The Best Portable Grills, According to Chefs and Pitmasters
Ask anyone to think of spring or summer, and many will turn to memories of cookouts. The smell of meat, sausages, vegetables, or fish charring on the grill goes right with warm weather. Grilling doesn't necessarily require a backyard; portable grills make it easy to take the cookout with you to the pre-game tailgate, beach, lake, local park, or campground.
The variety of portable grills on the market may seem daunting, but we've enlisted the help of three experts in the field to help you find the right grill for your needs. Cory Bahr is the chef and owner of Parish restaurant in Monroe, Louisiana, a finalist on The Next Food Network Star, and a Food & Wine Best New Chef. Jake Wood is the owner and pitmaster of Lawrence BBQ in Durham, North Carolina. Finally, Tank Jackson is the pitmaster and hog farmer of Holy City Hogs in Charleston, South Carolina. We paired their input with combing retail and review sites to research the best portable grills, dubbing the Weber Q1200 the winner. Read on to see why and view the rest of our picks in several key categories.
Our Top Picks
- Best Overall: Weber Q1200 Gas Grill
- Best Value: Weber Smokey Joe 14-Inch Portable Charcoal Grill
- Best Gas: Coleman RoadTrip 285 Portable Stand-Up Propane Grill
- Best Charcoal: The Kudu Open Fire Grill
- Best for Camping: Cuisinart Petit Gourmet Portable Tabletop Gas Grill
- Best for Tailgating: Green Mountain Grills Trek
- Best Large Format: Cowboy Cauldron Urban Cowboy
Best Overall: Weber Q1200 Gas Grill
Best Value: Weber Smokey Joe 14-Inch Portable Charcoal Grill
Best Gas: Coleman RoadTrip 285 Portable Stand-Up Propane Grill
Best Charcoal: The KUDU Open Fire Grill
Best For Camping: Cuisinart Petit Gourmet Portable Tabletop Gas Grill
Best For Tailgating: Green Mountain Grills Trek
Best Large Format: Cowboy Cauldron Urban Cowboy
With the many sizes and formats of portable grills available, the choice comes down to what size you like and what type of fuel you prefer. The propane-fueled Weber Q1200 offers reliable, steady heat in a compact form. At the same time, the Kudu Open Fire Grill provides the flexibility of high, open fire charcoal heat, low temperature for slow roasting, or anywhere in between with a larger footprint.
Factors to Consider
Things worth considering when it comes to size are where you're going to use the grill, how many people you're cooking for, and how you'll get it there. Some of the grills we reviewed are best moved with a pickup truck, while others could fit in an SUV or in the corner of the trunk of a small car. If you're going to be cooking for a larger group (six or more) you might want to consider one of the larger capacity grills reviewed here.
The weight of a grill brings the question of how much effort you want to put into moving your portable grill. The grills weighing in at over 50 pounds will require some assistance for you to move, unload, and stow safely, while the smaller models can be shuttled about with relative ease.
Gas and charcoal grills both have their merits. Gas is easy to light and quick heating. One-pound propane cylinders take up very little space for transport. Charcoal is bulky and heavy, but open fire does provide flavoring from the terpenes in the wood. Running out of gas without a refill can bring your cookout to a halt, while foraging for firewood may prove possible when the charcoal burns out too soon. There's no correct answer; it depends on your preference for space and ease of use.
I consulted three experts, combined with my own expertise, to get their thoughts on what makes a great portable grill, then scoured the market for the best options. After combing the market for volumes of online reviews for these products, I weighed them against several criteria, including value, ease of use, consistency, and quality of construction.
Pro Panel Q+A
Q: How do you attach a propane tank to a grill?
A: There are two ways that this can work. It depends on whether you have a small cylinder (typically 1-pound) or a 20-pound tank, which are the type that you can find at home improvement or convenience stores for swap-out. A 1-pound cylinder is threaded to screw into the gas fitting on a stove; simply carefully match the threads and turn the cylinder until it is tight. For a 20-pound tank, you'll need a hose and a regulator. The regulator screws directly onto the tank with the hose attaching to the regulator and the gas fitting on the stove.
Q: How do you light a portable gas grill?
A: Grills come with varying ignition types. Push-button ignition is either by a manual or battery-operated ignition button, which causes a spark that then ignites the gas. A long lighter such as those used to light candles is recommended for those that don't have that feature. For the daring, a long match or a rolled-up piece of paper can reach the lighting point of the grill.
Q: How do you clean a portable grill?
A: It's important to keep your grill clean to extend its longevity and prevent safety issues. The manufacturer will have preferred methods for cleaning the grill to avoid damage. But as a rule of thumb, you want to clean the grill grates of any food or grease buildup to prevent fires or avoid foodborne illness and likewise clean the top, sides, and bottom for the same reason. Emptying and cleaning the drip pan is also key. Keep burner tubes clean to avoid buildup, which might cause fires or clog the gas jets. One can typically unclog jets by poking them with a pin or thin piece of wire. Finally, for charcoal grills, you want to ensure that the fire is completely out, then dump the ashes and either wipe or hose down the grill. Ashes are wonderful at collecting moisture, and it is essential to the life of your grill to remove them after cooking to prevent rust.
Greg Baker is an award-winning chef, restaurateur, and food writer with decades of experience in the food industry. For this piece, he interviewed chef Cory Bahr and pitmasters Jake Wood and Tank Jackson to find out what the pros look for in a portable grill. He then used their insights and his own expertise combined with market research to curate this list.