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Best Grills for Tailgating in 2022

Be the envy of your next pregame party with these CNET-tested small and portable grills.

A full-size grill is best for most home barbecue affairs, but when it comes to camping adventures and parking lot tailgates before a game or concert, you'll want a smaller, portable grill to keep the gang fed. There are plenty of great tailgating grills to choose from. Some, like the $549 Hitchfire Forge 15, are even designed to fasten to the back of your car, making your next pregame buffet as seamless as if you were home. There are also great small grills under $125 if you're tailgating on a budget and other extremely portable grills that you could probably sneak into the stadium -- although we don't recommend it. 

Whether it's a small and portable charcoal grill or gas model to take to a tailgate, on hikes, to music festivals and park hangs, we've tested over a dozen models to find the best in class. In the end, Weber still makes my favorite portable grill overall (that's three years running now) but there are other models that may be a better fit depending on your grilling goals. Here are the best portable grills for tailgating and other outdoor adventures in 2022.

Read more: Best Barbecue Grill Tools and Accessories for 2022

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A few of the portable grills we tested to find the best in 2022.

David Watsky/CNET

The best portable grills for 2022

Weber

This sleek portable gas grill from Weber is superior in almost every category and was a fairly clear winner as the best portable grill overall. It's easy to assemble, with just a few parts, and once completed feels solid and sturdy, even when given a few vigorous shakes. The igniter works well and, once lit, the grill got hot, reaching its advertised 500 degrees Fahrenheit after just 15 minutes with the lid closed. The flame is easy to control and keeps a consistent temperature throughout cooking, even when grilling with the flame turned low. 

With 189 square inches of cooking surface, this grill was not the biggest on the list, but it's plenty big enough to cook burgers, chicken, fish, and veggies for a group of six hungry people. It's also nice-looking with flare-out trays to hold your plates and grilling tools, plus an ergonomic design. It comes in a bunch of fun colors, or jet black if you prefer. Despite its sturdy build, the Q-1200 is still light and limber enough for a camping grill to take on a camping trip or for one person to carry with relative ease. This grill, like all on the list, can use any small propane tank sold at most camping or hardware stores.

Hitchfire

This grill is for serious tailgaters and is specifically designed to ride on the back of a car attached to a hitch. The monster Forge 15 has 355 square inches of cooking space so you can feed the whole gang and two powerful 7,500-BTU burners (15,000 total) will make sure your steaks, dogs and sausages get a proper seer. 

The best part about this Hitchfire grill is that it won't take up any precious space in your trunk or hatch since it rides outside the car. That means more room for chairs and coolers. There's even a built-in bottle opener because Hitchfire clearly knows its audience. 

You will need a proper hitch to attach it, however, and I'd suggest taking a short test drive to ensure it's properly installed. And worth noting you'll also want two small propane tanks to get the whole grill lit. There's also an adapter sold separately to rig it up to a full-sized tank if you prefer.

Wayfair

This portable gas grill from trusty kitchen brand Cuisinart has foldable legs and a twist start ignition. It has a decently sized 145 square inches of grilling surface with an easy-to-clean porcelain grilling grate (which is a lot handier than having to buy new grates). It uses natural gas tanks and ignites quickly with a steady and consistent flame. However, it was ultimately less powerful than the Weber (just 5,500 BTUs), topping out around 400 F. It didn't maintain its heat quite as well but wasn't terrible in that regard either.

The Cuisinart gas grill is definitely lighter and a bit more portable than the Weber. It also feels slightly less sturdy while grilling, but is not flimsy by any means. It was equally easy to assemble. At just over $100, it is the best portable grill on a budget -- especially if you don't plan to use it more than a handful of times per summer. The Cuisinart portable grill also runs on any small propane tank you can find at camping or hardware stores.

Weber

Surely you've seen -- and possibly owned -- one of these little guys in the past. The Weber Smokey Joe is a staple at park cookouts and on camping trips and that's for good reason. It's simple yet very soundly designed. It doesn't take much skill to operate and it works great. 

The Smokey Joe doesn't have fancy features but it has what you need including ventilation dampers that allow you to control the temperature with ease and a body made from enameled porcelain which keeps it from rusting. This Premium model has a built-in lid rack so you don't have to put the grill cover on the ground while you're flipping burgers and chicken.

Charcoal, with its inherent messiness, may not be ideal depending on your portable grill needs but this is a workhorse that will get the job done and last you a good while. Plus, it clocks in at a budget-friendly $48 (for the black model), making it my pick for the best cheap portable charcoal grill.

GoBQ

While the Weber Original Kettle may have taken the top spot in CNET's list of best charcoal grills, this newcomer is my pick for the best portable charcoal grill. A smart and solid build allows you to take this small grill anywhere, including on a long hike. 

Carrying a dusty, dirty charcoal grill around isn't usually an attractive proposition, but the creators of the GoBQ have mostly solved the issue through intelligent design. The entire unit folds out and up in about 20 seconds and then wraps up again after you're done, securing all the nasty cooked charcoal. 

It's only nine pounds -- the lightest of any on this list -- and with the fitted carrying case can be slung right over your shoulder and taken out for grilling on the go. This take-anywhere charcoal grill is probably the most portable of all the grills I tested and is perfect for campers or hikers who need a small, portable grill while on the move. 

The GoBQ also performed well, cultivating a steady and hot fire, and has a robust 185 square inches of grilling space. There are no bells and whistles on this grill, so you'll have to adjust and maintain the fire as you would most charcoal fires or campfires -- with a careful flow of oxygen and good charcoal management. It's a little more expensive than some on the market, but it's built to last. If you want portable charcoal grilling in a truly portable package, this is the best small grill to buy. 

