Weber Jumbo Joe Charcoal Grill 18 Inch Black
Credit: Amazon

The 7 Best Camping Grills, According to Chefs

Grilling in nature is easy with the help of the Weber Cuisinart Petit Gourmet and other top picks.
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Suffice to say that camping and grilling often go hand in hand. Your camping style may take more than one form, from glamping to RVing to backpacking. Likewise, grilling can, too. Your idea of food from the fire may be burgers and hotdogs, slow-cooked meats, vegetables, or even pizza. Whatever the case, there's a grill out there to meet your camping and cooking needs. 

Four chefs with strong opinions on this topic lent their expertise to help us refine our research into camping grills. We combined their insight with our industry knowledge to arrive at this list, crowning the Cuisinart Petit Gourmet Portable Tabletop Gas Grill as the Best Overall based on criteria like weight, portability, and capacity. Read on to learn what our panel of experts like about this grill and for our full list of the best camping grills.

Our Top Picks

Best Camping Grills
Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

Best Overall: Cuisinart Petit Gourmet Portable Tabletop Gas Grill

View at Amazon ($150)

Also available at Walmart and Bed Bath & Beyond.

Pros: It's compact, lightweight, and easy to store.

Cons: It has a small drip tray that can fill quickly, and the plastic parts near the heat could become problematic.

We had to distinguish between charcoal and gas grills to decide on this winner.  For various reasons, three of the four chefs we consulted prefer gas grills. Fire safety, reliability, and ease of use are at the top of their lists. The propane-powered Petit Gourmet was the winner of our Best for Camping category in our Best Portable Grills roundup, and it still stands up here. Its small footprint makes it easy to stow in a trunk or storage compartment, while 5,500 BTUs of heating power cover its relatively small cooking area. Its 145-square-inch grilling area fool you, though. The Petit Gourmet can handle up to four pounds of food at a time – enough to feed four to six people.

All of this sits on sturdy, retractable legs that provide a solid base for cooking. It also features porcelain enamel-coated grates that aid in heat retention and longevity of the grill, and prevent food from sticking. For its compact form, heat retention, relatively low cost, and high capacity-to-cook area ratio, we stand by the Petit Gourmet as the best overall.

  • Fuel Source: Gas
  • Dimensions: 18 x 12 x 12 inches
  • Weight: 14 pounds
Best Camping Grills
Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

Best Value: Weber Go-Anywhere Charcoal Grill

View at Amazon ($78)

Also available at Home Depot and Lowe's.

Pros: The Go-Anywhere offers excellent heat management, and the small form factor makes it easy to stow in a variety of places.

Cons: The single-grate placement can limit this to high heat and quick-cooking items, limiting creativity in your fire building. Also, the handles can become quite hot.

Rob Nelson, executive chef and owner of Tusk and Trotter in Bentonville, Ark., is a believer in live-fire cooking and the dissenting voice in the charcoal versus gas debate. Finding an entry-level or low-cost grill for camping that delivers for your dollar-spent can be a tricky proposition. Megan Walker, executive chef of Made By Meg Catering and La Venta Inn in Palos Verdes, Calif., emphasizes the need for quality, no matter the price point. "When you're camping, you're out on a limb. You need to be able to rely on your grill or you'll be eating twigs. Cold, raw twigs," she says. Construction, size, and heat management vary widely with most grills, particularly in this category, and the Go-Anywhere offers value in all three departments.

The oblong design allows you to build a good bed of coals, although with some creativity, one could use this for offset cooking. Dampers on the sides and top of the grill provide excellent heat-regulating capabilities and a convection effect that increases the efficiency of the fire on food. The porcelain enamel lid and body also enhance heat retention while prolonging the grill's life. Another notable feature, its coated steel grates are easy to clean and provide good heat retention. The lid locks in place for travel, and the folding legs offer a sturdy base on tabletops or dirt surfaces. Its 160-square-inch cooking area can easily fit food for four to six people.

  • Fuel Source: Charcoal
  • Dimensions: 15 x 20x 12 inches
  • Weight: 14 pounds
Best Camping Grills
Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

Best Splurge: Green Mountain Grills Trek

View at Amazon ($348)

Also available at Wayfair.

Pros: This grill is easy to set up and use. The app connectivity and cooking profile take much of the guesswork out of cooking.

Cons: It's heavy, requires proprietary pellets, and the app connectivity depends on Wi-Fi or a Wi-Fi hotspot.

If you want to treat yourself but still rough it, here's the grill for you. Sporting all of the set-it-and-forget-it features of the larger Green Mountain models, the Trek (previously called the Davy Crocket) is a smaller version of the brand's pellet-fed smoker-grill combinations, which you can easily pack away in a trunk or storage compartment. We named this model the top grill for tailgating in our Best Portable Grills roundup, and it serves well as a camping grill, too. 

Its digital controls monitor the food's cooking time, temperature, and internal temperature. It features Wi-Fi connectivity and a server mode to monitor the grill remotely, so you don't have to stay on top of it throughout the cooking process. You can even create and digitally store cooking profiles for easy recall with the push of a few buttons. Now, the bad news is that you'll need power to use all of the Trek's technology and fire control. Your three options are a 12-volt connector for your car, alligator clamps to connect directly to a car battery, and a 110 wall. Bells and whistles aside, the grill sports 219 square inches of cooking area, large enough to cook two slabs of ribs, a few steaks, or a slew of burgers and hot dogs.

  • Fuel Source: Pellets
  • Dimensions: 24 x 32 x 16 inches
  • Weight: 63 pounds
Best Camping Grills
Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

Best for Backpackers: UCO Flatpack Small Portable Grill and Firepit

View at Amazon ($30)

Pros: The sturdy base and windbreak sides make this great for wet, windy, or snowy conditions. It folds down for easy packing and takes less than a minute to set up.

Cons: Some may find the cooking area too small for their needs. You can only use the grate in one position.

We had to work with a few assumptions to determine the best grill for backpackers. First, to be considered, it must be a complete grill, with a firebox and a grate for cooking, not simply a grate to place over a fire. Next, the unit is designed for grilling. While a grill can double as a camp stove, the converse is not always true. Then we considered the requirements for backpacking – it must be lightweight and fold or collapse for easy packing. These considerations took several options out of the running but left us with the UCO as the leading contender.

The grill's sides and ends function as windbreaks, making it a strong choice for grilling in windy conditions. Also, the elevated base provides a sturdy surface for grilling and elevates the grill off of wet ground or snow. The UCO isn't a grill for large groups, but it has a cooking area suitable for three people. The grill can serve as a fire pit when the cooking is done. It is a little heavy, as far as backpacking equipment goes, weighing in at two pounds, but it folds flat for easy packing, and setup takes less than a minute. Some may find it too small for their purposes, but two larger sizes are available.

  • Fuel Source: Wood, charcoal
  • Dimensions: 9.5 x 8 x 1.5 inches 
  • Weight: 2 pounds
Best Camping Grills
Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

Best Charcoal: Jumbo Joe Charcoal Grill 18"

View at Amazon ($98)

Also available at Target and Home Depot.

Pros: There's great heat retention, and the dampers make temperature control and convection cooking relatively easy.

Cons: The nylon handle on the lid can become quite hot, and the ash management of larger kettle models is lacking.

The Jumbo Joe packs most of the functionality of Weber's larger kettle models into a compact and portable form. It features the same porcelain enamel steel body construction as many of the Weber models, which provides excellent heat retention and durability. The stainless steel grates are easy to clean, and they heat quickly. One of the features lacking in larger models that we like is the hinged lid, which not only locks the cover in place for storage or traveling but also keeps you from having to find a safe place for the lid while you're tending to food on the fire. We wish all kettle models came with this hinge.

Nelson looks for a reverse flow or convection design when selecting a charcoal grill. Dampers on the top and bottom of this grill check that box. The significant differences between the Jumbo Joe and larger kettles are its shorter legs and the absence of an ash management system. Still, an easy-to-clean tray at the bottom for collecting ash fits that need. The 18-inch grate provides 240 square inches of cooking space, and the grill is large enough to use direct or indirect heat easily.

