Best Portable Charcoal Grill In 2020 - A Buyer’s Guide

Best Portable Charcoal Grill In 2020 – A Buyer’s Guide

If you are a barbecue aficionado, then you are probably familiar with charcoal grills. A charcoal grill is considered the number one way to cook barbecue and other slow-cooked meats as the smokey charcoal give the meat a unique flavor that gas and wood-fired grills just cannot imitate. Although a portable gas grill may be more convenient and easier to clean, nothing beats a charcoal grill in terms of aesthetics, rustic feel, and flavor.

Like any consumer good, there are a ton of charcoal grills out there which can make your decision hard. Fear not though dear reader, as we are here to make things much easier. Today, we are going to cover portable charcoal grills and talk about some of the best portable charcoal grills available to buy.

These grills have been chosen based on their portability, overall cooking quality, and ease of use. Let’s dive in and see what we got.

The Best Portable Charcoal Grills for the Perfect Cookout

1. Weber Smokey Joe 14” Charcoal Grill

Starting off our list strong is the Weber Smokey Joe 14” Charcoal Grill. Weber is a reputable brand that is well known for its quality outdoor cooking appliances, and the Smokey Joe is a throwback to that timeless BBQ grill design. The Smokey Joe is made from a porcelain enamel lid and bowl that has excellent heat retention and evenly heats cooked items. Enamel is superior as it won’t rust, weather, or change color from burning charcoal.

The Smokey Joe has an exceedingly simple design that makes it a favorite for both novice and experienced grill masters. There are no electric or moving parts. Just place and light the charcoal, wait for it to heat, then start cooking. You don’t have to worry about pesky knobs and ignition mechanisms, just good old fashioned grilling. A damper mechanism on the top lets you control the overall temperature and the cooking surface is large enough to easily cook 6 8 oz. burgers at once.

The newest model of the Smokey Joe adds a Tuck-N0-Carry lid lock that lets you carry the entire unit and doubles as a convenient lid holder so you don’t have to put it on the ground. Clean up is a breeze too, just hose it out when you are done.

The Smokey Joe is not the fanciest charcoal grill out there but it is one of the most reliable. Simple, easy to use, and good quality, the Smokey Joe is a great charcoal grill for novice and experienced grillers alike. 

What We Liked:

  • Classic no-frills pit design
  • Porcelain enamel lid and base retains heat well
  • Large cooking surface can hold up to 6 8 oz. burgers
  • Easy to clean
  • Damper on top controls airflow and interior temperature
  • Carrying handle doubles as lid holder

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Legs could be a bit more sturdy and adjustable
  • No side handles
  • Damper temperature control is not that precise

2. Lodge Cast-Iron Sportsman Charcoal Grill

Lodge Cast-Iron Sportsman Charcoal Grill

Like Weber, Lodge is well known for its high-quality cookware. The Sportsman grill is a hibachi-style grill made out of a sturdy cast iron, perfect for picnics, camping, tailgating, and more. Built like a classic iron grill, the Sportsman has a draft door for regulating heat and a flip-down door that lets you access the coals. We wouldn’t be lying if we said the Sportsman grill looks like something you’d see in Victorian England.

Lodge pre-seasons all of their iron cookware with a blend of soy-based vegetable oils and the Sportsman is no exception. The more you use the iron grill, the more seasoning it retains and the better it performs. Being made of cast iron, it is a bit on the heavy side, but it’s small and compact enough you can store it out of the way in the back of your car, truck, or camper.

We especially like the extremely durable construction. Lodge has been making iron-based cookware for over 120 years and they really nailed it in terms of durability and toughness on this one. You could practically throw this thing off a mountain and it would come out on the other side without a scratch (pro tip: we do not recommend throwing your grill off a mountain).

So if you need something that has a beautiful aesthetic, is easy to use, and captures the unique flavor of cast iron cookware, the Sportsman is a great choice to consider. 

