Grilling and camping go together like Oreo’s and milk, one isn’t quite perfect without the other.
Whether I am taking my family out on an RV camping trip, soloing through the BWCA, or doing a small trip with friends, some sort of grilling always takes place and it is a big part of my camping experience.
However, when it comes time to purchase your portable camping grill, the options are overwhelming to say the least, not to mention, what type of camping grill are you going to need? Gas, charcoal, lightweight, small grills or a large family sized grill?
I am going to give you some help with this dilemma today by explaining the major differences between different types of grills, what grills work best in different situations and even our recommendations as to what grills are the best bang for your buck.
Difference Between Portable Grills and Portable Stoves
Before we dive into portable grilling, I wanted to go over the difference between a camping grill and a camping stove. Often these two terms are used interchangeably but they shouldn’t be.
Both grills and stoves can use gas, charcoal or any other fuel source, the difference is how the heat source contacts your food. On a grill, the flame will come into direct contact with your food while a stove uses a pot or pan to transfer the heat from the flame to food.
Make sure to check out our Guide To Camping Stoves when you’re done here!
Your Guide To Portable Camping Grills Index
What Makes A Grill Portable and Good For Camping
A good portable grill needs to be able to pack into a compact space, be as lightweight as possible and yet be able to cook appropriately for your party.
No matter what type of camping you plan on doing, car camping, state parks or lightweight backpacking, size is always going to be a factor. When I am out car camping with my family (I have 5 kids by the way), I can pack far more than I can on a backpacking trip, however, size and space are still a big concern of mine.
I have some great camping grills at home that I almost never use because they are just too big. The only time I get them out is if we are loading up the camper, which allows me to pack an insane amount of stuff.
In order for a grill to work camping and be truly portable, it needs to pack as small as possible.
Weight is always going to be another major factor in how portable a grill really is. If the grill is too heavy, then it won’t be practical for many camping situations.
Even at many state parks, you still must hike your gear into the camping area and park anywhere from a quarter mile to a mile away.
Large Grilling Surface
The smallest and lightest grill isn’t worth a lick if you can only cook for one at a time but you have 7 people you need to feed (like my family). Your grill still needs to be able to handle cooking for the required amount of campers.
As you can guess, different types of camping and different numbers of campers will ultimately decide what is the best portable grill for you.
Different Types of Portable Grills
When grilling there are 3 main types of grills, gas grill, propane grills and charcoal grills.
When we are referring to portable camping grills, there are really only two categories, propane, and charcoal.
You will, however, hear people often refer to gas and propane grills as the same thing. The difference is that typically gas refers to natural gas and not propane. Most “gas” grills are typically propane. Natural gas is not convenient and portable like propane and therefore is not an option for portable grilling.
Portable Propane Grills (gas grills)
Propane has many benefits over charcoal grills such as they are easier to light, provide steady constant heat, and they heat up quickly.
Propane is also cheap and compact. A 16oz Coleman Propane Cylinder can usually keep a grill anywhere from 2-6 hours depending on the BTU’s of the grill and how high you are running the grill. For me, two 16oz cylinders will more than cover a family camping weekend.
Compare packing two 16 oz cylinders with packing a 5-10lb bag of charcoal and you can start to quickly see the benefits of a propane grill.
Finally, propane burns incredibly clean. This means that your food won’t pick up any outside flavors while cooking.
Portable Charcoal Grills
Charcoal really doesn’t offer much in the way of advantages for outdoor portable grilling. The fuel is bigger and heavier, it’s harder to start, and it’s more work to clean up. However, it does offer one distinct advantage that many people believe is worth all the trouble, the flavor.
Charcoal has the ability to infuse your food with a rich smokey flavor that cannot be reproduced with gas.
Charcoal grills are also typically cheaper to buy, which is a big advantage as well.
Finally, charcoal grilling requires more time, attention and skill, which many people really enjoy. You must get the charcoal white hot, manage the air flow to keep the temperature consistent and watch the food carefully to ensure proper cooking.
Portable Table Top Grills, Firepit Grates, and Tripod Grills
I wanted to cover a sub-category of portable grills and quickly mention table top grills. Table top grills are ultra-portable grills that are typically even smaller than most portable grills and take up even less room.
These grills have no legs or base built into their design which allows them to be lighter, smaller and pack even tighter.
Other than that, table top grills are no different from any other grills. They are propane or charcoal powered.
However, if you don’t have a good working space to use your table top grill on, grilling on the ground is not my favorite. It may work for a meal or two, but a weekend’s worth of grilling while sitting on the ground is not my idea of fun.
Another option is to grill your food directly over your campfire. This can be done with either a fire grate or a tripod grill. Both are great options and add a layer of authenticity and fun. Personally, I love cooking directly over the fire when camping. Make sure to check out my Pie Iron Philly Cheese Steak here.
