A summer evening just isn’t complete without the alluring aroma wafting off a smoking grill. The sizzling smell of sweet corn grilling to perfection or the drool-inducing sear on a juicy cut of meat just can’t be replicated without a grill.
And whether you’re tent camping or just looking to give your RV kitchen a break and cook by the light of a flame and the sunset, there is a portable grill perfect for your summer travels.
Actually, there’s several.
The sheer number of portable grill options is a tribute to just how passionate grill enthusiasts are. It can be overwhelming.
Fortunately, we’re serving up the best of the best, tried and tested portable grills around to make your decision a little easier.
But before we get into the meat of the matter, let’s figure out what type of grill you need.
What type of portable grill is right for you?
There are three main categories of portable grills: charcoal, gas, and wood pellet. While the most common option is the gas grill, that doesn’t make it the right choice for everybody. All three options have their ups and downs, it all comes down to how you’ll be using it and what your priorities are.
Charcoal is the classic way to fire a grill and is what some grilling experts (and occasional snob) almost religiously endorse. Cooking with charcoal means using charcoal briquettes or lumps to create consistent heat in your grill.
This method produces a distinct and desirable smoky flavor and aroma. Charcoal also opens up the door for experimentation, many people add various types of wood chips to their charcoal to produce even more distinct flavors.
It also produces a lot of inconsistency. It takes skill, experience, and a little bit of luck to control a charcoal grill’s heat with much precision. It also takes time, like all great things.
Cooking over a charcoal grill just takes a bit longer than other grills, but the unreplicable flavor might just make it worth the wait.
Here are our top three picks for charcoal grills!
Gas is the most common fuel type for portable grills, mostly due to its convenience. The labor of lugging around heavy charcoal briquettes or dealing with the cleanup from them is all but forgotten with a simple propane tank.
Most gas portable grills come with small 16-oz gas tanks which are ultra-convenient but won’t last much more than a few meals. If you’re a frequent griller, it may be well worth it to buy a conversion kit that allows your grill to use 20-pound tanks, instead.
The best gas portable grills aren’t just convenient to maintain, they’re also extremely user-friendly. Just turn the gas on, light it up (usually with a simple push spark or dial) and wait for it to reach your temp. Usually, these grills also have a simple knob that can ramp up or down the heat.
Here are our top three portable gas grill favorites!
Wood pellet portable grills have become a very popular option due to their flavor and versatility. Doubling as a standard grill and a smoker, a pellet grill will infuse a delicious smokiness to your slow or fast-cooked food.
Due to its mechanical components, a wood pellet grill needs an electricity source, making it not quite as portable as some readers might need. But if you’ve got an outlet available and don’t plan on grilling too far from it, keep reading.
The way these grills works is actually pretty simple. You load up the side box, or hopper, with wood pellets. These are just really concentrated bits of sawdust and other wood particles. Then, an auger rotates and carries the wood pellets into the heart of the grill where they’re ignited.
The heat of a wood pellet grill is easier to control and maintain than a charcoal grill, but they both will produce lots of ash and residue which you’ll have to clean out.
Things to consider before you purchase the best portable grill
Here are some top tips when you’re pondering the best portable grill to buy.
Where will you be using your grill?
Before diving into products and specs, consider how the grill will fit into your life. Are you planning to lug it around from place to place constantly? You should look for a more durable unit. Or maybe you’ll be using it remotely without access to a power outlet?
Make sure your grill doesn’t have any electrical components. Consider exactly how and where you’ll be using the grill first.
How much space will you have to store the portable grill?
You might be desperate for the extra cooking space of a larger grill, but make sure you can fit it inside your RV or campervan. Consider where you’ll keep the grill in transit and purchase a grill that fits your needs AND space.
You should also think about how easy it is to set up, take down, and transport. Many models have locking lids which make carrying them much easier, some come with travel cases, some come with wheels for easy transit. If you’re going to be moving your grill around pretty often, these features might save you a lot of time and trouble.
How many people will you be cooking for?
This one is tricky. With even the best portable grills, you’re going to have less cooking space. Period. How much less cooking space is up to you. Everyone’s cooking methods vary. One person might make giant burger patties and prefer to keep several inches between each one, while another might prefer a slider style and pack them in tight.
A good rule of thumb is that 200 square inches can hold about 12 burgers or 8 steaks. If you plan to cook the rest of the meal on the grill as well, that is roughly enough room to cook dinner for 2-4 people. That means you’ll need approximately 50-100 square inches of cooking space for each person you’re trying to feed.
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How important is temperature control to you?
Overall, a portable gas grill is going to be much easier to control than a charcoal grill. If you’re confident in your grilling expertise, this probably isn’t a huge issue, but if you’re new to grilling, a gas grill will save you some heartache.
Most gas grills have temperature control knobs, this is an absolutely essential feature. If you’re opting for charcoal, dampers can help you control the temp of your grill, so if you’re not a charcoal expert, make sure you have at least one damper.
What type of grates do you need on your portable grill?
The grates of your grill are surprisingly important, they’re what will make the classic grill marks when you cook. To achieve this, you’ll need grates that retain and distribute heat properly.
Chrome and nickel-plated grates are popular for their lightweight portability, but they don’t retain heat well and are prone to chipping and flaking, we do not recommend.
Cast iron is excellent at holding onto and distributing heat, but the added weight and maintenance might deter some buyers.
Stainless steel grates are the most popular option. They’re relatively lightweight, easy to clean, and durable, making them a great, well-rounded option for most grillers.
What type of burners do you need on your grill?
Burners are notoriously difficult to clean, so getting something with low-maintenance burners is a big plus. Lots of models come with a grease tray which can help cut down on that cleaning by a ton and are a huge plus for frequent grillers.
In general, aluminum burners are the cheapest and worst quality. Because it can’t handle the heat as well, it’ll eventually burn out. Cast iron will last a lifetime…if properly cared for.
If you don’t see yourself putting in the time to properly clean and heat dry all cast iron components, you’ll find yourself with a rusted out grill that’ll take some serious elbow grease to restore.
Cast iron is also going to weigh a lot more than other options. Stainless steel and brass are both popular, solid choices.
Do you need a tabletop or a stand-up grill?
Stand-up grills are a bit heavier than tabletop, but most tabletop grillers end up with a dedicated grill table anyways. Cooking directly on the ground might seem a bit back-breaking for some, but can be a great option for tent campers looking for a light load.
The Best Portable Grills Comparison Table
Check out our handy comparison chart of the best portable grills.
The Best Portable Gas Grills for Camping
Here’s our roundup of the best portable gas grills if you’re going for propane.
Coleman Roadtrip 225 Portable Stand-Up Propane Grill – $200-$225
This Coleman Roadtrip 225 is one of the best portable grills around and tops our list for best portable gas grill. It manages to combine some of the most desirable qualities of other popular models and strikes a nice middle ground that can suit almost any need.
Its dual burners offer up to 11,000 BTUs each, covering 225 square inches of cooking area. Throw in the sturdy side table and this model manages to make you feel like you’re working at a not-so-portable grill station. The collapsible, rolling stand makes this unit ultra-portable without needing to hunch over a folding table or crouch down to the ground to cook.
Another great feature is the Swaptop system which allows you to purchase additional griddle or stove grates that can be easily switched in. The biggest downside is the weight. But if you’re a fan of cast iron, the benefits will probably outweigh the extra muscle work.
Eureka Gonzo Grill Cook System – $150-$190
Dimensions: 13.8” x 13.8” x 11”
Weight: 14lbs 3oz
Heat Output: 10,000 BTUs
Heating Space: 132 sq. in.
Not everyone needs all the bells and whistles that come with fancier grills, and if you’re just cooking for one or two, a small grill can actually save you a lot of hassle. The Eureka Gonzo Grill System is a great solution. At just over 14 pounds, this cast iron grill is surprisingly lightweight. And the reversible grill plate allows for double the functionality without needing an additional accessory.
The biggest flaw with this model is its plastic base. As we’ve mentioned earlier, cheap materials will never last as long as sturdy ones. As you can see in some reviews of this unit, overuse or prolonged heating of the grill may result in melting.
Cuisinart CGG-180T Petit Gourmet Portable Tabletop Gas Grill – $100-$120
Dimensions: 16” x 16.5” x 13”
Heat Output: 5,500 BTUs
Heating Space: 145 sq. in.
Another great option from Cuisinart, this budget-friendly portable gas grill is great for true on-the-go grillers. The locking briefcase-style of the body makes it super easy to tote around, and the surprisingly sturdy flip-out legs help you cook at ease whether it’s on a table or right on the ground of your campsite.
The heat output of this model is slightly lacking, though might not be an issue if you’re cooking smaller meals. And with the smaller heating area, the lower BTUs can be surprisingly effective.
Weber 54060001 Q2200 Liquid Propane Grill – $260-$275
Dimensions: 25.1” x 51.4” x 26”
Heat Output: 12,000 BTUs
Heating Space: 280 sq. in.
This portable Weber liquid propane grill packs some serious grilling power. With a huge 280 square inches of heating space and an impressive 12,000 BTUs, this grill can tackle just about anything, all with the convenience and portability of other, smaller models. Talk about a win-win.
The handy dual side tables add for extra ease of use when preparing larger meals or multiple dishes. If you’re looking for a real grill-out feel on-the-go, look into purchasing this unit’s accompanying cart and cover which make this portable grill feel like the real deal.
Char-Broil Grill2Go X200 Portable TRU-Infrared Liquid Propane Gas Grill – $110-$120
Dimensions: 23.7″ x 15.7″ x 13.6″
Heat Output: 9,500 BTUs
Heating Space: 200 sq. in.
The Char-Broil Grill2Go is a rugged traveler’s grilling dream. Just looking at its exterior tells you that this grill can handle some wear & tear. The durable, high-impact frame is perfect for adventurers who can’t guarantee a smooth course of transit. It also features an infrared cooking system which promises an even heat distribution that won’t dry out your food.
With 200 square inches of cooking space, this space-efficient model can handle a surprising amount of food at once. The biggest downside, according to user reviews, is the stainless steel grill grate, which degrades quickly. The good news is, these are relatively cheap to replace, so this shouldn’t hinder you too much in the long run.
Cuisinart CGG-180 Petit Gourmet Portable Gas Grill with VersaStand – $140-$150
Dimensions: 16” x 16.5” x 31.5”
Heat Output: 5,500 BTUs
Heating Space: 160 sq. in.
Not sure whether to get a tabletop or standing grill? Get both! With this Cuisinart portable gas grill, you don’t have to choose. Its extendable legs give you the option to put this grill almost anywhere. The downside to convertible legs is that they just won’t be as sturdy as stationary ones, so you might need to be a little more careful when using this in standing mode.
Other than the extendable legs, this grill is almost identical to the other Cuisinart model in this list, so if the ability to have your grill stand upright isn’t super enticing, save some money and go with the other model.
The Best Portable Charcoal Grills
Want to go with charcoal? Here’s our rundown of the best portable charcoal grills for camping.
Weber 40020 Smokey Joe Premium 14-Inch Portable Grill – $40-$50
Dimensions: 15.4” x 15.6” x 9.2”
Heating Space: 147 sq. in.
The Weber Smokey Joe features a classic charcoal grill body. The round chassis allows for even heating across the grilling area and small design features make this grill easy and convenient to use.
Features like the Tuck-N-Carry lid might seem small, but when you’re cooking on a sandy beach, not having to dirty your lid on the ground is a huge benefit. The dampers also allow for increased control over the firing temperature of your grill and can help you reach consistency with a little practice.
This model is the lightest traditional grill on our list, making it portable for any traveler and almost effortless to set up or pack up to go.
It’s also the cheapest option on our list, so if you’re looking for something down & dirty that’ll get the job done without breaking your budget, look no further. Just be aware you might need to replace this a bit sooner than you would with a higher-quality grill.
