2015 Top 10 Best Value Tailgate & Portable Grills
America's two favorite sports? Football and tailgating. In fall parking lots surrounding stadia start smoking like forest fires and smelling like four star restaurants.
But more and more people are coming to believe tailgating doesn't need to be confined to a parking lot or limited to one sport. They tailgate at apartment complexes, on the beach, in parks, and in their backyards for baseball, soccer, and even dog shows.
As our friend Randy Dye of Tailgating Monthly observes, "In the past decade technology has advanced to the point that people can have a wonderful tailgate experience anywhere and anytime. Portable power, flat screen TVs, portable satellite hook ups. With information at our fingertips anyone can be a grillmaster if they do a little research." So to help you party like a pro, we offer the AmazingRibs.com Top 10 Best Value Tailgater Grills.
In making our selections from our list of more than 50 portable grills we've reviewed, we looked for quality, performance, and mobility. Many models feature fold up stands, snap down lids and trailer hitches. Knowing most of our readers would consider tailgaters a second grill, price was also a big factor. The majority of our selections are under $500 with some less than $100. Grills like the $30 Smokey Joe limit the cook to small, simple fare such as burgers and dogs, but the Broil King Keg is an excellent, full-size kamado cooker that is great on the road or on your deck.
If you are planning a tailgater, check out out checklist of things you need to bring. For other things to look for when you are shopping for a grill, check out How To Buy a Grill, a good starting point that will lead you to specifics about gas and charcoal grills, kamados, smokers and more. And regardless of what choice you make, the dial thermometers attached to the hoods are poor quality and barely qualify to be called temperature indicators. It is not unusual for them to be off by 50 to 100¡F, and they are located in the dome, not at the cooking level, not very useful unless you plan to eat the lid. We strongly recommend that your budget include a good digital thermometer with a probe that can be placed on the cooking grate. To help find the right one for you, AmazingRibs.com just rolled out the world's first and only Searchable Thermometer Data Base.
At AmazingRibs.com we have created a huge Equipment Reviews section with a searchable database of hundreds of reviews and ratings of smokers and grills. From it we have drawn our list of Top 10 Best Value Tailgate and Portable Grills for 2015.
Weber Smokey Joe Portable Charcoal Grills $30-35 - 2nd Year On Our List!
Even college students and starving artists should resist buying those $9.99 charcoal grills on display at grocery stores and scrounge the extra dough it takes to get a Smokey Joe. Some of those cut rate junkers are nothing more than a large pan with a grate: no lid, no vents and no good for anything but burning hamburgers. While Smokey Joe is nothing less than a mini version of one of the greatest inventions in history: the Weber Kettle.
Often imitated, but never duplicated, Weber Kettles have excellent air and heat control because of tight, precise construction. Furthermore, the high quality enamel coating will preserve this grill for decades.
Weber offers Smokey Joe in Silver and Gold models. The Gold model, shown above, has a convenient "Tuck and Carry Lid Holder" that snaps the lid shut for fast, easy mobility. Both have a 14.5" diameter coated steel rod grate that holds about 7 burgers. Both weigh only 9.5 pounds. And both, despite the names, are black. There is also a larger, Jumbo Joe model for $60. Made in the USA. Click here to read our complete review of the Weber Smokey Joe Portable Charcoal Grills.
Weber Go-Anywhere Portable Grills $50 - $60 - 2nd Year On Our List!
Look familiar? This is another Weber charcoal grill that other manufacturers try to knock off. The thing they can't get right is the tight construction and durable enamel coating. Round or rectangular, you can't go wrong with Weber grills. People who own these are crazy about them. An LP gas version is also available. Made in the USA. Click here to read our complete review of the Weber Go-Anywhere Portable Charcoal Grills.
Son of Hibachi $100 - 2nd Year On Our List!
This clever design is two small hibachi grills joined with hinges. Fill each side with charcoal then fold them together, put any kind of flammable material in the pull out tray underneath and ignite. The flame travels up through the folded grills and gets the coal red hot in less than ten minutes.
Hibachis are great for cooking fast and hot, especially thin foods that don't need a lid for roasting like burgers, steaks, sausages and veggies. When finished, fold both sides together again to burn off grease, clear out the ash tray, and zip it up in the Son of Hibachi flame retardant tote bag. Click here to read our complete review of the Son of Hibachi.
Cook-Air Wood Burning Grill $149 - 2nd Year On Our List!
Cook-Air packs a mighty wallop for the diminutive 12" height. In fact it's one of the best portable searing machines we've seen, blasting past small gas burners maximum range with the greatest of ease in a matter of minutes reaching heats up to 700¡F in less than 5 minutes. It burns hockey puck size wood pellets or any small hardwood, nutwood, or fruitwood chunks in a firepot at the bottom while a small internal, five speed fan forces hot air upward to sizzle your goodies on the grate. Although you can cook a variety of foods on Cook-Air using the five fan settings to achieve low to high temps, it excels at searing thin steaks like flank and skirt, producing a perfect brown crust on the meat surface while maintaining a pink juicy interior. DON'T walk away from this Tasmanian Heat Devil because it cooks real hot, real fast. DO check internal meat temp early and often with a reliable instant read digital thermometer or you may end up with a few extra hockey pucks. The wood delivers a special unique flavor best suited for red meats, but we are not thrilled with the way it cooks white meats, hence the silver medal. But if you cook steaks, fajitas, and burgers, this may be the best tool on the shelf. It can run on an electric outlet, batteries, or the 12 volt cigarette lighter adapter included. Click here to read our complete review of the Cook-Air Wood Burning Grill.
