One of the best ways to cook outdoors is on a portable grill. These small appliances help you make a tasty meal anywhere, from the shore of a lake to your own backyard. They also lend additional firepower to your main grill when you’ve got a big cookout going. To help you select the right one, we tested the cooking capabilities of a range of grills and then ate everything we made, to make sure the fruits of our labor was up to snuff.
Check out quick reviews of five of the top models below—from homeowner-grade appliances to gourmet options—then scroll farther for more in-depth reviews of these and others, plus buying advice.
Selecting the Right Grill
Portable grills are fueled by lump and briquette charcoal or propane, each with its own advantages. Lump charcoal is easier to ignite and burns hotter than charcoal briquettes. Because it’s charred wood, it consists of irregularly shaped pieces, and so requires a bit of experience to correctly build a fuel bed. Bagged charcoal is slightly more difficult to light but is easy to work with in that you ignite a pile of it in a charcoal chimney and pour the glowing coals onto the coal grate. You can easily move these regularly shaped pieces with a coal shovel to put the heat where you need it. Charcoal is dramatic and fun to work with; outdoor chefs generally like smoke and flames. Propane, both in a 16.4-ounce camper-size fuel bottle and the common 20-gallon size, is tame in comparison. It’s certainly cleaner and quick to set up and light: Open the fuel tank’s valve and light the burner with a match, butane lighter, or the igniter on the grill.
Aside from fuels, think about your other needs. Do you want to set up, cook, and cool down quickly? Then gas is your obvious choice. Just how compact does the grill need to be and how lightweight? These point you in the direction of a small, sheet-metal kettle or 16.4-ounce propane model. If durability is your sole criteria and not weight, look at the grill’s build and features that contribute to longevity. Perhaps a cast-iron hibachi is your best choice or maybe it’s a simple charcoal grill built from sheet metal.
How We Tested
We slid each grill out of the box, and while it was still new and clean, looked over its workmanship and build quality, checking every nut and bolt and the neatness of its manufacturing.
After we assembled and fueled every grill, we did a quick but thorough evaluation of cooking-surface temperature. Our consulting pro—cookbook author, chef, and barbecue expert Dave Joachim—recommended spreading slices of white bread over the grilling surfaces, since they’ll clearly show where cold spots can produce undercooked food. So for the gas appliances, we got several loaves. The areas that turned up black were hot spots, still-white areas were cold spots. Evenly browned slices were just right. For charcoal grills, we used a glowing bed of charcoal in two modes: direct—to provide heat right under the food; and indirect—placed to the side of the food and reflecting heat off the grill body. We checked whether the charcoal was easy to place and manipulate inside the grill and whether the vents provide sufficient airflow to keep it glowing.
Next, we cooked about 30 pounds of juicy hamburgers (hand-formed from ground chuck), marinated bone-in chicken, and veggie patties, with Joachim’s help.
We covered all the grills with food and moved down the row, from one grill to the next, checking how much attention the beef, chicken, and patties needed to quickly get to the end point: an evenly browned exterior, a warm and juicy interior, and attractive sear marks on the top and bottom. For the sake of food safety, we patrolled using a professional-grade digital food thermometer carefully inserted into the food horizontally. The last step of the test was the best part: We ate what we cooked. Here are the portable grills that passed the test, and how well they fared.
Watch: Dave Joachim's best grilling tips.
Weber Smokey Joe
Fuel: Charcoal | Cooking surface: 13.8" diameter
This is a phenomenal small grill, a kettle-shaped classic. A bottom vent and an aluminum top damper allowed us to dial in the airflow. Despite the Smokey Joe’s small volume, there was enough room to manipulate the coal for precise cooking—we placed mound charcoal on one side for indirect heating and rotated the lid so that the top damper drew smoke past the food. The grill’s setup and cool down are simple, precise, and fast. Years of experience with it have convinced us of one thing: It’s a classic that would be almost impossible to improve upon.
