Welcome to T3's review of the new Weber Lumin Compact, a portable electric tabletop BBQ that can grill, sear, smoke, steam and keep food warm.
I’ve already mentioned the Lumin in a recent article on how electricity might become the most ubiquitous BBQ fuel of the future, so now is as good a time as any to give this little griller a thorough test to see whether barbecuing over an electric oven-style heating element can produce results that are comparable to charcoal or gas.
Let’s give it a go and see if the Weber Lumin will become one of the best barbecues of this year.
Weber Lumin Compact review: design
When it comes to recommending reputable barbecue brands, I usually alight on three main players – Weber, Broil King and Napoleon. In my experience, these three manufacturers consistently produce some of the best performing and most robust barbecues you can buy.
Take Weber, for instance. I owned a standard Weber kettle for over ten years and never put a cover on it. Yet, aside from some easily-removable rust settling on the grate, it performed as well on its last day as it did on its first – and you can’t say that about most of the cheaper alternatives out there.
While the new tabletop Lumin is as robust as any other Weber BBQ, the fact it runs on electricity means it’s best stored under a roof of sorts, whether it’s a shed, a greenhouse or, at the very least, Weber’s dedicated cover. However, I should add that, in a stroke of minor genius, the Lumin’s controller and all electrical components are housed within a sealed, removable unit that simply plugs into the side of the chassis. Hence, if the heavens were to open without warning while you’re in the middle of a grilling session, you can quickly turn it off, unplug the electrics and feasibly take the whole unit indoors, place it on top of the cooker hob, turn on the extractor fan and carry on with the cooking. That’s the beauty of using a barbecue that’s so eminently portable – and electric!
At this juncture I should add that there are actually two Weber Lumin models available – a larger 66cm wide model with 1,562 square centimetres of cooking space and the smaller Lumin Compact model I'm reviewing here.
The Lumin Compact measures just 58.5cm in width and 57cm in height and it comes with 1,166 sq cm of meal estate, which is perfect for a family of three and possibly more if cooking narrower ingredients like sausages and drumsticks. At 12 kilos in weight, it’s very easily portable, though I would have liked to have seen a latch system fitted to prevent the lid from accidentally falling open if carried at too steep an angle.
For some reason, the Weber Lumin Compact is only available in black in the UK. However, if you live in the States you have a choice of another four colours – navy blue, yellow, seafoam green and ice blue.
Weber Lumin Compact review: features
Despite its diminutive size, the Lumin Compact is a versatile piece of kit that can grill, sear, smoke, steam and warm. For its heat source, it uses a simple old-fashioned oven-style heating element that weaves a path directly beneath the two-part high-quality cast-iron grilling grates.
At its highest temperature, this heating element glows red hot and draws 2.2kW of power which is about the same as an average kettle. Despite the high power consumption, electric barbecues are generally considered the cheapest style of barbecue to run in the long term, and the best part is that they never run out of fuel so you can go on grilling till the cows come home.
Another major benefit with electric BBQs is that there are no naked flames involved so they can be used safely on balconies, campsites with an electricity supply and anywhere else where the use of gas or charcoal is restricted or considered dangerous. And because electricity is a much cleaner form of energy than charcoal or gas, electric BBQs are much better for the environment.
Aside from the aforementioned grates, the Lumin Compact ships with two stainless steel trays – one for containing water for steaming or wood chips for smoking, the other for placing the ingredients. Since the grill is split into two parts and the trays are half the size of the grill, you simply remove one of the grates and replace it with the trays. For steaming, you would fill the lower tray with water and use the top-mounted perforated tray to cook the ingredients on or replace the water for wood chips if smoking.
The control knob is simple to operate but you may be confused – as I was – by the icons which are related to temperature more than anything else. However, in a not entirely successful attempt to make things easier for us, Weber has labelled each heat setting with an icon that relates to its specific use. There are five of them and they are labelled thus: warming, medium, smoke, steam and high.
I can see the logic in providing a more simplistic way to select the most suitable heat setting for a specific discipline but I found it rather confusing at first, so I suggest you read the manual before diving in.
Weber Lumin Compact review: performance
This barbie heats up very quickly – 315˚C in about 15 minutes. For my first test, I whacked the heat up to the highest setting, threw on some chicken wings with a good dose of Nando's hot rub for good measure and closed the lid. Good job I checked a minute later because the extraordinarily high heat seared the skin of the wings so quickly I had to immediately drop the temperature to a more manageable level. Impressively, the temperature reduced as quickly as a gas grill and the wings came off the grate just the right side of edible – my bad for not reducing the heat fast enough.
Since the juices from the wings dripped onto the red hot element below, vaporising in the process and creating flavoursome smoke, I honestly couldn’t have told you whether they were grilled on charcoal or gas, let alone electric. They had genuine barbecue flavour – and without the extra faff that charcoal and gas brings to the table.
My next experiment involved smoking a salmon fillet so I followed the instructions and replaced the left-hand grill top with the smoking tray and filled it with wood chips. Why Weber suggest the left side and not the right I don't know – I mean it’s not as if the left side of the heating element is a different temperature to the right. But anyway, Weber recommend starting on full heat for about 5 minutes to get the chips smoking and then reducing the temperature by turning the dial to the smoke icon. I’ve got to say, the results were really impressive – the fish was perfectly cooked and it definitely had a light texture and very pleasant smokey flavour.
I then steamed asparagus with a drizzle of rich balsamic vinegar on the other side of the grill as advised and that was a great success, too. In fact they were absolutely delicious and just the right side of al dente.
All in all, I’d say all three tests were a resounding success and I might even consider switching over to electric when I’m not using my trusty pellet grill.
Weber Lumin Compact: price & availability
Weber Lumin Compact review: verdict
In terms of design, I personally love this thing. It looks great on a table top, it doesn’t take up too much space, it’s easy to use once you’ve got a grip on what the icons on the controller mean and it’s extremely versatile because it can genuinely sear as well as grill, smoke and steam. In fact, the only caveat is that you need an electricity supply that can handle up to 2.2 kilowatts of continuous output.
Should you consider the Lumin Compact? If you live in a flat with a balcony or often go glamping where electricity is provided, then this little grill – or its larger sibling – is a no brainer.