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Best Portable Grills

By: Kelly Burgess on April 24, 2018

Weber's Q 1200 gas grill is small but mighty

Small grills are designed for picnics, camping and tailgating and are also useful for cooks with limited outdoor space or who only need to cook for one or two people. Just as with larger grills, portable grills can be powered by gas or charcoal, depending upon your fuel preference. There are many fewer recommendations for portable grills in general, and charcoal-powered portable grills in particular. This is because portable grills are less popular than full-sized grills, and, in the case of charcoal, more difficult to test. We recommend the best full-sized gas grills and charcoal grills elsewhere in this report.

But there are a few roundups out there, and, in the gas category, we found two recommendations for the Weber Q 1200 (Est. $200). It's the top pick at Wirecutter, where they praise it's even, consistent heating and its consistent grilling performance on a variety of foods. They also found that the Q 1200 experiences fewer flare ups than other grills. At OutdoorGearLab the Weber Q 1200 is one of the three top picks, with a perfect 5-star rating for its grilling performance. They praise its excellent temperature control and easy starting, but note that it's heavy and lacks a lid latch.

Consumer Reports has a different opinion, however, giving the Q 1200 scores of just Good for evenness and preheating; Fair for temperature range. However, they test portable grills against full-sized grills, so that's a bit of an apples to oranges comparison. Owners agree with Wirecutter and OutdoorGearLab, making the Weber Q 1200 one of the highest-rated grills in this report, with 4.7 stars based on hundreds of reviews at Amazon and Home Depot. They say it's a superior performer and is extremely easy to use and clean. While Wirecutter found that the 189-square-inch Q 1200 accommodates six large burgers at a time, we saw several comments that it only holds four -- of course, we don't know what size those burgers were, they may have been gigantic.

The Weber Q 1200 is nicely featured, with an easy-start electric ignition, two fold down side tables and a built in lid thermometer so you know when it's hot. Aluminum grease inserts make it easy to clean, but OutdoorGearLab warns that they can blow away in the wind. It's heavy, too, they say, at 30 pounds, but both Wirecutter and testers at OutdoorGearLab agree that the way it folds up and its comfortable handles make it easier to move than its heft would indicate. While it's much easier to use when it's set on a table (so you don't have to crouch), you have to be very careful that the table is absolutely heat proof. Alternatively, you can purchase the Weber Q Portable Cart (Est. $70), which makes it easier to move around as well. The Q 1200 uses a small, disposable liquid propane cylinder, but can be adapted to accommodate a 20-pound propane tank.

A better choice for camping or tailgating

While most of the expert sources we consulted lump the Weber Q 1200 in with travel grills, we don't. Rather, we recommend it for permanent residence on a patio or deck, not for hauling around to tailgate with. If that's what you need a gas grill for you'll be better served with the Coleman RoadTrip LXE (Est. $150). It earns very good ratings in owner reviews and is the number one pick at OutdoorGearLab.

The Coleman RoadTrip is an oval grill on a stand with a clever design that folds up when not in use, resembling a rolling suitcase, for easy transport. That design makes it a bit heavy for a portable grill -- it weighs 44 pounds on the stand -- but it's also a larger grill overall, with a cooking surface of 285 square inches. Another advantage is that you don't have to find a surface to place it on. The Coleman RoadTrip has cast-iron grates, and a powerful heat output. Most users say it's easy to clean, but a few disagree, saying grease builds up or pools in the bottom, posing a risk of flare-ups. Others point out that cleaning is easier if you line the bottom with foil, which doesn't affect performance.

Owners like that the RoadTrip grill can be used to prepare everything from morning coffee and pancakes to a steak dinner, with many noting that they purchased the optional RoadTrip Cast Iron Griddle (Est. $30) and RoadTrip Stove Grate (Est. $20) accessories as add-ons. The pullout shelves and built-in hooks for utensils also earn praise for their usefulness.

Another portable gas grill that gets a couple of expert recommendations and also comes in at a lower price point than either of the above two grills is the Cuisinart Petit Gourmet (Est. $90). It features a nifty design with telescoping legs to retract for transport, then extend to make it a more comfortable grilling height. Reviewed makes this their top pick in portable grills for 2018, giving it an Editors' Choice award as well. They love its portability, but warn that it is small; more appropriate for dinner for two, rather than a family or tailgating crowd. Its total grilling area is 145 square inches.

OutdoorGearLab makes the Cuisinart Petit Gourmet their "Top Pick for Portability." They love the telescoping legs, and say that, although it's not particularly powerful, it grills nice and evenly -- it just might take a bit longer. Owners like it too, giving it above average ratings across several retail sites, including 4 stars in nearly 900 reviews at Amazon. Most say it's easy to use and clean and is the perfect size to keep in a trunk or camper for travel. It weighs 15 pounds.

The best portable charcoal grills

It's no surprise that Weber is a top choice in this category as well, especially considering that our Best Reviewed portable charcoal grill, the Weber Smokey Joe 14" Charcoal Grill (Est. $30), is modeled after the full-sized Weber Original 22-inch Kettle (Est. $100). This smaller version has the same porcelain-coated bowl and lid, glass-reinforced nylon lid handle, plated steel grate and unmistakable domed appearance. Its 14-inch grill surface results in a total direct cooking area of 147 square inches.

The Smokey Joe is very lightweight, just 10 pounds, which makes it highly portable. An upgraded version, the Smokey Joe Premium 14" inch Grill (Est. $40) adds a lid lock that doubles as a lid holder when the grill is in use. There is also a Weber Jumbo Joe (Est. $60), an 18-inch grill with a 240 square inch cooking surface and a few more features. This would be a good choice as a primary permanent grill for your deck or patio, whereas the Smokey Joe is a good choice for travel or tailgating. The Smokey Joe Premium is the only one of these three grills that does not include an ash catcher.

Weber's "Joe" line of portable grills receives top ratings from both experts and owners; at least one of them are top picks at Wirecutter, Reviewed, Cook's Illustrated and AmazingRibs.com, the few sites that test charcoal grills. Owners love them too, saying they're roomy for their size, durable, and perform well. The choice you make between them should narrow down to what size works best for your family or grilling needs.

If you're simply seeking a charcoal grill that's suitable for compact spaces, a hibachi-style grill might work for you. Hibachis are small, cast-iron grills that feature a heavy grate over a bed of very hot coals. Once common, only a few models remain available at retail. Reviewers say the best of these is the Lodge Sportsman's Grill. This grill is basic: essentially a cast-iron coal basin with a cooking grid that has a choice of two height levels and a flip-down door for easy access to the charcoal. However, basic or not, it gets great reviews for its versatility and performance.

The Lodge is a small grill that earns high ratings from owners who give its cast-iron construction a lot of love. Users report it's solidly built and versatile and most say it is easy to use and clean -- although cast iron requires some special care, you can find information on using and seasoning cast iron on the Lodge website. A lot of reviewers point out that, at about 30 pounds, the Lodge is heavy for a portable grill, but plenty of others say it makes food taste so good that they don't mind its heft. The Sportsman Grill has a 120 square inch cooking surface, the smallest in this category.

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