Weber 121020 Go-Anywhere Charcoal Grill – $50-$60
Dimensions: 12.2” x 21” x 14.5”
Heating Space: 160 sq. in.
The Weber Go-Anywhere Grill is very comparable to the previous one with a few small differences. The first one is largely a matter of personal preference: the shape.
The classic round grill is touted by some as a more even heating shape, but others believe a rectangle can be much better maximized for space efficiency. The truth is, they’re very similar, and at 160 square inches of cooking area vs. 147 from the previous model, you’re not getting that much more space by going rectangular.
The functionality of these grills is also very similar, with both featuring dampers and a locking lid for easy transport. The only feature this model lacks is a lid designed to prop up when removed, but with the flat sides of a rectangle, you’ll likely be able to lean up the lid anyways and avoid the issue.
Lodge Cast Iron Sportsman’s Hibachi-Style Grill – $75-$85
Dimensions: 10.25″ x 8.25″ x 19″
Heating Space: 187 sq. in.
Cast iron cooking has garnered somewhat of a cult following. Lodge products, in particular, are a bit of an Internet phenomenon, due to their durability, affordability, and enhanced cooking flavors. This hibachi-style Lodge grill is a cast iron-lovers dream come true. The cast iron definitely adds some weight to this model, but according to the many glowing reviews, it’s worth that weight in gold.
In fact, the extra weight from its solid cast iron body adds to its overall durability and longevity. So if you don’t mind the extra maintenance and muscling that comes with cast iron, this option might be perfect for you.
Char-Griller E22424 Table Top Charcoal Grill and Side Fire Box – $40-$70
Dimensions: 18.5” x 16” x 17”
Heating Space: 250 sq. in.
This Char-Griller option is a bit unique. Not only does this function as a standalone portable charcoal grill, but it can be combined with many of Char-Griller’s larger, non-portable models to act as a side firebox.
That makes this an ideal option for travelers who want to be able to bring a grill on the road, but also want a stationary setup at their home for more intensive grilling.
This grill can work for both scenarios, adding some extra space and a fun new element to your home setup that can easily detach when you want to bring a grill along for travel use.
The Best Portable Wood Pellet Grill
Going for a wood pellet portable camping grill? Check this one out.
Traeger 10526 Bronson 20 Wood Pellet Grill – $475-$500
Dimensions: 22” x 35” x 38”
Heating Space: 300 sq. in.
This wood pellet option by Traeger definitely tops our list in terms of price, but what you pay for with a wood pellet grill, you’ll get back in flavor and longevity. At 77lbs, this grill might be less-than-portable for some, but if you’re aching to get a nice, smokey wood-grilled flavor on-the-go, this grill is an awesome option.
BONUS: The Best Portable Solar Grill
If you don’t want to mess with gas, charcoal or wood pellets, you may think about going solar. The GoSun Portable Solar Oven is a wonderful way to capitalize on the heat of the sun for your grilling needs.
GoSun Sport – Portable Solar Cooker – $240-$250
Dimensions: 24” x 5” x 8”
Heating Space: 55.2 sq. in.
Finally, the GoSun solar oven wraps up our list with an unconventional and innovative way to cook your food on the go. The tube-shaped cooking chamber is best suited for veggies and smaller/thinner cuts of meat like chicken strips or hot dogs. The folding reflectors then harness the power of the sun to heat and cook your food. Pretty cool, huh?
The downsides are…a little obvious. With a solar-powered grill, you need the sun. So nighttime or overcast cooking might not be an option. The size and narrow shape of the cooking chamber will also limit your options.
Conclusions on the best portable grills
No matter where you’re headed, a smoking barbecue roasting up some perfectly grill-charred cuts and veggies will heat up your summer travels.
The portable grills we’ve rounded up are sure to deliver just that.
As with most things, you get what you pay for. If you’re wanting a grill that will last through the years, don’t skimp on budget.
There are plenty of dirt-cheap grills available, but you might find yourself needing to replace it more often than it’s worth.
Whether you’re using it twice a day or twice all summer, we hope we’ve helped you find the perfect grill for you.
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