A compact portable smoker grill that holds more food than you think and cooks it to perfection.
It used to be that to have temperature control and range, you needed a full-sized grill. But the Z Grills Cruiser Portable Pellet Grill ($299) proves that wrong.
The tabletop grill, which is shipped directly from Asia, is made by the same manufacturer that produces grills for many of grilling’s best-known brands. Its main appeal is that it purports to grill and smoke like a champion while costing hundreds of dollars less than most other pellet grills out there.
So we took the Z Grills Cruiser Portable Pellet Grill for a few spins, grilling chicken and smoking a rack of ribs. We needed to see if it can perform like high-end pellet grills without the high-end price.
In short: I was extremely impressed with the Cruiser. It cooks on par with more expensive, similarly sized grills on the market. The hopper holds enough pellets that I could leave ribs loaded and cooking, and then take a 3-hour bike ride without concern. Whether I smoked my food or cooked it on high, both meat and veggies were perfect every time.
Z Grills Cruiser 200A Portable Pellet Grill Review
Easy to Set Up
The Cruiser was quick and easy to assemble. It took about 15 minutes. I had to attach the lid and side handles and peel the plastic off the grill. Then it was time to season the grill and burn off any chemicals left over from the factory. The Z Grills seasoning instructions were detailed and easy to follow.
Once the process of loading the firepot, burning the grill at high heat, and cooling it down was complete, it was time to load the grill and start cooking.
Testing the Grill
I am a fan of high-heat grilling when it comes to cooking chicken, and that’s what I loaded onto this grill first. I cranked it to 450 degrees F, and loaded a spatchcocked chicken and two meaty breasts onto the 202 square inches of grill surface.
The grill has a probe port, but it doesn’t deliver with a probe — bummer. So, I used a battery-powered probe to monitor the chicken’s progress.
To control the temp, I used Z Grills’ Digital Controller knob. The Cruiser didn’t maintain quite as even a temperature as other pellet grills, like Traeger’s Ranger, for example. Perhaps the thermometer is more sensitive or it’s not programmed to stay stable, or perhaps the temperature actually swung more than in other grills.
It’s hard to say, because whatever I cooked came out great. The grill surface was full to the hilt, and the chicken cooked evenly except for one leg — on the far right edge of the grill.
To be sure, I overloaded the grill for the test. Despite the slightly undercooked leg, I was impressed with how evenly the chicken cooked.
Next, I smoked a rack of ribs, another meal that came out perfectly. The tender meat nearly fell off the bone by the time they’d smoked for 5 or 6 hours.
I never needed to reload the 8-pound hopper, which holds enough pellets for 10 hours of low and slow cooking. It held plenty of pellets for the entire cooking process. And there were plenty of pellets left in the hopper when the pork was done.
Z Grills Pellets
I tested the grill with both Z Grills pellets and Traeger pellets, and saw no performance difference.
Pellets imbue the food with subtle flavor, which was fun to play around with. The hickory pellet-smoked chicken tasted different than apple-smoked chicken, for example.
An automatic auger feeds the pellets into the firepot. The grill tweaks the pellet feed rate when you adjust the temperature.
Like any grill, this one gets greasy cooking fatty meats. I wrapped the tray under the grilling surface with tin foil, which made cleanup easier. A mini galvanized bucket collects grease at the back of the grill.
While the meat can make a mess, the pellets don’t. Every 4 or 5 hours of grilling, I lifted the grates and the undergraduate tray out to remove the ashes. That part wasn’t messy — the pellets burn clean. I used a small vacuum and they were gone in seconds.
Closed, the Cruiser 200A is 25” x 20” x 13”, and it weighs 40 pounds. It’s a reasonable size to chuck in the trunk or load in the RV, but not so small that I’d want to pack it into the backcountry for a picnic.
And you do need to plug it in to turn the auger. Fortunately, the Cruiser can be powered by many midsize portable power banks.
I haven’t had a chance to see if it will sear a steak just yet, but it gets hot enough — up to 450 degrees F — that it should.
I have other tabletop pellet grills that I’ve tested over the years, but Z Grills Cruiser has definitely surprised me — and replaced more expensive grills in my arsenal.