The Best Portable Gas Grill For Family Camping
The Coleman Road Trip Propane Grill is simply the perfect grill for any type of family or car camping trip.
This grill offers a large cooking space while still being able to fold down into an incredibly compact design that weighs roughly 45lbs and is easy to transport as well.
It is fueled by a standard 16oz propane cylinder that delivers up to a whopping 20,000 BTUs on a 285 square inch cooking space.
On top of being compact and yet having a large cooking space, it is one of the most affordable portable gas grills.
With accessories such as Porcelain Coated Cast Iron Griddle and the 5 ft High-Pressure Propane Hose Adaptor, you can even use this grill as your main backyard grill for all of your summer cooking needs.
Weber Q1200 Propane Portable Gas Grill
The Weber Q1200 is another fantastic grill for family camping. Weighing in at 29.5lbs, it isn’t too heavy and has a really nice compact design with fold-out tables to hold your meal and utensils.
The Weber runs on standard 16oz propane tanks, delivers up to 8,500 BTUs and has a 189 square inch cooking surface.
Compared to the Coleman, this grill is lighter but has less cooking space. The reason the Coleman wins in my comparison is that the Weber does not come with a built-in stand, it must be purchased separately otherwise, this is purely a table top grill.
Lastly, Weber also offers a stand to make this a more functional stand-alone grill.
The Best Portable Charcoal Grill For Camping
Weber 14″ Smokey Joe Portable Charcoal Grill
If you’re a charcoal lover and crave the taste and experience of a charcoal grill, then the Weber Smokey Joe 14″ Portable Charcoal Grill should be perfect for your camping trips.
With 165 square inches of grilling space and a weight of 9.5 pounds, the Smokey Joe is very light while not giving up precious grilling space.
Larger weber charcoal grills may not be any heavier than their propane counterparts, but they tend to take up far too much valuable packing space, therefore making them very difficult to pack for a camping trip.
If you are looking at purchasing a portable charcoal grill, you may want to also invest in a chimney charcoal starter. A chimney starter will allow you to quickly and easily get your charcoal started and white-hot with only a few balled up pieces of newspaper, not lighter fluid, which can put a gas flavor into your food if you over-do it.
Weber Go-Anywhere Charcoal Grill
While having a slightly smaller grilling space (160 sq. in.) and slightly heavier build, the Weber Go-Anywhere Charcoal Grill packs into wonderfully small and convenient space. This makes it another great choice for portable charcoal grilling.
The Best Campfire Grill Grate
If you love cooking over the campfire as much as I do, then you are going to want to invest in a Fire Grilling Grate. The Texsport Heavy Duty Over Fire Grate is a simple, yet incredibly high quality, grilling grate that requires nothing but a campfire to use.
the benefits of using a campfire grill are immense. First, the Texsport weighs in at only 7 pounds and folds completely flat. This means that it not only weighs less than any of the gas or charcoal grills, but it takes up far less space as well.
With a campfire grate, you also don’t have to necessarily pack along any extra fuel. If you plan on having a campfire you’re already set.
Cooking directly over a fire can be tricky though. Controlling the temperature is a very difficult task and you must watch your food like a hawk to get it perfectly cooked without burning. But once you taste that perfectly smokey food, it will all be worth it.
The Best Campfire Grilling Tripod
If you want to grill over your campfire, but want a bit more control of your food and cooking temperature, then Coleman Tripod Grill might just be perfect for you.
With the Coleman Tripod Grill, you get all the benefits of cooking over the campfire, but you have far more control over your food’s cooking temperature by being able to raise and lower the grill surface over the fire. This allows you to hit your food with a searing high heat followed by a long slow grill if you desire.
The Coleman Tripod Grill also gives you a large 226 square inches of grilling space. It is also lightweight coming in at 5.2 pounds and can pack into a very small area, making it incredibly convenient for any camping trip.
Essential Camp Grilling Gear
These dishwasher-safe professional grilling tools will help you be a master at the grill. The set includes a tong, spatula, meat fork and a basting brush.
Nothing kills a fun camping weekend like a case of food poisoning. The ThermPro Meat Thermometer is the perfect food thermometer for grilling and making sure that your chicken, pork, and beef don’t just look done, but are correctly cooked to a safe temperature.
The ThermPro is great because it has a two foot attached sensor probe so you can track your foods temp during the entire cooking process. This along with multiple different timer and temperature alarm features will make your a grill-master in no time!
If you wish to grill small foods such as onions, peppers and other vegetables, then the Grillux Grilling Basket is the perfect grilling companion for you. This stainless steel basket goes directly on top of your grill and allows you a wide new range of cooking options over the grill.
Wrapping It Up
At the end of the day, camping is about getting out into nature, refreshing your body, and re-discovering the people you’re with. Grilling and sharing some great food just enhances the experience. So grab your portable grill, pack up the car and go camping!