Those who host frequent backyard cookouts tend to have firm opinions about what kind of grill keeps mouths watering. Picking the right portable grill to satisfy taste buds on the go—like for a camping trip or in a parking lot before the big game—means considering the same variables and then some.
Portable grills pack the basic functionalities of their standard counterparts into a more compact design. But the reduced size and price tag don’t necessarily indicate reduced quality. Whether you’re craving juicy burgers, hot dogs, seasoned vegetables, or some other barbecue favorite, there’s a portable grill to meet your needs.
Read on to determine what to expect from the best portable grill models, and check out specifics that just may suit your preferred fuel source, travel style, and budget.
- BEST OVERALL: Weber 51060001 Q1200 Liquid Propane Grill
- BEST BUDGET: Weber 10020 Smokey Joe 14-Inch Portable Grill
- BEST CHARCOAL GRILL: Weber Jumbo Joe Charcoal Grill 18 Inch
- BEST ELECTRIC GRILL: George Foreman Indoor/Outdoor Electric Grill, GGR50B
- BEST INFRARED GRILL: Char-Broil Grill2Go X200 Portable TRU-Infrared
- BEST LIGHTWEIGHT: Cuisinart CCG190 Portable Charcoal Grill
- BEST FOR CAMPING: Coleman RoadTrip 285 Portable Stand-Up Propane Grill
Portable Grill Power Sources
There are quite a few different ways to power a portable grill. This section will outline some of the most common fuel sources and grill types, highlighting the pros and cons of each type as well as important considerations of each fuel source.
Barbecue purists prefer the truly smoky taste that can only be achieved with charcoal briquettes. Charcoal burns hotter than propane, producing a more severe sear on food, but using it creates a few hassles: it can be messy, heavy to move, and slow to reach the desired heat level for cooking.
Propane offers a quicker, easier way to fire things up—and cleanup is minimal once things have cooled back down. Some propane grills even feature infrared heat, which heats very evenly and can be safer for tabletop models. Of course, the main drawback is the lack of charcoal flavor. The efficiency of propane is also pricier since grills that use this type of fuel are typically more expensive than their charcoal-burning counterparts.
Portable gas grills that work with natural gas operate similarly to propane units, but the gas nozzles that control the fuel are different. They’re efficient, easy to light, and controlling the temperature is almost intuitive. Portable natural gas grills can’t provide the flavor of charcoal grills, and they can cost more than propane models.
Grilling with wood pellets has become quite popular, and smaller portable pellet grills are now available. Some might argue that pellet grills offer the best flavor, and they also have easy temperature adjustments. However, pellet grills are often much more expensive than charcoal, gas of any sort, or electric grills. Plus, some models are modular, meaning setup could be time-consuming and complicated.
The simplest and most transportable portable grills are electric. They don’t provide the flame-kissed flavor of an actual grill, but temperature adjustments are pinpoint. Portable electric grills are usually very small, and it’s even possible to use some electric grills indoors, but of course they need to be plugged into an outlet, generator, or vehicle’s 12-volt outlet.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Portable Grill
Armed with knowledge about the different types of portable grills, shoppers must balance the pursuit of flavor with the desire for convenience. Here, you’ll find info about factors and features to keep in mind when choosing the best portable grill. Becoming familiar with these aspects will help you make a smart decision.
Portable grills come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including barrel-shaped, flat and rectangular, and even resembling a large cook pot with a domed lid. Almost all are small enough to fit in the trunk or seat of most cars in order to be deemed portable, but it’s smart to measure the available space and opt for something that fits within those parameters.
Size matters in terms of cooking space, too: Portable grills range from between about 100 and 250 square inches of cooking area. While a smaller cooktop can typically handle about four hamburgers at a time, the extra 150 square inches means accommodating two more patties or other food items on the grill.
It’s essential to ask yourself how heavy a grill you’re willing to carry from the house to the car, the car to the grilling location, and back again. Portable grills tend to weigh anywhere from 2 pounds to a whopping 35 pounds, and that weight can affect portability.
