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Saturday, May 25, 2024

The 10 Best Portable Grills You Can Buy

Nothing says summer like cooking over an open flame. Whether it's the salty sweetness on that lightly charred corn or the rich smoothness of smoked meat, warm weather begs us to get outside and light a fire.

This is time of year when, like a groundhog, the grill starts to poke out of the snow and show its rusty, neglected self. If you're in need of a new grill this year, here's our guide to the very best portable grills. We've researched and tested dozens of portable grills to see which can brat the best. 

For your other outdoor needs, check out our guides to the Best Camping Gear, Best Tents, Best Rain Jackets, and the Best Binoculars.

Updated May 2023: We've added the Nomad Grill, the GoBQ, and updated prices throughout.

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The Best Portable Charcoal Grill

Weber Jumbo Joe$89 at Amazon (Weber)$84 at Walmart (Weber)

Of all the charcoal grills I tested, the Weber Jumbo Joe strikes the best balance of affordability, features, and ease of use. It's big enough (18.5 inches in diameter) to smoke two racks of ribs or to fit burgers and corn for six people (admittedly, this was crowded) but small enough that you'll still have room in the trunk for a cooler and camping supplies.

It's one of the most versatile grills I tested. Grilling, barbecuing, smoking—you can do it all with ease. Thanks to its dual-vent system (one at the bottom, one at the top), you get the same fine-grained level of temperature control you'll find in Weber's full-size kettles.

It weighs 22 pounds and has a handle with a bar that fits over the top to keep the kettle and lid together for easy carrying. I tossed mine in the back of the car for trips to the lake and the park and it never tipped over. The ash catcher at the bottom makes cleaning less of a hassle by allowing you to dump the excess without removing the grill grates.

The Jumbo Joe has a considerable following on the internet. Fans have added thermometers, fastened knobs to make it easier to open and close vents, attached hanging ashcans, and come up with creative ways to cook taller items, like beer-can chicken.

It's not perfect, though. No thermometer is included, and Weber does not make a storage cover for the Jumbo Joe. If you want to do any indirect-heat cooking, you'll want to buy the hinged grill grate for $35 so you can feed in fresh fuel without removing the top grill, and the $23 charcoal basket is also useful. The KettlePizza add-on kit ($250) is fun, but way more expensive than the grill itself; there's a cheaper basic version, but it's currently out of stock. Do yourself a favor, throw away your lighter fluid and get a charcoal chimney starter ($27)

Smaller Alternative:The Weber Smokey Joe Premium costs $45 at Amazon and $57 at Weber. This is our top pick for anyone who doesn't need the larger Jumbo Joe. The downside is you lose the lower vent, which means less temperature control. That's not a huge deal unless you're slow-cooking. The Smokey Joe was also more difficult to clean. But if you want a smaller kettle, this is a good option.Best Luxury Upgrade Charcoal Grill

Nomad Portable Grill$649 at Nomad

Nomad's striking, suitcase-style grill (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is to grills what the Yeti is to coolers: better in every way, but expensive. The Nomad is well built, sturdy, and easy to carry. It is heavier than the the Jumbo Joe at 28 pounds, but the shape and large handle actually make it easier to carry in my experience. Like the Jumbo Joe, the Nomad uses a dual venting system to achieve good airflow even when the lid is closed. The vents, combined with the raised fins on the bottom of the grill (which elevate your charcoal allowing air to flow under it), allow for every precise control of both high and low temperatures.

The Nomad ships with a single grate, giving you 212 square inches of cooking space, slightly less than the Jumbo Joe above. In practice, this isn't a big difference. I managed to smoke nine chicken breasts, and another time I fit two racks of ribs. If you need to grill for a crowd, pick up the second grill grate for $128, but even without it I never felt cramped while cooking for five (two adults, three ravenous children).

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Perhaps my favorite part of the Nomad is that, unlike every other grill here, the exterior of the grill stays relatively cool and you can close it up and carry it off shortly after cooking—meaning that, when the no-see-ums descend at dusk, you can scramble back to the car and make your getaway without melting the plastic chair you accidentally packed next to the Nomad. Nomad does offer some custom charcoal ($36 for 10 pounds), and it is very nice, but it's expensive. 

Best Portable Propane Grill

Weber Q 1200$259 at Amazon$259 at Weber$259 at Walmart

If flavor is your only criterion, I would argue that charcoal is superior to propane gas. But flavor is rarely the only factor. We don't grill in beautiful meadows under a rainbow every day. Often, we grill after hours on a Friday while we're also trying to set up a tent, inflate a mattress, and wrangle hungry children. And that's when the convenience of propane trumps charcoal.