What We Liked:

  • Cool design looks like a Victorian furnace
  • Cast iron is pre-seasoned and gets better with each use
  • Includes a draft door to modulate flame intensity
  • Convenient back door gives access to coals
  • Extremely tough and durable
  • Small and compact

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Heavy
  • Side handles are small and get hot easily
  • Some complain it sits too close to the ground

3. Char-Griller Box Charcoal Grill

Something about barrel-style grills captures our attention. It’s probably because robust barrel-style grills like the Char-Griller look like what a charcoal grill should look like: big, sturdy, rustic, and made entirely of metal. This tabletop grill takes the power of a big barrel smoker and puts it in a package that will fit on your tabletop. The entire grill is made out of a heavy-duty steel frame with cast-iron cooking grates that give 250 sq. in. of cooking space.

One of the more unique features of the Char-Griller tabletop box grill is that you can attach it to Char-Grillers’s Wrangler, Outlaw, and Duo grills and use it as a side firebox. In other words, you can combine the Char-Griller wi other larger grills to create a full-sized barrel smoker.

Along with the steel frame, the Char-Griller has a wooden hood handle that does not get hot, sliding drawers for easy access to coals, and a removable ashtray for cleanup. Two vents, one on the top and the other below the charcoal box, give good cross ventilation making sure smoke thoroughly covers the food inside.

A few drawbacks though. The Char-Griller is pretty heavy and some may not like the barrel rounded design. The grates are cast-iron, which means they need to be reseasoned after each session. This is not necessarily a con as all cast-iron cookware should be seasoned before and after each use, but it’s still something to consider.

Otherwise, this box grill is an interesting option for someone who wants a competent grill but also appreciates options. 

What We Liked:

  • Cool design looks great and rustic
  • Solid steel frame is extremely durable
  • Requires relatively little charcoal
  • Retains heat well
  • Can be converted into a firebox for offset grills and smokers
  • Vents give good cross ventilation

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Awkward barrel shape may be hard to store and transport
  • Grates are close to coal box
  • Iron grates need to be reseasoned before each use

4. Fox Quick Grill Folding Charcoal Grill

The last entry was a bit old school, so now it's time for something a bit more modern. The Fox Quick Grill folding charcoal grill is designed for maximum convenience and folds down for easy storage when not in use. Both the frame and cooking grates are made from stainless steel which has a very high heat capacity and is durable to a fault.

A unique feature of this grill is the funnel-shaped design of the main body. The deeper design serves as a more efficient windshield and better concentrates heat into the grates. Small airflow holes near the base of the charcoal basket make the charcoal burn more efficient and reduce the charcoal residue left on food afterward. The entire grill can be taken apart to so it’s very easy to clean and reassemble.

While the Fox foldable grill is good for smaller 1 or 2 person meals, it is not large enough to handle cooking for large groups of people. One drawback is the construction of the top grate. The top grate is designed to open on a hinge so you can add more coals, though the hinge makes the top grate a bit flimsy and not stable.

Otherwise, though, the Fox Quick Grill foldable grill is a great option for taking on the road. It is lightweight, easily assembled, and is tough enough it will last you for a long time.

What We Liked:

  • Foldable design makes it compact and portable
  • Stainless steel frame and grates are light but strong
  • Top grate opens to add more coal
  • Small airflow holes make charcoal burn more efficiently
  • Very affordable

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Hinges can wear and in some cases break
  • Top grate is somewhat flimsy
  • Steel can become discolored from repeated use. 

5. Char-Griller Akorn Jr. Kamado Grill

Kamado grills have carved out a niche for themselves in the grill market in recent years. Based on traditional Japanese earthen cookware, Kamado grills are known for their high heat retention and fast cook times. The Akorn Jr. is a modern update of the Kamado grill made out of triple-walled 22 gauge steel that emulates the heart retention of ceramic but is much more durable.

The Akorn Jr. can reach a temperature range between 200-700 degrees Fahrenheit, a large enough range for slow cooking and traditional high heat grilling. Adjustable dampers sit on both sides which allow for even air crossflow and it is designed to efficiently burn charcoal.

