Portable grills take up very little space and are easy to move around. They’re also a great option for anyone who only wants to grill occasionally.
While their compact size makes them less than ideal for cooking large cuts of meat—like a pork shoulder over indirect heat—these grills are perfect for cooking up burgers, brats, and chicken over high or low temperatures.
We selected four gas grills and seven charcoal models and put each one through a grueling set of tests before coming to the conclusion that the Weber Q-1200 (available at Amazon ) is the best portable grill you can buy.
It’s compact, powerful for its size, easy to use and clean, and can be fuelled by a lightweight fuel canister. That said, if you think that lugging around a heavy bag of briquettes and the mess that comes with cooking over charcoal is a small price to pay for smoky, delicious flavor, the Weber Jumbo Joe (Available at Amazon) is our best portable charcoal grill. It cooks just as well as its full-sized counterpart.
These are the best portable grills which I have tested and worked well for me.
Weber Q 1200
Cuisinart Petit Gourmet
Coleman RoadTrip 285
Char-Broil Grill2Go X200
Weber Q 1200
Weber makes great full-sized grills—the Spirit II E-310 was our top pick for gas grills. However, we weren’t sure they could pack that power into a portable package until we started testing.
The Weber Q 1200 immediately pulled away from the pack with its cast-iron grilling grates, giving us beautiful, well-defined grill marks on the burgers we cooked on it.
Although it only has one burner, it was able to deliver a surprising amount of heat and consistently at that: heat distribution across the Q 1200’s 189-square-inch cooking cast iron grilling grates proved even enough to allow for great grilling, cooking food evenly over its entire grilling surface.
This is a grill that offers enough space to cook for a small crowd (we easily fit six burgers on its surface,) and packs up compact enough to disappear once your meal is done.
When it comes to features, the Q 1200 was one of the few portable grills we tested that had side tables that were sturdy enough to hold a plate full of food.
The grill’s plastic side tables fold in to keep the grill compact for portability, although you will want to let the grill cool down before stowing them away to keep them from melting. It’s a good idea to stow the tables when the grill isn’t in use.
These grills are light enough that the wind can catch the tables and blow the whole thing over! That lightweight came in handy when it came to carrying the grill, and its handles were cool enough to hold even after cooking over high heat.
If accessories are your thing, Weber’s got ‘em. You can purchase a portable cart to raise the grill to standing level, which comes complete with wheels to roll it around.
They also make a flat iron griddle which you can swap-in for the grill grates, a cover to keep the Q 1200 clean between uses and an adapter that’ll let you use it with larger, refillable tanks. Considering all of this, it was a no-brainer to name this our Best Portable Gas Grill.
Cuisinart Petit Gourmet CGG-180
Our previous winner, the Cuisinart Petit Gourmet, did a fantastic job overall. We loved its lightweight, small profile and how easy it was to transport: the lid locks and you can carry it by the handle.
When you’re ready to cook, the legs pop out and create a sturdy base. The lid was smartly designed so smoke didn’t fly into your face when it was open, and you can comfortably fit six burgers on the porcelain-enameled grate.
We were happy with the even heating, but the Weber edged this grill out for one reason: it wasn’t quite as powerful as some of the other gas grills. The chicken took longer to cook, although it looked beautiful and tasted great when it did get there.
Coleman RoadTrip 285 Portable
We were super happy with the Coleman RoadTrip 285’s design. The portable cart was easy to lower for transport, letting us wheel the 3-burner grill to and from events.
We love the pull-out side tables, and the grill was decently sturdy when it was set up, too. Add in the eight-burger capacity and we felt like we were cooking on a full-sized grill!
We had some trouble with the griddle-like design in the middle of the cast iron grates; the flat portion transferred more heat than the spaced grates, creating an uneven heating pattern. We also found this grill difficult to clean. The removable water pan is designed to catch grease, but it was a complete mess after our tests
Char-Broil Portable Grill2Go X200
The portable design of the Char-Broil Grill2Go X200 was spot-on. The lid locks shut, and it’s light enough to carry it by the handle from place to place.
Other than that, your money would be better spent on a better portable gas grill. We didn’t love the infrared grates, which got way too hot (even on the lowest setting) to cook the chicken through without burning it on the outside. The grates were also exceptionally difficult to clean, even with the included scraping tool.
Gas or Charcoal—How Do You Choose?
