The Camp Chef Portable BBQ matches or exceeds the performance of our Best Buy winners, and works nearly as well in some ways as the Editors' Choice Napoleon TravelQ. The main drawback of the Camp Chef is its loose construction. The legs fold clumsily and the heat dispersing plate inevitably comes loose and moves around during transport. It's also a bit large and therefore not the most portable of all the grills we tested. But the price is more digestible than some of its high-end competitors, and after months of extended use, it's still going strong.
Camp Chef Portable BBQ Review
Cons: Rattly construction, large packed format
Manufacturer: Camp Chef
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Camp Chef is a basic, portable grill. It was a close contender for our Best Buy award, but others edge it out. The Camp Chef is more expensive than the award winners, but it has more even heating and greater maximum heat output. All these less expensive competitors offer enough control for cooking almost anything you might want to cook. The Camp Chef is pretty bulky for its cooking area. The cooking area is suitable for a complete meal for 2 or the meat course for 4. For transport, it is about the size of the larger "six-pack" standard milk crate.
Camp Chef claims that their Portable BBQ puts out 12000 BTUs. Our testing gives us no reason to question this. For the surface area and price, we are impressed to see the u-shaped burner under the hood of the Camp Chef. This distributes the heat more evenly and makes for more heating power. When we max out the burner knob, pretty much any food item we would put on there will char in just a few minutes. In short, the Camp Chef makes all the heat you need.
Claimed output, in BTUs, is just one variable in the output power comparison. Effective heat output is a function of the max BTUs possible, grill surface area, lid geometry, wind resistance, and grill burner shape. Overall, the Camp Chef is as hot as you should need.
The u-shaped burner and wide-ranging knob of the Camp Chef give the user plenty of control. As noted above, the burner gets plenty hot for searing a steak. It can also be loaded down with thick, boneless-skinless chicken breasts and cook them "low and slow" without drying them out. The options between these two extremes are clear and well graduated. The u-shaped burner delivers your chosen level of heat to all but the farthest corners of the rectangular grill surface.
The Editors' Choice Napoleon TravelQ 285 sets the bar for control in a portable grill. Setting it apart from the Camp Chef is dual burners, a thermometer, and $75. You get what you pay for. At the price, the Camp Chef is all you can expect and offers plenty of control.
The Camp Chef Portable BBQ Grill weighs 20 pounds. For the surface area, this is right on par with the others. It is bulkier than others in this category, but not by much. The primary portability issues we had are with the rattly construction, a heat disperser that inevitably dislodges during transport, and a regulator that sticks way out unless you unscrew it. Screwing and unscrewing the regulator is somewhat tedious.
200 usable 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 fit 4-6 servings on the Portable BBQ. This size range seems to be the sweet spot for portability and versatility. Both Best Buys are about the same size as the Camp Chef. The less expensive award winning grills have straight burners. The u-shaped burner of the Camp Chef makes a little more of its surface area usable.
We had no problems with the wind resistance of the Camp Chef. In multiple spring time Rocky Mountain grilling sessions and our standard "fan test", the Camp Chef never blew out and stayed just hot enough to sear a steak.
The Portable BBQ Grill sits squarely between our award winners. It costs more than the Best Buys, but offers the u-shaped burner of the Editors' Choice. We recommend this grill and nearly granted it our Best Buy Award. For portability at a lower cost, the Best Buy winners are both a better value and do essentially all the kinds of grilling you might consider on the road.
Despite some small issues (rattly construction, protruding sloppy regulator), the Camp Chef is well-made and intelligently designed, at a reasonable price. For the price, the Camp Chef scores pretty well overall. It is a little rattly and its construction quality doesn't inspire a ton of confidence. The cooking performance is excellent, especially as compared to the similarly priced options. For its cooking surface area, the Camp Chef is a little bulkier than we would like.
— Jediah Porter