Sturdy portable barbecue fills the grilling gap

17 Jun
The Nexgrill did a perfect job on this plank salmon, which was done and ready just as the cedar burst into flames. (Geoff Meeker photo)

The Nexgrill did a perfect job on this plank salmon, which was done and ready just as the cedar burst into flames. (Geoff Meeker photo)

By Geoff Meeker

June 17, 2013 – According to the calendar, barbecue season is upon us (though a glance out the window may suggest otherwise).

If you’re like me, however, you barbecue year round. I grill supper about three times a week, even in the dead of winter. And I’ve been subjecting my new Weber Performer to all sorts of agony and torment, in my quest to test its mettle.

I raved about the Weber in June of last year because it uses charcoal as a fuel source, with an ingenious little propane burner to start the fire. (You can find that review online by searching for “Geoff Meeker Weber Performer”).

Alas, it did not hold up to a cold winter of constant use. The burner that lights the charcoal so quickly seemed to develop a blockage, sputtering and burning fuel underneath, at the air intake, rather than beneath the charcoal. For the last couple of months I’ve had to use liquid fuel to start the coals, which is slower and less convenient.

I ran a wire into the burner tube from the open end and poked around but it did no good, so I sent an email to Weber, asking for advice. They replied with precise instructions on how to clean the tube – a more feasible task now that winter is done – and who to contact if that didn’t work.

So, good save for Weber. A potentially troublesome situation is avoided by responsive, reassuring customer service.

That said, there are a couple of minor quibbles with the Weber. The heat from the coals is excellent but not hot enough to create a brown, crusty finish on my plank salmon (it looked more like it was roasted in a slow oven) because the plank blocks the radiant heat from below.

And sometimes I just want to grill a few dogs and burgers in a hurry, without having to break out the charcoal, so there is a gas barbecue in my future. It will likely be a larger, high-end model with infrared technology, and I plan to shop around and choose carefully. In the meantime, I needed a cheap, short-term solution.

On a recent visit to Costco, I spied the Nexgrill portable propane barbecue. It’s made of stainless steel, puts out 20,000 BTU’s, and has a cooking area of almost 250 square inches. It’s solidly built, weighing in at a hefty 30 lbs.

Best part of all was the price: just $122. That’s all I am willing to spend while between barbecues, and this looked like a quality piece of kit. I’m not one to buy on impulse, so I walked around the store before coming back to put it in the cart.

Big bonus: the grill comes almost completely assembled. It’s just a matter of snapping on the legs and putting the grills and drip pan in place. It took exactly 10 minutes, from opening the box to firing it up.

My first meal on the grill was not great. I threw on some striploin steaks, but they took much longer to reach medium doneness than expected. I quickly deduced that heat was escaping through vent holes that wrap around the barbecue on three sides. If it wasn’t windy, this wouldn’t be a problem – except this is Newfoundland, so it’s a major problem.

The Nexgrill portable propane grill works best when sheltered safely from the wind. (Geoff Meeker photo)

The Nexgrill portable propane grill works best when sheltered safely from the wind. (Geoff Meeker photo)

Next day I went to the shed and retrieved a wooden enclosure, designed and built by my brother Steve to house my 1000-watt generator. The barbecue fit inside perfectly, with 2 inches of clearance all around (and yes, I realize it’s made of wood and will never leave it unattended). With that windbreak in place, the barbecue did a turnaround and immediately started meeting and exceeding expectations.

It made the best plank salmon I’ve had in years, finishing it to a perfect golden glaze. Sausages, burgers, steak, chicken all came out delicious. Shelter it from the wind and this is one hot barbecue.

The drum isn’t deep so the cooking grid, drip pan and burner are all close together, which means you need to stand by and watch for flare-ups. I learned this the hard way, with a couple of seriously scorched chicken breasts. There were no repeat incidents after that little lesson.

The Nexgrill portable is a good unit, as long as you find a safe way to shelter it from wind. It’s ideal for the trailer and motor home crowd – whose numbers are legion – because it stows perfectly in the lower storage compartments.

I’ll do a follow-up when I settle on a larger barbecue. In the meantime, I’d like to hear your experiences, recommendations and criticisms from the world of barbecue grilling. Just drop a note to geoffmeeker(at)bellaliant.net.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: