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.
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 supply 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. Let’s take a look!
Best Portable Grill
How We Choose the Best Portable Grill
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.
But these are also portable grills, which means they’re a little low on extra space. That’s why we also rated 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 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.
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 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 setup – although this width can usually be decreased for storage.
Why You Should Buy a New Portable Grill
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, or tailgating parties, or hikes – at least, not without a whole lot of work. But a portable grill is made for travel, for 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 great way to practice your grilling skills on a smaller scale with lower stakes.
#1 Pick Weber Q2200 – 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).
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, or at least get ready to work some muscles while getting it out.
#2 Pick Cuisinart GrateLifter – 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 were 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 up on a flat surface for the best results.
#3 Pick Coleman RoadTrip LXX – 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!
What to Look for When Buying the Best Portable Grill
- A portable camping grill isn’t much good if it starts falling apart after only a few uses. Look for hinges that are made with tough metal materials that will hold up to frequent use, and watch for sturdy legs that hold up easily and don’t wobble.
- Enamel and porcelain coatings can also help portable grills to last longer. One-piece base components will generally hold up better than models held together with a bunch of bolts.
Easy Start-Up and Tear Down
- You don’t want to waste any time during start-up, so look for quick ignition push buttons and simple controls that you don’t need to micro-manage.
- Tear down is also important. Look for grills that are easy to shut down, empty out, clean and pack in short order.
- When it comes to weight, consider how often you will have to lift the grill vs. how much you will just be wheeling it around. A grill can easily be around 30 pounds, like our last pick, and still easy to wheel.
- High-quality, ceramic-coated burners and grates are very important for grill quality. Models that have dual burners that allow for different temperature settings are also a big plus.
- In addition to look at materials and surface area, take a look at burner and grate design. Where does the grease fall while cooking? Are there any annoying gaps or spaces that would be hard to clean?
- Our first pick uses a single burner, while in our third pick the BTUs are spread across two burners. Two burner setups are easier for cooking different foods or lots of food at once, but single burners can focus all their BTUs – and are easier to move around.
Fuel Hook Up
- Portable burners tend to use small camp-based propane tanks: “propane” and “gas” are typically interchangeable when talking about portable grills, because both refer to propane in this scenario – natural gas hookups are only used on grills that can attach to gas lines at a home.
- Look at what propane tank the grill requires, and how expensive those tank replacements are. Tiny tanks are usually around $5 for a replacement, and are less likely to be refillable.
- Larger propane tanks – the ones that are used in traditional gas grills – offer more benefits, including easy drop-off and refills. The key is finding a grill that offers an adapter or adapter capabilities for larger tanks (our top pick offers this). If a grill isn’t designed for larger tanks, we do not recommend trying to force an adaption fix.
Extra Surface Area
- The cooking surface area is important – but so is shelf space! Where else are you going to put food in the middle of nowhere? Shelves are ideal for prep work and depositing your roasted results when finished.
- That’s why two of our top picks come with those handy shelves – they add a lot of value. Of course, they also have to be cleaned and detached when finished.
- It’s a nice bonus if your grill comes with options to add covers, thermometers, and other accessories.
- Our top Weber pick, for example, offers several bundle options for adding these components.
- We included dimension information – measure your space! Note that full dimensions typically include the shelves, which can usually be detached or lowered to make more space.
Related: A Smokeless Charcoal Grill
Mistakes to Avoid
Not matching the portable grills to the space that you have: These grills are all 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. Use the dimension information provided for a clear idea of what will fit in your home and on the tailgate.
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 grilltop: 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.
What Else You Should Think About
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.
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 2017 too. If you want to save even more time, check out what we think of the novelty EZ Grill, or the beautiful charcoal-based To Go Grill with its simple pot-style design.