If summertime rouses your inner pitmaster, awakening within you an insatiable appetite for smoked, dewy meats, you may be feeling especially disappointed this season, because unless you have enough space for a proper barbecue, gathering en masse around the one grill in your social circle has been rendered both irresponsible and perilous by the current pandemic.
That said, even if you live in a cramped apartment or have access to a sliver of balcony space, you could always snag yourself a mini grill to indulge your carnivorous desires on a small, but satisfying scale. Before buying a portable grill, though, you should understand that they have an assortment of capabilities, some of which are perhaps more suited to your space than others.
The biggest consideration when shopping for any barbecue, not only a mini one, is whether you want it to be powered by electricity, gas or charcoal. Electric grills are arguably the simplest and safest option — only requiring a power outlet — and they can be used indoors without creating all that much smoke. However, while incredibly easy to use, electric grills typically fail to achieve the smoky, charbroiled taste imparted by charcoal and gas grills.
Speaking of which, gas grills are kind of the middle ground between electric and charcoal — they can be easily started with even a small propane tank and impart a strong, smoky flavor onto your food. The one major downside is that gas grills create a good amount of heat and smoke, so they may not be permitted in your apartment complex, even if you have a balcony.
Charcoal grills, meanwhile, are the supposed ultimate cooking tools when it comes to achieving that traditional barbecue flavor, but it does take time and attention to light and stoke the coals, and once you start a charcoal grill, you need to hang around and tend to it until the coals eventually cool down. Like gas grills, the charcoal variety can also create a ton of heat and smoke, so you need a decent amount of space to use them. Moreover, both gas and charcoal grills impart carcinogens onto your food, crowning electric grills as the healthiest option.
Now that we have the basics down, come along for some more specific mini grill recommendations, depending on the space you have at your disposal.
The Best Mini Grills If You Live in a Broom Closet
If your apartment is tiny, Mike, host of the Everyday BBQ & Cooking YouTube channel, says, “The [George] Foreman is the most proven option. There have been others made over the years, but none that really match the quality of the Foreman.”
Sure, you may have been under the impression that George Foreman grills were gimmicky, and they kind of are. But when it comes to grilling indoors, you really should stick to electric grills — unless you have a deathwish — and Foremans are easy to use and almost entirely foolproof. The newer models in particular even come with a nice domed lid, so you actually get the satisfying feel of grilling, as opposed to the bleak sadness of cooking a hamburger on a glorified panini press.
The Best Mini Grills If You Have a Sliver of Backyard Space and a Lenient Landlord
If you have at least some space, Mike recommends either the Weber Smokey Joe or the Kamado Joe Jr. Both of these are charcoal grills, the Weber being the more budget option at only $35 and the Kamado being the more luxurious choice at $400. Both have about the same sized cooking surface — enough to cook a full chicken or a couple steaks and some vegetables — but the Kamado grill is made of ceramic, whereas the Weber one is made of porcelain.
Ceramic grills generally retain heat and smoke better than porcelain models, which helps meat hold its moisture, prevents heat loss when you open the grill to add sauce or cheese, and is generally safer and more secure while cooking in a small space. Obviously, the Weber model is a lot cheaper — and should work fine for the amateur pitmaster — but if you want something more upscale and are snobby about your flavors, the Kamado is a better bet.
If you decide to go with a cheaper model, however, Mike says you can always upgrade the grill grates, which can be a more frugal means of achieving grill greatness, so to speak. “I always look for cast iron or stainless steel grates,” he says. “The cast iron really holds up longer and adds wonderful flavor and searing. If cast iron isn’t available, stainless steel is the next best thing for longevity. Many third-party manufacturers will make grate upgrades (no pun intended) for cookers that are sold with lower quality grates.”
The Best Mini Grills If You Have a Balcony and a Strict Landlord
If you have a really draconian landlord, honestly, you might just have to settle for an electric grill, like a George Foreman. But as Mike says, “If the apartment complex doesn’t allow charcoal, then any small gas unit would work.” Again, gas grills generally create a little less smoke than charcoal ones (but more than electric ones), making them a better bet for close-quarter balcony cooking and the like. The Weber Q1200 is a decent, extremely portable option that should fit on even the smallest of balconies and clocks in at just over $200.
Once you get your hands on one of these babies — whichever you decide upon — the only thing left to do is drink 20 beers and totally forget about the burgers you were just cooking.