As you may have spotted in our recent feature on whether electric power will become the future fuel for barbecue grilling, there’s been a recent push towards electric BBQ grills as a cleaner and safer alternative to both charcoal and gas.
Since electric grills don’t have a naked flame, they are definitely safer to use, case closed. Also, electric grills generally produce less smoke, making them better suited to balcony use and in neighbourhoods where homes are clustered closely together. Electric grills are also cheaper to run than both charcoal and gas and they will never run out of fuel unless you have a rare power cut. Lots of reasons, then, to consider buying an electric barbecue grill for your balcony or patio.
This writer can’t think of a better electric BBQ duo for balcony and away-from-home use than the Weber Lumin Compact and the Ninja Woodfire BBQ Grill & Smoker. Both models are compact in size and both provide a variety of tantalising outdoor cooking options. But which one is the best portable electric grill for you?
Let’s find out.
Weber Lumin Compact vs Ninja Woodfire: design
While you will find some full-sized electric barbecues on the market – like the excellent Char-Broil Smart-E I recently reviewed – the vast majority of electric models have been designed with balconies, patios, camping and caravanning in mind and are therefore better suited for use in confined spaces while being easier to store under cover.
Both the Weber Lumin Compact (H: 27.9cm x W:58.6cm x D: 41.2cm) and Ninja Woodfire (H:34 x W:46 x D:46) have small footprints making them perfect for table-top use. However, in case you’re interested, Weber also produces a larger model of the same grill which measures 66.1cm x 64.8cm x 51.8cm.
In terms of design, the Weber is very pleasing to the eye and unmistakably Weber-esque in the way it encompasses the company’s telltale black enamel-coated lid and grill tub (in the States, buyers have a choice of another four colours – navy blue, yellow, seafoam green and ice blue). However, the low height of the lid does restrict it from grilling a whole chicken under it unless it’s been spatchcocked.
By contrast, the Ninja Woodfire has loads of height under its seemingly east Asian-inspired industrial-style hood. To me, the Woodfire isn’t quite as appealing a looker as the Lumin Compact but then again the Woodfire looks more functional which, it turns out, it actually is.
Both models are equipped with a standard oven-style Calrod heating element that meanders beneath the grill grates. For something so old fashioned, this method of heating works extremely well as I discovered when reviewing the Sage Smart Oven Pizzaiolo indoor pizza oven. In fact, I think it’s amazing that here we are in 2023 still using an invention from 1915 to such amazing effect. Believe me, the level of heat these elements emit is powerful enough to grill a sausage to death in mere minutes.
Both of these electric grills provide roughly the same meal estate. The Weber’s split cast-iron grill grate measures 43cm x 28cm while the Ninja’s is 37cm x 28cm, give or take a millimetre or two. However, the biggest difference between the two – and this does have a bearing on how well each model performs when doing standard grilling – is that the Weber’s two-part grate is slated which means the juices from meats drip through to the hot element below, instantly vaporising and flavouring the meat in the process. By contrast, the Ninja’s grill grate is a solid griddle-like structure with raised grill-marking lines. This means the fats channel towards a drip tray and not onto the heating element below.
In terms of transportation, both models weigh in at 12 kilos, making them relatively easy to lift. However, only the Ninja Woodfire has side handles which makes a big difference when carrying. Moreover, since the Weber’s lid isn’t lockable, it’s quite easy for the lid to swing open if you carry it at the wrong angle. A simple latch would have solved this.
Weber Lumin Compact vs Ninja Woodfire: features
When it comes to versatility and features the Ninja Woodfire wins hands down. Both models use a Calrod heating element beneath the grill grate but the Lumin’s temperature control is much easier to understand. Although each temperature setting is labelled Warming, Medium, Smoke, Steam and High, this is just a more user-friendly way of labelling the individual temperatures that are best suited to the task in hand. And speaking of tasks, this little thriller griller can sear, smoke, steam or boil with the capacity to keep food warm, too.
