When you’re trying to look for the best portable charcoal grills for camping, things can get pretty muddled. There are so many brands out there, and it can get a little fuzzy when trying to sift through the mediocre models to get to the best of the best.
So, why are camp charcoal grills so popular? We’ve already covered the best propane camping grills, and those certainly have their pros. But there’s something so classic about charcoal BBQs that make the camping experience more nostalgic.
When using charcoal to grill, you can achieve such a rich, smoky flavor that you can’t get with gas. While they do require coal, you don’t need to carry around gas tanks or cylinders that can sometimes be a pain to dispose of once used. Travel charcoal grills are often great budget options when compared to gas grills.
The thing about charcoal grills for sale on the market is that you can find such a range of designs. We’ve scoured through everything, from ultra-modern ones to more traditional barrel and kettle barbecues that have been used for many years.
Keep reading for our top ten list of best camp grills to find the right one for you.
1. Raptor Grilling Portable Charcoal Grill
Cooking Surface Area: 230sq.in
The final model is from Raptor Grilling, and is a tabletop version with a big surface area that cooks for more people. Once the lid is lifted, you can set it down beside the main grill to act as a stand for holding food, utensils, and used charcoal once it’s cooled down and you’re ready to clean.
This means you don’t need to sit around sweeping out lumps of charcoal once you’re finished. Using the side handles, simply lift the inner rack, place it inside the lid, and empty the ashes from the main grill. You don’t need to touch any ashes, leaving you with clean hands.
For us, the most unique feature is that fact that this can cool down to room temperature in just one hour – this makes it an ideal choice for tailgating where you might need to pack things up quickly.
Stay-Cool vents let you alter heat levels for a better cook. At 12lbs, it’s not as heavy as we thought since it’s built with thick 20-gauge steel that’s coated with porcelain.
- 2-in-1 Lid Stand Provides Mess-Free Cleanup
- Stainless Steel Legs & Strong Porcelain-Coated Body Retains Heat
- Fuel-Saving Ability with Longer-Lasting Charcoal
2. Kamado Joe KJ23RH Classic Charcoal Grill
Cooking Surface Area: 256sq.in
Starting off with a bang, this is a premium line that includes the Classic I, Classic II, Classic II Stand-Alone, Classic III, and the Joe Jr. We’re focusing on the Classic I, which definitely lives up to its name. It has a traditional barrel shape, cast iron vent at the top for precise heat control, and a slide out ash tray to make washup a breeze.
Other notable features we love include the felt gasket for an air-tight fit and an advanced firebox that retains more heat. While we know this is quite expensive, just remember that you’re getting very high-quality materials and a structural design that is made to last throughout the years.
The round lid helps circulate airflow for a more even cook, in addition to trapping moisture to ensure that the meat stays juicy. Side shelves are another smart add-on, as they give you extra space for utensils and to separate raw and cooked food. Since this is heavy, it’s better for long-term camping in one spot, where you can roll it around the campsite with the base wheels.
- Heavy-Duty Construction with 750°F Max Temp
- Compatible with Various Cooking Surfaces
- 4 Wheels for Easier Rolling
3. Cuisinart CCG190RB Portable Charcoal Grill
Cooking Surface Area: 150sq.in
Cuisinart’s model here is a great budget option that also happens to be a best-seller online. Weighing only 2lbs, it’s effortless to travel with as you can store it in the back of the car or in an RV and it will take up hardly any space. With the front latch, you get a secure lock for safer transportation.
The design resembles a mini barbecue, with a rounded grill and tripod-style base that lets you use it as a tabletop model. At the base is where you’ve also got the ash catcher, which makes it so much simpler to clean after each use. The inner firebox is coated with enamel, making it more robust.
On the lid you’ll find the dual venting system. This allows you to control the temperature, as you can decide how much heat gets released. The cooking rack is chrome-plated to prevent sticking.
- Straightforward Design Built with Durable Enamel Coating
- Compact Structure 14.5” x 14.5” x 15” & Lightweight
- Handy Ash Catcher at Base Streamlines Cleanup
4. Weber Original Kettle Portable Charcoal Grill
Cooking Surface Area: 363sq.in
Cast iron kettle grills are some of the most widely used for grilling, and you probably wouldn’t immediately think of this style for camping. However, we’ve chosen it because you’re getting quality materials and cooking abilities that are close to equivalent to a full-sized version.
At close to 40lbs, it’s more suitable for motorhome or car camping, but we can see it as a great addition to the yard when you don’t want a full-scale BBQ. While cooking, the hinged grate lets you fold it up to safely add more coal. Dampers on the lid are adjustable, so you can manage the interior temperature.
An angled hook on the side lets you hand the lid to keep it out of the way without putting it on the ground. The handle shield is a unique feature for us, as it protects your hand from burning. In terms of cleaning, you get the One-Touch system, which lets you clean coals and ash in seconds. Other quality features include tough rubber wheels, and some side-handle utensil hooks.
