Tailgating and BBQ fit together hand in glove. The open air camaraderie of friends and strangers gathered together to imbibe food and drink is a joy anywhere, any season. Tailgating is no longer confined to a parking lot or just football. Outdoor celebrations have expanded to apartment complexes and condos, beaches, parks, race tracks, and even dog shows. Sports enthusiasts who don't have tickets to the big game are couchgating or cheering their teams on from the backyard with TVs and loudspeakers out on their decks. To help you party like a pro, we offer the 2018 AmazingRibs.com Pitmaster Awards for Best Value Portable Grills.
In making selections from our list of 60 portable grills reviewed and rated, we looked for top marks in quality, performance, and mobility. Many models feature fold up stands, snap down lids, and trailer hitches. Knowing most of our readers would consider portable units to be a second grill, price also became 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.
Regardless of the price you pay, the dial thermometers attached to the hoods are almost guaranteed to be of poor quality. It is not unusual for them to be off by 50°F. We strongly recommend that you include in your budget a good digital thermometer with a probe that can be placed on the cooking surface. And if you are planning a tailgate, check out our checklist of things you need to bring.
Weber Smokey Joe Portable Charcoal Grills $35 to $45 - 4th 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 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, no good for anything but burning hamburgers. Smokey Joe is nothing less than a mini version of one of the greatest inventions in history: the Weber Kettle grill.
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, 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 grill 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 $70.
Can Cooker Original $90 - 2nd Year On Our List!
This upgraded riff on the old practice of slow cooking meat and veggies in a cream can over an open fire employs a high-temperature silicone gasket around the lid, which seals tight with clamps, while excess steam is released via a small hole in the lid. It can be used on any heat source both in or outdoors: kitchen stoves, camp stoves, grills, turkey fryers, camp fires, and CanCooker's Muilti-Fuel Portable Cooktop. Simple, easy to understand, effective, and affordable, CanCooker is gaining popularity among hunters, tailgaters, and other outdoor enthusiasts.
Char-Broil Grill2Go X200 $150 - 4th 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 grill 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 may occassionally (or frequently) find themselves abandoned to the gods of tailgating.
It can also be dialed back for foods like chicken and sausage that require more moderate temperatures. 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.
Blackstone 36" Griddle Cooking System $300 - 3rd Year On Our List!
The Blackstone 36" Griddle Cooking Station is a low cost, large capacity, portable cook top. Four 15,000 BTU burners generate enough sizzle on the griddle to do some serious cooking. The 36" x 21" removable, cold rolled steel griddle has a lip around the sides and back to keep your goodies from falling off. Electric ignition makes for convenient start up. Large work shelves are located left and right, and a small grease cup hangs under the front right corner of the griddle, where a small channel facilitates cleaning the cook surface. Remove the bottom storage shelf and the legs fold up for easy transport and serious tailgating!
Green Mountain Davy Crocket Pellet Smoker $399 - 5th Year On Our List!
We believe Green Mountain's Davy Crocket is the best portable pellet smoker currently on the market. Surprisingly, some 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, you get adapters to run the electronics from your car battery or cigarette lighter. And Green Mountain is aggressively (read: price cut) promoting their WiFi capabilities, which enable you to monitor the unit from your smart phone or laptop if you happen to go astray during your tailgate.
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. See that digital display with green buttons on the picture above? That's where you set the temperature just like on your kitchen oven. Just set it and forget it. Click here to learn more about how they work.
Napoleon TravelQ 285X Portable Gas Grill with Cart $399 - 5th 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 upright or flattened for transport, this clever well-made device adapts to either position effortlessly in seconds.
Meadow Creek BBQ26 Charcoal Grill $435 - 5th 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 sausages are perfect for the BBQ26 whether you clamp down a bunch or flip a few on top with tongs. This cooker is great for larger gatherings and an optional trailer hitch saves yer achin' back from schlepping or bending over to tend it.
Broil King Keg 5000 $899 - 5th Year On Our List!
Kamado style cookers continue to gain popularity in the backyard, but not so much when it comes to tailgating. Here's one with an optional trailer hitch! All kamados, including the Broil King Keg, are great at smoking, roasting, baking and searing, and the thick walls make them impervious to cold. But many are 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 enough to lift off the base and pop onto the 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.