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How To Find The Best Portable Grill For You

Fall is upon us and in most parts of the country, we will be seeing lower temperatures that lend themselves perfectly to grilling. From barbecues to tailgating, birthdays to camping, there are a plethora of wonderful opportunities for us to relish in the purest joy that is grilling in the great outdoors.


Now, we’re faced with an important decision. What type of grill will we be using? For the purposes of this article, we will be operating under the assumption that we require a portable grill. Whether you grill at home or across the country, there are always positives to owning a grill with easy set-up and tear down, and travels well. Let’s look at some tips for choosing the best one for our needs.


Let your activity dictate your choices

One of my mantras is, “More is always more.” What does that mean? Well, if you decide to get the Grillmaxx Ten Thousand that burns at 500,000 BTUs/hr, 15 burners, and 8 warming trays, it’s tough to carry around. Additionally, if you ever need to move it (or clean it), you’re in for a long, hard afternoon.


I find that choosing a grill that will just fit my needs tends to make less work for me and increases my overall factor of enjoyment. Think about how often you’ll have to move the grill, how many people you will be cooking for, and what type of heat source works in 90% of your usage situations.


How many BTUs do I really need?

For most single-family outings, grills that burn at 10,000 BTUs/hr will work. They may struggle if you end up serving more than 5 individuals, but if the goal is to camp, you may want to think light anyway. If you are cooking or camping in higher elevations where you may encounter cold weather, upping the BTUs is probably a wise choice. Should this be the case, I’d reset your minimum to about 25,000 BTUs.


If space is a major issue, but you still have more than 5 people to cook for, one suggestion is to acquire a portable grill that has fewer burners, but heats at 60,000 BTUs or higher. This will allow you to heat your pans very quickly and therefore, expedite your cooking process. Just make sure you don’t stray your gaze too long as higher heats mean extra risk of burning the fish you just worked hard to catch.


Grates vs Burners

It is 100% true that you can cook pots and pans on top of grill grates. This effectively turns your grill into a 2-surface cooker. However, I must outline some considerations and potential perils for you before you make this decision.


  • Take extra precautions to make sure the grill is stationary.
  • Be certain the grill is as level as you can possibly make it.
  • DO NOT oil or grease the side of the grill upon which you will be placing a pan or pot
  • Be certain that you have enough space to safely accommodate multiple pans/pots or at the very least, a 2-surface cooking area.


If grilling while simultaneously cooking via pots and pans is a realistic occurrence for you, another suggestion I can make is to ensure that you have a minimum of 2 burner controls to effectively create 2-temperature zones which allows you to more precisely control the heat on each side of the grill. In this way, you can ensure your cooking will be more precise and have a lower chance of over/under cooking your food.


If your only goal is to grill meats and vegetables, go for grill grates. If you will mainly be cooking with pots and pans, go with burners. I also suggest propane/gas grills for 2-surface cooking methods as their temperatures are much easier to control.


But I like charcoal grills, can they get some love?


Absolutely! Charcoal and wood-fired grills are quite useful if you can’t or don’t want to carry heavy propane tanks. Additionally, many pitmasters enjoy the flavor these fuel methods produce in their meats. However, charcoal and wood-fired grills are well-known for their finicky temperature controls and this should be taken into consideration.


Please, do not let that deter you. Only, practice with your charcoal or wood-fired grill with a couple of experimental cookouts before planning the big neighborhood barbecue invitational. These types of grills can produce some of the finest flavors in all of Grill-dom.


Charcoal and wood-fired grills are fully capable of effectively using the 2-temperature zone cooking method, but they can also require more attention to detail. For this reason, I don’t normally cook with pots and pans on these types of grills. However, this is strictly a personal opinion.


What’s the best way to camp and cook in the wild?

If you are the adventurous type, aiming to brave the great outdoors with naught but your wits and a backpack full of gear, you may be looking at traveling so light that even a portable gas or charcoal grill is too much for you. If this is the case, you could be relying on campfires to cook your food. This is a fun and viable way to camp.


However, we have to make two choices: either we pack a Firebox style stove, or we pack a collapsible campfire grill grate. Any other method will be far too heavy in this writer’s opinion. If you are camping with a group, the grill grate is arguably the best way to go considering it handles a larger load during cooking.


When camping solo, and packing light is absolutely essential, I suggest using a firebox design as it requires minimal amounts of wood to cook your food and is easily stowed within your gear bag.


Final thoughts

A full analysis of your needs is essential to successfully finding the best portable grill for you. Write down these potential needs on a piece of paper and rank them in order of necessity. Take into account how many people you will be cooking for and your location and circumstances surrounding the cookout.


If you lay out all of these considerations, I’m confident you will arrive at a choice that will give you satisfaction for many barbecues to come. As always, my goal is to inform, illuminate, and inspire. Have a great day and I’ll see you at the grill!

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