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How to Choose the Best Portable Grill

Sunday June 24, 2018

Portable grills provide a rewarding cooking and dining experience in the outdoors. While camping stoves can make cooking feel more like a chore, travel BBQs can turn any gathering into a cookout, whether at a campsite, state park, on the beach, or tailgating. All in all, they are a simple solution for cooking an excellent meal away from home. This article helps you focus on the performance and features you need from your next portable grill.

Different Types


Weber Smokey Joe portable charcoal grill
There are two types of portable grills: portable propane gas, like all of the models in this review, and portable charcoal models like the Weber Smokey Joe, Hibachi or the Coleman RoadTrip Sport Charcoal. We consider a grill portable if it weighs less than about 50 pounds and is relatively easy to transport (one person can carry it up and down stairs).

Portability


The first thing to consider when shopping for a grill is how much weight you are willing to carry or push and pull around. The last thing you want is to leave your grill behind on adventures because it is too cumbersome or heavy for you to carry or transport. The contenders we tested range in weight from 15 to 57 pounds. Know your limits and purchase something that will be easy for you to maneuver. There are two types of portable grills; tabletop models and cart style models that have two wheels. Tabletop products can be lightweight or heavy, and the cart style products typically run from 40 to 60 lbs.

The Gonzo Grill is a little awkward to carry. It definitely carries best with two hands  but can be tucked under your arm.
The Gonzo Grill is a little awkward to carry. It definitely carries best with two hands, but can be tucked under your arm.

One chooses a portable grill for one of two major reasons. Or, of course, both applications could matter to you. First, people want a portable grill for picnicking, tailgating, and camping. For these uses, size and weight are the primary considerations. Smaller and lighter is better, all else equal. Another common application is for use in more confined living spaces. If your neighborhood or building doesn't allow, for one reason or another, outside storage of your grill, having a portable model for home use is your best solution. This sort of use has different demands than the former. In short, tabletop models are best for picnicking and camping while stand-alone, roll-away kinds are better for routine home use.

Grilling Surface Area


Your next consideration, after the importance of the different types of portability, is how much space you need on your grill surface. Do you cook for large groups? Or is it just a couple of you? Do you mainly grill your meat course, or do you also grill vegetables to accompany the main course? Our testing has allowed us to generate some guidelines.

For a big pile of meat  the grill surface of the Coleman is well-sized.
For a big pile of meat, the grill surface of the Coleman is well-sized.

The portable grills we tested range from around 120 to 350 square inches of cooking area. While a smaller cooktop can typically handle around four hamburgers at a time with an inch or so between each patty and two inches around the perimeter, the extra 100-200 square inches means doubling the number of persons you can cook for at one time. Two people can cook all they'd need for a hearty meal on 100-150 square inches. A group of up to four can fit their meat course, carefully, on these same grills. A group of four needs at least 250 square inches to cook veggies and meat together. A group of six or more will likely need to cook in shifts, keep the vegetables off the grill, or choose a non-portable grill type.

Cooking Performance


Consider your diet, menus, and cooking style. For simple burgers-and-dogs, any old grill will suffice. For more sophisticated grilling, not to mention smoking, you will want more sophisticated performance. We break down the cooking performance assessment process into a few different things. Consider maximum output, temperature control, and wind resistance.

BTU Output


While BTU output begins the discussion on how much power and heat a grill puts out, it isn't the entire story. BTUs (British thermal units) are a measurement of the amount of energy needed to heat a pound of water by a single degree Fahrenheit. There are other factors, though, that also factor into the power output of a grill, like the size and materials of the grilling surface, as well as overall design.

Consider what you like to cook before being swayed by high BTU outputs. For simple meals like brats, burgers, and veggie kabobs, you likely don't need a ton of BTUs. Depending on the product design, you might even save fuel by opting for less BTUs. For example, the Cuisinart Petite Gourment has the lowest BTU output we tested, but it is very light, convenient, and grills foods evenly. Check out the Smoke Hollow Vector Series Smoking Tabletop 3-Burner — it's unique, geometrical "V" shaped design promotes convection-style cooking and better fuel efficiency.

Burner Control


Burner Control is the most important of all the metrics tested. Inadequate burner control and varying temperature zones on the grilling surface can be inefficient and frustrating. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to predict what kind of burner control a grill will have without using it. You can go online and research whether or not the product you are contemplating purchasing runs hot or cool (most reviews will state whether it grills hot and evenly or not) and you can look for a couple of crucial things. The first thing is whether the grill contains more than one burner. Products with multiple burners can be easier to control. If you only need to heat up one side for a small amount of food to cook, you can. Also, you can have one side set to be hotter or cooler than the other for cooking different kinds of things, which is nice. Another thing to look for is covers that fit over the burners, which prevent grease from dripping directly onto the flames which can cause flare-ups and uneven temperature control.

Wind Resistance


Wind resistance is an important factor when choosing a product. Look for burner covers or burners that are not very exposed for optimal wind resistance. Consult online reviews, ours and others, for a consensus on the wind resistance of your narrowed set of grills.

Added Features


A thermometer is the best additional feature you can opt for. It is very convenient to know what temperature the grill is, especially for searing. A hanging warming rack is a nice added feature, as well as side tables and hooks in the front for hanging your grilling tools.

Most portable grills have a backup burner lighting chain system in case the automatic ignite starting mechanism were to go out. The idea is that if you go on a long camping excursion and the ignition starter were to go out, and you can't get to a hardware store, you can place a match or stick or piece of paper into the empty coiled end to place an increased amount of distance between your fingers and the burner when lighting.

The backup chain lighting system of the Coleman RoadTrip. It broke free from wherever it was attached twice  so we eventually just left it here on the handy tool holders.
The backup chain lighting system of the Coleman RoadTrip. It broke free from wherever it was attached twice, so we eventually just left it here on the handy tool holders.

There are also some innovative products available on the market today that include a grill/smoker such as the Smoke Hollow Vector Series Smoking Tabletop 3-Burner Gas Grill and models with interchangeable cooking surfaces like the STOK Gridiron 1-Burner and Eureka Gonzo Grill.

The backup chain lighting system of the Cuisinart Petit Gourmet. It clips in securely in the back.
The backup chain lighting system of the Cuisinart Petit Gourmet. It clips in securely in the back.

Conclusion


Selecting the best portable grill for your purposes is difficult to ascertain. We hope that our step-by-step process and our comparative review will help you. First sort out how and where you will predominantly use your grill, and then use our guide to connect you with the best tool for your job.


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