How to Choose the Best Portable Grill

Article By:
Valentine Cullen
Senior Review Editor

Last Updated:
August 17, 2017
Travel BBQs are your ticket to a great meal on the go. Whether you are camping, picnicking, spending a day at the beach or tailgating before a football game, portable grills are a simple solution for cooking an excellent meal away from home.

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 50 pounds and is relatively easy to transport (one person can carry it up and down stairs).

Ease of Transport
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 not take your grill on your 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; table top models and cart style models that have two wheels. Table top products can be lightweight or heavy, and the cart style products typically run from 40 to 60 lbs.

If you are looking for something fast and light that will cook enough food for three or four people, check out the Cuisinart Petit Gourmet or the Blackstone The Dash which is both a grill and a griddle. If you're looking to feed a small crowd, consider the Coleman RoadTrip LXX or the STOK Gridiron. The Gridiron has the best system for opening and closing a rolling cart style grill.

BTU Output
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.

Higher BTU's equal more heat, but it is challenging to determine the heat output from the BTU rating alone. Size, construction materials, and design all contribute to how much heat will be produced on the actual grilling surface. If you are looking for something with a high BTU output and good control, check out the Coleman RoadTrip LXX. The Cusinart Petite Gourmet 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 key 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.

The products we tested ranged from 15 to 57 pounds. Make sure that the product you decide on purchasing is in your comfort zone for transporting.

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.

Cooking Area
The portable grills we tested range from around 150 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.

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 longer 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 in order to place an increased amount of distance between your fingers and the burner when lighting.

The backup chain lighting system of the Coleman RoadTrip LXE. 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 LXE. 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.

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.

About Drip Trays

They are not all created equal, by far. Some portable grill manufacturers put more thought into the design and functionality of their drip trays. Look for something that is easy to put on and take off to empty, is located in an area that all the grease will flow into, and is large enough to handle your common grilling capacity.

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