Char-Broil Grill2Go X200 $150 - 2nd Year On Our List!
This fun little sizzler is made of heavy cast aluminum that retains heat and won't rust. The lid snaps shut with two front locks, holding the stainless steel grate in place so it doesn't flop around while being carried by the handle like a brief case.
The X200 uses Char-Broil's trademark TRU-Infrared design. The grate is a solid steel sheet with a single gas burner underneath. When cranked on High the grate absorbs heat from the burner to produce searing infrared temps. Without an open flame there are no flare-ups making X200 easy to use and very forgiving for those who become abandoned to the gods of tailgating.
It can also be dialed back for foods like chicken and sausage that require moderate temperature. An added benefit of TRU-Infrared is the low fuel consumption which is a big plus for this portable that runs on a 16.4 ounce propane cylinder. Click here to read our complete review of the Char-Broil Grill2Go X200.
Weber Q Portable Gas Grills $189-$299 - 2nd Year On Our List!
When Baby Q came out several years ago, it was such a hit that Weber decided to create a whole smorgasbord of Q Series gassers from small, medium to large. Q 1000 and 1200 are smallest and easiest to carry. The next size up, Q 2000 and 2200, are still mobile, but on the heavy side and the largest Q 3200 is meant to stay put in the backyard.
The Q 1000 lists at $189, but you can easily find it for less by checking our "Where to Buy" section below every review. For an extra 40 bucks, Q 1200 adds the following upgrades: fold out side tables, battery powered ignition and an inaccurate lid heat indictor. Do yourself a favor and find a digital thermometer with our new Searchable Thermometer Reviews. You'll never have to apologize for over or undercooked meat again. Made in the USA. Click here to read our complete review of the Weber Q Portable Gas Grills.
Green Mountain Davy Crocket Pellet Smoker $349 - 2nd Year On Our List!
We believe Green Mountain's Davy Crocket is the best portable pellet smoker currently on the market. Surprisingly, most of the portables out there still have an antiquated Lo-Med-Hi controller while Davy Crocket employs Green Mountain's advanced digital touch pad controller with an integrated meat thermometer that lets you check internal meat temp with the flick of a switch. Furthermore adapters to run the electronics from your car battery or cigarette lighter are included. And Green Mountain is aggressively, (read price cut), promoting their WiFi capabilities which enable you to monitor Davy Crocket from your Smart Phone or Laptop.
Pellet Smokers are the best thing that ever happened to backyard chefs struggling to create traditional smoked BBQ delicacies like ribs, pulled pork and brisket. They are not great at hot and fast grilling, however. See that digital display with green buttons on the picture above? That's where you set the temperature just like on your kitchen oven. Click here to learn more about how they work. Click here to read our complete review of the Green Mountain Davy Crockett Pellet Smoker.
Napoleon TravelQ 285X Portable Gas Grill with Cart $399 - 2nd Year On Our List!
Napoleon knocked this one out of the ballpark! TQ 285X is a large portable gasser with ample grill space, and the two burners with independent electronic ignition allow 2-zone cooking on a hot direct side and cooler indirect side. Snap the lid shut and it holds all internal parts firmly in place so they don't bang around while you pull the cart across rough surfaces.
The cart is by far the best we've seen in this popular collapsible design. Rock solid whether upright or flattened for transport this clever well-made device adapts to either position effortlessly in seconds. Click here to read our complete review of the Napoleon TravelQ 285X Portable Gas Grill with Cart.
Meadow Creek BBQ26 Charcoal Grill $435 - 2nd Year On Our List!
Meadow Creek is well known in the competitive BBQ world where many teams use their big offset smokers to bring home the gold. Made by Amish craftsmen in Pennsylvania for decades, these heavy metal cookers are known for superior performance and are built to last. With a 16" x 24" double grate, this 60 pound grill is the smallest model in Meadow Creek's catalog.
The BBQ26 has no lid and is meant for fast hot cooking, which it does beautifully. The double grate is two grates hinged together on one side. Lift the top grate, load the bottom and clamp it shut. This enables you to flip the entire contents at once. Meadow Creek claims it holds up to 15 chickens.
Of course steaks, chops, burgers and sausage are perfect for the BBQ26 whether you clamp down a bunch or flip a few on top with tongs. Great for larger gatherings and an optional trailer hitch saves yer achin' back from schlepping or bending over to tend it. Made in the USA. Click here to read our complete review of the Meadow Creek BBQ26 Charcoal Grill.
Broil King Keg $899 - 2nd Year On Our List!
Kamado style cookers continue to gain popularity in the backyard, but not so much when it comes to tailgating. All kamados, including the Broil King Keg, are great at smoking, roasting, baking and searing thin meats and the thick walls make them impervious to cold, but they're typically made of ceramic which is very heavy and can crack if dropped or knocked over. Not the BKK. It is made with modern, lightweight fiberglass encased in powder coated steel: not light enough to pick up and carry around but easy to lift off the base and pop onto the optional trailer hitch. And if it does get dropped it won't crack like Humpty Dumpty.
Other companies charge extra for just about everything but the logo. Broil King put together a nice package that includes a sturdy stand with big wheels and removable side tables, a multi-function tool for handling the grate and removing ash, and a secondary extender rack that hovers above the primary grate to provide extra cook surface. The side tables have handy tool hooks and there's even a couple bottle openers built into the handle. Click here to read our complete review of the Broil King Keg.