For those times, your best bet is the Weber Q 1200. It's big enough for a family of four and strikes the best balance between ease of use and cooking performance. It has a thermometer and some side tables to hold your plates and tongs. It's also a champ at keeping a constant, even heat in pretty much any weather conditions. A storm blew in one afternoon, but it just kept on cooking despite the high wind and rain.

It's good at minimizing flare-ups. To test this I marinated some chicken in lemon juice and olive oil and laid it on the grills. Every grill flared somewhat, but the Q 1200 (and the Coleman below) have heavy enameled cast-iron grates that are closed over the burners, which helps keep the flaring under control.

The main downside is its weight. It may be totally unfazed by weather, but it's a heavy 30 pounds. The $117 wheeled stand is worth a look if you plan to transport it a lot. (Also be sure to check out the new Weber Traveler below.) Other nice accessories include the griddle for $65 and a storage cover for $22.

Smaller Alternatives:The Weber Q 1000 for $229: It's nearly identical to Weber's Q 1200 but loses the thermometer and side tables. The result is a more compact though still heavy grill. If you don't need the tables and want to save a few dollars, go with this model. Also available from Home Depot.Coleman Roadtrip 225 Portable Propane Grill for $209: The Roadtrip 225 Portable is lighter than the Weber and mostly matches the features of the Weber Q 1200. Coleman also gives you the option to use only one burner, so you can grill a couple of burgers without draining your propane tank. With variable controls, you can sear veggies on one side while cooking meat more slowly on the other. There's a grease pan to catch drips while cooking, and it's removable for cleaning. You also get push-button ignition and 11,000 BTUs of propane grilling power. The Coleman does lack a thermometer and a latch on the lid to let you carry it one-handed, though these omissions don't stop me from recommending it.\Best Grill for a Party

Snow Peak Tabiki$340 at Amazon$350 at Snow Peak$350 at REI

Snow Peak's Takibi Fire & Grill is like the Nomad above, it's extremely well made, but expensive. It was designed to last forever, and by all accounts it does. It has legions of fans, including Gear Team senior associate editor Adrienne So, who says it made her like camping again. Snow Peak CEO Tohru Yamai designed it more than 20 years ago and has only ever received two customer complaints, which is equally impressive.

That's a lot of hype, and I was prepared to be underwhelmed, but the Takibi lives up to the hype and then some. It's not my number-one pick, because it's not quite as versatile as the Weber (you'd have a hard time slow-cooking on it or smoking anything, although there is a $350 oven attachment), but in most other regards I like it better. It folds flat, leaving more room in your trunk; the grill top is a grid so small things won't fall through, and when you're done cooking it turns into a fire pit. I cooked with wood and charcoal, both of which worked fine. There is an add-on cast iron coal bed ($33) that holds charcoal, but I don't see it as necessary (nice to have perhaps, but not necessary).

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While slow-cooking on the Takibi would be challenging, you can at least adjust the grill height to control temperature. It is designed to let heat out the sides, as well as up to the cooking surface, so it's slightly less efficient than a covered grill, but this is only really a factor when cooking large cuts of meat (tent them with foil). It's easy to set up and simple to clean and pack away. My only real complaint is that without a lid you can't smother your remaining charcoal and reuse it, but in most cases when the food is done I load up the Takibi with firewood and enjoy it as a fire pit.

Cheaper Alternative:Primus Kamoto for $150: The Kamoto is about half the price of the Takibi and nearly as useful. It's slightly smaller, about 15 inches by 20 inches, but once extended, it's big enough to handle 16-inch-long logs (or charcoal) with 255 square inches of cooking surface. That's big enough to handle burgers and veggies for our family of five. Like the Takibi, the Kamoto doubles as a fire pit when you're done cooking, which is handy for campsites where ground fires aren't allowed (like many beaches). It's considerably cheaper than the Takibi, but be aware it's not nearly as well made.Best for Travelers

GoBQ Portable Charcoal Grill$199 at Amazon$199 at GoBQ

The GoBQ is the most portable grill in this guide. It's so small and light it'll fit in a backpack. It's even TSA-approved. Yup, you can fly with the GoBQ. The packable, rollable GoBQ is unlike anything else listed here—it's made of a fire-proof, non-stick, non-toxic silicone-coated fabric, essentially the same stuff that's used in baking mats. The charcoal hangs in a mesh wire basket, and the ingenious grilltop rolls and unrolls. GoBQ says the fabric can withstand over 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit and should last through 50 or more cooks, making this a good choice for traveling, but not everyday use.