The Akorn Jr. is small and compact, but it’s still rather heavy at 40 lbs. as its made of solid steel. As such, it might not be the perfect model grill to take camping or tailgating, but it will serve you well in your own backyard. Either way, the Akorn Jr. has two sturdy carrying handles on either side which makes carrying much easier than it would be otherwise.

Lastly, the Akorn Jr. has a built-in thermometer in the lid and a removable ashtray for quick clean-ups. All used materials are tough and rated for quality. The unit does require some assembly upon purchase, but it is easy and does not require specialized knowledge—all you need is a screwdriver.

Overall, the Akorn Jr. is a fantastic entry into the world of charcoal Kamado grills. It is solidly built, easy to use, and can capture that classic charcoal taste. 

What We Liked:

  • Extremely durable steel
  • Efficiently burns charcoal
  • Compact and easy to store
  • Triple wall construction retains heat
  • Fast grill times

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Heavy
  • Legs could be longer
  • Ashtray is useful but can get jammed if not regularly cleaned

6. Pinty Portable Folding Charcoal Grill

Pinty Portable Folding Charcoal Grill

If you are looking for a lightweight portable grill that has the performance of a larger one, this one’s for you. The Pinty Portable Folding Charcoal Grill has a large 250 sq. in. cook surface that can easily handle enough food for up to 7 people. The grill is made from a carbon steel frame and has porcelain-enameled grates and weighs just under 10 lbs. It is the perfect charcoal grill to take on camping trips or to tailgate parties.

A unique feature of the Pinty is its dust-proof surface that makes clean up a breeze You can take the entire unit apart for thorough cleaning and the enamel grills are treated to prevent rusting, weathering, and discoloration from heat. It also has a silicone covered handle that won’t get hot when cooking and which doubles as a carrying handle when the grill is not in use.

One problem is that the legs are somewhat flimsy and could be more sturdy and it's a bit counterintuitive to put together out of the box Overall though, the grill is very sturdy and will last for years with proper maintenance and cleaning. 

What We Liked:

  • Lightweight and portable
  • Porcelain-enameled grates
  • Large surface area for overall size
  • Silicone heat-resistant handle
  • 6-grate damper mechanism on top gives good temperature control

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Legs are somewhat flimsy
  • A bit hard to put together

7. Beau Jardin 18” Charcoal Barbecue Grill

Coming in at 7th is the Beau Jardin 18” Charcoal Barbecue Grill. The Beau Jardin is simple and has a classic kettle design that looks great around the campsite or RV park. It has an 18” diameter and stands 24” high without the lid. The bowl and lid are covered in a porcelain enamel coating and it has steel-plated cooking grates. 2 handles on the side allow for easy transport and locking caster wheels on the bottom make moving it around easy.

The Beau Jardin is not that fancy, but it’s reliable as a grill can be. The lid has an inside hook that can be used to hang the lid on the side of the grill so you don’t have to put it on the ground and an adjustable aluminum damper on top lets you control the temperature. The grates themselves can be lifted to add more charcoal and the removable ash catcher underneath the bowl allow for easy cleanup.

The Beau Jardin is not perfect though. The bowl is enamel coated so it does not have the excellent heat retention a pure porcelain grill has, and the wheels are prone to jamming, especially if you use it outside a lot and dirt and debris become trapped in the casters.

However, the Beau Jardin is extremely affordable, easy to clean, and will last you a long time if properly maintained and clean. 

What We Liked:

  • Simple, classic design
  • Removable ash tray for easy cleaning
  • Lid hook lets you hang the lid on the side of the grill when in use
  • Side handles and wheels make transportation easy
  • Useful bottom grate for storing food prep and serving utensils

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Not pure porcelain. does not hold heat as well
  • Wheels can get clogged and jammed if used frequently outdoors
  • You have to lift the entire grate to add charcoal; might be frustrating if you have to add more charcoal mid-cook. 