Size and weight don’t necessarily correspond, either, so it may be possible to end up with a small, heavy grill or a large, lightweight one. Do your research and know your limits if you want to keep things comfortable for the long haul.
Lots of different materials go into making the best portable grill. The most popular materials include:
- Powder-coated steel: Portable grills made with powder-coated steel are usually the most affordable, as they’re as basic as it gets. They may rust sooner than models made from other materials, but they’re so affordable, some shoppers prefer to replace them every few years rather than buy a pricier model.
- Stainless steel: Stainless steel portable grills are more rust-resistant and durable than powder-coated grills. They also tend to do a better job of retaining heat, which makes temperature regulation a bit easier.
- Aluminum: Some of the best portable grills feature aluminum fireboxes, which reflect heat evenly and won’t rust. Expect to pay more for these grills, and consider them a worthy investment that won’t wind up in the trash a few years down the line.
The construction of the grates inside the grill also matters. Cast-iron grates are durable but require frequent cleaning and oiling. Stainless steel is also durable and requires very little maintenance but doesn’t distribute heat as evenly as cast iron. Porcelain-coated cast iron provides the best of both worlds. But the downside is that cast iron is quite heavy so is less suitable for some portable grills.
The best portable grills are all about utility, and they come in a variety of different styles to suit user preferences.
- Some models are designed to sit on top of a picnic table or bench.
- Portable grills with frames that unfold or stands that extend make transport easy while still allowing the user to grill from a comfortable height.
- Kamado-style grills are oval shaped and feature thick insulated walls for maximum heat retention.
- Flat-top grills operate like traditional portable gas grills without lids, but their stainless steel tops act like griddles.
- Certain electric grills don’t use a flame or create carbon monoxide and are so compact that they can cook on a kitchen counter.
Heat Output and Control
Choosing a portable girl can often come down to the ease of use and the amount of heat it can produce. Many of the best portable gas grills make adjusting the temperature incredibly easy, with dials that clearly indicate low, medium, and high temperatures. For pellet-fueled grills, temperature adjustment is related to the speed at which pellets are fed into the grill. For charcoal-style grills, control amounts to how much charcoal is burning.
Heat output depends on the size of the grill. Smaller grills can manage with 8,000 BTUs, while larger models might need 20,000 BTUs per burner. As a guideline, consider that heat output should be between 80 and 100 BTUs per square inch of cooking surface.
Some portable grills may come with additional features to make them easier to operate, more convenient, and more useful. An example of a built-in feature might be hooks for hanging grilling tools, keeping tongs and a spatula within easy reach.
Many gas-powered grills feature an electronic push-button ignition to quickly fire up the fuel source. This convenient feature can send a near-constant spark until the grill lights, unlike striker-style ignitions that take repeated pressing.
Some of the best portable grills also come in carrying cases or bags, making it simpler to transport them from a vehicle and store them neatly.
Our Top Picks
Chosen with all the above considerations in mind, the following list consists of some of the best charcoal grills on the market. Be sure to keep the top factors in mind when comparing them.
This compact propane grill weighs a manageable 29 pounds and has a sleek design for portability. The cooking portion attaches to a broad, shallow grill stand made of heat- and water-resistant glass-reinforced nylon. The grill features two side tables that can fold down to reveal built-in carrying handles.
This small Weber grill has a single stainless steel burner with an elongated shape for evenly distributed heat across the entire 189-square-inch grilling surface. With its compact design, it can be toted to the park, a campsite, or a tailgate party. This model comes in six color options, so users can choose the shade that suits their style. Available through Amazon and Home Depot.
The Weber 10020 Smokey Joe might be just the ticket for folks who want to grill some burgers on the go without scorching their bank account. This 14-inch, 9.5-pound portable charcoal grill features porcelain-enameled steel construction to keep the price down without sacrificing some important features.
