What is the best position to put my fire?

When summer arrives, every red-blooded man heads off to the woods with his family or friends for an authentic cookout. Never mind the rain, our genes and British tradition demand it!

Jokes aside, few things beat the enjoyment of a BBQ with your friends or family on the beach, or some beautiful spot in nature, or your favourite spot in the garden. Besides, BBQ’s have long left the domain of male chauvinism. One and all enjoy it. Whether you are camping for a week or relishing a picnic in the scenic outdoors, or relaxing in your backyard or on the patio, what better way to enjoy your favourite meals grilled the way they are meant to be? You can enjoy anything from a traditional meat-feast to vegan seitan and exotic fruit burgers. So why not take your favourite restaurant with you?

A good quality BBQ will add immense enjoyment to your outdoor experience and will be the perfect companion to your permanent BBQ at home. If you have an apartment or a small garden and a fixed BBQ is not viable, then a portable BBQ is the perfect choice for you.

Modern portable barbeques are lightweight, easy to fire up, easy to clean, safe to use and have been ergonomically designed to fit into a corner on your patio neatly. They easily fit into the boot of a car, or to be wheeled or carried wherever you will need it, without any hassle or heavy lugging.

You have a wide choice of portable grills that are fuelled by gas, wood, lump charcoal or briquettes. Each has its advantages to match your preferences.

What should you be looking for in a good portable BBQ?

A good portable BBQ should be versatile and allow you to cook a variety of delicious meals at different times, with a minimum of fuss and bother.

Portability and weight. Portability and weight are major considerations, but it can severely limit your choices of food and enjoyment if that is the only factor you were to consider. Some of the extremely lightweight BBQ’s will simply not do justice to your gastronomical expectations. Simply put, they are too limited in what they can do. They will be fine if all you want to do is grill a few sausages but will let you down when you want to do a good job of slow-cooking a rack of ribs, pulled pork, or any form of gourmet outdoor cooking. It is important that your portable BBQ is made of durable, though lightweight materials, but be very certain it is stable and can do what you need it for.

Portable or mobile BBQ’s come in various shapes or sizes. Some can be carried in a bag; some have wheels to move them about the garden or patio, some can fold up into a manageable size for storage or carrying around and can then be folded out when needed.

If you plan to use your portable BBQ at home, or in your caravan or mobile home, then a more durable, heavier model with greater versatility, such as the OutdoorChef P-420 Gas Barbecue, or more compact OutdoorChef Chelsea 480C would be a brilliant choice.

If you want to go hiking, you will be more concerned with weight. If you go on regular picnics or camping in tents, a compromise between weight and versatility is called for. A wood or charcoal BBQ will usually be more comfortable to carry, but superb small gas BBQ’s are also available. Something like the Cobb Kitchen in a bag, Hibachi, Weber, Landman Picollini, or Uten stainless steel folding BBQ will probably best suit your needs in either gas, wood or charcoal.

Versatility. Apart from portability, the most crucial consideration is what you love to cook. If you usually cook lighter food, such as grilled vegetables, skewers, sausages or burgers, something small and straightforward will serve you very well.

For gourmet steaks with varied and more intense flavours, pizza, paellas, roasts, marinated cooking, searing, cross-hatching and so on, you will require a more sophisticated BBQ than merely a heat source and a grill. For instance, a kettle BBQ, or an open grill BBQ with a lid can double up like an oven, or pizza oven. Cooking plates or pans next to, or on top of the grill enormously increase the types of food that can be cooked. Rotisseries or swivel brackets for hanging pots or kettles likewise extend the use, without adding a great deal of weight.

Quality portable BBQ’s will come with a wide choice of adjustable grills, adjustable heat, a selection of heating fuels, accessories, with or without lids, open grills, kettle grills and much more. Decide which one will give you the greatest diversity, while still being light and compact enough to be moved about comfortably.

