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If you’re planning to scratch your travel itch with camping, road trips, wilderness adventures and outings to local parks and beaches, you’ll need a way to cook great food while you’re away. Spending time with friends in nature can feel therapeutic, but it does limit your food options. If you don’t want to rely solely on non-perishable food, the answer is simple: get a portable grill.
Portable grills are compact, easily transportable means of making great meals anywhere. They’re an obvious choice for camping and day trips, but the small size also makes them convenient for anyone living in a city or small house. The best portable grills can be set up anywhere, be it a picnic table, a lawn, or the beach, and can be used to cook everything from hotdogs to veggies to fish.
If you’re looking to upgrade your next outdoor adventure with better food, read on. We’ve rounded up eight of the best portable grills, including gas, charcoal and electric grills.
What Are the Best Portable Grills?
Grill Type: Charcoal and gas are the two most popular types of portable grills. Gas grills are cleaner too and much easier to handle, but you do forego that smokey flavor and high heat of charcoal grilling. If you only grill occasionally, a portable charcoal grill is a good choice. There are also a handful of portable electric grills that work in apartments or in unison with a camping generator, but those can be useless in many outdoor situations.
Cooking Area: How much food will you need to cook? Most portable grills have a cooking surface of around 200-300 square inches, which should be enough for a family of five. For reference, a circular grill with an 18-inch diameter can fit eight burgers. If you intend on cooking for more than five people (or, say, a couple of teenagers) go for one of the grills with close to 300 square inches of cooking area.
Power: The more heat a grill can produce, the more flexibility you have while cooking. You can churn out hot dogs or burgers faster but you also get more range when preparing difficult cuts such as fish or nice steaks. The power of a grill is measured in BTUs (British thermal units) with portable grills typically ranging from around 8,000 to 20,000 BTUs.
Weight: Chances are you’ve already got a decent amount of gear to lug around. A light portable grill is always better. The portable grills on our list range from 16 to about 50 pounds, with heavier options utilizing wheels or ergonomic handles for easier transportation.
Ease of Use: No one wants to spend their leisure time unpacking, prepping and fiddling with a grill. Be sure to check set up procedures and user reviews and to find out whether or not a grill sounds easy to use.
Design: Because portable grills are so compact, design becomes more important than full-size grills. The grate is close to the heat source, so most brands utilize some form of guard or a spacious interior to prevent flare-ups. Check the features list of a portable grill to see what the brand has done to minimize flare-ups and evenly distribute heat across the grill.
1. Kenyon Frontier All Seasons Portable Stainless Steel Electric Grill
Whether you’re cooking indoors or outside, Kenyon’s All-Seasons Portable Grill is the one we recommend. It runs on electricity instead of charcoal or wood, which means you never have to worry about running out of fuel — or lugging it around. Beneath the grills grates and heating element sits a tin foil tray, which you fill with water; It creates steam and catches drippings. This helps prevent the grill from creating too much smoke. You can swap out water for another liquid, or put in a couple of drops of liquid smoke, to impart different flavors.
In our tests, the All-Season’s Portable Grill worked flawlessly. We were able to grill meats and vegetables from inside a New York City apartment with outdoor grill-like results. Kenyon supplies a booklet for recommendations on how high to heat the grill based on what you’re making, and how long to cook it. This was a nice guide, and help us get the right results early on in our testing. If you’re worried about over or under cooking your meat, we recommend OXO’s meat thermometer, which offers a quick, accurate reading.
What we liked best about this grill was its (relatively) small size. It’s 21-inches wide, which is small compared to a full-size grill, but still large enough to cook a dozen hamburgers or a few steaks at the same time. We cooked strips of bacon to test it for hot or cold spots, and it did an even job cooking the meat. Kenyon’s grill heats up to 600 degrees at full blast, which allowed us to get a nice sear and grill marks.
It’s possible to store Kenyon’s grill in an apartment, and well worth keeping on your countertop if you like to grill a lot. If you’d like to bring it outdoors, the grill’s handles make it easy to carry. Another unexpected feature was the grill’s overall build quality, which was astonishingly good. This grill feels solid, from the handles to its hinges. We have no doubt it’ll last a lifetime.
If you don’t have the luxury of a permanent outdoor space, or want to grill indoors during the colder months, we can’t recommend Kenyon’s All-Seasons Portable Grill highly enough.
2. Nomad Grill
Nomad’s Grill & Smoker is a portable, all-in-one cooking tool that’s the perfect tool for tailgaters, campers, or anyone who loves meat. The suitcase-shaped grill is made almost entirely out of metal, with a hard plastic handle, latches, and switch tips to avoid burning you if you touch them while the grill is still hot.
When fully opened (grill mode), the Nomad has 425 square-inches of cooking space, when closed (smoker mode) it has a little over 212 square-inches of cooking space. Nomad ships the grill with a single grate, if you’d like to take advantage of its full cooking area when completely opened, you’ll need to get a second one.
