Slapping the meat on the grate is the easy part. Wading through the plethora of portable grilling products on the market is tricky at best. We've done the dirty work for you, spending days and days, over years now on distilling fundamentals and our own experience for your information. We sized up 40 different grills, eventually choosing 10 to investigate and test in depth. To keep our voice focused and authoritative, we confined our choice to propane-powered grills that one adult can handily move about. We then used, abused, and assessed for max output power, temperature control, portability, cooking area, and wind resistance. Our testing took place all over the US Mountain West, most recently on a series of spring and early summer picnics in sight of all sides of Wyoming's Grand Teton.
The Best Portable Grills and Travel BBQs of 2018
For 2018 we expanded our test team and added two all new products. Mountain guide and backcountry chef Jediah Porter brings decades of professional, outdoor food service to the team. Jed loves a good steak but can toast asparagus and slow-cook a portabella with the best of them. Both of the new products we added ended up winning awards. Both displace existing award winners, so we made sure to make careful comparisons to these now-previous award grantees. The Napoleon TravelQ 285 takes over the Editors' Choice honor with amazing heat distribution and usability. The diminutive Eureka Gonzo Grill is nearly small enough for use on human-powered adventures. It earns our Top Pick award for maximum portability.
Best Overall Portable Grill
Napoleon TravelQ 285
The TravelQ 285 from Napoleon is a gourmet, high-end propane grill downsized into a portable format. The result is readily transported, regardless of your usage, with a size and design that will feed up to 4-6 people sophisticated, grilled meals. Max heat is high enough to sear high-quality beef, while the surface can be configured to cook at extremely low heat levels indirectly. One can even cook in different zones of the grill for different temperature levels. The auto-igniter of the Napoleon is more reliable than any other we have tested.
All this performance comes with a high price tag. Also, we wish that one could purchase this grill in a configuration that allowed both tabletop use and rolling cart use. It comes in either configuration, but it is essentially fixed in your purchased mode.
Read review: Napoleon TravelQ 285
Smoke Hollow 205
This is easily the best value in a travel BBQ we have seen. While its listed price is $120, we rarely see it sold for over $80 at online retailers. All the models that scored higher are more expensive. Also, it is very lightweight, especially considering that it comes with a decent cooking area of 205 sq inches. That doesn't include the 105 sq inch warming rack that the majority of portable grills lack. This model is a great value and a standout for our Best Buy Award.
Of course, the more sophisticated grills will offer higher performance. The most significant difference between this and the more expensive Napoleon TravelQ 285 or the Coleman RoadTrip LXX is in burner control. Both of these higher scoring grills have dual burners that can be carefully adjusted to your desired temperature. The Smoke Hollow is simpler.
Read review: Smoke Hollow 205
Top Pick for Portability
The Gonzo Grill from Eureka is unique. First, it is the smallest and lightest grill we have tested. This alone earns it special mention. For maximum portability, this grill fits into your packing regime better than any other grill in our review. Next, it is highly versatile. The grill grate can be flipped to work as a griddle. Or remove the grate entirely and the burner functions like a regular stove. Furthermore, an accessory hose allows for the addition of a second water heating burner.
The small grill surface area is the primary disadvantage of this kit. It holds enough for two diners, but no more. Cooking for more will require streamlining your menu or cooking in shifts. Also, and this is something that has popped up just at the end of our testing period, but the Eureka may have reliability concerns. We will continue to test and update this as we make longer-term performance conclusions. Given the way it has worked over a few months of use, we do not hesitate to recommend the Eureka for those small groups traveling with limited space and weight capacity.
Read review: Eureka Gonzo Grill
Analysis and Test Results
We updated our previous review to include some new innovative products that include a grill/smoker, grills that are tiny and super versatile, products that bring high-end construction and design to compact form-factor, and models with interchangeable cooking surfaces. After purchasing each model and testing for months, we scored each contender based on its BTU output, burner control, weight, ease of transport, cooking area and wind resistance. The table above shows the comparative scores of all the products tested, and the metrics below describe the significance of each category as well as top scoring products.
More than in other categories of consumer goods, the value of your portable grill depends on how much and for how long you intend to use it. More expensive products tend to last under more rigorous or extensive use. Also, you must consider your menu and cooking style. Simpler grilling, like burgers-and-dogs, doesn't require high-end cooking performance. If, though, you sear steaks and slow-grill chicken, on the same piece of equipment, you need a more expensive grill. The least expensive grills don't offer the BTUs nor the control to cook more complicated foods.
For this metric, we looked at the number of BTU (British thermal units) each product generated. The BTU is a unit of energy equal to about 1055 joules. It is the required amount of energy to heat or cool one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. Maximum output scores were also determined by how many burners each product has and how well they work.