If searing meat or vegetables, you simply whack the temperature up – not too high, mind – and slap on the burgers, sausages, chicken legs, corn on the cob what have you. However, if you want to steam or smoke your food you’ll need to remove one side of the main grate and replace it with the two provided stainless steel trays – the bottom tray is for containing water for steaming or wood chips for smoking, while the upper tray is used for cooking the ingredients. Of course, this means that you lose half of the standard grilling surface in the process, but on the plus side it also means you could feasibly cook for both meatarians and vegetarians at the same time.
Conversely, the Ninja Woodfire specialises in smoking and air frying though it can certainly grill, too, albeit not quite as authentically as the Weber. Uniquely, this model has a specific smoker box that you fill with wood pellets, just like those used on a pellet grill. However, unlike a pellet grill that burns the pellets as fuel, the Ninja Woodfire burns them solely for flavour enhancement. While the jury’s out on the effectiveness of the smoker during a long five-hour, low-and-slow brisket smoking session, it certainly adds an unmistakably authentic outdoor smokiness to food when doing standard grilling or even air frying. The Woodfire comes with two small packets of pellets to get you started.
With respect to air frying, it makes some sense that one of the market leaders in the air frying business should add one to their first outdoor barbecue. While some may question the addition of an air fryer on a barbecue, in this instance it works, partly because the BBQ is portable, electric and it’s therefore worth adding, but mostly because meat – especially chicken with the skin on – is outrageously good when air fried. You can even add the smoker into the mix for extra flavour.
Unlike the Weber Lumin Compact’s extremely simple control interface, the Ninja’s is on another level of walk-through simplicity, admittedly with some elements of confusion in between. Since the Woodfire is fitted with a digital interface, pretty much the entire cooking process is pre-programmed though you can easily change cooking temperature and duration manually. But basically you switch it on and ‘pre heat’ pops up on the display. Once the grill is hot enough, you get a message to put the food on followed by, if required, a reminder to turn or shake the food. If you want an electric grill that holds your hand throughout the process, the Ninja Woodfire is the better choice.
Weber Lumin Compact vs Ninja Woodfire: performance
When it comes to standard grilling and searing – both convection style with the lid closed or brazier style with the lid open – the Weber Lumin Compact does a better job almost entirely because of the slatted grill grates that let fats and juices drip through onto the heating element where they sizzle to create flavouring smoke in the process.
The Ninja Woodfire on the other hand, is way better for smoking and, of course, air frying which the Weber can’t do at all. In fact, had the Ninja been equipped with slatted grates, this comparison may have been more cut and dried towards the Ninja Woodfire. Yes, the Woodfire can still sear to some degree but because the meat is mostly in contact with the cooking surface and therefore in its own juices, the fats don’t sizzle as they do on the Weber so it loses some of that smokiness associated with outdoor grilling. On the plus side, you can counteract this to some degree by using the Ninja’s excellent smoking feature. Just be aware that there’s a subtle difference between barbecue smokiness and wood-induced smokiness.
Weber Lumin Compact vs Ninja Woodfire: pricing and availability
On average, the Weber Lumin Compact retails at £399 and the Ninja Woodfire at £349.99. Without a shadow of doubt, the Ninja Woodfire is better value in terms of versatility, functions and user guidance so in this regard the Ninja clinches it simply by dint of providing more cooking options while being cheaper to buy.
Weber Lumin Compact vs Ninja Woodfire: verdict
Both of these tabletop electric grills are capable of producing excellent BBQ results though I personally think the Weber Lumin Compact’s slatted grill grate makes it a better choice for standard grilling. It’s also more efficient at steaming food like fish and vegetables.
However, there is no contest when it comes to smoking. In this regard the Ninja’s specialised wood pellet burner puts it way ahead of the Weber’s traditional wood chips method. And, of course, the Ninja can also air fry food which is something the Weber most certainly cannot do.
Some comparisons are pretty clear cut with one surefire winner, but this one is ultimately down to whether you want a more authentic style of grilling – that’ll be the Weber Lumin Compact – or access to a wider variety of cooking methods, in which case the Ninja Woodfire is the model for you.