Buyer’s Guide: Portable Grills
Whatever outdoor adventure you have planned, you're going to get hungry. Use these shopping tips and top recommendations to pick and fire up the best portable grill for your BBQ.
Homeowners who host frequent outdoor gatherings tend to have strict opinions about what kind of backyard grill keeps mouths watering. Picking the right cooker 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 on the go. But a shrunken size and price tag doesn’t necessarily indicate skimpy quality. No matter whether you’re craving juicy burgers, hot dogs, or seasoned vegetables, there’s a grill whose petite design won’t sacrifice out there to satisfy your needs. Read on to determine what to expect from the best portable grill options and three small models that live large.
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, 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 in 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 that 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 publishers alike, we’ve rounded up three 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 picnicking events.
Weber Q1200 ($199)
In an exhaustive review of summer picnic gear, the incredibly thorough team at Wirecutter crowned the Weber Q1200 the king of all portable grills. Citing its smart design and considerable cooking power, the reviewers determined that the 189-square-inch cooking surface “provides enough space to cook enough hamburgers to feed six people at a time while still leaving adequate space between your meat or veggie patties to allow for convection.” Fold-out side tables even provide room to prep and serve your barbecue. The 30-lb grill’s one-touch electric ignition system makes it a snap to fire things up with a couple 14.1 or 16.4-ounce disposable propane tanks; after that, success or failure all hinges solely on your marinade recipe. Available on Amazon.
Char-Broil BTU Portable Gas Grill ($129)
Earning high marks from Lowe’s shoppers, the small but powerful Char-Broil BTU Portable Gas Grill clocks in at just under 25 lbs, yet its main burner puts out 9,500 BTU. Its infrared technology prevents flare-ups and promises even cooking, while its hood-mounted temperature gauge helps you keep an eye on things. With 200 square inches of cooking area, there is plenty of space for an entire family’s worth of food. One happy camper perfectly summed it up with a five-star review: “As far as portable grills go, this thing is sexy, rugged, and just amazing!” Available at Lowe’s.
Weber Smokey Joe Portable Charcoal Grill ($29)
Cleaning up with more than a hundred five-star reviews from Home Depot shoppers, the Weber Smokey Joe Portable Charcoal Grill is a perennial favorite among barbecue enthusiasts who like their meat and veggies with a side of charcoal flavor. This lightweight, budget-friendly grill is easy to move—and afford—at just 10 lbs and under $30. Sure, a 147-square-inch cooking area is smaller than what its contemporaries in this guide offer, but its portability and price counterbalance the issue nicely. One reviewer calls it “perfect for light camping,” while another specifies there’s the perfect amount of space for whipping up two full meals or six grilled snacks. Available at Home Depot.