One word of caution: Either use ready-light charcoal, a fire starter, or a charcoal chimney. You don't want to squirt lighter fluid all over the GoBQ. (Really, you don't want to squirt lighter fluid on anything. Ever. Seriously, stop doing that. Get a charcoal chimney.)

The GoBQ weighs just 8 pounds and offers 185 inches of cooking space, making it a good option for couples on the go or a small family looking for a light meal. In my testing, cooking on the GoBQ was like cooking over a campfire. There are no vents to open and close, so you'll have to control heat with the lid and by how you add fuel. It's cooking, the old-fashioned way, but if you haven't done that much you might want to practice before you have hangry kids clamoring for dinner. Still, if your primary criteria is portability, this is the best grill around.

Best for Apartment Dwellers

George Foreman Plate Grill$35 at Amazon

Not everyone has a yard, and it's increasingly common for apartments to ban open flame grills on balconies. This is where electric grills come in. It's grilling, sort of, but without the flames.

After trying a few different options, I've come back around to the one that got me through apartment life: the George Foreman grill. Some may turn up their nose and say this isn't really grilling, but there's no grilling police (as far as I know), and it's as close as some of us can get—so grill on.

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I haven't used the fancier models, but this basic four-serving one served me well for years. You can pull the grills out for easy cleaning, there's a drip pan to catch all the grease, and if you're not in the grilling mood, it doubles as a Panini press.

Keep in mind that this is a little different than normal grilling, since it cooks from the top and bottom, which means your food cooks faster. Make sure you preheat your grill until the green light clicks. This will ensure that your food doesn't stick to the grill plates.

Luxury Upgrade:Kenyon City Grill for $695: If you don't have a yard but want something a bit closer to grilling than the George Foreman above, then the Kenyon City Grill is a great option. Kenyon has been making electric grills and cookers for around 80 years (its grills are popular on boats, which is partly why this one is made of marine-grade stainless steel), but this is its first portable grill. It delivers where others fail. It cooks evenly and at consistent temperatures. (I was able to get up to 592 degrees off a digital thermometer.) There's very little smoke, though I do suggest using it in a well-ventilated area if you're indoors. The results are quite tasty. I grilled everything from pork chops to asparagus and was quite happy with the results. If you want to expand the City Grill's capabilities, you can buy a flat top surface for $135 that you can use to cook up a pancake breakfast.Best Grill on Wheels

Weber Traveler Portable Grill$380 at Amazon$399 at Weber

The Weber Traveler's sturdy design and easy collapsing and extending system make it the simplest wheeled grill I've tested. Setup and teardown take mere seconds.

Like the Q above, Weber's Traveler uses a single burner that wraps around the entire bottom of the grill. That's covered by a two-piece cast iron grill grate that's solid where it runs over the burner, which acts as a heat diffuser and keeps the burner from getting covered in grease. Speaking of grease, it has a slide-out grease trap that's easy to empty. It also has a built-in thermometer that's reasonably accurate, but I still suggest getting a separate instant-read thermometer.

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No matter how you measure it, the Traveler's 13,000-BTU burner gets plenty hot and really shines when searing. The 320-square-inch grilling surface is big enough to grill for a crowd. The only real knock against the Weber is that it is big. It'll still fit in the trunk of most cars, but it definitely takes up a considerable amount of space.

Cheaper Alternative:Coleman Roadtrip 285 for $320: This Coleman has a couple of advantages, like dual burners for different heat zones. But it also had a nasty habit of pinching my fingers whenever I wasn't careful when collapsing it. So long as you're careful, this one will do everything the Weber does and allow for dual temperature cooking.The Cutest Portable Grill

Cuisinart Venture Grill$156 at Amazon$156 at Target$156 at Walmart

Cuisinart's Venture portable gas grill looks like something Apple would make, if Apple got into grills. It's really a two-part grill that packs up into a lightweight, easy-to-carry package. The base comes off and features a flip-out propane bottle holder (we discourage you from using those; see why below) as well as serving as a place to cut. The integrated bamboo cutting board fits on top of the base, which gives you somewhere to prep your meal even if there's no picnic table around.