- One-Touch System for Faster Cleaning
- Strong Porcelain-Enameled Body with Lightweight Steel Legs
- Built-In Thermometer to Monitor Temperature
5. Samdray Tabletop Portable Charcoal Grill
Cooking Surface Area: 181sq.in
Perfect for picnics on the beach, this is another model from Samdray that clearly runs in the family. Much like their previous one on our list, this takes simplicity to another level. The outer design is very laidback with all-silver coloring, with folding wire legs and side handles.
The body is made of strong stainless steel that is resistant to corrosion and scratches. Instead of stainless steel for the cooking grate, there is chrome-plating. This is effortless to clean, and also distributes the heat for more efficient cooking. A dual airflow system reduces the risk of burnt food. Weighing just over 5lbs, it’s not as heavy as you’d think.
- Non-Stick Chrome-Plated Rack Dispenses Even Heat
- Large Cooking Surface Area for Compact Design
- Zero Assembly Lets You Cook Straight Away
6. Weber 121020 Go-Anywhere Portable Charcoal Grill
Cooking Surface Area: 160sq.in
Some could easily mistake this appliance for a big lunchbox at first, and we don’t blame them. But that’s what we like about this model, because the bag-like design makes it instantly portable. The inner cooking rack doesn’t have any borders or edges, so it gives you added space for more food.
While the interior is quite basic, the outer design looks more modern. The legs might look like thin wire, but their shape creates even weight distribution for stability. We like how they fold upwards and over the lid when everything is packed away.
The top handle lets you comfortable carry it around, as it’s wide with a soft rubber lining. On top of the lid are dual dampers, which let you manage the heat with ease.
- Sturdy Porcelain-Enameled Lid & Base
- Plated Stainless Steel Cooking Rack for Seamless Cleanup
- Locking Lid & Folding Base Legs Increase Security
7. Royal Gourmet CC1830F Portable Charcoal Grill
Cooking Surface Area: 183sq.in
Heading back to larger portable models, this is another version that is ideal for long one-location camping trips. This has been updated from their previous model – it now has convenient side and front tables for a larger workspace, porcelain-coated cooking racks, and a swing-away warming grate to store cooked food and prevent burning.
Equipped with a flexible coal pan, you can choose exactly where you want the coals to go for direct and indirect cooking. You’ll find a thermometer on the front of the lid to quickly know the temperature and monitor accordingly.
The highlight for us has to be the side smoker. It lets you achieve a Texas-style barbecue experience, and you can control the amount of ventilation with a mini door to adjust smoke levels and replenish wood.
- 2-in-1 Design with Side Smoker
- Hassle-Free Transport with Heavy-Duty Rubber Wheels
- Upper Warming Rack
8. Char-Broil Portable Tabletop Charcoal Grill
Cooking Surface Area: 190sq.in
Next on the list is this model from Char-Broil, which is another compact version that is great for regular outings as well as camping trips. Porcelain-coated wire is used for the rack, which is stronger than regular steel and more leisurely to clean.
For a grill that you can carry with one hand, you’re getting quite a large cooking surface with almost 200sq inches of space. It can be used with either lump charcoal or briquettes, which widens your options. There are 3 handles in total (2 on either side and one at the top) that all are heat-resistant.
Made from quality stainless steel, it’s lightweight, can reach high temperatures, and folds into a compact size.
- 3 Heat-Resistant Handles
- Folding Wire Legs Store Inside Lid for Added Security
- Chrome-Plated Wire Grates Increase Longevity
9. Grillerette Pro Portable Charcoal Grill
Measurements: 14.5” x 14.5” x 6.5”
Our next pick is for those who are interested in modern appliances, as this is one of the most contemporary versions of a charcoal BBQ we’ve ever seen. The combination of a lightweight body with the circular shape makes it effortless to store without occupying heaps of space. It’s made up of 5 simple parts – the grate, grease pan, coal canister, battery-powered fan, and the base.
The grate has an advanced design that allows the appliance to produce 90% less smoke by blocking grease from touching the coals. To pull away any grease the does happen to get through, the pan has a deep, curved design.
A smaller canister means less coals and easier management, and the fan ensures an efficient distribution of heat. Finally, the base is highly protective, but still lightweight. We like the transport pouch that’s included, because it ensures a snug fit.
- Generates 90% Less Smoke with Smart Grate Design
- Battery-Powered Fan Lights Faster & Lasts Longer
- Secure Carry Case Included
10. Samdray Portable Charcoal Grill
Cooking Surface Area: 287sq.in
This flattop model is quite straightforward in its design, which makes for a user-friendly experience. It’s not the most groundbreaking thing we’ve seen, but we appreciate the simplicity as it keeps things uncomplicated. Long legs make it a standing barbecue, but they quickly fold down for a low-profile storage.
You can alter the height using easy-grip blue knobs, and when it’s standing, it remains stable thanks to some rounded feet. Air vents surround each side to assist with heat control. Made from robust stainless steel, it’s more lightweight than iron versions, rust-resistant, and simpler to clean.
