Gone are the days where camp food meant hastily roasted hot dogs on sticks. The best camping grills today offer top of the line performance with durable, lightweight portability, meaning adventurers of all varieties now have the option of creating delicious, inspired food no matter where they are. From grilled hamburgers to wok-fired stir fry, camp cuisine is no longer limited to what you can get out of a freeze dried pouch. In addition, these compact grills are perfect for tailgating, meaning that your next pre-game party can have more than just chips and dip.
The increasing popularity of portable camping grills has invited manufacturers to offer a wide variety of different features and accessories, making the selection of the best camping grill a somewhat daunting task. The varying size, shape, & weight of these grills makes it extra important to make sure that you are getting the right one for the job, without paying an arm and a leg.
That’s where we come in. We’re taking a look at the best camping grills of 2020, breaking it down by size, price, durability, and overall value.
Coleman RoadTrip LXE Portable Camping Grill
When it comes to portable camping grills, there is perhaps no other brand with a reputation as immediately recognizable as Coleman. Their RoadTrip LXE portable camping grill represents the best of what the market has to offer these days, including quick collapsibility and luggage-style wheel & handle portability that make this one of the best grills to keep in the back of the car. The LXE has the hand up on the LX model because of how easy it is to fold it down for transport, in addition to the fact that the side tables slide in and out instead of snapping on and off.
The LXE does pretty well with the smaller 1# disposable propane tanks, which is what it is setup to connect to. If you want to use a larger propane tank, you will need to spring for the adaptor. However, the adaptor will cause an additional drop in pressure, meaning a weaker flame that can blow out easily in the wind. The heating elements are uncovered, which can lead to some concentrated hot spots directly above the flame, but this shouldn’t be an issue for anyone familiar with portable propane grills.
A tip for users: line the bottom of the grill basin with tin foil prior to use, and season the grill plates with a bit of oil. Both of these things will make for much easier cleanup.
Blackstone Tailgater Combo (Griddle + Barbecue Box)
In 2005, the founders of Blackstone Products set out to make a griddle that represented the founders’ passion for both culinary excellence and ease of use. The Tailgater Combo is one of their more recent additions to the product line, and it is certainly no exception to their standards. This is hands down one of the most versatile camping grills out there. The side by side grill box and griddle plate means that this thing can simultaneously cook up burgers, steaks, & veggies in the grill box, while making perfectly seared hash browns or sizzling bacon on the flat-top griddle. In essence, this thing can turn your tailgate setup into a full service restaurant.
I think what really sets this grill apart is the fact that you can remove either the grill box or flat top griddle for access to the open flame heating element, allowing you to put on a stock pot for soup, or even a full blown shrimp boil if that’s your thing. Two independently controlled burners can offer as much as 35,000 BTUs at once, so the Tailgater Combo can most likely handle anything you can throw at it. It is worth mentioning that unlike some of the other portable camping grills out there, the Tailgater is designed to attach to a full-size propane tank (which is one reason why it can offer more BTUs than its competitors).
This is one of the heavier portable camping grills on the market, and in addition, the legs (although independently adjustable) can be a hassle to put on and take off. This makes the Tailgater more suitable for multi-day camping trips or backyard parties than quick picnics. The grease traps are somewhat messy and could perhaps be a bit better designed, but for the most part they get the job done.
BTUs: 35,000 (total)
Coleman Camp Propane Grill
The Coleman Camp Propane Grill is one of the simpler and more affordable portable grills on the market. It’s smaller & lighter than some of the stand-up models, designed to be operated on a tabletop or picnic table. For this reason it is one of the easiest and most convenient grills to keep in the back of the car. It can also be setup in virtually no time and has lightweight foldable wind block panels that will keep the thing lit while you finish cooking.
One significant design flaw with this grill seems to be that the grate itself is constructed of a low-grade metal, as opposed to stainless steel, so it is not designed to operate under excess heat or burning. In fact, operating the grill at full blast for over thirty minutes can even lead to melting on the grill plate. This is not only inconvenient but could even pose a safety hazard. I’ve asked around and the defect seems to be limited to a small portion of grills.
Coleman gets extra points however for excellent and prompt customer service, meaning that if it’s not working the way you want, it won’t be a hassle to get your grill repaired or replaced.
Coleman Fold N Go Instastart Grill
Unlike many of the portable camping grills out there, Coleman’s Fold N Go is truly, totally portable. It is by far the smallest and lightest grill on the market, and comes with a nifty carrying case that makes it incredibly easy to take from one party to the next. It’s not large enough to cook for more than two people at a time, but it certainly isn’t designed to be. This is more of an afternoon-picnic kind of thing, or for a romantic dinner beneath the stars. At 6,000 BTUs it is capable of grilling up a few burgers, but again, anything beyond that and you might want to consider upgrading to the LXE model.
Coleman’s Instastart feature (the Fold N Go is available both with and without it) makes it possible to fire up the grill with the push of a button, something that comes in quite handy when you’re out on an adventure and don’t have a lighter or matches lying around. However, like most grill starters, it is likely to go out within the first year or so of use, meaning that you might need to get it replaced (which isn’t that expensive).