Despite being light and very portable, the Venture features a heavy-duty cast iron grilling surface that cooks evenly and sears well. In fact, I rarely turned this one up past medium, because it gets plenty hot on low. Conversely, don't plan on cooking slow and low with this; it's a “sear things and be done” sort of grill.

My only complaint about the Venture is that the grease tray is small and therefore prone to spilling if you aren't careful when you slide it out. Despite that, this is a clever, fun, well-designed grill that's perfect for searing on the go.

Best Big Green Egg

Big Green Egg MiniMax$700 at Ace Hardware

The iconic Big Green Egg has a cultlike following. But they are, indeed, big. If you can't face the prospect of going without your Big Green Egg for a weekend, the MiniMax Big Green Egg is much smaller, but it still isn't terribly portable. However, if you want to smoke, grill, and bake outdoors, this ceramic cooker is a strong choice.

The Big Green Egg is a Kamado-style cooker (Kamado is a Japanese word that roughly means "stove"), which makes it much more than a grill. The ceramic construction retains heat and turns it into a portable oven as well. The MiniMax Big Green Egg is identical to its larger cousin in nearly every way, but smaller. It weighs 75 pounds, making it by the far the heaviest grill I tested, but the double-handle carrying system makes it easy for two people to carry it. The problem is that the 13-inch grilling surface of the MiniMax can only grill for about four people.

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It's big enough to roast a chicken, sear a couple of large steaks at a time, or fit about six 12-inch skewers. But if you're doing meat and veggies for a family of four, you're going to be cooking in batches. In practice, this isn't so bad. Most meats need to rest when they're done cooking anyway, giving you time to do your veggies. In my testing, the Mini Big Green Egg has excellent heat control and, like the larger version, is extremely fuel-efficient.

You can find a local store that carries the MiniMax here.

Best Grill to Charge Your Devices

BioLite FirePit+$300 at BioLite$300 at Moosejaw$300 at Backcountry

The FirePit+ is a sleek, portable mesh box with removable legs, a hibachi-style grill, and an ash bin. It uses a Bluetooth-compatible app to precisely control the airflow, which in turn controls your cooking temperature. Be sure to read through my colleague Adrienne So's full review of the original model for more details, but I set out specifically to see how it grills, and the answer is: very well.

The main drawback when using the FirePit as a grill is its size. It's big enough to cook for four, but it's long and narrow, which makes some things awkward (I suggest you don't try a whole chicken). It's best suited to grilling kabobs and the like. Think “food on a stick.”

Perhaps the best thing about the FirePit is that when dinner's over, you can lower the fuel rack and turn it into, well, a fire pit. And of course it can recharge your devices, but there's something vaguely sacrilegious about sitting around the fire charging your phone.

Testing Methods

The terms grilling and barbecue are often used interchangeably, which is fine, but if you get serious about cooking over flame you'll want to learn the distinction. Grilling usually means cooking directly over high heat, while barbecue typically refers to cooking over indirect heat for longer periods of time: You grill steak. You barbecue ribs.

I used both methods to test, grilling everything from steak and salmon to corn and even kale. (This recipe for grilled kale is my go-to for testing how hard it is to clean a grill. It's delicious but incredibly messy.)

For the charcoal options, I also smoked ribs, pork, and brisket, If you're planning to smoke, I highly recommend investing in some kind of thermometer system. At home I like SmartFire's BBQ controller ($375 AUD). It has adapters based on your grill and offers one temp probe and three food probes. There's Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support, so you can keep tabs on your cook from anywhere. It even has a handy storage case for everything. 

That said, most of the time when I hit the road I grab Weber's Connect Smart Hub ($100). It's not as sophisticated as the SmartFire, but it's more portable, and two probes is generally all I need on small grills. I also never cook without my trusty Thermopen One ($100).

Stop Using Propane Bottles

The ubiquitous disposable, green propane bottle is convenient, but it's a huge source of pollution. It's illegal in many jurisdictions to throw them in the trash, though that doesn't stop many people, it seems, given how many of these end up in landfills every year. Don't be that person. 

Instead, I use this 11-pound refillable propane tank (Amazon, $80). Cooking outdoors over both stove and grill, three meals a day, an 11-pound tank lasts me about two weeks. It's small and light enough to not be any more difficult to cart around than the four to six 1-pound bottles it replaces.

You can also buy an adapter ($15) to refill your smaller canisters, though this may not be legal nor advisable, depending on where you live and your level of common sense, as you can easily overfill or break the valve. If you live in California, you may also be able to bring in 1-pound canisters for free refills or exchange empty canisters for full ones.

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