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Camp Chef Portable BBQ Review

This grill straddles the value line with high quality components but falls just short of being top tier
Camp Chef Portable BBQ
Photo: Camp Chef
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Price:  $180 List | Check Price at Amazon
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  U-shaped burner distributes heat evenly, high quality regulator, large grilling surface
Cons:  Large packed size, no integrated thermometer
Manufacturer:   Camp Chef
By Aaron Rice ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 24, 2021
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59
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 12
  • Output Power - 25% 5
  • Control - 25% 6
  • Portability - 20% 6
  • Cooking Area - 20% 6
  • Wind Resistance - 10% 7

Our Verdict

Even though the Camp Chef Portable BBQ is good and fulfills basic portable grilling needs, it falls a bit short of being great. The powerful, U-shaped burner covers the entire grill surface and does a good job of evenly distributing heat. Yet the thin, nickel-plated steel lacks the insulation to maintain consistently high temperatures. The lid securely latches and the propane regulator removes to help improve portability. But the legs awkwardly fold underneath and barely minimize its packed height. Despite this back-and-forth — and some questionable points related to durability — after months of intensive testing, the Portable BBQ is still going strong. It's good and serviceable but falls short of being a joy to use.

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Pros U-shaped burner distributes heat evenly, high quality regulator, large grilling surfaceExcellent heat retention, convenient side tables, consistent ignitionSturdy, simple, good sized coal bed and grill spaceLarge cooking area, lightweight, affordableWell insulated, gas efficient, sturdy
Cons Large packed size, no integrated thermometerLess portable due to weight and lack of latching lid, hot even on lowest settingHandles get hot, vents are hard to adjust, requires more preparation than gas grillsLoose regulator, lack of portable features, requires full buildPoor control of heat range, quick deterioration of grill surface
Bottom Line This grill straddles the value line with high quality components but falls just short of being top tierFrom folding side tables to easy to clean cooking grates, this thoughtfully designed model makes grilling on the go fun and easySimple and highly effective, this portable charcoal grill will help you show-off your pit cooking skills away from homeAn affordable alternative that sacrifices power in an unsuccessful search for portabilityWith a lot of heat output from a single burner, this compact powerhouse specializes in high-temperature grilling at a fair list price
Rating Categories Camp Chef Portable BBQ Weber Q 1200 Weber Go-Anywhere C... Char-Broil 240 Port... Cuisinart Grillster
Output Power (25%)
5.0
7.0
6.0
6.0
7.0
Control (25%)
6.0
8.0
7.0
5.0
3.0
Portability (20%)
6.0
6.0
6.0
6.0
8.0
Cooking Area (20%)
6.0
6.0
4.0
7.0
4.0
Wind Resistance (10%)
7.0
8.0
7.0
4.0
8.0
Specs Camp Chef Portable BBQ Weber Q 1200 Weber Go-Anywhere C... Char-Broil 240 Port... Cuisinart Grillster
Total BTU 12,000 8,500 N/A 9,500 8,000
Weight (pounds) 20 pounds 31 pounds 12 pounds 16 pounds 13 pounds
Cooking surface area (inches) 200 sq in 189 sq in 140 sq in 225 sq in 148 sq in
# of burners 1 1 N/A 1 1
Grill material Nickel plated stainless steel Porcelain-Enameled Cast Iron Plated steel Aluminum, w/ Porcelain Finish Enameled steel
Packed Size (inches / cu ft) 22" x 14" x 15" / 2.7 cu ft 15" x 26" x 14" / 3.2 cu ft 14.5" X 21" X 12.2" / 2.2 cu ft 22" x 14" x 17" / 3.1 cu ft 20.5" x 12" x 10.2" / 1.5 cu ft
Piezo Ignitor Yes Electric No Yes Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

From aesthetic to performance, the Camp Chef Portable BBQ is a basic, dependable, portable grill. The 200 square-inch cook surface is evenly heated thanks to a 12,000 BTU, single U-shaped burner, effortlessly lit with a Piezo igniter. Though it sports a larger cook surface, the 20-pound Portable BBQ is bulky — both in its expanded and packed form — packing down to only 2.7 cubic-feet, or about the size of the larger, "six-pack" standard milk crates.

Performance Comparison


This Camp Chef model sports a fairly large grill surface in a...
This Camp Chef model sports a fairly large grill surface in a portable package.
Photo: Aaron Rice

Output Power


Like other top-quality grills we have tested over the years, the Camp Chef Portable BBQ sports a single, yet quite powerful U-shaped burner. Based on the cook surface area and price point, it is remarkable to find such an impressive burner under the hood of this grill. While the manufacturer claims that this burner produces 12,000 BTUs, our cooking experience brings into question the actual heat output of this grill.

Often a luxury of only the highest-end portable grills, the U-shaped...
Often a luxury of only the highest-end portable grills, the U-shaped burner hiding under the heat distributor cap delivers significant power.
Photo: Aaron Rice

Claimed output, in BTUs, is just one variable to consider when looking at overall output power. Effective heat — the heat you are actually able to harness for cooking — is a function of the maximum BTU output, grill surface area, oven geometry, and insulation. We used an infrared thermometer to monitor surface temperatures while preheating the grill, and then throughout the cooking process. While the power output of Portable BBQ puts it near the top of its class in this regard, the combination of larger cook space and lack of insulation makes it a bit more difficult to maintain consistently high temperatures.