With the small size and considerable affordability, some drawbacks can be expected. For instance, the grill plate itself is made of cast aluminum instead of cast iron, reducing its durability and heat conduction significantly. It’s got a porcelain coating which is prone to chipping after some use. However, Coleman has made available replacement grill plates for around $20 for anyone looking to get a lot of use out of this thing.
Also, Coleman may want to consider moving the lid’s plastic handle to a different location, as it can be prone to melting if left that close to the heat for too long.
Coleman Sportster Propane Grill
Significantly larger than the Coleman Fold N Go, but with fewer features than the Coleman LXE, the SPORTSTER propane grill is a good middle ground for campers and adventurers who want to make food for more than two people at a time but do not necessarily need all the bells and whistles of the more expensive models. The Sportster is a good blend of features and value, and with 11,000 BTUs, it has enough power for larger trips and get-togethers. It’s a bit heavier than the LXE but features about the same amount of grilling space, making it a good option for anyone not looking to go for the full top-of-the-line.
Coleman’s porcelain-coated cast aluminum grill plate is back with the Sportster model, which keeps the package lighter than its cast iron competitors but not nearly as durable or heat conductive. There is more assembly required here than with the LXE which can be a hassle if you’re looking to get up and go, but once it is put together, it functions and travels pretty well.
My biggest complaint about the Sportster model is that it is just a touch too short for grilling while standing up. The removable drip pan works well and is easily cleanable, which helps a lot with backyard barbeques.
What Makes a Great Camping Grill?
Size & Weight
Because portable camping grills are designed to be far more mobile than traditional backyard grills, they tend to be significantly smaller and lighter than what you might already have at home. However, there is still a wide degree of variance to the size and weight of these grills. For this reason, not every portable camping grill is perfect for every occasion. Choosing the best grill for camping means considering how far you need to take the thing and how much space you might have in your vehicle. Some grills fold up to be as small as a backpack, while others are hardly any smaller than what you might have in your backyard.
Portability / Collapsibility
Whether you are lugging your new grill up for a weekend at the lake or rolling it across the parking lot to the perfect tailgating location, you will want to make sure that doing so is easy enough that you are not wasting valuable energy that you would rather spend in the woods, or grilling with your friends. In terms of portability, look for wheels that are large, durable, and well-oiled for easy transport. Generally speaking, the larger the wheel, the more easily it will handle tough terrain like rocks and sand.
The collapsibility of your camping grill is what determines the amount of space it will take up in the back of your vehicle. Because that space can also be used for food, gear, and extra passengers, you want to make sure that the grill isn’t taking up more space than it needs to. Fortunately, the majority of portable camping grills are designed specifically for this purpose, so it is likely that you will be able to find something that fits just right.
BTU stands for British Thermal Unit, and it can be defined as the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. But in terms of grilling, we can say simply that the total BTUs a unit is capable of describes the amount of heat it puts out. So in essence, the more BTUs, the hotter your grill can get, and therefore the faster you can cook your food.
When it comes to portable camping grills, BTUs range anywhere from 5,000 to 40,000, so it is important to pay attention to this number and choose one that suits your needs. Heading out for a quick picnic for two? It is unlikely you are going to need anything much more than 5,000 or 6,000 BTUs. Hosting the ultimate tailgate party complete with burgers, chicken, and brats? You are going to want as many BTUs as you can carry, ensuring that you have enough heat to cook everything at the same time.
It is worth noting that the smaller 1# propane canisters that are popular with portable grills are not capable of providing the same BTUs as the larger full-size propane tanks, simply due to the pressure level inside the tank. If you are looking to go big on BTUs, then you might want to consider a camping grill that can accommodate a full-size propane tank.
The most important part of your camping grill is the grill plate itself, because that is what is coming into contact with your food. The ongoing debate about grill plates is whether to go with cast iron or coated aluminum, and it is not a debate that is going to be solved anytime soon. That’s because each material offers its own strengths and weaknesses.
Cast iron is significantly heavier and bulkier than aluminum, but it is also virtually indestructible and many cooks will swear by its flavor profile. Coated aluminum is far more common in portable camping grills because of how much lighter it is. Usually, it is coasted in a type of porcelain that helps make it non-stick as well as last a bit longer.
Some outdoor grill manufacturers offer grill plates in multiple materials so it is possible to choose for yourself. Just keep in mind the way that these materials make a difference in how heavy the product is and how that will affect your adventure.
The best camping grills nowadays come with a whole host of new and interesting features, designed to be both practical and convenient. Wind guards are not an uncommon thing to see on modern camp grills as they prevent your flame from going out in the unpredictable conditions of the outdoors. Side tables are becoming more and more popular with these grills, be it snap-on or slide-in varieties. The purpose here is to give you a place to set your food or drink while tending to the grill. Automatic starters are available in mid-range to advanced models and provide a way of starting the grill without a match or lighter (or losing any precious arm hair!) Burger lovers are going to want to look for camping grills that feature removable grease traps, as this makes it a whole heck of a lot easier to clean up after dinner.