The Coleman RoadTrip LXX led this category with 22,000 BTUs and received a high score in this metric because the high power output is a breeze to control with its two individual burners. We liked that we could use one burner to cook something small, thus conserving fuel.
The Napoleon TravelQ put out a moderate 12,000, and the least powerful model is the Cuisinart Petit Gourmet that manages 5,500 BTU, but keep in mind that it only weighs 15 lbs. The Cuisinart Petit Gourmet with its lower output didn't have a problem grilling anything we wanted. It didn't take longer to cook than the other contenders, and it uses the least amount of fuel. This points to an issue in assessing just the raw BTU score. X amount of heat over a small surface area is hotter than the same amount of heat over a larger surface area. The Cuisinart and Top Pick Eureka Gonzo Grill have half the BTU rating as the STOK Gridiron 1-Burner, but they also have half the cooking surface area.
Control is the criteria that most distinctly separates the high performers from the poorer grills. This metric was scored based on how many burners each product has and whether they can be adjusted to high, medium, and low temperatures. We also took into account if the grilling surface presents a consistent temperature throughout, whether it has a thermometer and push-button ignition, and how well both perform. There are advantages and disadvantages to a grill surface that naturally presents different temperature zones. If you are cooking all one type of food, covering the entire grill surface, you want even heat throughout. If you are cooking a variety of foods all at once, you might prefer different temperature regimes.
We also took into consideration whether the lid was big enough for closed grilling, how easy the grease trap was to use, remove, and clean, and if the regulator provided a snug or loose fit.
The Editors' Choice Napoleon TravelQ 285 and Weber Q 1200 scored highest in this category because they both have two burners with distinct high, medium, and low settings, a thermometer, and flawless ignition systems. We appreciate that the grilling surface of the Napoleon is non-stick and always a consistent temperature throughout the entire grill surface. The Napoleon's lid has plenty of clearance for closed grilling, the grease trap is easy to remove and clean, and the regulator didn't give us any trouble.
The Smoke Hollow Vector Series Smoking Tabletop 3-Burner Gas Grill receives an honorable mention in this category as well. It has a built-in thermometer and three burners: two main burners and one smoke burner that makes controlling the temperature a breeze. It has a massive amount of space between the grill and the inside of the lid, so closed grilling and smoking a large piece of food would not be a problem, just as long as you take the warming rack off first. The Vector Series comes with its high-quality propane hose that has a wrenchless plastic tightening handle that makes it easy to attach to a propane tank. Keep in mind though, that the propane hose on this product doesn't connect to prefilled one pound propane cylinders.
The Blackstone The Dash received the lowest score in this metric because the grease trap attaches in such a manner that it only works if the back leg is propped up higher than the rest of the grill. Even then the grease has to be corralled, so to speak, into the trap by tipping it from side to side — otherwise, it could just drip down the grill all over the place. If the Dash is on an uneven surface, the grease will flow to the lowest corner and over the edge (especially when cooking bacon on the griddle side of the cooking grate).
Let's closely compare the two smallest grills in our test, regarding control. The Cuisinart Petite Gourmet and Top Pick Eureka Gonzo Grill are very similar in size and weight. The Cuisinart has an elongated burner beneath a rectangular grate. The Eureka Gonzo Grill has a round burner beneath a round grate. For a given temperature setting on each, the Eureka grill top presents a more uniform temperature than that of the Cuisinart. You have more options to move your food around to different temperature zones on the Cuisinart, but you have greater uniformity of cooking conditions across the top of the Eureka. Generally, we prefer the latter, especially in these smaller grills.
To determine scores in this metric, we considered weight and other criteria. We loaded up each product into vehicles, took them to picnics and campsites, and grilled gratifying culinary concoctions. When on these excursions, we took into account size, wheels, stands, construction materials, and lid latches. We also evaluated how secure or not secure they were, noise during transport, and messiness/cleanliness on the ride home.
The Cuisinart Petit Gourmet and Eureka Gonzo Grill, both at 15 lbs, are the lightest products tested in this review. The Cuisinart has telescoping legs that fold up neatly, and it's easy to carry in one hand. The Gonzo Grill, contained by its included nylon bag, requires two hands to carry but is a little less fiddly otherwise. Both of these products are so light to transport that we took them on the most adventures of all the products we tested. The Petit Gourmet is easy to set up and use, and it grills food evenly.
At 18 lbs, the next lightest grill is Blackstone's The Dash. It is also light and easy to carry and transport in its convenient rolling suitcase position, but the Dash doesn't grill evenly throughout the entire grilling surface, and its grease trap system left something to be desired.
