If you travel by car to campsites, a propane or white gas stove will give you the most cooking options, especially for a group. The standard camping stove design shuts like a briefcase, and unfolds to reveal two or three burners, with the lid forming a windscreen at the back, and side windscreens unfolding and locking into place. Reviews say windscreens are crucial, because wind makes a stove hard to light, wasting heat and fuel. While we found lots of good professional tests for small camping and backpacking stoves, we found few professional reviews of larger camping stoves. User reviews offer the best source of information for these stoves.
The Brunton Wind River Range (*Est. $315) is quite expensive, but reviewers say it's worth the price for those who want to make quality food while camping. We saw many poor and mixed reviews for cheaper campground stoves, so the price premium for this model may be worth it if your family camps a lot. The Brunton Wind River Range burns propane and has a higher output than most cheaper stoves -- 15,000 Btu per burner -- which is what you get on many home ranges. The Brunton stove folds up like a briefcase, and it includes a storage compartment, large plastic cutting board, windscreens and a removable stainless-steel grate.
The editors of SNews call the Brunton Wind River Range "one of the best-performing double-burner stoves we have ever hauled along on a car-camping trip." They say the heat adjustability is stellar, allowing them to simmer sauces at low heat, which is no easy feat for a camping stove. Their only complaint is that the hose-to-tank adapter doesn't screw on easily to a small propane canister, although they don't have problems with a large canister. Stuart Bourdon at Camping Life also finds it very easy to cook meals for a group with the Brunton Wind River Range, and the few user reviews we saw were positive. The Brunton Wind River Range weighs more than 23 pounds, so it's limited to car-camping trips.
It's not as snazzy, but the Century Matchless Two-Burner Stove 4680 (*Est. $80) is considerably cheaper than the Brunton Wind River Range. This range has a similar folding design and a piezo igniter, but the propane burners only have an output of 12,000 Btu each. Camping Life and Sunset magazines both praise the Century Matchless stove as a good choice for campgrounds, but it gets decidedly mediocre user reviews. At REI.com, owners say it is very difficult to achieve a simmer because the stove shuts off once it reaches a low flame. Others say that the piezo igniter is highly unreliable. Some owners at REI.com give it relatively high marks, but only 40 percent of owners would recommend it to a friend.
On the smaller side, the Coleman InstaStart Fold N Go 2-Burner stove (*Est. $80) is also an affordable campground stove with a unique clamshell design. This propane-fueled stove has two 10,000-Btu burners attached in the middle, with a hinge so the stove can be folded for storage. Owners at Amazon.com give the Fold N Go mixed reviews -- some owners love the compact design and find it very easy to use, while others say the burners are too far from the grate to cook food quickly. The picture is more negative at Rei.com, where only about half of owners say they would recommend it to a friend. The Coleman InstaStart Fold N Go gets an overall rating of 2.7 (out of five), and many owners say the stove is poorly designed and suffers from a lack of wind protection.
The Brunton Profile Duo (*Est. $85), a steel camping stove that can burn either propane or butane, gets high marks for its slim, stylish design. It includes a single 12,000-Btu burner and a 10,000-Btu grill. Reviewers like the versatility of having a stove and grill in one compact design. If you would rather have two burners, the Brunton Profile Two-Burner Range (*Est. $75) has the same design but adds another burner instead of the grill. The Brunton Profile Duo is 21.5 inches long and weighs 10 pounds. It scores an Editor's Choice award from Outside magazine, where reviewer Grayson Schaffer praises its compact size. However, we saw numerous complaints about both the Brunton Profile Duo and the Brunton Profile Two-Burner Range. Most of these complaints concern construction quality, with multiple reviewers saying the stove appeared damaged before it even got out of the box. Some owners say the lid was stuck when it arrived, and others say the piezo igniter didn't work. The editors of SNews ran into a similar problem when they couldn't remove the lid on their test unit because of misaligned metal along the rim. We saw enough reports of construction defects to be concerned about the overall quality of this stove.
You can also use small portable grills for car camping. See our report on gas grills, which covers the type of small tailgating grill you could also use at the campground.