A fan-powered option to traditional BBQs
The small, portable LotusGrill BBQ claims to offer healthy, smokeless cooking, and is a good size for your tiny balcony or regular picnics. You might find it a more appealing option than the grotty old park BBQ – but will it do the job just as well?
Firing up the LotusGrill
The LotusGrill has a basket in the centre of the unit that holds the charcoal, and a battery-operated, variable-speed fan that circulates air through the charcoals to distribute heat and control heat flow.
To get it running, you'll need to ignite a fire starter gel and carefully place the charcoal basket over the flame – 250g of charcoal will keep it going for over an hour. For best results, use natural hardwood charcoal and break it into small pieces the size of a 50-cent coin. The exterior doesn't get hot during cooking, so it can be moved around if you're careful with it.
Fiona Mair, home economist from CHOICE's test kitchen, found the LotusGrill cooks sausages and steak somewhat unevenly. The sausages had large areas that were unevenly cooked and browned, and those in the centre burned. There was also a lot of smoke as well as flare-ups while cooking the sausages (caused when fat drips down into the bowl). The steak also had small areas that were unevenly cooked and browned.
During cooking, the heat is quite intense, especially in the centre of the grill, so the fan needs to be adjusted to control the heat. Fiona needed to move the food around constantly to avoid burning and achieve even cooking. Its design means food placed on the grill is exposed to draughts that could alter the cooking time and temperature.
For an extra $100 you can buy the hood with vent and thermostat, which will help with the evenness of cooking and give you more cooking options.
Ease of use
The LotusGrill is easy to assemble and use. It's ready to use within four minutes (in contrast to a charcoal grill, which takes about 30 minutes to preheat). You may notice smoke when you use it for the first time but this is from a thin oil film on the charcoal container.
Its grill area can accommodate enough meat for a group of four, but if you're after a larger unit, the upgraded XL LotusGrill has extra grill space and comes with a lid.
It's easy to clean – there's good access to all areas, the exterior surface is easy to wipe over and the grill rack and stainless steel inner bowl are dishwasher-safe.
Keep an eye on the batteries
For this BBQ to perform at its best, you need fully charged batteries – as we found out the hard way. We had a brand new packet of four batteries, but one was DOA which meant the fan wasn't powering as it should have, so it took longer to heat up and didn't cook as well as it might have.
The concept and design behind this barbecue is impressive, but it requires some trial and error in adjusting the fan speed and moving the food around to avoid uneven cooking and burning. The LotusGrill is ideal for campers and picnickers who want the flavour from a charcoal barbecue without the hassle and time to start one.