―MOST INSTAGRAM WORTHY―
Cuisinart CGG-750 Venture
Fuel: Propane | Cooking surface: 11" x 14"
Packed up, Cuisinart’s Venture resembles a picnic basket, making it about as portable as a table-top grill can get. And it took us less than a minute to set up its three pieces, including a wood top, grill body with handle, and base. The top and base combine to form an attractive prep surface that clips alongside the grill. The single 9,000-BTU burner is fueled by a 16-ounce propane canister that conveniently stores in the base. Being a single-burner grill, the Venture made it a little tricky to manage heat when cooking thicker meats like bone-in chicken, as it’s hard to get away from the heat for longer, indirect cooking. We set the burner on low for the 100 percent beef burgers we grilled, flipped them once, and then turned up the heat to imprint sear lines from the cast-iron grate. Generally, we found it relatively easy to grill thinner foods—this is ideal for cooking burgers, hot dogs, boneless chicken, or fish at an intimate meal some place special or tailgating at the game. What’s more, the stylish Venture is a social media post waiting to happen every time you fire it up.
Oklahoma Joe’s Rambler
Fuel: Charcoal | Cooking surface: 17" x 13"
This somewhat simple, unassuming grill turned out to be the sleeper in our test. We were really impressed by how easy it was to cook with either direct or indirect heat. The charcoal tray is adjustable, hanging from a ladder rack that can quickly raise or lower the coals as needed. The burgers came out with fantastic coloring and that “cooked over charcoal” taste. To cook chicken more slowly, we shuffled the coals to one side, put it in away from them, and closed the lid. The damper on top allows for fine management of the heat, and a large, easy-to-read thermometer made monitoring the temperature simple. As far as portability, this table-top grill doesn’t break down to take up less space—what you see is what you get, and it might be difficult to transport in smaller cars. We were surprised to find that the Rambler is nearly 50 pounds. That might seem a tad heavy, but it has cast iron grill grates and is fabricated from thick-gauge steel, instead of cheap stamped sheet metal. It’s built to last, though we wouldn’t suggest hiking into the woods with it.
―BEST FOR TAILGATING―
Coleman RoadTrip 285
Fuel: Propane, 16-oz. | Cooking surface: 25" x 12"
For tailgating, camping, or a barbecue in the park, the RoadTrip 285 is easy to haul and set up. It runs on 16-ounce propane canisters—bring spares if you’re cooking for a crew or making multiple meals. The two-piece grates are made of cast iron and coated with porcelain, covering three burners which yield 20,000 BTUs. The burners all sit under the solid center sections of the grates, which our bread test revealed to be the hottest area on the grill. You will need to carefully manage indirect heat when cooking thicker things like chicken on the bone—we kept it over the open grates around the edges of the grill. The 25 x 12-inch cooking surface will hold a lot of burgers, dogs, or whatever your preference. And, if you want to mix things up, the grill grates swap out for griddle or stove grates (available separately).
―BEST COLLAPSIBLE GRILL―
GoBQ Portable Charcoal Grill
Fuel: Charcoal | Cooking surface: 13.5" x 13.5"
This folding GoBQ is a novel, innovative portable grill unlike any other. It packs up in a tube eight inches in diameter and 14 inches in length, and carries easily by the handle on top or with the included shoulder strap. Made of silicone-coated fiberglass fabric with a collapsible metal frame, it can withstand temperatures up to 2,200 degrees. We enjoyed the ease of set up, and once we were familiar with the grill, we could open it up in seconds. A flexible metal basket holds the charcoal, and we tested both with it full and with about 12 briquettes for a quick meal. Once open, the outside carrying case becomes a hood to cover the grill and contain heat. In our testing, we grilled burgers, hot dogs, and bone-in chicken on the GoBQ, all of which culminated with the expected, delicious results. While the standard fare was quite easy, the chicken cooked over indirect heat required a little more manipulation of the charcoal, which wanted to settle to the middle of the basket. Nevertheless, once we sorted out how to strategically set the charcoal, we could reliably create an indirect heat zone. Post-grilling, cleaning and packing up was a breeze. After we dumped the charcoal and ash, the fabric cooled enough to touch within about 30 seconds—placing the cooking grate inside the cover with tongs, we then folded the grill, latched the cover, and packed it all away. The GoBQ grill is a great option for traveling, tailgating, or even for folks with small apartments, given its ease of packing, stowing, and carrying.