I’ve gotten to try Nomad’s grill for myself, and it’s one of the most innovative pieces of gear I’ve tested recently. It’s compact, easy to use, and produces delicious results. It’s hard to overstate how impressive it is to have a grill that you can easily take with you anywhere. The grill is also very straightforward to use: lift up the grate, pour lit charcoal into the well below, and start cooking. Nomad has its own charcoal, but you should get a chimney starter (this is the one I used) for quick results.
Nomad’s Grill & Smoker makes it possible to make char-grilled and smoked meats when you’re home, or out exploring. It’s an especially good option if you want to grill, but don’t have enough outdoor space to keep one out all the time.
3. PKGo PortableGrill
PKGO’s latest portable grill was design specifically with campers and tailgaters in mind, and its innovative design allows you to double its cooking surface from 204 to 408 square inches if you’re cooking for a crowd.
The PKGO, which runs on charcoal, has two cooking modes. With the lid attached, you can use it as a traditional grill or smoker. Adjustable vents on top of the grill allow you to control its temperature, and decide how much smoke you’d like to impart on your meat and vegetables. By closing one vent and adding a dish full of water, you can use a cooking method called indirect heating, which lets you cook food lower and slower — ideal for long cooks. Portable grills rarely give you that much control over your cooking.
This grill’s standout feature is its design. You can detach the PKGO’s lid, flip it over, stick on a grate (included), and use it as a second grill. This makes the grill far more versatile than most options. You can cook twice as much food at the same time, or separate different types of food.
If you’re cooking for vegetarians, or people with food allergies the PKGO is the best portable grill available right now. It’s an equally good choice for hosts who want to ensure all of their guests eat at the same time.
4. BioLite FirePit+
If you expect your summer to be full of late-night in the backyard or on the beach, BioLite’s FirePit+ is your recommendation.
It runs on either fire wood or charcoal, and holds the fuel on a rack surrounded by a heat-resistant mesh coating. The mesh layer is tight enough to prevent ash or flames from escaping, but increases the FirePit+’s airflow to prevent smoke from getting overwhelming. Smoke is also managed thanks to the FirePit+’s fan, which blows it away at a consistent rate. The fan runs on a rechargeable battery pack, which Biolite says runs for up to 30 hours per charge.
As its name suggests, BioLite designed this as a fire pit, but it includes a top grill grate that turns it into a hibatchi grill with roughly 240 square inches of cooking space. Biolite also offers a grill lid and griddle (sold separately) if you want to use the FirePit+ as a traditional grill, or a breakfast station.
The Biolite FirePit+ would be worth recommending if it was just a fire pit, but its grilling features put it over the top.
5. Lodge Kickoff Cast-Iron Grill
If ultra portability is your main concern, Lodge’s new Kickoff Cast-Iron Grill is the one we recommend.
The charcoal grill has a simple — but highly effective — two piece design. Your fuel sits on a cast-iron plate, and the top of the grill rests above it. Cast iron retains heat extremely well, which guarantees an even cook as long as your briquettes are distributed evenly. We’ve tried several piece of gear from Lodge over the years, and they’ve always produced excellent results, creating an exceptional sear on meats and vegetables.
Cast iron has one downside, though: weight. Although this grill is only 14.3 inches wide and 16.7 inches long, it weighs nearly 30 pounds. That said, if you’re on a camping site with limited space, this grill’s small size is a huge plus. Plus, cast iron tends to retain its heat longer than metal grates, so you may end up using charcoal. By carrying less fuel, the weight difference between Lodge’s Kickoff grill and our other recommendations becomes a lot smaller.
6. Weber Liquid Propane Grill
Weber’s portable Q-series grills are widely regarded as some of the best in the business. It’s no surprise, as Weber has been making industry-leading grills since they started way back in 1893. The Q2200 is our favorite of the Weber lineup because it has more power and cooking area than the lesser models yet more portability than the standing wheeled Q3200.
The gas-powered Q2200 pumps out 12,000 BTUs on a 280 square inch cooking space, which should be sufficient for grilling anything in a reasonably short time. It’s very easy to assemble and use thanks to a minimal setup, fold-out side tables and electronic ignition. The only possible downside is the weight. It comes in at about 43 pounds, but two sturdy side handles allow two people to carry it at once.
7. Cuisinart Chef’s Style Propane Tabletop Grill
This tabletop grill from Cuisinart is a powerhouse that you can carry in one hand. It boasts an incredible 20,000 BTUs of steak-searing heat from two individually-controlled burners (both delivering 10,000 BTUs). This dual-burner design comes in handy for cooking, say, burgers on one side and thin-cut veggies on the other. And despite all the power, the Cuisinart weighs just 22 pounds, making it fairly easy to throw in the trunk and carry around the campsite, beach or park. The grill is also probably the best looking portable option around, which is great for use in small homes as it’ll be an attractive feature instead of an eyesore.