Me, on the other hand, I’m the guy that boils water and pours it into a dehydrated meal pack and waits 10 minutes. But, after spending a little time with the Ecoque Portable Grill, there might be hope for me yet. Ecoque labels their grills as greener, more energy efficient grills. Because of their unique design, they claim a reduction of 75% fuel use compared to similarly sized grills. After working with it a few times, I can see the evidence for their claims. Though I didn’t do scientific testing and compile specific data, the proof was in the pudding, or at least the briquettes There are two sizes availalbe, a 12″ model and a 15″ model. When I first came across them in a press release, I thought the 12″ model would be a great one to easily tote around and not have to carry a ton of briquettes to cook for a couple lof people. If you don’t have charcoal briquettes handy, you can also use small pieces of wood as well. I tried the grill both ways, but I started out with the briquettes first, and that was because of a specific reason.
Ever see that commercial that says, “Don’t be that guy.” Well, I’m not that guy. You know the one. The husband of the soccer mom who works at the office by day and moonlights as an amateur chef on the weekends. He’s the one that feeds the neighborhood with all the eats he prepares on his grill. He spends umpteen hours perfecting his craft whether he works with charcoal or specialty woods like mesquite. He’s the one you want to camp next to in the hopes there might be some left overs at your next outdoors event.
When I pulled the 12 inch grill out of the box, I had mixed feelings. It was packed away into a compact and very flat package that would be easy to slip into about any storage space. However, for it’s small size, it was quite heavy. I found out how heavy as I was pulling it out of the case and dropped it on my foot. Needless to say, that hurt. I guess the words “stainless steel” didn’t fully register when I read the item description. My immediate impression was that this is not a grill for backpacking even with its 12 inch square foootprint. Maybe you could slip it into your pack if you’ve got 1-2 other people to spit up your food and other cooking gear. But, if you’re a soloist, then this won’t work for you. However, it’s perfect for packing in your car for tailgating or for enjoying a day at the park. Heck, you might even just want to use it out on your deck. Weight factor aside, though, the grill’s performance exceeded expectations for a grill this size.
The first thing you have to do is assemble the grill as it comes in several pieces so you can easily pack it away in such a small pack. It’s not a complicated process, but a couple of pieces were a little finicky until you got the hang of it after a couple of times. The first thing you do is flip out the legs on the base and then unfold and insert the lower box that allows airflow and vents from the bottom. The next piece is the firebox. This is where you put the the small, low heat grate (for baking or for putting your fuel pellets to ignite your main fuel). Before you insert the low heat grate, though, you’ll want to slip in a foil liner for the firebox. Ecoque was nice enough to include a box of the foil liners with the grill as well as a box of the fuel pellets. The foil liner just makes it easier to dispose of the ashes and also makes the cleanup much easier.
For normal grilling, you’ll use the low heat grate to hold the fuel pellets, or if you’re you’re the woodsy sort, you might want to use some small fatwood sticks instead. Either way, you want something that’s going to burn long enough to get the charcoal going. In the manual that came with the grill, it shows using two of the fuel pellets to get the charcoal burning. That didn’t do the trick for me. I went through two pellets with only a couple of the briquettes actually catching well. I started the process over and used 5 fuel pellets instead. This time around, all of the briquettes got going quite nicely. Since I had to re-do the process, I had to lift out the Super Heat grate to replace the fuel pellets and the heat grate was still quite hot. But, Ecoque includes a nice little handle (see top picture) that you can slip the ends into the top grate or the bottom grate and lift them out without getting burned. This is a necessary tool, especially at the end of the process when you want to lift the coals out so the grill can have a chance to cool and eventually be packed away again.
Once done, if you’re grilling, you then insert the Super Heat Grate fuel insert. This where you normally put your charcoal or wood fuel. Now, it depends on what type of fuel you are grilling to determine which position you set the charcoal for the cooking process. For instance, for thick steaks or chops, you want high heat. For that, you stand the charcoal on end in the slots designed for that purpose. If you’re needing medium heat for food like burgers, sausage and the like, you just lay the charcoal flat as you normally would. In this position, you’ve got enough room for 9 briquettes, but that’s all your going to need for a couple of rounds of food.
The first time I used the grill, I cooked up some Italian saugage, or as we say in West Virginia, “I-talian Sausage”. I grilled 5 large pieces and still had room left over for other stuff. But, since I’m a meat and potatoes kind of guy, I focused on the sausage. It was at this point that I discovered a mistake that I made when I bought a small bag of briquettes for the review. The ones that I bought were labeled as “professional” briquettes and are 60% larger than normal briquettes. Being much thicker in the body, this brought the heat closer to the food than normal briquettes, giving essentially almost the same effect as setting the briquettes on end. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not that guy, so I didn’t realize this error until I was into the grilling process. Sausage is recommended to be cooked over medium heat in the manual that comes with the grill, but with the larger pieces of charcoal, I was getting higher heat than suggested. This caused the the sausage to get some nice 3rd degree, 4th degree, and 5th degree burns before it was fully cooked. It still tasted good, but yes, it was a lesson learned. Even with the detailed energy efficiency, a good portion of the heat is still in the center, but that lets you slide stuff to the slide for slower cooking or warming.
The next time around, I grilled a couple of thick pork chops. Though the manual recommends standing the charcoal on end for higher heat, I had to lay the charcoal flat since they were too wide for the briquette cut-outs in the Super Heat Grate fuel insert. No matter, as mentioned, the charcoal was thick enough to provide plenty of heat for the chops. Once they were finished and my dog Jethro and I sat down for dinner, we both appreciated the juicy, smoked flavor of the pork. Jethro seemed especially pleased, but I don’t think he has a particularly choosy palette.
Since then, I used the grill a couple of more times for chicken and some nice, thick burgers. The whole process turned out to be fairly easy once you got used to the set-up, and in my case, got used to actually grilling food. The grill also comes with a box top that you can set over the grill if you’d rather bake something instead. That box top comes with hinged doors that you can flip open to check whatever you’re baking whether it’s muffins or good ole cornbread. I never got around to baking anything since I didn’t have anything on hand, and besides, the grilling thing was a bit of a stretch for me anyway. And, they’ve also got an optional griddle that you can buy if you’re the type that likes to have eggs or pancakes for breakfast.
Cleanup is very fast and also very easy. Just dump your coals and let the grill cool for a while. Once you can handle it, you can take the whole thing apart in about 8 seconds. At this point, you can choose to either wipe it down and clean it by hand, or you can throw all the pieces into the dishwasher and be done with it. Before disassembly, simply take out the foil liner with the ashes and carefully dispose of them, keeping an eye out for any embers. The foil liner does a nice job of keeping a lot of the soot and ash from getting all over the inside of the grill. You’ll have some, but nowhere near as much as you would have without the liner.
All in all, I’ve have a pretty good time with the Ecoque Portable Grill during the last month. I’ve learned a little bit, and found yet another unique way to cook food in the great outdoors. It boasts a robust build quality and is very easy to clean when the fun is done. This item is indtended more for the car camping crowd rather than the backgpacking audience, but that doesn’t take away from its attributes. You’ve got plenty of real estate to cook supper for a family while using very little fuel. And, it packs into a flat case that you can slip just about anywhere. The suggested MSRP for this item is $129, but you can probably find one a little cheaper with a bit of search time on the net. Also, if you think the 12″ won’t meet your needs, you can step up to the 15″ version that will get you more room do your thing–if you’re that guy, that is. Whether you’re a tailgater or just a nature lover, the Ecoque Portable Grill is a great piece of gear to take along for the day!