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By: Max Good
Portable Kitchen PK360 Grill and Smoker takes all the great elements of the classic 1952 PK Grill, tweaks and improves the design, beefs up construction and delivers one of the more cosmetically beautiful charcoal grills we’ve seen. With 360 square inches primary cooking surface the grill box is larger than the 300 square inch Classic model, but retains PK’s characteristic flat bottom and rectangular shape with the unique configuration of bottom left and right adjustable air intake dampers and corresponding top left and right exhaust dampers, a set up that has always made Portable Kitchen King of the 2-Zones. We strongly believe 2-zone cooking is a key technique for outdoor grilling. As Meathead states, “The most essential concepts an outdoor cook needs to understand are the importance of temperature control, the differences between direct heat and indirect heat, and how to use a 2-zone setup.” The wide flat bottom makes it easy to push charcoal to one side and create two very distinct direct and indirect zones. The unique dual intake and exhaust dampers servicing each zone further accentuate this capability. Click here to read more about this important technique.
Check out the heavy cast aluminum construction above. The hinged cooking grate allows easy access to tend the charcoal fire. Both the cooking grate and charcoal grate below are marine grade stainless steel rods that provide superior performance and last forever.
Speaking of hinges, the grill hinge is cast into the interlocking firebox and hood (see below) – no extraneous parts to rust or wear out and you can easily lift the lid off so friends and family can gather around the grill for a social experience.
Hooks cast into the rear bottom have three functions.
1. Hang tools.
2. Hang an ash bucket. A removable “Ash Plug’ inside allows you to sweep out ash from a hole directly above the hooks.
3. Like the Classic predecessor, PK360 is portable and may be removed from the base for camping and tailgating. The hooks double as feet to stabilize 360 when set on the ground and used without the base. Don’t place it on any surface that can be damaged by the heat.
In addition to the sleek new modern look, 360 offers some clever design improvements over its predecessor. One of the few small gripes we had about the classic model was the sliding lower intake dampers allowed ash to fall out. The new 360 uses cylindrical dampers that prevent ash from leaving the firebox. The two tubes on the bottom are the damper cylinders. Turn the round black handles to the right to close off air and lower temps, turn them left to open up air flow and increase temps. “Ash Roofs” cover the cylinder openings to prevent ash from falling in. Here’s what they look like from inside; closed (left), open (middle), covered with an ash roof (right).
The black side shelves are made with “Durabilium”, which PK describes as, “a high heat sheet mold compound generally found in automotive applications that can withstand heat in excess of 500 degrees. Sheet Mold Compound is a high quality, engineered plastic material, but the name isn’t too sexy or customer friendly. Thus, we call ours Durabilium.” A metal rod wraps around the front of each shelf for hanging tools and towels. Each shelf is attached with three large bolts. Although the shelves are solid and stabile, they can be easily removed by unscrewing the large round knobs on each bolt. Two of the bolts attach to a cast structure that functions as a handle when the shelves are removed.
PK360 shelf kits made from materials such as Teak and Ironwood are in development now and will be available soon.
The wheels look nice, but are undersized making movement a bit awkward. The right side has two leveling feet.
If you need to do something simple and fast like high capacity burger production, load up 360 with a blanket of charcoal across the entire bottom for a large direct grilling experience. For everything else, even hot dogs, we recommend 2-zone cooking, and no charcoal grill does 2-zones better than Portable Kitchen.
The most common mistake novice grillers make is cooking everything too hot. Excuse spewing, sad sack, BBQ wannabees routinely serve burned up, dried out fare. Be kings and queens of your backyards by mastering 2-zone cooking. A 2-zone setup is ideal because it gives you much better control over temperature; you have one side of the grill that is hot and producing direct radiant heat, and the other side is producing no heat and food on that side cooks by indirect convection heat. Gently heat up sausages, burgers, steaks and chicken on the safe-indirect side, then sear and crisp them on the hot direct side. No more exploding hot dogs, charred chicken or hockey puck burgers. For turkey, ribs, and roasts that need to cook for long durations, 2-zone is essential to keep the temperature moderate and protect the meat from burning direct heat. Click here to learn more about How To Set Up a Charcoal Grill For Grilling and Smoking.