How to Choose the Best Grill for Camping
Choosing the best camping grill is a piece of cake when you know what you are looking for. It’s all about taking into consideration how far you need to carry it (size & weight), how you will be getting it there (portability & collapsibility), how much you will need to cook (total BTUs), how durable you want your cook surface to be (construction materials) and what bells and whistles you think you might enjoy (additional features).
But here’s the best part: we’ve done the legwork for you. We have taken a look at some of the best portable camping grills for the money and compared them against one another so you don’t have to, and here are the results:
Choosing the best grill for camping is all about factoring in your unique needs. If you’re looking to cook for a crowd and don’t mind the weight and bulk, the Blackstone Tailgater Combo is the perfect option for you. If you want something a bit lighter but don’t want to sacrifice on quality or cooking volume, then check out the Coleman RoadTrip LXE. Or if all you need is to whip up a pair of grilled cheese sandwiches in the park, the Coleman Fold N Go is all you’re going to need.
Whatever you choose, make sure you are paying attention to manufacturer specifications to ensure that you are getting the perfect product for your trip or adventure. I would also recommend giving your new portable camping grill a test-run in your own backyard before taking it out into the field. This gives you an opportunity to assess both the strengths and weaknesses of the grill and teaches you what you need to know about how it cooks and what else you might need for a successful adventure or outing.
Frequently Asked Questions
The chief difference between a camping grill and a camping stove is the way that the heat reaches, and therefore cooks, the food. With a camping grill, the flame is allowed to reach upward and freely come into contact with your food, be it burgers, hot dogs, or corn on the cob. This direct-fire method heats the grill plate which not only produces those aesthetically pleasing grill marks, but allows for precise control over how the food is being cooked.
A camping stove, on the other hand, features a small ring of flame that is designed to heat a pot with liquid in it. This is more ideal for meals like soup, oatmeal, cocoa, & coffee, where the main intention is to heat liquid efficiently. Because there is a barrier between the heating element and the food (the pot or pan), camping stoves are generally much easier to clean.
While some models of portable camping grill come with hookups for full size propane tanks (the Blackstone Tailgater Combo, for instance) most are designed to be lightweight and portable. For this reason they have been designed to operate using 1# disposable propane tanks which are available at most outdoor supply stores and even many gas stations and grocery stores. These tanks are lightweight and small, making for the perfect fuel source for camping trips where space might be limited.
It is usually possible however to fit your portable camping grill with a high-pressure gas line that is specifically designed to handle the specifications of a full-size propane tank. These gas lines are available at most hardware stores, but might require additional pieces of hardware to fit perfectly. Many manufactures actually provide these types of hookups via their online store, so check the specifications on your grill before you buy.
Because of the difference in pressure between 1# tanks and full-size tanks, your portable camping grill might not work the same way with one size tank as it does with another. For this reason it might be necessary to research models that are suited to the tank size of your preference.
Camping grills come in a wide range of both size and weight. While generally speaking a portable grill is designed to be more lightweight and compact than traditional backyard grills, some are much heaver or bulkier than others. Depending on the amount of space available in your vehicle, it becomes necessary to make sure you are getting the size that’s right for you.
The Blackstone Tailgater Combo for instance is far heavier than the other grills we tried out, however, it has more features and includes cast iron components. On the other side of the spectrum is the Coleman Fold N Go, which is perhaps the smallest portable grill on the market and as such has been designed to be as lightweight as possible.
This depends on the model of grill you have selected. Many modern portable camping grills that utilize the smaller 1# propane tanks feature specially designed holder brackets for the tanks, so they neither get in the way nor put any gravity stress on the propane line. Larger grills on the other hand, grills that are designed to be used with full-size propane tanks, cannot support the weight of so much gas. For these grills the full-size tank is kept on the ground, usually beneath or behind the grill itself.
SAFETY TIP: Remember that gas leaks can be dangerous, especially when using a full size tank. Checking for gas leaks in the system is quick, easy, and can keep you safe from unwanted fires. If you are doing a lot of cooking, it is a good idea to include a fire extinguisher in your gear kit.
Shopping for grill accessories is almost as fun as choosing the grill itself! In terms of cooking supplies, you are going to need a high quality set of utensils including a spatula and tongs. Many outdoor suppliers offer these in a set, usually alongside camping cutlery like forks, knives, spoons, etc.
Heavy duty tin foil is a grill master’s secret weapon. By wrapping the bottom of your grill and the sides of your heating elements with foil, it is possible to keep grease, dirt, and grime from sticking to the surface of the grill, therefore saving you valuable time that you could be spending the things you love.
Removable grill covers can come in handy if you are going to be setup overnight. Usually these are available in custom-fit sizes designed to fit your specific model, so check with the manufacturer that you are getting the right one.
Finally, extra grill plates are usually available. These can be handy as replacements for old or worn down plates, or simply as a quick-swap alternative when you’d rather not spend the time scraping your grill off and save all the cleaning for later.