A highlight for us is the ability to use a non-stick baking tray next to the regular grill. This widens your range of recipes, keeping your ingredients and utensils at easy reach with the removable side trays.
- Smooth & Durable Stainless Steel Structure
- Adjustable & Folding Legs
- Detachable Side Trays for Added Convenience
Top 5 Tips for Using a Portable Charcoal Grill
- Cook with the right type of heat – There are two ways to cook on a grill: through direct heat, or indirect heat. That basically means high heat (where the food is directly above the flames) and low heat. It’s important to know how you’re cooking your food, because certain foods need to be cooked using either direct or indirect heat. If not, you could risk overcooking or undercooking your dish. The answer? Think about how long it usually takes for certain foods to cook before adding the coal. For example, things like whole pork or chicken need to be cooked slowly, while sausages and burgers need less time. Ingredients that need a slow cook need indirect heat, and a fast cook needs direct heat.
- Clean beforehand – We all know how important it is to clean after cooking, but have you thought about doing it beforehand? Check for food that’s stuck on the grates and remove it before firing up, otherwise your own food could stick and burn.
- Don’t forget about the vents – If you’re more used to gas grills, then you might not realize the importance of the vents on a charcoal version. Learn to alter the vent openings while preheating and cooking to adjust the temperature.
- Know your charcoal – Charcoal briquettes are often preferred because they take less time to catch on fire, burn for much longer, and are low-cost. Hardwood charcoal is another common choice, and is used to make the flavor of the food more intense. They burn faster, though, than briquettes. If you can’t decide between the two, you can also mix them together.
- Patience is key – These grills take longer to heat up, so you need the patience to match. Don’t put food on the cooking surface too early, because it can stick and affect the flavor. Make sure it’s nice and hot before adding anything – the coals should appear light gray.
Portable Charcoal Grills vs. Portable Propane Grills
This is one of the biggest questions asked when it comes to grills, and it’s no wonder considering both are great options, yet are so different in what they deliver.
Part of this question also comes another one: Is there really a difference in terms of taste? The answer lies in the cooking methods used, which includes searing.
To sear something is to color the surface which creates a caramelized effect. It greatly enhances the taste, and is often used when cooking red meats. A common misconception is that steaks should have grill marks, but that isn’t always the case. Steaks are best cooked with an equal sear all over.
That’s why charcoal is often preferred compared to gas, because they generate higher temperatures and more direct heat. While you may have seen some gas grills with sear burners, they are often too small, only cooking a couple steaks at one time. Charcoal BBQs (depending on the size) can sear a larger quantity at one time, at a higher heat level, as the heat won’t drop when you put more food on.
Gas Grill Pros
- Shorter warm up time
- Easy control with temperature knobs
- Simple cleanup because there is no ash
Charcoal Grill Pros
- Typically cheaper than gas models
- Able to achieve rich smoky taste
- Higher temperatures for faster cook
- Charcoal is inexpensive
There isn’t a right or wrong choice here. Gas grills are more suited to people who are focused on ease-of-use. The charcoal alternative is more suited to people who are focused on getting that smoky, charred flavor. Meat and vegetables cook just fine on propane grills, but red meat and smoky Texas-style recipes are best achieved using charcoal.
How much charcoal do I put in it?
Here’s a general rule you can follow: more coal = more heat. Depending on the size of your grill, and the amount of food you’re cooking, take note of this summary if you’re using a charcoal chimney:
- Low heat requires a chimney filled about ¼ of the way (250°F-350°F)
- Medium heat requires a chimney filled about ½ to ¾ of the way (350°F-450°F)
- High heat requires a chimney that’s filled all the way (450°F +)
If you’re cooking food in some foil or in an aluminum pan, fill the charcoal just higher than where the food rests.
How to light a portable charcoal grill?
Lighter fluid and chimney starters are two of the most common methods. Lighter fluid gets placed on charcoal already inside the grill. Chimney starters/charcoal chimneys need newspaper in the base, where you light that up and wait for the coal to turn ashy before pouring it into the grill. They make the process a lot faster, and also somewhat safer because you don’t need lighter fluid.
How long does it take for charcoal to cool down?
This greatly depends on the amount you used, and the size and design of your grill. For them to be completely cooled to room temperature, it typically takes up to 2 days.
How do I clean my portable charcoal grill?
While the cooking rack is still warm, begin scrubbing it with a brush that has wire bristles. Wipe some oil over it to prevent food from sticking next time, as well as to prevent rusting. Remove any coal and ash and dispose of it properly (once it’s cooled down) and wipe down using a mild detergent or vinegar with a cloth.
Conclusion on Portable Charcoal Grills
Say goodbye to those crusty campsite barbecues with old, trapped food bits from years of use. With your own portable charcoal grill, you can bring the smoky, mouth-watering flavors of grilled food to the beach, park, tailgating, your friend’s backyards, and of course, on your camping trips. We’ve combed through the best on the market that range from big classics, to compact models that are no larger than an average briefcase. Your choice will depend on how you’re travelling (car, RV, etc.), how many people you’re cooking for, and the style that fits your needs.