of the charcoal tray.
Portable charcoal grills are also much smaller overall than other types. This is so they can remain portable enough to carry with you wherever you go. The portability is a benefit if you’re looking for it, but this also means you’ll get less cooking capacity.
How Portable Charcoal Grills Work
Portable charcoal grills function much in the same way as others, like many of the best rotisserie grills, regardless of the fuel source. Using a direct heat source–charcoal, in this case–these grills create a dedicated cooking surface for you to cook barbecue foods. First, you’ll light your charcoal briquettes using a chimney starter, lighter fluid, and some newspaper. Once your briquettes are lit and at the appropriate cooking temperature, you’ll pour them into the bottom of the grill and put the cooking grates in place.
When it comes to cooking your food using charcoal, it’s important to understand how heat control works. A larger pile of hot coals will create more heat, and you can manipulate their positioning to create both hot zones and cold zones for cooking different foods simultaneously. You can open and close the dampers on the grill to increase or decrease the amount of oxygen the hot coals receive, thus adjusting the level of heat present.
Do You Really Need a Portable Charcoal Grill?
If you’re looking to take your barbecue on the go with you, then you can’t go wrong with a portable BBQ grill. These handy cooking tools are perfect for campers or RV travelers. Even despite their smaller size, you’ll be able to get that classic barbecue taste from the best portable charcoal grills without needing heavy propane tanks or bags of wood pellets.
Is a Portable Charcoal Grill Worth Buying?
- You Want a Portable Barbecue Experience: The top-selling point of portable charcoal grills is their portability. If you’re looking for a way to bring the barbecue with you on your camping trip, then these grills are the best option for you. All you’ll need is a bag of charcoal briquettes, a charcoal chimney, and the food you want to cook. Some already have a built-in thermometer probe so you can keep an eye on internal temperatures in your food.
- You Prefer to Cook with Charcoal Over Other Fuel Types: Many barbecue enthusiasts stand by the authentic and traditional taste of cooking with charcoal over anything else. With precise and fast temperature control, you’ll be able to cook your foods in the exact way you want, which is hard to accomplish with other types of grills and fuel.
- You’re Only Cooking For a Few People at a Time: If you’re only cooking for a few people and you don’t have a lot of grilling space to do so, the smaller size of portable charcoal grills are perfect for you. Plus, you’ll be able to store these small grills easily, no matter what your situation is.
Why a Portable Charcoal Grill May Not Be For You
- You Need to Cook for Large Groups: If you’re planning on cooking large amounts of food for large amounts of people, a small and portable charcoal grill is likely not a good choice for you. Instead, we recommend looking at larger grills, such as the best Pit Boss pellet grill.
- You Want to Cook with Alternative Fuel Types: If for some reason, you don’t like to cook with charcoal or you don’t like the flavor of your food when cooking with charcoal, then you should consider a different type of grill, like the best small gas grill or the best offset smoker.
- You Need More Advanced Features and Functionality: By nature, most charcoal grills are the simplest options available on the market. As such, they’re easy to learn and easy to use. However, if you’re looking for something with additional features like a built-in temperature gauge or smoking functionality, consider an alternative option.
How Long Will a Portable Charcoal Grill Last?
According to barbecue enthusiasts and experts at The BBQ Depot, you should plan on a total of 5 to 15 years of life out of your portable charcoal grill. This range of life expectancy is so large because of the many factors that can affect a portable grill’s lifespan. For portable charcoal grills, their durability and how often they get used can both have a direct impact on their lifespan.
It’s recommended that you take the best care of your grill as possible. Always clean it before and after use with a solid grill brush and soapy water, and make sure you empty out any removable ash-catcher tray and store portable model properly. While traveling, make sure your grill is properly secured, so it doesn’t get damaged with every bump on the road. While in use, make sure the grill is on a flat, stable surface so it doesn’t accidentally get knocked over.
How to Choose a Portable Charcoal Grill
Before making an actual purchase of a new portable charcoal grill, you’ll want to be sure you find an option that fits all of your needs and wants. Start by finding a grill that’s portable enough for your RV, car, or backpack. Next, consider cooking capacity along with overall construction and durability. Finally, don’t forget about extra features like air dampers, temperature gauges, and sturdy stands or legs. However, if you don’t need a very portable option and like to cook with smoke, you may want to check out these top charcoal smokers.
Best Portable Charcoal Grill Factors to Consider
1. What type of portable charcoal grill should you purchase?
To the untrained eye, most portable charcoal grills look incredibly similar. However, there are actually a few different styles and types from which to choose. Ultimately, the choice you make should depend on the way you plan on using the grill.
Consider these different charcoal grills:
- Kettle: If you can picture a charcoal grill, then you’re most likely thinking of a kettle-style grill. These feature a dome shape with a built-in lid that can open and close as you cook. Kettle charcoal grills are typically the most affordable options available on the market.
- Barrel: Many barbecue enthusiasts use a barrel-style grill for cooking with charcoal. These grills resemble half of a barrel and offer more cooking area than other types of charcoal grills. You can read about one with our Broil King Keg review. These charcoal BBQ grills can also typically hold more charcoal on average, meaning they can cook for longer periods.
- Hibachi: These charcoal grills feature a long horizontal cooking area that is perfect for cooking multiple types of food simultaneously. These versatile grills rarely feature any kind of lid.
- Kamado: These grills feature an egg or oval shape design, where this cooking style increases overall heat retention and creates more consistent heat distribution. Kamado charcoal grills are the most expensive options on the market, but they feature the best technology charcoal grills have to offer.
2. How many square inches of cooking surface area do you need for your charcoal grill?
Portable charcoal grills aren’t meant to be the largest option. However, it’s still important to consider how many square inches of cooking space your grill offers. The size of your cooking grates will determine how much food you can cook at a time.
In general, to still be considered portable, a charcoal grill needs to offer 300 square inches of cooking space or less. However, there are a wide variety of sizes from which to choose. Consider how much food you want to cook while using your grill and find a size option that matches.
3. How portable should your charcoal grill be?
The amount of cooking space your portable charcoal grill offers is an important consideration to make specifically for cooking needs. However, you’ll also need to look at the physical dimensions of your grill to ensure it’s portable enough to fit in your car or backpack.
To achieve the greatest level of portability, you should only consider grills with a size of 20 inches or less from side to side. You should also avoid anything heavier than 30 pounds at most. Keep in mind if you’re purchasing a kamado-style grill, it can weigh upwards of 70 pounds thanks to the materials from which it is built.
Consider additional portability features like a foldable design or carrying case. These things make your grill easier to take with you and not get damaged.
4. What construction materials and design features should you consider?
One of the primary factors that determine your grill’s price point and durability is the type of materials from which it is made. Manufacturers typically make cheap charcoal grills out of thin painted steel, while more expensive options feature stainless steel construction with stainless steel grates. Materials can also affect weight and portability. For example, if you purchase a grill with heavy-gauge steel, it will be heavier.
When it comes to specific design features, you should always purchase a grill with a dual venting system. This allows you to adjust air circulation for better heat control. Other important features include things like a lid-mounted temperature gauge, secure lid locks, and additional grill grates.
5. What extra tools and additional features should you consider for your portable charcoal grill?
There is a wide variety of extra features and tools to consider when purchasing a portable and compact grill. Consider these extras for more variety in the way you can cook with your grill:
- Cast-iron grates
- Lid holder
- Ash catchers
- Adjustable grate options
- Hinged grate options
- Electronic ignition