8. Char-Broil Portable Tabletop Charcoal Grill

The Char-Broil is a competent charcoal grill that will not cost you an arm and a leg. The simple set up features a 190 sq. in rectangular cooking surface with chrome-plated steel wire cooking grates on top of a durable steel frame. A special finish on the metal prevents rusting and discoloration at high temperatures.

One thing we like about the Char-Broil is how compact it is. It will easily fit on any tabletop and can be used on the ground. The legs fold up for easy storage when not in use and two sturdy handles on either side allow for easy carrying. Overall, the Char-Broil is nothing fancy, but a good BBQ grill does not need to be fancy, just reliable.

A few drawbacks though: the legs are really short so you might have some trouble using it on the ground if a table is not nearby. The handles are heat resistant so you can grab them safely, but the handles themselves are pretty small so you’ll need to be careful carrying it. 

What We Liked:

  • Super affordable
  • Legs fold up when not in use and act as a lid lock
  • Sturdy carrying handles
  • Chrome-plated steel wire grates perform very well
  • Ultra-compact and portable

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Hard to use without a table
  • Legs are somewhat flimsy
  • No lid hanger; lid has to put elsewhere when in use

9. Isumer Portable Charcoal Hibachi Grill

Occupying the penultimate spot on our list is the Isumer Portable Charcoal Hibachi Grill. The isumer takes the feeling of hibachi and puts it in a portable packager perfect for camping, tailgates, and more. The Isumer is made of a durable but lightweight stainless steel that is treated to prevent abrasions and rusting. 4 detachable legs make for easy storage/carrying and let you use the grill comfortably on the ground or on a table.

One thing we like about the Isumer is the large and open hibachi-style cook surface. With 175 sq. in. cooking surface, you can prop it upright in the center of the table and serve directly from the grill. A handle is attached to the grill grate so you can pull it up and add more charcoal while strategically placed airflow holes near the base of the charcoal basket provide even airflow for consistent burning.

One thing we wish was different about the Isumer is that the charcoal tray is not removable, so to clean it you have to take the entire grate off and dump it out. The metal seems thinner and thinner than some other charcoal grills, but it’s sturdy enough considering the reasonable price. We like how the legs are removable as that makes it very easy to store it in the trunk or under a car seat. 

What We Liked:

  • Very lightweight yet sturdy
  • Detachable legs make for easy transportation and storage
  • Large open cook surface is great for hibachi-style meals
  • Airhole provides consistent airflow
  • Treated steel won’t rust or weather from heat

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Legs are somewhat flimsy
  • Ashtray is not removable
  • Side handles are small and flimsy

10. Cuisinart GrateLifter Charcoal Grill

Last on our list is the Cuisinart GrateLifter Charcoal Grill. This ultra-portable tabletop grill has a unique lifting system that lets you access the coal tray without messing with the grates, a great feature many portable grills lack. The Cuisinart has a large outdoor style porcelain grill hood that is great for smoking and BBQ and a large 240 sq. in. cooking surface; large enough to prepare food for up to 5 people.

The wide base gives it good stability and a built-in thermometer lets you keep track of the internal temperature of the grill. The metal frame and porcelain cover are very durable and a convenient ashtray near the bottom makes clean up easy.

Overall, the Cuisinart is a good tabletop grill that has some good features you see on a full-sized charcoal grill. The lifting system is convenient for adding more charcoal and the thermometer, although not great, is good enough for casual use. 

What We Liked:

  • Lifting system gives access to coals without touching grates
  • Heavy-duty porcelain hood
  • Wide stable base
  • Generous 3-year warranty

What We Didn’t Like:

  • Somewhat bulky
  • A bit on the heavy side

Conclusions

A good charcoal grill can make or break your next cookout or tailgate party, so make sure you get something that will wow your friends and family. Nothing quite beats the taste of a classic charcoal-fired grill and there are several great options out there that won’t break the bank. 

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