We did a few low and slow cooks at 225°F with PK’s optional charcoal basket which costs about $40. The basket is not necessary, but helps isolate the direct zone more effectively and makes clean up a bit easier because after cooking, much (not all) of the ash stays in the basket and can be lifted out for disposal . A metal ash plug in the rear bottom can then be removed and remaining ash swept through the opening into a bucket hung from tool hooks behind the grill.
We dumped a full chimney of charcoal with several wood chunks into the basket placed on the right side of the charcoal grate then lit it with one Firestarter on the right edge of the basket. When a fist sized cluster of briquettes ashed over, we closed the lid then shut down the bottom left cylindrical damper (indirect side) and upper right exhaust damper (direct side) to create a flow of heat and smoke from the lower right fire across the meat and out the top left exhaust. The 360 hummed away effortlessly at about 230°F for five hours before temp began to drop slightly. We shook out some of the ash in the basket. Pushed the coals together, added several more briquettes and kept going. The temp was remarkably stable and, much to our surprise; the built-in Tel-Tru thermometer gave an accurate reading of temp on the left side which we set as the indirect side. Most built-in hood thermometers are waaaaay off to begin with. The problem is worsened by the popular practice of locating them in the top of the hood. Tel-Tru makes some of the best analog thermometers we’ve tested and PK wisely places them directly above the cook surface for a meaningful temperature reading as confirmed by our Fireboard FBX11 digital themometer probe placed on the indirect side cooking grate, (see pic below).
Initially a water pan was used on the left indirect side of the charcoal grate. After cooking we saw a quantity of condensed moisture had collected under the pan and a small amount dripped through a mounting screw hole by the lower damper onto our deck. Another low and slow session was conducted with no water pan. There was no noticeable difference in meat flavor, moisture or tenderness leaving us to wonder if a water pan is even necessary with the 360. Note the juicy smoked BBQ pork butts sans water pan below.
Portable Kitchen’s response to our inquiry on this matter was, “As the manufacturer, we aren’t yet ready to conclude that a water pan is “never” needed with this grill – even though we feel that your experience of great flavor and moisture without a pan is ultimately a good one for users.” Unless you use a cover, the PK 360 fills with water ½” deep in the bottom and mold grows rapidly. Often the grill is too hot to cover before bed and rain fills it. It needs a drain hole.
We’d love feedback on this subject from PK 360 owners. Please share your experience in the comments section below.
Packaging was excellent and assembly easy. Only a small number of screws were needed. The shelves and grill are designed to be detachable for portability and are screwed on with big bolts that have large plastic knobs for easy removal. I learn a lot about a product during assembly. Thoughtful design and quality construction were evident at every step putting 360 together.
Today most grills are made with thin coated steel or stainless steel, but when Portable kitchen began in the 50s, cast aluminum grills were common. True to this tradition the PK360 should not rust out and die. It is lightweight and portable, yet delivers the capacity and performance of many heavier models that rarely leave the backyard. There are very few moving parts and no electronics, so we realistically expect these 360s to provide many years, even many generations of service as the old Classics have since the 1950s.
PK is offering a special package deal to our readers. Check it out in our Where To Buy Section below!
Portable Kitchen provided a PK360 for our tests.
Portable Kitchen Grills began in Texas in 1952, the same year as Weber. Since then PK had ups and downs, changed ownership, went on and off the market, but the original classic, rust-proof aluminum bodies refused to die and kept the grills and the PK name and mystique alive as they were passed down from generation to generation. In 2014 a new management team began pumping life into this nichey old beloved grill that really hadn’t changed for over half a century. By the end of 2016 a new PK360 model was rolled out, beginning a new era for PK with more new designs to follow.
We used an Original Classic PK Grill in our Science of BBQ & Grilling With Meathead video series presented by Kingsford. Click here to see videos from that series
Published On: 3/26/2017 Last Modified: 7/18/2022
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