Summer is here, and with it the grand old British tradition of barbecuing in the pouring rain. But don’t let the weather dissuade you: whether you’re heading to a festival, the beach, or just the garden, new lightweight materials and bluetooth-controlled grills mean that it’s easier than ever to turn out perfectly chargrilled bangers and burgers on the go.
We tested these barbecues across a series of rain-soaked and very occasionally sunny outdoor dinners, using them for everything from traditional meat-feasts to vegan seitan and jackfruit burgers, and we were really impressed with what you can do with even the simplest kettle barbecue.
The first thing we looked for was portability: some of the gourmet barbecues in this roundup pushed the limit of what we could comfortably carry from the car or kitchen, but were so worth it that we included them anyway (with a weight warning).
Others were incredibly light and easy to carry, but wouldn’t do a great job of slow-cooking a rack of ribs. If you plan to use your barbecue at home and on the occasional caravan or car camping trip, go for a heavier, more durable option. If you just want something to grill a few sausages on during a camping weekend, go light – particularly if you’ll be packing in and out.
Portability aside, the most important consideration is what you plan to cook. If it’s simple burgers and bangers, a simple grill will do the trick. If it’s slow-cooked, pulled-pork and gourmet grilling you have in mind, go for a kettle-style barbecue.
If you’re going to be cooking lighter food – grilled vegetables and skewers for example – something small and clean is best. What you cook on is also important: kettle barbecues and open grills will give you that classic, charcoal taste; electric and gas grills will cook faster and more precisely.
When testing, we always bore in mind that a range of people would end up using the barbecue – from meat lovers to vegans – so we looked for grills with plenty of space to keep meat and veg apart, and that were easy and quick to clean. All these barbecues will cook for 2-3 people at a time.
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Easy Camp adventure grill: £34.99, Easy Camp
A really lovely little grill for a fantastic price, Easy Camp’s adventure grill is perfect for fuss-free family camping or beach barbecues. It manages to pack in a lot of the features of much more expensive grills – like an adjustable air vent that felt durable and sensitive, a good deep barrel for layering charcoal, and a sturdy-feeling lid handle – for less than half the price. Some of the features – the foldable legs and the clips, for example – didn’t feel quite as sturdy as on more expensive grills, but they would more than do the trick for a weekend adventure or an impromptu garden grill. At just under 2.5kg, it’s also impressively lightweight.
Outwell darby grill: £136.99, Outwell
A brilliantly simple, innovative electric grill, the darby is ideal if you’re planning on cooking anywhere with an electric hook-up like a campsite or your garden. Because it’s electric it’s much easier to control the temperature, and the detachable windscreen/lid does a really good job of protecting your food from gusts. Because the grill is non-stick it’s also ideal for slightly healthier cooking, or if you’re doing something a bit more technical. The drain channels are designed to carry fat away from the meat, but we found they were just as good at coping with excess marinades and basting juices. The little spice rack in the stand is a really clever idea.
Robens wayne grill: £43.99, Robens
Insanely light and tiny when packed up, the wayne grill is a simple solution for cooking at festivals, bikepacking or even hiking trips. Weighing in at just over 2.5kg, it folds up quickly and intuitively and slots inside the tiny carry case, included. Don’t expect any fuss: fill the base with charcoal or wood, light, cover with the grill, and cook. Why overcomplicate things? We found that the shape of the base caused heat to really concentrate in the middle with the outside staying quite cool, but even though it is a smaller grill, you can comfortably cook a couple of burgers and some sausages at the same time.
Big Green Egg mininax: £650, John Lewis & Partners
The ultimate outdoor chef’s toy, the smallest Big Green Egg available really pushes the limit of what you could sensibly consider portable, weighing in at a mighty 40kg. This means it’s portable from, say, the car or caravan to a few metres away from the car or caravan. But it also really pushes the limit of what you can cook outside: beloved of professional chefs, and supposedly based on technology as ancient as the Chinese Qin Dynasty, the egg is a kamado-style cooker (a pot) rather than a kettle barbecue. Run off wood, it grills beautifully, but comes into its own for a long cook (like pulled pork) or for smoking if you layer the (included) ceramic inset over the coals to redirect heat around the walls. Price-wise it’s as eye-watering as barbecue smoke, but it will totally redefine what you think of as barbecue cooking.
Weber smokey joe premium charcoal barbecue: £74.99, Weber
A real American classic, from the Chicago company that claims to have invented the kettle barbecue in the first place, the smokey joe is a nomadic grillhead’s dream. Charcoal-fuelled, its lockable lid seals in smoke for slow cooking or seasoning, and the plated grill is easy to remove and clean between cooks. But best of all is the portability: it looks tiny but can easily feed 3-4 people, it’s deceptively light, and the locking lid and reinforced handle means you can pick it up and move it even when it’s still warm. It feels really sturdy and durable, and comes from one of the best brands in barbecuing.
Biolite firepit: £219.95, Biolite
Our tester already loved BioLite, an eco-friendly company known for its innovative twig-burning camping stoves and portable solar panels, so was really excited to try the amazing firepit. We’re happy to report that it’s an absolute gamechanger: as it burns logs or charcoal, the integrated fan that you control via bluetooth from your phone directs air over 51 jets to create a roaring, smoke-free, searing hot fire in minutes. The walls are made of see-through mesh, creating a “floating fire” effect that really is dramatic.
Admittedly, It’s better for hibachi-style cooking with sticks and kebabs than burgers: the rectangular grill that slips over the top doesn’t give you acres of space. But for a party or trip to the beach, it’s perfect: the fan is powered by a detachable battery that charges via micro USB, will charge your devices in a pinch, and will charge itself using solar power if you use the solar carry cover (sold seperately).
Primus kuchoma stove: £195, Cotswold Outdoors
Primus’ range of sleek, minimalist camping stoves are some of the most stylish on the market, and the kuchoma is no different. Powered by gas cartridges, like the type you’d use for a small camping stove, it’s the closest portable barbecuing can get to cooking on a proper stove, with fine-tunable heat and – thanks to the design – no wind-induced flare-ups. The non-stick grill plate is really easy to clean and dishwasher friendly, and the whole thing closes up into a little briefcase-sized compact rectangle that’s easy to carry and supremely easy to stash in the boot of your car. You may not get the authentic charcoal-smoked flavour you’d get cooking on coals, but you will get some perfectly-seared steaks.
Cobb premier air: £145, Cobb
There is literally nothing you can’t do with a Cobb cooker, essentially a charcoal fire inside a big metal dome with enough adjustable vents to suit even the most adventurous outdoor chef. It’s a simple enough design – a fire basket inside a base, with a round grill on top and a domed lid – but it’s amazing what you can do with it. Our tester roasted vegetables and baked bread, but that’s only the beginning: Cobb says it will also cook pizzas and smoke meat, and stir fry or fry if you bring a pan along. The barbecue kit (available separately) transforms it into an open grill if you want a proper charcoal, smokey flavour. For all that, it packs up small and is surprisingly light.
The verdict: Portable barbecues
We loved the humble, unpretentious Easy Camp adventure grill: light and easy to carry, it did everything you expect of a barbecue (cook things outside) for a third of the price of fancier models. The Big Green Egg is the best pick if you’re hoping to win a Michelin star, and the BioLite was definitely the most innovative barbecue we’ve ever seen.