Don't be mistaken when you first open the box of the Cuisinart Grillster — this compact, portable gas grill can sear with the best of 'em. It wins our Best Buy Award for anyone shopping on a tighter budget, mostly because it gets you grilling the basics for a great price. It only sports a single burner, but the Grillster's wind resistant, well-insulated design is capable of producing and maintaining extreme temperatures that can brown meat in minutes. Our main complaint is that it struggles mightily to keep temps low for cooking delicate foods. Lightweight and portable, expect a relatively small cook surface — but we found it to be enough space to grill up a meal for two on a small balcony, patio, or campsite.
Cuisinart Grillster Review
Cons: Poor control of heat range, quick deterioration of grill surface
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Despite being small and portable, the Grillster packs a serious punch when it comes to high-temperature grilling. Thanks to a mostly steel construction and efficiently insulating tri-wall design, the Grillster can produce searing temperatures well in excess of the claimed 600℉ — and all this power derived from a single burner.
The Grillster is a compact powerhouse of a portable grill. Boasting an impressive 8,000 BTUs compared to its modest size, this relatively small grill heats up quickly, and stays hot.
In our peak-power test, we turned the gas up to high, closed the cover, and only opened it to measure the grill surface with an infrared thermometer at five-minute intervals. Within the first five minutes, the grate had reached a ripping 630℉; after 10 minutes, an astounding 720℉! Despite the exhaust grates in the back of the grill — and our best efforts to maintain a consistent cooking temperature by adjusting the gas output — we had a tough time cooking at anything other than extreme temperatures.
As a result, we would use the high setting almost exclusively to bring this grill up to temperature, and then reduce to low for the majority of our cooking — even searing steaks only required a maximum setting of low-to-medium.
The Grillster only has a single, oblong burner that spans the width of the cooking area. We noticed upon assembly that the burner itself is offset, sitting at a slight angle sloping from right to left — we're not sure if this is a manufacturer oversight or a purposeful design. Whatever the reason, testing showed that this did affect the cooking temperature on each side of the grill. The side of the grate closest to the flame (in this case, the right side) consistently reached temperatures approximately 50℉ hotter than the left side.
While you might think that this would make it easier to control the cook times of a variety of foods across the grilling surface, you'd be wrong. Even on a low setting, the grill surface of the Grillster is super hot, ranging anywhere from 450℉ to 600℉, depending on the weather and cooking conditions.
Onions, mushrooms, and peppers blistered before the meat was cooked; chicken reached internal temperature and blackened in less than 15 minutes; steak seared to medium-rare in ten, and burgers over-browned to a medium-well in even less. The point we're trying to make is that this unsuspecting grill cooks hot across the board.
We did eventually hit our stride with the Grillster — through the almost exclusive use of the low gas setting — and were able to maintain a solid low-and-slow internal grill temperature of 282℉, producing delicious meals of fish and chicken. As a result of using the minimum gas setting, this grill ends up being impressively gas-efficient — we were able to cook many, many meals off of a single one-pound propane bottle. While the Grillster sports a piezoelectric, push-button ignitor, ours disappointingly failed within only a few uses. This grill sports a match holder as a back-up.
Regardless of its unexpected ability to blister, broil, and burn, the relatively compact size of Grillster makes it incredibly portable. With a packed size of just under 1.5 cubic-feet and a weight of 10 pounds, this is a stout little grill. The hinged lid locks tightly and stays shut when carrying or transporting, but doesn't always line up your first try and can be a bit finicky to secure. The regulator is easily removed for transport, but the finger lock has a tiny surface area, and can be difficult to remove once you finger-tighten it.
We were most impressed by the sturdy footing of the Grillster. A weighty build, combined with a low-profile and two burly, foldable legs makes this portable grill easy to set up and get cooking in even the most uneven of places.
As quickly as this grill heats up, it cools down just as fast — we really appreciated this for tailgate grilling. When you're finished, all the disassembly required is to remove the gas bottle and regulator, lock them up underneath the appropriately-sized lid, and off you go. We found that the grease trap stays securely in place during transport — although we suggest wiping it out before carrying the Grillster by the handle.
As a petite, portable grill, it's no surprise that the Grillster wants for a little more cooking area. While we found it easy to effectively cook on the entire grilling surface, it's still only 146 square-inches — one of the smallest in our review. Despite the slope of the lid, it is tall enough for closed grilling. But you would still be hard-pressed to cook more than dinner-for-two on this small surface, unless you're just lining up hot dogs.
One part of the design that we couldn't quite wrap our heads around is the grate: there is a large, completely solid spot spanning the middle. On one-hand, the shape matches the oblong shape of the burner, helping keep it protected from dripping fat and potential flair-ups. On the other hand, the solid surface consistently measured 50-100℉ hotter than the open parts of the grate, making it tough to properly space food across the grilling surface. Despite this potential flaw in design, one of the best parts about the cooking grate is that it is enamel-coated, making it easy to clean — it's even dishwasher safe.
Thanks to a majority steel construction, the Grillster is able to get hot fast and efficiently retain that heat. This can be a curse — if you let the quickly rising temperature run away from you — but is a blessing when cooking at a windy campsite.
A tall, three-walled design and relatively sturdy lid provide protection from the top, while the burners are effectively walled-off from below. This meant that we could leave longer-cooking food items, like baked potatoes, on for over an hour in the backyard without fear of the gas blowing out. Even on a field-trip to an area of New Mexico known locally as "the windy place," gusts up to 30 MPH were no match for the blocking power of the hearty Grillster.
At half the price of equally powerful gas grills, the Grillster is our Best Buy choice for a lower-end portable gas grill. If you are willing to trade control for shear, searing power, then this grill is right up your alley. If, instead, you are hoping to cook a full meal for more than a party of two, we suggest looking at some of our more sizable grill options. But for the combination of output power and portability alone, this burly, little grill is well worth the investment — particularly for red-meat enthusiasts.
Although it may take some time to master, once you get the hang of it, we expect that the Grillster will take its rightful place as a mainstay in your outdoor cooking setup. From seared steaks to blistered peppers and onions, we loved this grill to cook up some of our favorite summertime foods. With its stout design, this compact, powerful grill is sure to help fuel your next adventure.
— Aaron Rice