  • Fuel Source: Charcoal
  • Dimensions: 20 x 20 x 21 inches
  • Weight: 18 pounds
Best Camping Grills
Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

Best Tabletop: Weber Q1200 Gas Grill

View at Amazon ($259)

Also available at REI and Home Depot.

Pros: The Q 1200 provides quick and even heat in a small enough form to stow and transport easily.

Cons: Like most Weber grills, the handle can become quite hot. Also, the grease collection system requires special pans.

When it comes to quick, reliable heat and sturdy construction in a tabletop grill, the Q 1200 is hard to beat. It features porcelain enamel-coated cast-iron grates that hold heat, resist sticking, and are easy to clean while providing 189 square inches of cooking space. It offers two side tables for keeping tools, sauces, or ingredients that fold to minimize storage or transport space. 

For a small grill, it boasts 8,500 BTUs with a circular burner design that ensures even heating across the grates. It's powerful enough to cook steaks and burgers but capable of more delicate tasks like cooking fish without it drying out, sticking, and shredding. The domed lid also accommodates larger items, like ribs or poultry, for greater diversity in your cooking. 

  • Fuel Source: Gas
  • Dimensions: 16 x 41 x 17 inches
  • Weight: 31 pounds
Best Camping Grills
Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

Most Versatile: Magma Crossover Double Burner Firebox

View at Amazon ($900)

Pros: Multiple optional configurations allow you to simultaneously cook multiple items in different ways. The stainless steel construction and grates are easy to clean.

Cons: This grill is heavy, and it doesn't perform well in windy conditions.

The Magma Crossover starts with dual 15,000 BTU burners in the firebox. The firebox's easy-to-clean stainless steel construction utilizes one-pound propane tanks and is convertible to accommodate 20-pound tanks. The base unit is essentially a stove, but the add-on units are what differentiates it, and it becomes a build-your-own adventure proposition.

The optional modular tops are what make this grill so versatile. Each top occupies one burner of the firebox, allowing you to use one burner as a stove and the other as a grill, griddle, pizza oven, or any combination. A specialized grease collection system at the back of the unit utilizes disposable aluminum pans for easy cleanup, and the firebox features fold-out shelves for holding tools or ingredients. It also comes with tabletop legs, with the option to upgrade to a tripod or even a trailer hitch stand. 

  • Fuel Source: Gas
  • Dimensions: 19 x 32 x 9 inches
  • Weight: 48 pounds

Conclusion

With many sizes and formats of camping grills available, the choice comes down to your camping and cooking styles. The propane-fueled Cuisinart Petit Gourmet offers reliable, steady heat in a compact form. At the same time, the Magma Crossover provides the versatility of grilling, griddling, and baking in a significantly larger format.

Factors to Consider

Fuel Type

The two main fuels for camping grills are gas and charcoal, and each has its merits and drawbacks. Gas is an easy and safe fuel, minimizing startup time and the potential for accidental fires. At the same time, it doesn't provide any of the fiery taste that charcoal does, and you are completely dependent on not running out of fuel while camping. Fuel canisters can also be bulky and eat a lot of storage space. 

Charcoal, too, can be bulky. It also poses a more significant threat for accidental fires from popping coals or errant embers. On the upside, because of the terpenes in the charcoal, it becomes an additional flavor in the overall profile of the dish. You can forage for wood to build your fire if you run out of charcoal.

Cooking Capacity

How much food a grill can fit and how long it will take to cook are huge considerations in purchasing a grill. Before you buy, consider how many people you'll realistically be cooking for, and buy a grill that fits that need. Needing extra fuel to heat a grill that's too large for your needs can be as troublesome as cooking on a grill that's too small.

Portability

The idea of portability is subjective to how you camp. If you're RVing or glamping, then the Magma Crossover could be portable for you. For car camping, something that fits in your trunk or truck bed is more in order. For backpacking, you'll want a lightweight grill that folds up.

Versatility

Consider how you grill. If you frequently cook burgers or vegetables, a grill with focused, high heat will do the job for you. But if you grill foods that need longer slower cooking times, you'll want something that provides you with temperature control or the ability to build a fire for offset cooking. If you're going to bake or make pizzas, you'll need heat control and a lid that will hold the heat like an oven.

