The Best Portable Grills for Picnics and Tailgating Parties
Use these shopping tips and recommendations to pick and fire up the best portable grill for your next BBQing session.
Those who host frequent backyard cook-outs tend to have firm opinions about what kind of grill keeps mouths watering. Picking the right one to satisfy taste buds out on the road (or in a parking lot before a big game) means considering the same variables and then some.
Portable grills pack basic functionalities of their standard counterparts into a more compact design for those cooking on the go. But a reduced size and price tag doesn’t necessarily indicate reduced quality. No matter whether you’re craving juicy burgers, hot dogs, seasoned vegetables, or some other BBQ favorite of yours, there’s a there’s a portable grill to satisfy your needs. Read on to determine what to expect from the best portable grill options, including these small models that live large:
- BEST GAS GRILL: Weber Q1200 Liquid Propane Grill
- BEST CHARCOAL GRILL: Weber Jumbo Joe 18-Inch Charcoal Grill
- BEST FOR CAMPING: Coleman RoadTrip 285 Portable Stand-Up Propane Grill
- BEST FOR HIBACHI: Lodge Cast Iron Sportsman’s Grill
Choosing the Best Portable Grill
Size up the prospects.
Portable grills come in a variety of shapes and sizes: some are barrel-shaped, some are flat and rectangular, and others may resemble a large stovetop pot with a domed lid on top. Almost all are small enough to fit in the trunk or seat of most cars—hence the term “portable”—but it’s always 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 around 150 to 250 square inches of cooking area. While a smaller cooktop can typically handle around four hamburgers at a time with an inch or so between each patty and two inches around the perimeter, the extra 100 square inches means squeezing two more on the grill. Regularly need to make more food for more people, faster? Opt for the larger end of the scale so that you can fit more on the grill at once.
Weigh your options.
Before buying any size of a portable grill, ask yourself: How much are you willing to carry from the house to the car, from the car to the picnic table, and back again? Portable grills tend to weigh anywhere from 10 pounds to a whopping 35 pounds—and that weight can seriously impact its 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.
Fire it up.
Grilling enthusiasts tend to fall into two camps: those who favor gas grills and those who prefer charcoal. Each side has its pros and cons.
- For its part, charcoal is a favorite among barbecue purists who love the smoky taste only charcoal briquettes can render. It also burns hotter than propane does, producing a more severe sear on food. You’ve got to really love the flavor to deal with the trade-offs, though: Charcoal can be messy, heavy to move, and slow to reach the desired level of heat for cooking.
- Gas offers a quicker, easier way to fire things up—and you barely have to worry about cleanup once things have cooled back down. Of course, the number one drawback is the lack of charcoal flavor. Efficiency will cost consumers a bit more: Portable gas grills are typically more expensive than their charcoal-fueled counterparts.
Smoking Out the Competition
After thoroughly comparing portable grill reviews from consumers and our own criteria, we’ve rounded up six of the most highly rated models available today to help you find one that delivers your favorite flavor. Check out the best portable grill picks for tailgating, camping, and other outdoor events.
1. BEST GAS GRILL: Weber Q1200 Liquid Propane Grill
Thanks to its smart design and considerable cooking power, the 189-square-inch cooking surface of the Weber Q1200 fits up to six burgers at a time with still room leftover for convection. Fold-out side tables even provide room to prep and serve your barbecue. The 30-lb. portable grill’s one-touch electric ignition system makes it easy to fire things up with a couple 14.1 or 16.4-ounce disposable propane tanks.
2. BEST CHARCOAL GRILL: Weber Jumbo Joe 18-inch Charcoal Grill
Yet again, Weber tops the list—this time for the authentic smoky flavor it can impart. At 18 pounds, the Jumbo Joe is light enough to bring on outdoor trips, yet hard-wearing. This traditional glossy black grill provides ultimate heat retention and distribution while cooking up to eight burgers on its 18-inch heavy-gauge steel grate. The enamel-coated lid and bowl are specially designed with a heat shield (to prevent accidental burns), and a handy lid-lock serves a stand so that you can prop it up when not in use. At the end of the meal, remove charcoal ash easily using the aluminum ash catcher.
3. BEST FOR CAMPING: Coleman RoadTrip 285 Portable Stand-Up Propane Grill
The Coleman RoadTrip grill features a 285-square inch cooking surface, three burners that adjust independently (with up to 20,000 BTUs of power), and a built-in thermometer to help you keep an eye on cooking temperature. This propane grill starts with the push of a button—no matches needed—and a water pan catches any cooking grease and can be removed for cleaning. At 46.7 pounds including its longer-legged stand and prep tables, this durable grill is perfect for anyone who doesn’t want to squat while cooking.
4. BEST FOR HIBACHI: Lodge Cast Iron Sportsman’s Grill
In Japan, a hibachi is a traditional earthenware brazier containing burning charcoal. This high-heat cooking method imparts a unique flavor that you can recreate using the Lodge Cast Iron Sportsman’s Grill. Cast iron requires the right “seasoning” to coat the metal, and Lodge uses 100 percent vegetable oil—no synthetic coatings or chemicals. Over time, the seasoning improves, along with the quality and taste of your food. The Sportsman’s Grill regulates heat using a draft door, and coals are accessed via a flip-down door. Adjust this 28-pound grill to two different heights and arrange your food on 157 square inches of cooking space.