Camp Chef Portable BBQ Review
Cons: Large packed size, no integrated thermometer
Manufacturer: Camp Chef
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Camp Chef Portable BBQ
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|$59.99 at Amazon||$90 List||$100 List||$30 List|
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|Pros||U-shaped burner distributes heat evenly, high quality regulator, large grilling surface||Sturdy, simple, good sized coal bed and grill space||Large cooking area, lightweight, affordable||Well insulated, gas efficient, sturdy||Inexpensive, lightweight, portable|
|Cons||Large packed size, no integrated thermometer||Handles get hot, vents are hard to adjust, requires more preparation than gas grills||Loose regulator, lack of portable features, requires full build||Poor control of heat range, quick deterioration of grill surface||Cheap, poor insulation, wonky|
|Bottom Line||This grill straddles the value line with high quality components but falls just short of being top tier||Simple and highly effective, this portable charcoal grill will help you show-off your pit cooking skills away from home||An affordable alternative that sacrifices power in an unsuccessful search for portability||With a lot of heat output from a single burner, this compact powerhouse specializes in high-temperature grilling at a fair list price||A cute, miniature of the classic charcoal grill|
|Rating Categories||Camp Chef Portable BBQ||Weber Go-Anywhere C...||Char-Broil 240 Port...||Cuisinart Grillster||Cuisinart Portable...|
|Output Power (25%)|
|Cooking Area (20%)|
|Wind Resistance (10%)|
|Specs||Camp Chef Portable BBQ||Weber Go-Anywhere C...||Char-Broil 240 Port...||Cuisinart Grillster||Cuisinart Portable...|
|Weight (pounds)||20 pounds||12 pounds||16 pounds||13 pounds||4 pounds|
|Cooking surface area (inches)||200 sq in||140 sq in||225 sq in||148 sq in||143 sq in|
|# of burners||1||N/A||1||1||N/A|
|Grill material||Nickel plated stainless steel||Plated steel||Aluminum, w/ Porcelain Finish||Enameled steel||Chrome-plated|
|Packed Size (inches / cu ft)||22" x 14" x 15" / 2.7 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||14.5" x 14.5" x 15" / 1.8 cu ft|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Aaron Rice