The Research

We consulted four experts to get their thoughts on what makes a great camping grill: Rob Nelson, co-founder and culinary director of Good Gravy, whose flagship is Tusk and Trotter in Bentonville, Ark.; Megan Walker, president and executive chef of Made By Meg Catering and La Venta Inn in Palos Verdes, Calif.; Oscar Cabezas, executive chef of Teleféric Barcelona in San Francisco; and Matthew Dolan, chef, and partner of 25 Lusk in San Francisco. We then scoured the market for the best options based on their input and our own expertise. We weighed camping grills against several criteria, including value, ease of use, consistency, and quality of construction.

Pro Panel Q+A

Q: How do I safely grill while camping?

A: Our experts landed on two very different topics about safe grilling: physical safety and food safety. Speaking on physical safety, Dolan and Walker both cited the need to be aware of your surroundings to prevent fires. They live in drought- and wildfire-plagued California and stress the need to keep fires away from branches, leaves, grass, tents, tarps, and anything flammable on the campsite. For this reason, Dolan is a gas-only griller. He doesn't want to deal with the possibility of popping coals or wind-blown embers from a wood or charcoal grill. 

Nelson also stressed the importance of keeping yourself safe from the fire. Personal protective equipment for grilling can include heat-resistant gloves, kitchen towels, aprons, and longer tools, such as tongs and spatulas to insulate and maintain distance between yourself and the heat. Of course, always place your grill on a sturdy, non-combustible surface to avoid fire and injury.

Food safety is equally important. Storing your food at safe temperatures can be challenging without refrigeration. It's best to plan for more ice than you think you need in your cooler and plan your meals to cook your most perishable foods first. Handwashing is essential to prevent cross-contamination but may be difficult in a camping scenario. Exam-type gloves can minimize cross-contamination and are an excellent item to have, even if you have easy access to running water and soap. Also, don't allow vegetables to sit in the same melted cooler water as raw proteins, whether those proteins are in a container or not. Foodborne illness is never pleasant, even less so in the woods away from medical care.

Q: What's the best way to clean a camping grill?

A: Our experts are in two opposing camps regarding grill cleaning. Both are equally correct. One side likes to clean the grill while hot after allowing any stuck-on food to burn on the grates, where you can easily scrub it off with a grill brush and oil or water. The other side likes to let the grill cool and clean it with soap and water. Both camps agree that lightly oiling your grill after cleaning protects it and seasons the metal of the grate for subsequent use. Walker also emphasizes that a deep clean of the grill after returning home is necessary to avoid any ugly surprises after storing it for its next use.

Q: What should I grill while camping?

A: As we've mentioned, there are many different ways of camping. So, too, are there many different styles of camp cooking. None of our chefs had identical viewpoints on what to cook. Nelson, who lives in the Ozark Mountains, usually pairs camping with fishing and expects that he'll be grilling trout at some point. Nevertheless, he always brings contingency meals for when the fish don't bite, such as burgers, hotdogs, or steaks. Cabezas focuses on Spanish-style grilling, charring small pieces of food at high heat and finishing them with various oils and spices. Dolan is a minimalist who doesn't like to take away from the camping experience by being chained to the grill. "Pre-cooked sausages charred on the grill, good mustard, and a bun. Done," he says. 

The overarching theme of everyone's approach is to cook within your capacity. Maybe it's not time to try out that new recipe. Do as much prep work as you can at home so that you're not cutting and chopping potentially hazardous foods in an unsanitary manner. Finally, keep your food cold and safe, and eat the most perishable items first.

Food on skewers is always a good idea because of the short cooking times and easy assembly at home. Seafood is a poor idea unless you have adequate refrigeration. Burgers can also be pattied ahead of time. Longer cooking items like fresh sausages, ribs, or poultry can be great, provided that your grill is capable of offset or lower-temperature cooking.

Our Expertise

Greg Baker is an award-winning chef, restaurateur, and food writer with decades of experience in the food industry. For this piece, he interviewed chefs Rob Nelson, Megan Walker, Oscar Cabezas, and Matthew Dolan to find out what the pros look for in a camping grill. He then used their insights and his own expertise combined with market research to curate this list.