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When you want to take your grilling on the go, you need the best portable grill available, no matter what fuel source you prefer. Fortunately, today’s portable grills bring the heat, with plenty of fuel options, versatility, and the tough materials you need to weather anything from a beach party to a serious camping expedition. There are lots of benefits to purchasing the best grills if you are currently looking to replace your old grill.
The best portable grill award goes to the Weber Q2200 ($249.00), a powerful, hefty grill that can stand up to even the roughest conditions while still supplying 12,000 BTUs to the burner, with a sizable 280 inches of cooking surface and a stand that includes extra shelf space for the true grilling experience. This model is made to surface even the wildest plans – but our other models are great for traveling too, especially if you prefer charcoal or stand-up grills. Portable grills definitely have their perks, but if you’re also open to the alternative, consider investing in the best built-in grill for outdoor kitchen spaces.
So, how do we pick the best portable gas grills and charcoal alternatives for the best tailgating and camping barbecues around? A portable grill is all about efficiency – how well does it actually work with the amount of fuel you give it – and durability. We start by accounting for BTU ratings. BTUs, or British Thermal Units, indicate how much heat the grill produces (per hour). The shape and materials of a particular grill can change how that heat is used, and sometimes that heat isn’t used very well, but BTUs are still a useful baseline for judging how quickly a grill can cook. A larger grill should have over 20,000 BTUs, while a smaller portable grill should have over 10,000 to keep your cooking times low. For charcoal, we looked at the charcoal bed and how well the charcoal briquettes group and focused their heat.
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But these are also portable grills, which means they’re a little low on extra space. That’s why we also rated the surface very high when it comes to deciding factors. Our largest Coleman model comes with 285 inches of cooking space, and our new pick has 280 square inches despite its otherwise small size. This provides enough surface to cook multiple links/patties/steaks at once.
Ease of use also ranked high on the list, because these little grills can take some extra work to set up and start. Handles and handle placement are surprisingly important, and we favored models with large, easy-to-reach handles that didn’t absorb heat. For controls, electronic ignition is a must, preferably with burner power controls that provide the full 1-10 turn of the knob to choose a variety of heat levels if necessary.
And of course, we look at the overall design and the materials used in making both the case of the grill and the grill itself, which affect not only durability but also performance and cleaning. Enameled steel is one of the best options, as long as you take good care of your grill and clean it often. Cast iron can get beaten up for years and just shrug it off, but it takes a lot of cleaning and coating to prevent rust (also, it’s heavy). Stainless steel and aluminum are more lightweight, but a lot less durable, and they can still oxidize over time.
Related: Also explore the best propane grills guide.
However, these materials also affect weight, which can sometimes be an issue. The best, most durable materials are also heavy, so there’s a trade-off. Our top pick is around 40 pounds, which is usually too heavy for the average portable grill, but it also has very high-quality materials that can withstand a rough trip. You’ll see this give and take with most portable grills, where we need to compare the weight to design quality. Around 20-30 pounds is more reasonable for a portable grill that you’ll be carrying around all the time.
We also look for designs that are actually compact – models that can fit in the back of the average hatchback without any trouble, which is why we include information on dimensions. Around a yard at the widest is ideal for most portable grills when it comes to set up – although this width can usually be decreased for storage.
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It doesn’t matter if you are currently grill-less or already have a home grill, a portable grill can fill a whole other purpose: you can’t take a traditional grill on road trips, tailgating parties, or hikes – at least, not without a whole lot of work. But a portable grill is made for travel, weekend adventures, and afternoons away: it’s the perfect accompaniment to your plans.
However, there are other reasons to think about a portable grill besides trips. If you have a smaller home or apartment that only has a balcony or patio outside, you may not have much room for a big grill. A portable version is a better fit for balconies or indoor storage space, and a good stepping stone for saving up for a larger grill as well. Also, if you simply don’t have much grilling experience, one of these models is a great way to practice your grilling skills on a smaller scale with lower stakes.
Award: Editor’s Choice/Best Portable Gas Grill
Price: $249.00 | Cooking Surface: 280 square inches | Fuel: 14.1-16 ounce LP cylinders | Heat: 12,000 BTUs | Weight: 42.5 pounds | Dimensions: 25.1 x 51.4 x 26 inches
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: Best portable gas grill – Excellent power and durability in a to-go package.
This Weber works hard to provide as many traditional grill benefits as possible, but in a model that’s made for travel. It’s the best portable gas grill for tailgating that we’ve, especially if you already have the perfect spot on your truck set aside for it. The stainless steel burner (unfortunately, no enamel burners on this model) provides 12,000 BTUs for effective cooking and searing without wasting too much time, so the drawbacks to using this portable model are minimal (it’s still not the heat level of a traditional grill, so you will need to adjust accordingly). This model is an upgrade from the Weber Q 1200, and a most welcome upgrade, since the Q 1200 doesn’t quite match this grill’s 12, 000 BTU, and also this upgraded Weber Q 2200 is big enough to grill for four people. It also has a temperature control feature with a built-in thermometer that allows you to monitor the heat inside the grill.