This model boasts a one-piece stand that screws to the bottom of the grill, with a built-in catch pan for ash and coals that might fall through. There are also rust-resistant dampers that allow users to adjust the flow of air through the coals, as well as plated steel cooking grates to improve longevity. Available through Amazon and Home Depot.
For charcoal flavor anywhere, the Weber Jumbo Joe kettle grill makes a solid traveling companion. This 18-inch model has a 240-square-inch round cooking surface that features a stainless steel grate with two side handles for easy lifting up, giving access to the charcoal below.
This small grill has a stainless steel wire attached to the base that can flip up to secure the lid in place for packing and transporting. The wire also can hold the lid while the cook checks the food, eliminating the need to find a place to set the hot lid. While cooking, users can moderate the temperature by manipulating a bottom vent that draws in oxygen and a top vent in the lid that releases heat and smoke. Available through Amazon and Home Depot.
Indoors or out, George Foreman’s small grill is a worthy contender. It operates on electricity, connecting through a standard power outlet, and has a single circular 240-square-inch cooking surface. Cooks control the heat with a simple dial that indicates broad settings ranging from one to five (a specific temperature for each setting is not specified).
This small grill comes with a pedestal stand and base for setting up outside in an upright position. It also comes apart, and the top can sit on a tabletop indoors or outdoors. The George Foreman grill weighs 21 pounds and disassembles easily. Available through Amazon and Walmart.
It’s hard to beat infrared for even cooking, and now Char-Broil brings that technology to a portable grill. The Grill2Go X200 Portable Tru-Infrared uses liquid propane to fuel an infrared burner that heats the grates and meat evenly while being safe enough to place on a picnic table.
This 20-pound Char-Broil features a high-impact frame and legs to withstand travel, making it worthy of camping, tailgating, or beach days. The regulator that attaches the propane bottle to the grill also doubles as the temperature regulator. The grates are stainless steel, and there is a built-in temperature gauge in the lid to keep on-the-go grillers on top of their fare. Available through Amazon and Walmart.
Weight is often the most important factor when it comes to a portable charcoal grill, and virtually anyone can carry this little wonder. The Cuisinart CCG190 weighs just 2 pounds yet boasts many of the same features as larger grills.
A tabletop model, the CCG190 has four legs (and an attached ash catcher) to create a sturdy base that stands up above the surface. This Cuisinart has 150 square inches of cooking surface and a dual venting system that lets grillers adjust airflow over the charcoal. The grill is made of coated steel, while the grates are stainless steel for durability. Available through Amazon and BBQGuys.
Squatting over a fire isn’t the most comfortable experience. The Coleman RoadTrip grill features a longer-legged stand and convenient prep tables to make cooking while camping more pleasurable.
This propane grill starts with the push of a button and boasts a 285-square-inch cooking surface. Three burners adjust independently (with up to 20,000 BTUs of power), and there’s a built-in thermometer so cooks can keep an eye on the temperature. A water pan catches any cooking grease, and it can be removed for cleaning. This durable Coleman weighs in at 46.7 pounds. Available through Amazon and Walmart.
FAQs About Portable Grills
Even with ample background on the best portable grills, you might still have some additional questions cooking. So look below for answers to some of the most common queries about portable grills for the information you need.
Q. What should I look for in a portable grill?
A portable grill should be light and compact while also offering enough cooking surface to handle meals for your family.
Q. What is the best portable propane grill?
There are a few choices when it comes to the best portable grill:
Q. What is the best grill to take camping?
One of the best portable grills for camping is the Coleman RoadTrip 285 Portable Stand-Up Propane Grill. It features a built-in stand, extendable wings, and three burners for temperature control.
Portable grills can transform a ho-hum gathering into a real party; some models can offer apartment dwellers the opportunity to enjoy grilled fare in a small space like a terrace or even on a countertop. The models in this roundup each have certain areas where they exceed, offering something for everyone.