The STOK Gridiron 1-Burner is the heaviest model we tested, weighing in at 57 pounds. But, keep in mind that it's also the easiest of all the cart style products tested to transport across your patio. The Gridiron is unique in that it has a section of the grill that comes out and interchangeable inserts can be used such as a pizza stone, veggie tray, and more. The Gridiron has a release lever that you push with your foot that causes the body to disengage from the cart effortlessly. Once the body of the grill and the cart are separated, you lift the handle, and the wheels roll gently towards the frame. It's the best and most effortless cart-style system we tested. The Coleman RoadTrip LXX and the Cuisinart All-Foods Roll Away (two other cart-style contenders) require lifting the body of the grill up and off of the stand to fold into the rolling position.
The Editors' Choice Napoleon TravelQ 285, at 26 pounds and smaller than an airline carry-on "roller board," is remarkably portable, given its surface area and cooking performance. Special mention must be made of the portability of this grill; it can be purchased as a table top model for maximum compactness or with integrated wheels and folding stand for patio portability.
The Smoke Hollow Vector Series receives the lowest score in this metric. It is a 38-pound tabletop model that has three burners, one of which is for a smoke tray. With the side tables folded and the legs folded, this product is in transport mode but is still challenging to move. The only handle on the Vector Series is the one used to open and close the lid. The handle is not sufficient for carrying this grill. You can hold it up by the lid handle, but it is extremely off balance and cumbersome and not suitable for transporting.
Scores in this metric were determined by the size of the cooking surface and what the grill surface was made of or coated with. We also analyzed if the surface was non-stick, if it had side tables or any other added features, and what multi-functions it provided. Additional functions included a grill grate that could be turned over and made into a skillet or bonus features like a warming rack or smoker tray. We also took into account with this metric how simple or challenging each contender was to clean.
The Smoke Hollow Vector Series Smoking Tabletop 3-Burner Gas Grill earned the highest score for the cooking area for a few reasons, the first one being that it has the largest cooking surface dimensions tested, measuring 367 square inches. The most important reason is that it has an added feature of having a third burner that heats a smoke chip tray thus turning it into a smoker. It also has two side tables with extensions, a warming rack, and a Porcelain-Coated Steel cooking surface.
The Blackstone The Dash and Gonzo Grill both stand out for their unique cooking areas. They both boast a dual cooking surface consisting of a grill on one side and a griddle on the other. The Gonzo Grill can also be converted into a stovetop by removing the griddle.
The STOK Gridiron 1-Burner receives an honorable mention in this area because of its unique feature that allows you to change out its cooking surface. It has a circular section in the middle of the grate that comes out and is interchangeable with different surfaces (each sold separately).
Does the burner blow out in the wind? Does the lid get easily slammed shut? Does the grease trap fly away? Is the whole system sturdy? These are all things that were taken into consideration when scoring all of the contenders for this metric.
High scores in this category go to the Coleman RoadTrip LXX and the Blackstone The Dash. The Dash has a stable cooking surface so no wind can get through the grilling grate, and the LXX fared through high winds that were strong enough to lift a large patio umbrella up and over it.
Wind resistance is the one chink in the armor of our Editors' Choice winner. On one particularly windy picnic in Grand Teton National Park, both burners of the Napoleon TravelQ 285 blew out repeatedly. Interestingly, this did not occur on other occasions nor could we replicate it with our more controlled fan test. When it stayed lit, the tight lid and high overall output of the TravelQ made it work just fine in the wind.
The Cuisinart All Foods Roll-Away and the STOK Gridiron 1-Burner scored the lowest in wind resistance. We were frustrated at the number of times we had to re-light these models in high winds. The Weber Q 1200 comes with an aluminum disposable drip tray insert that goes into the more permanent drip tray. This is nice for ease of cleanup, but it's not very wind resistant and usually ended up on the ground after flying away in windy conditions. This can be easily remedied by doing without the disposable part or just by putting a rock into it.
We think the best portable grill for the ultralight adventures is the Eureka Gonzo Grill, the most portable grill in this review. It's easy to carry, transport and clean. The Coleman RoadTrip LXX is perfect for patio use and tailgating when you have a pickup truck for transport, while the Napoleon TravelQ 285 is great for car-side camping or picnicking as it is sturdy, stable and grills very evenly.
Each individual review provides a more in-depth analysis of that model's performance in all the metrics tested, any pros or cons that we discovered, and what you can expect while using each product. If you still want to know more, head over to our Buying Advice article, where we share more tips and tricks.
— Valentine Cullen and Jediah Porter
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for tips.