The grill also comes with an “infinite control” burner valve and electronic ignition for super-fast startups, as well as an option to buy an adapter hose for larger tanks. The lightweight attachable shelves can’t hold too much weight, but they are still ideal for storing before-and-after meats, and adds more versatility to set-up – this Weber go-anywhere portable gas grill is ideal for pretty much any scenario.
The one downside that we’ll note is the weight. This Weber is incredibly durable with enamel-covered cast iron grates and a hefty aluminum lid that can stand up to a lot of rough conditions, but that means this mode is extra heavy at 42.5 pounds. You may need some help setting it up on a camping trip, or at least get ready to work some muscles while getting it out. A smaller option is the Weber Smokey Joe, but this enamel-covered cooking grate does make it easy to clean, and this is still one of the best grills around.
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Award: Best Portable Charcoal Grill
Price: $122.42 | Cooking Surface: 240 square inches | Fuel: Charcoal | Heat: N/A | Weight: 22.9 pounds | Dimensions: 15.4 x 18.5 x 17.7 inches
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: A portable charcoal grill with plenty of room for serious charcoal cooking.
If you feel more like a charcoal grill, this Cuisinart model is designed for those who want the best. After all, if you aren’t going to cook over an open fire, then you’re not going to accept any half-measures, which is why the GrateLifter is made for serious grillers who are willing to wait, adjust, and tinker to find that perfect cooking bed of coals for their art. The 240-square-inch cooking space offers plenty of room for your project (up to 10 burgers!), while the airflow system allows for minute adjustments to help control temperature. Want to know just what that temperature is? The built-in lid thermometer is a godsend for gourmands who know exactly what sort of heat they’re planning to cook with.
Other features also benefit serious grillers, from the extra-large ash catcher to the lift system that allows you to reposition coals without getting burnt handling the grate. Really, the only thing we didn’t like about this model was the legs, which are a little awkward and can wobble if the surface isn’t particularly level. Nestle this model into the dirt or set it up on a flat surface for the best results.
Note: This model has a similar price range to the Cuisinart Petit Gourmet although the Petit Gourmet is a gas grill and only has 145 square inches of cooking space.
Award: Best Portable Propane Grill
Price: $184.99 | Cooking Surface: 285 square inches | Fuel: Small or large LP tanks | Heat: 22,000 BTUs | Weight: 31 pounds | Dimensions: 13.6 x 34 x 19.1 inches
WHY IT’S A TOP PICK: The perfect portable propane grill with included scissor cart for larger groups.
On the other hand, maybe you have a bigger party to plan for. Maybe you’re bringing your grill to a group that has no other means of cooking, and you need a setup that can handle lots of food in a short amount of time. In that case, we suggest the powerful RoadTrip LXX, which brings most of the features of a traditional grill to traveling, including the 22,000 BTUs and the 285 square inch surface area. The collapsible stand is durable without being too heavy, while the controls are fast and simple for quick startup.
One of our favorite features with this grill – if you have room for it – is the interchangeable cooktop option, which allows you to buy alternative grates like griddles and stovetops to customize the grill surface for what you want to cook. Since this model is particularly affordable for a gas grill, you may have some extra cash left over for these additions!
Easy Start-Up and Tear Down
Fuel Hook Up
Extra Surface Area
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Not matching the portable grills to the space that you have: This type of grill comes in very different sizes (especially if you don’t want to take out the shelves). The Coleman wouldn’t fit where the Weber model can, and the Cuisinart is still pretty tall even when ready to travel. So think about your storage or vehicle space and where the grill would go so you can comfortably cook up your favorite foods from chicken thighs to beef patties. Use the dimension information provided for a clear idea of what will fit in your home, especially if you’re getting a top-rated indoor grill, and on the tailgate so you can determine if you’ll need a compact grill.
Not drying off the grill: Travel grills get wet, often. That means you need to dry them – always – before breaking them down. Nothing ruins a grill faster than rust-causing moisture mixing in with the grease and ashes. Look for grills with lids and enamel coatings to help with this.
Ignoring sharp edges: We prefer more rounded grills for a safer profile, but if your portable grill ends up with any sharp edges, remember to be careful around them.
Never cleaning the grill top: Always clean your grill after a big tailgating party or a day on the trail. These small grills aren’t as resistant to grime build-up as larger grills, and they need some attention. Have a tough brush handy and a plan to get rid of grease and ashes when you’re done cooking.
As you get ready to choose your own best portable grill, it’s helpful to know how the shape of the grill impacts heat and cooking. Also remember that if you get a gas grill, you will need to buy, manage and replace fuel. There are even apps, like Tank Utility, that can help out with this. You won’t need fuel for a highly-rated outdoor electric grill, just an outlet.
If you are looking for other kitchen tools or want to make sure you have the very best for prep work, check out the best chef knives of 2019 too. If you want to save even more time, check out what we think of the novelty EZ Grill, or check out our list of the best small gas grills that you can tote anywhere with accessories like a high-end burger press.
There are even the top grills for tailgating, like the Coleman Roadtrip LXE. Or, if you like high-tech approaches, check out what the Lynx SmartGrill can do!
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