The best barbecues – tried and tested

Here’s a confession…we went off barbecues a few years ago. All that hassle, smoke and charred-outside/raw-inside food. 

Then we found some barbecue designs that make things easier and tastier. So, here’s our guide to the best portable barbecues.

Lotus Grill

The best barbecue is…the one you actually use

We’ve tried them all – from £5 buckets and disposable trays to marvels of engineering.

 

For most people, the cheaper the better. If you’re only going to barbecue a couple of times a year, don’t make a production out of it. You want to make the most of your time outside with friends or family and, to be honest, the food is sort of secondary. 

The best bucket barbecue

A bucket barbecue is neat and simple. Painted ones lose their paint fairly quickly, so we like this £24 galvanised one. It has a bit bigger surface area than some and no paint to peel off. The holes allow for good air circulation.

Which barbecue?

There are lots of portable barbecues to choose from that fold up. We’ve tested some VERY bad ones with hinges and handles that break. Ideally, you want a barbecue that folds in such a way that the dirty bits are contained!

Notebook barbecues

Our favourites are  this ‘notebook’ barbecue, which folds super-flat and seems reasonably well-made for the money. As with all painted barbecues, the paint WILL come off, but does that really matter?

Barrel barbecues

The barrel barbecue is bulkier for carrying, but they’re good because the cooking area is inside so you don’t get dirty when carrying them. Stainless steel ones won’t peel (like painted barbecues) but they will discolour after use. Around £25.

 
 
 
 

The best barbecue for a BIG family or party

For a family, we like the look of this barbecue on legs. It’s not a small pack, but it does fold down for carrying around. Again, it’s stainless steel, quite sturdy and has a grill area big enough for a party.

The charcoal goes into a removable steel ‘tank’ section so that the embers aren’t choked by the ashes. The fact it’s raised up makes for more comfortable cooking. Costs around £50.

A stainless steel barbecue table for under £45

Another family-sized table barbecue, this one is unpainted stainless steel and folds down to reasonable packable.

We like the non-stick grill pan (though we haven’t so far been able to find out if this is PFOA-free). The storage areas are useful, and the whole thing weighs around 7kg. Costs around £40.

Beautiful, impractical and £100

Looks fantastic, but…would you ever want to get it dirty? The Una barbecue has two grill heights, clean portability, and style. Just under £100. 

Disposable barbecues?

Please, please don’t use those disposable foil barbecue trays. If you do want disposable, then try these two barbecues instead.

 
The problem with the foil ones is that they make unnecessary waste. And the problem with most disposables is that the coals are too shallow to sustain cooking for long enough. The EcoGrill is definitely an answer to both problems.

EcoGrill barbecueThe EcoGril natural barbecue

Cleverly made from a log, the EcoGrill doesn’t need any firelighters or lighting fluid. It even comes in an ecoplastic wrap.

You should get at least two hours of cooking from it, but you do need to heat it up for around 15 minutes first.

You can use the EcoGrill for barbecues, of course, but you can also stand a pan or kettle on it. You’ll need something to place the log on to avoid setting fire to the ground. Available in a couple of sizes and costs around £9.

 

The biodegradable CasusGrill

Made of natural, biodegradable materials, the CasusGrill even has a bamboo grill rack. Weird, eh! It works pretty well, though we only got 40 minutes’ cooking time from it rather than the stated one hour. Costs around £8.

We’re really trying to make our camping and cooking a lot more environmentally friendly – from avoiding plastics where we can to finding ways to cut waste.

If you’d like to see more ideas, have a look at our 20 ways to make camping greener.

Serious barbecues for camp chefs

If you’re a big barbecue fan and you’re going to get a lot of use out of your kit, then it pays to buy better.

Actually, spending a bit on a well-designed barbecue can encourage you to eat outdoors because it’ll light faster and make cooking easier.

The two we recommend are the Cobb and the Lotus Grill, but the latter just pips it to prime position thanks to its built-in fan and temperature control. Both have lots of accessory options for baking, frying, griddling etc, and neither are cheap. 

Their advantage is that they’re virtually smokeless, can be used on a table and do more than just barbecue. We’ve made cupcakes in a Cobb and made a stirfry on the Lotus Grill, for example.

We’ve thoroughly tested both the Cobb and the Lotus Grill and you can see reviews and recipes here.

Cobb oven

The Cobb is still our favourite charcoal cooker, but the Lotus Grill is a better barbecue.

Lotus Grill

The best barbecue we’ve found. The Lotus Grill. Have a look at our review.

Beyond the barbecue

Frontier stove

The Frontier with its neat(optional)water heater

Fancy cooking outside without needing to buy charcoal?

There are some wonderful stoves that use wood for cooking – so you can pick up sticks, pine cones and fallen branches and make outdoor eating even more of an experience. 

We’ve got a full feature with recommendations for woodburning outdoor stoves, but the firm favourites seem to be the Anevay Frontier and Solo stoves. The first is an amazingly portable stove that keeps you warm and has a cooking surface (it all folds down into a neat bag). The second is a super-efficient gasifying stove that needs only sticks to keep it cooking.

Have a look at Biolite’s new FirePit barbecue too. 

A smokeless wood-burning FirePit that the makers claim can go from spark-to-fire in less than 30 seconds, cook your meals, and give you a full view of the dancing flames. Burn charcoal or wood, and control the intensity with four-speed fan, powered by the FirePit’s rechargeable powerpack that can also charge your phones and tablets. There’s even a control app! Around £220

See more woodburning stoves here. We had great fun testing them all.

A little helping hand for perfect barbecuing

We’ve found a couple of things to help get your barbecue burning nicely. 

Faster flames

This chimney device takes your charcoal and encourages flames to rise to the top. It speeds up the process of getting the coals to a glowing state. Invaluable on a breezy day!

 

If you’ve got a favourite barbecue or a tip for making barbecuing easier and more enjoyable , let us know in the comments section below. 

Check out our barbecue recipes too.

Eco firelighters

These eco firelighters are much nicer than smelly cubes or bottles of fluid. Around £12 for a big box.

Grill mat for cleaner cooking

An indispensable item of barbecuing kit is the grill mat. These sit on top of the grill grid and protect your food from the flames. It’s a way of avoiding too much charring and it makes it much easier to cook smaller pieces of food or ingredients that tend to break up (no more mushrooms dropping through the bars or fish flaking away). 

They’re reusable and non-stick (no Teflon), make barbecuing healthier and you get the grill marks without the burning! Around £8 for a pack of five.

Camping gear must-haves – our 60 best finds

When we find a new piece of camping or outdoor equipment that we love and that really works, it’s here. Everything you see – from barbecues to mosquito repellent – has been tried and tested by a member of the Campfire team and is now one of their actual camping essentials …
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