―BEST FOR GENERAL COOKING―
Fuel: Propane, 16-oz. | Cooking surface: 22" diameter
Strictly speaking, the Firedisc isn’t a grill—it’s a portable outdoor cooker. The 22-inch “disc” sits on a sturdy, two-piece stand made of thick steel bar stock. The pieces come apart without tools, lay flat, and easily slide in the back of a car or truck. We prepared burgers and marinated chicken on the bone in our test unit. While the Firedisc was capable with our test menu, its best use is as a wok or cast-iron frying pan—in fact, it’s seasoned just like cast-iron cookware. In it, you can boil, flambé, fry, or sauté. Fajitas, fried chicken, pancakes, stir-fry, cheese steaks, and bacon are all fair game in the Firedisc. With the weather warming up, we took our taco Tuesday out on the patio for a change—cooking out doesn’t have to mean burgers or barbecue.
―EASIEST TO TRANSPORT―
Fuel: Propane, 16-oz. | Cooking surface: 18" x 13"
No need to carry this stainless steel CGG-240 from Cuisinart. The stand folds down flat for maximum portability, so it can wheel behind you like a roller bag at the airport—plus, that makes it easy to hang on a wall for storage. When set up, the grill has a relatively small footprint of 18 x 34 inches, making it ideal for apartments or places with limited space. Once open, two shelves swing out to provide handy staging areas on both sides of the grill. The single 15,000-BTU burner sits beneath a metal cover to help distribute heat evenly under the grill grate. Our bread test revealed that there were two hotter spots, to the front and back of the cover, where the heat rose around it. Knowing this, it was easy to see where to cook things like chicken with indirect heat. The 18 x 13-inch enameled, cast-iron grate can fit 12 burgers with room to flip them—more than enough for a meal or small gathering.
―BEST FOR BURGERS AND DOGS―
Fuel: Propane, 16.4-oz. | Cooking surface: 12.5" x 16.5"
The Q1200 is compact and light, the most convenient portable grill we tested. This one gets the job done almost entirely through conduction—its single burner provides heat to a porcelain-coated cast-iron cooking grid that functions much like a 189-square-inch pan. Narrow slots in the grid provide a path for drippings. With the lid down, you get reliable cooking as hot air circulates over the grid. The bread test confirmed that the Weber has good middle-of-the-pack heat distribution. But because you can’t control that heat as well, you’ll need to either carefully monitor your food or save this one for burgers and dogs: It will dry out or burn chicken and more substantial cuts of meat. For added convenience, Weber sells a separate stand—a nice accessory when you don’t have a picnic table on which to set the grill.
―BEST FIRE PIT-GRILL COMBO―
Snow Peak Takibi
Fuel: Wood | Cooking surface: 12.5" x 17"
For fans of real wood and a relaxing campfire cooking experience, there’s the stainless steel Takibi. This fold-flat fire pit comes with a grill bridge that fits over the top and is adjustable up or down for optimal distance to the coals. Like using charcoal, cooking on the Takibi requires a little patience—ideal conditions come once the bare flames die down and the wood is reduced to glowing coals. We used oak firewood cut down to eight-inch chunks to get a hot bed of coals, which took about 45 minutes. If you’re solely interested in cooking, lump charcoal would be a faster way to get to grilling over a bed of coals. Setting the grill bridge about four inches up worked nicely for us, with our burgers right over the coals. Chicken on the bone needs to be set a little higher to be sure it cooks evenly. With the Takibi, once the cooking is done, remove the grill bridge, throw on some more wood, and you’ve already got your campfire going.
―BEST FOR BIG EVENTS―
MECO Americana Walk-A-Bout 4200
Fuel: Charcoal | Cooking surface: 18" x 18"
The Americana is unique: a lightweight, full-size grill on a collapsing wheeled stand. Fold it up and go. Unfold it and cook. It’s a lot of grill for the money, especially when you consider its 332 square inches of cooking surface and excellent engineering. Place its charcoal on a pan and you get a fair amount of reflected infrared energy from it. Yet convection is easy: simply close the lid, which is hinged to the grill body and well sealed. Because of the features, plus the low, front-mounted sliding vent and a nicely designed top damper, the grill is highly adaptable to a variety of foods and cooking methods—and works as the primary grill or as a satellite to a larger appliance.
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