The working temperatures of this grill on high makes it difficult to...
The working temperatures of this grill on high makes it difficult to turn kabobs without the assistance of tongs, or a heat glove.
Photo: Aaron Rice

Control


Although it may not live up to the overall heat output it might be capable of, the U-shaped burner comes with another significant benefit: heat distribution. With the exception of a hot spot on the far end of the grill, the removable dispersing plate does a fantastic job of creating an even temperature profile across the entire grill. This provides us with the peace of mind that regardless of whether the grill surface is filled up, or just parceled with a few skewers, we can expect consistent cooking across the board.

The distributor cap pushes heat to the outer edges of the grill...
The distributor cap pushes heat to the outer edges of the grill, evenly distributing heat and avoiding any potential hot spots through the center.
Photo: Aaron Rice

While the single, U-shaped burner may not live up to its potential, this grill still delivers plenty of power to sear steaks. More importantly concerning control, it can also be loaded down with thick chicken breasts that require low-and-slow cooking, and yet tend to dry out. A high-quality propane regulator allows for easy adjustment, delivering a well-graduated output across a wide range of temperatures. But considering the price point, one of our major criticisms is that the Portable BBQ does not integrate a thermometer into the lid — an element that even significantly cheaper options include in their design.

Without an internal thermometer, it is necessary to regularly...
Without an internal thermometer, it is necessary to regularly monitor the actual meat temperatures, rather than having the ability to judge cook times based on internal air temperature.
Photo: Aaron Rice

Portability


Considering the size of the cooking area and overall power output, the Portable BBQ falls right in line with our expectations for weight and packed size. While it may be slightly on the larger side with a packed size of 2.7 cubic feet, the lightweight stainless steel frame cuts the weight down to only 20 pounds. Dual latches and an oversized handle built into the lid allow you to easily carry this grill like you would a suitcase.

Although it breaks down to be a grill of slightly smaller stature...
Although it breaks down to be a grill of slightly smaller stature, there are a few simple design points that would greatly enhance portability.
Photo: Aaron Rice

What is unfortunate is that designers make little attempt to improve upon the portability of this relatively bulky grill. Instead of folding flat, the legs awkwardly cross underneath the grill frame — this neither slims the profile of the Portable BBQ nor does it particularly protect the legs themselves from damage during transport. A primary issue is the rattly construction, with a heat disperser that inevitably dislodges during transport, and creates quite the racket in the open trunk of a hatchback.

Though some may find it to be annoying to take on and off, we...
Though some may find it to be annoying to take on and off, we appreciate the secure fitting and overall quality of the regulator.
Photo: Aaron Rice

Cooking Area


A functional 200 square inches of grilling surface is just right for a complete meal for two. If grilling just the meat course of a dinner meal, you can easily fit 4-6 servings on the Portable BBQ. If you are cooking a full meal for two, this grill will easily fit adequate portions of meat and veggies. Though it undoubtedly adds a bit to the size of the grill, this amount of cook space seems to be the sweet spot to balance portability and versatility.

This sizeable grill offers ample cooking space compared to many...
This sizeable grill offers ample cooking space compared to many other portable models.
Photo: Aaron Rice

Relative to other grills in this review, the U-shaped burner makes a little more of its surface area usable. Although it could be looked at as an expensive upgrade to an otherwise price-point product, this allows the Portable BBQ to perform above its weight class with regard to overall cooking performance.

An unfortunate oversight is the width of the grill grates, which...
An unfortunate oversight is the width of the grill grates, which easily allow smaller foods to fall through and burn.
Photo: Aaron Rice

Wind Resistance


In terms of output, the Portable BBQ presented no real issues with wind resistance. Cooking out during the windiest days of the spring throughout the Rocky Mountain West, and in our standardized fan test, this grill never once blew out and stayed plenty hot to satisfactorily cook whatever meal was at hand.

This grill has some of the most even heat distribution of any we...
This grill has some of the most even heat distribution of any we tested. Note on this photo: the hot zone is actually farthest from the regulator side; the layout bread needed to be reversed for the sake of consistency relative to the sidewalls.
Photo: Aaron Rice

Even though the oversized lid and vent design do a good job of keeping air out — preventing any blow-outs of the burner — our biggest issues were with keeping the heat in. Due, in large part, to the fact that this oven doesn't include a thermometer, it is necessary to open the grill to regularly check surface temperatures during preheating. Although the powerful burner helps to quickly regain heat, it was difficult to maintain high internal temperatures — particularly on windy days.

With more than ample ventilation, we don't quite understand why...
With more than ample ventilation, we don't quite understand why designers opted for this open space in the back of the lid that easily allows heat to escape.
Photo: Aaron Rice

Value


There is no argument that this is a top-quality, portable grill. Still, we can't call this one a steal of a deal. It's priced just high enough to warrant spending a little more to get a better product, or spending less to achieve pretty similar performance.

Though this is rather minor, dings and scrapes like this (especially...
Though this is rather minor, dings and scrapes like this (especially straight out of the box) are yellow flags related to potential durability issues down the road.
Photo: Aaron Rice

Conclusion


The Camp Chef Portable BBQ is a thoughtfully designed portable grill, with a few minor design flaws that kept it out of the running for any awards. While it offers an accessible alternative to grill with top-quality components without spending top dollar, the higher price tag simply doesn't line up with its overall cooking performance.

Kind of like meat and veggies, the CC Portable BBQ is a...
Kind of like meat and veggies, the CC Portable BBQ is a straight-shooting tabletop grill with very few frills.
Photo: Aaron Rice

Aaron Rice

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