Size. Without becoming heavy and cumbersome, the BBQ has to be big enough to cook for your size family or friends. A lone hiker might get away with a tiny grill big enough for a burger, but most families will require a grill large enough to accommodate enough steaks, patties, pizza, chicken, or whatever is on the menu, without having to wait for a second or third round of grilling. As a rule of thumb, select a BBQ slightly bigger than you think you will need, remember that meat requires a bit of space around it and should not be crowded onto the grill.

The height of the BBQ is an important consideration. Decide whether you want to sit or stand. Do you require a BBQ with adjustable legs, on its trolley, or a table model? You certainly do not want to break your back bending over for the entire time you are cooking.

The height of the grill above the heat is also important. Your best choice will be a BBQ with an adjustable grill or even multiple grills, for different kinds of cooking and different stages of cooking. Being able to control the heat is a definite boon.

Durability. At the outset, it is necessary to say that disposable BBQ’s are not recommended. They are designed to be thrown away, and that is exactly what you get. Just some of the disadvantages of a disposable BBQ are:

  • You are extremely limited in the choice of food you can cook. Fatty foods will spray fat onto the coals that will cause them to flare up and burn the food.
  • The grill is of inferior quality, and food will probably stick to it.
  • They are not sturdy and are not safe to use, unless placed on a stable table or top, well away from any combustible material if they should split apart.
  • They are not reliable. The burning mat can fail; the charcoal may not burn properly; the thin skin can tear, etc.
  • They are not environmentally friendly and cannot be recycled. In the long term, they will cost more than a good quality BBQ that will last for many years.

Our advice is to use them only in emergencies. A good quality portable BBQ is much safer, easier to use, much more versatile and will do exactly the job you have purchased it for.

Carefully consider what it is you want your portable BBQ for. If you’re going to be cooking lighter food – grilled vegetables and skewers, for example – something small and simple is best. Kettle barbecues and open grills will give you that classic, charcoal taste; electric and gas grills will cook faster and more precisely. Multipurpose portable BBQ’s can also be used for pizza, making bread, paellas, and much more.

Easy to clean. No one likes cleaning up sticky, oily grills that spoil all the fun of a relaxing day outdoors. A good quality portable BBQ does not have too many parts, but can easily and quickly be dismantled and assembled for cleaning and transporting or storing.

A good quality grill is easy to keep clean and will not rust quickly. An ash pan or fat tray will make it easy to dispose of the remnants of your fire and will collect any fat or oil that has dripped from the food.

Some handy tips:

  • Remember to wear protective gloves and clean the grill, cooking plates and racks while they are still hot, to easily remove fat and oil. A good brush and food-safe detergents will also be a great help.
  • Let the BBQ cool down properly before packing it up or moving it.
  • Make sure coals have burnt out entirely and are no longer smouldering before disposing of them. You do not inadvertently want to start a fire or damage your bin.
  • Be extremely careful when using starter fluid. More people are hurt this way than any other accidents relating to barbeques.
  • It is always a good idea to have a spray bottle of water handy to douse the flames if your food catches alight. Also, have some baking soda or bicarbonate of soda handy to put out small grease fires.
  • A fire extinguisher next to your BBQ will not be a waste. Rather safe than sorry.
  • If you have a gas BBQ, make sure the control valve is closed correctly, and there are no gas leaks (test by putting some soapy foam on all connections.) If the flame goes out. First, turn off the gas, wait a few seconds before you turn it back on, and then relight the flames.
  • If your BBQ has a lid, do not turn on the gas with the lid closed.
  • Lightly oil the grill before storing to prevent rust.
  • Before using, heat the BBQ and wipe the grill with a clean damp cloth, taking care not to burn your hands or set the cloth alight. This has almost the same effect as curing a cast-iron pot before cooking.
  • A little olive oil brushed onto the meat will prevent it from sticking to the grill

Ask the experts. The professional experts at Firehouse are all enthusiastic BBQ “practitioners” as well, and they are standing by to advise you on the best portable BBQ’s on the market and to share great ideas on enjoying a family BBQ. If Firehouse does not stock your choice of BBQ model, we will either source it for you or advise you on where you can buy it.