In the eternal debate over whether a gas grill or a charcoal grill is better for outdoor cooking, there is no wrong answer. If you’re cooking your food on the grill instead of inside the house, it will capture that beautiful charred essence and smoky flavor from cooking over open flames.
You likely already have strong opinions on the topic of gas versus charcoal and we’re not here to change your mind. If you’re still on the fence on the subject, however, here are the pros and cons of using each type of grill to help you choose the right one for you. Let’s talk gas grills, first.
Gas grills are more convenient than charcoal grills, especially when it comes to portability. It’s much easier to lug around a one-pound propane canister instead of a huge bag of charcoal! They’re also significantly easier to clean (no ash!), and they heat up more quickly.
Gas grills come equipped with electric starters or a spark wheel to ignite its gas burner, helping you get cooking faster than charcoal users can manage. It’s also easy to easier to control the heat while you’re grilling with gas than it is when using charcoal.
To adjust the heat up and down, simply twist a knob instead of fiddling around with hot coals. It is a bummer when you run out of propane, though, so you always want to double check before heading into the woods.
Charcoal grills, on the other hand, are significantly less expensive than their gas counterparts. Many people prefer the flavor of cooking over a charcoal grill, as the briquettes they use for fuel infuse smoky elements into the food.
The coals created by burning those briquettes can burn hotter than propane, which can be a pro or a con: you’ll get a serious sear on your food if that’s what you’re going for, but it’s also easy to burn your food over 700° F temperatures.
How Do Grills Work?
Gas grills have a BTU—British Thermal Units—rating to measure the amount of heat each grill can produce. More and more, grill manufacturers are pumping out grills with higher and higher BTU counts, and consumers rely on these numbers as a measure of the grill’s performance. So, what’s the deal: do the BTUs actually matter?
I’m going to go ahead and say no: our top two gas grill picks had fewer BTUs per square foot of cooking space than the competition, produced evenly-cooked food and offered a more enjoyable cooking experience.
BTUs don’t necessarily give you a good measure of how the grill’s design will affect the cooked food. It’s also important to keep in mind that higher BTU grills burn through propane faster, and if the lid doesn’t fit tightly onto the grill, all that heat won’t remain inside anyway.
At the end of the day, BTUs are simply an indication of how much heat your grill can produce, not how hot it will actually get inside your grill. So, look at the number if you like, but don’t put too much stock into it.
When it comes to charcoal, you get full control of how much heat your charcoal grill produces. It takes a little practice to get the hang of it, but it’s all about controlling the airflow, the coal patterns, and the food’s proximity to the hot coals.
You’ll learn to allow oxygen in by opening up the bottom vents, fueling the coals and creating intense heat. Close ‘em up to choke off the oxygen and lower the temps. Portable grills with a lid also have top vents to give you some control of the heat, but they also change the flavor of the food by venting the hot exhaust or keeping the smoke inside the dome.
You can also control the heat by managing your coal bed and rearranging their placement inside the grill. If your portable grill is large enough to make a two-zone fire, you can move the food off of the flames to a cooler area where they’ll cook over indirect heat.
The other thing you’ll notice about charcoal grills is that most of them have flimsy wire grates as opposed to gas grill’s heavy cast iron grates. Before you bemoan the loss of grill marks, know that they’re entirely overrated.
Sure, they look great, but wire grates give your food better overall browning, crusting your burgers and steaks with extra caramelized flavor. Plus, the wire grates are lightweight and easy to move around when you want to rearrange the coals underneath.
How Do I Start a Charcoal Grill?
There are several ways to start a charcoal fire, but using lighter fluid should be last on the list. I don’t know about you, but I can totally taste the lighter fluid in the finished product.
No, thank you! You can stack your coals in a pyramid and use a starter cube to ignite the pile, or use a chimney starter, like the Weber 7429. Simply place some wadded up newspaper underneath the chimney, add your coals, and light the newspaper on fire.
They’ll be ready to dump into the grill base about 15 to 20 minutes later, when the coals in the middle glow bright red and the ones on top become white and ashy.
Using a chimney is also a good way to know how many briquettes you need: a full chimney will produce temperatures in excess of 550°F. For cooler grilling temps, fire a half chimney (about 400°F) or a quarter chimney (about 300°F).
Portable Charcoal Grills
Lodge L410 Pre-Seasoned Sportsman’s Charcoal Grill
If you want to buy a portable grill that will last a lifetime, it’s the Lodge L410 Hibachi Style Charcoal Grill. This cast-iron charcoal grill is heavy, but it holds its heat exceptionally well, using fewer coals than most grills.
It did a fantastic job of infusing smoky flavor into our burgers and bone-in chicken, and adding coals was as easy as tossing them in through the fire door built into the grill’s body. It was just as easy to control the heat with the sliding draft door located underneath the unit.
Because it’s made from cast iron, this grill was super simple to clean, too; just wash it with warm, soapy water, dry it to prevent it from rusting, and apply a thin coat of oil to keep the grates seasoned.
It was missing a few features to earn our top pick, though. It was smaller than most of the grills, maxing out at four burgers. Plus, it’s heavy (about 30 pounds), and it doesn’t have a lid, making it impossible to turn it into a mini smoker without jerry-rigging it with aluminum foil.
PK-TX Grill and Smoker
The PK Grills PKTX is a great option for anyone looking for a fully-functional charcoal grill with a smaller outdoor area. The 300-square-inches of rectangular cooking area can fit about ten burger patties at a time, and the grill folds down to make it easy to store and wheel to tailgating events.
The grill’s four vents promoted air flow suitable for direct or indirect heat cooking methods, and the grill grate hinged in half to allow plenty of access to the coals underneath.
On the flip side, we didn’t love the lid, which was heavy and felt like it was going to fall off if we didn’t open it carefully enough. The bottom vents were also really hard to access and hot coals fell out if you opened them during the cooking process. The grill also lacks an ash bucket; it does have two ash catches, but they were impossible to clean out without making a mess on my driveway.
Big Green Egg MiniMax
First of all, we loved the way our food tasted after being cooked on the Big Green Egg MiniMax. It’s everything we love about the larger Big Green Eggs, just in miniature form!
These kamado-style grills use charcoal but have thick, ceramic sides that store a ton of heat, radiating that energy very efficiently as you cook. It had the best temperature control of any charcoal grill we tested.
That being said, this is not a portable grill; I had to ask for help to move the 76-pound grill! It’s also much smaller than the other grills, fitting about four burgers, and it’s significantly more expensive, too. Since the ceramic construction takes a long time to cool down, we wouldn’t recommend this model for tailgating, but it would be a great fit on a small backyard patio where it wouldn’t have to be moved often.
Unlike the other grills on this list, the Big Green Egg isn’t available at national chain stores. It’s available at most Ace Hardware stores, but they’re usually sold through individual dealers. The prices tend to vary by dealer as the Egg is often sold as part of a package deal
Weber Smokey Joe 40020
Although the Weber Smokey Joe did a fantastic job of grilling our food, it lacked a few features that would have bumped it up in our rankings. You can get a premium version that has a lid lock, but the basic version provides no way of carrying the grill.
That means when it’s full of hot coals, it stays where it lies until it cools down. We were pretty happy with the way the vents were positioned, but the ash catcher isn’t removable, making it pretty difficult to clean when you’re done cooking. It’s small and simple—fitting about six burgers—but we’d rather upgrade to the Jumbo Joe to get the extra ease-of-use features.
Fire Sense Notebook 60508
There were a lot of things to like about the Fire Sense HotSpot Notebook. If this contest were all about portability, this one would win! It folds down completely flat and includes storage space inside for the three-hinged grill grate.
Not only that, but it’s available for a fraction of the price as the other portable grills. It’s super easy to set up, and although the stainless steel grate was slightly uneven, it worked well enough for our liking.
The frame was surprisingly sturdy and did a great job at high-heat cooking, but because there are no vents or lid, it didn’t do well on the chicken tests.
There was no way to control the heat, so the chicken either burned over direct heat without cooking through inside, or it was still under cooked after an hour over indirect heat.
You also can’t move the grill until it completely cools down, and the ashes blow around everywhere because it lacks an ash catcher bucket. It’s a great grill if you’re looking for a cheap way to cook hotdogs at the beach, but we wouldn’t recommend it for heavy-duty use.
Char-Broil American Gourmet Portable 19402057
The Char-Broil American Gourmet is a barrel-style grill with a hinged lid. While we liked the idea of its pull-out drawer to add coals, the door stuck badly and was frustrating to use.
And because the drawer’s grates ran vertically, it was difficult to rake the coals from side to side to create an indirect heat pattern. The grill itself was easy to clean and sturdy as we used it, but it was difficult to see inside the grill and the rounded lid design funneled the smoke straight into your face.
Add in the fact that the carrying handles got extremely hot as you used it and it was a touch on the heavy side at 30 pounds, and this one fell to the bottom of our list.