NomadiQ

While all the grills on this list are portable to some degree, certain models are decidedly more portable than others. The NomadiQ portable propane grill folds up into a case the size of a small bag, with easy-grab handles. It also weighs just 12 pounds, making it the best truly portable gas grill I tested.

So how did it actually work? Pretty darn well I have to say. Setup was a snap -- you simply unhinge the sides and the entire thing opens up like a clamshell. The grilling space is large too with 226 square inches of ceramic-coated nonstick grates.

At under 10,000 BTUs, it didn't get quite as screaming hot as my top pick -- the Weber Q -- but it is decidedly more compact and easier to transport. Though the grill has a large cooking area, some parts of the nonstick grill surface got much hotter than others, but they did so in a consistent fashion so you simply have to learn where the real heat comes from and where the cooler spots are (mostly around the edges and in the very middle). 

The NomadiQ grill is not particularly cheap, clocking in at $300, but if you want something that is truly portable -- I mean, you could bring this on a last-minute trip to the beach without breaking a sweat -- this is the perfect small gas grill.

GoSun

Perhaps you didn't even know this was a category. Well, it is and these GoSun solar-powered grills actually work pretty well. When I tested it, it got scorching hot and cooked chicken thighs, sausage, fish and veggies all in under 25 minutes or less. 

This solar oven requires no charcoal, propane or any fuel source (hooray for the environment!) and is super light and transportable. It's a perfect camping cooker except you do need sunlight for this to function so I wouldn't rely solely on this for eating if you're heading into the woods for an extended period. 

The big drawback with this nifty portable oven is its cooking capacity. Since food has to be loaded into a tube, you can't really cook many of the traditional barbecue meats such as ribs. Some foods such as burgers need to be formed into a more cylindrical or elongated shape to fit inside -- which is not a big deal -- and the device is perfect for cooking hot dogs, most veggies, fish and chicken which slide in with ease.

It's also worth noting that you'll be getting more of a broiled result versus a traditional grill since there is no actual flame so don't expect char marks on your oblong burgers. There are a few sizes, including this mid-size GoSun Go and the larger GoSun Survival if you're planning on cooking for a group.

Akorn

This small kamado from Char-Griller is small enough to take for portable charcoal grilling on the go but just clunky and heavy enough (37 pounds) that you might not want to. It's also top-heavy, which makes for more precarious car-packing.

One thing to love about this model, however, is the damper adjustments that allow you to control airflow and, in turn, the heat for more precise grilling. (This is not something every charcoal grill has). The Akorn Jr. charcoal grill got hotter than any other grill I tested, which is not surprising since charcoal grills often do. The shape and style of this grill make it very good for heat retention, heat distribution and evenness of grilling. It has a relatively small 153 square inch primary cooking area, but with its tight-locking lid and egg shape that circulates heat, the Akorn Jr. is a great grill choice if you do lots of low and slow cooking, such as pork ribs or barbecue brisket. 

Some folks mentioned having trouble with assembly and misaligned parts in verified purchase reviews. I did not experience this, and the model came together in less than 30 minutes. It was not the easiest of them all to assemble but not so complicated as to dissuade you from buying it and, once assembled, felt compact and sturdy to the touch.

BioLite

This multifunctional charcoal grill doubles as a wood-burning fire pit, and it even features a small fan attachment to blow smoke out of your face for comfort. You can also use the lower fan setting to help get charcoal going or kindling lit and save yourself some excessive fanning and blowing. This is the best option on this list for transitioning from a barbecue dinner to a post-meal fire pit session.

The overall design is smart and functional. The fan did indeed cut down on smoke blowing in my eyes and both the charcoal and wood burned nicely giving me both food and then warmth after dinner as I sipped a nightcap. It also functioned well as a grill with good ventilation to keep the coals hot -- although the cooking capacity is on the small side. It wasn't obvious at first but the coal tray raises up to get closer to the grill grates so you can achieve a hibachi-like close heat source with this grill or keep the coal bed low and cook at a lower temp.

I wanted to love this model because the concept is great but it does have some flaws. For one, it feels a little bit cheap and I read in several reviews that it can rust and peel over time. Also, the grill grates are made of thin stainless steel whereas I would have preferred nonstick ceramic or iron. On the plus side, it's light and portable considering its size. 

If you like the look of this and need a fire pit on top of a charcoal grill, I say go for it. But be aware that it might not last for as long as you want it to.

Casus

Single-use grills exist, and while they may not be the most practical option for everyday use, if you have one long hike planned and want to do some grilling, this is a good option. The Casus grill can only be used once, of course, but it actually gets fairly hot in about five minutes and stays lit for over an hour. It also has enough space to cook three or four burgers, sausages, dogs, veggies or chicken. 

If you're worried about the garbage pile factor, this grill is actually 100% biodegradable made with bamboo charcoal cakes on a bamboo grate, so you could technically bury it after use without harming the earth or the creatures around. Note, that you should remove as much grease as possible before burying the grill.

How we test portable grills 

In testing these models, I considered the weight and general portability of each along with the total square inches of grilling capacity they afforded. I also tested how hot each grill gets and how well it maintains that heat using a thermocouple. Convenience and quality are both paramount, so I evaluated the ease of assembly and overall sturdiness of each grill along with the quality of the frame and grill grates. Finally, the ultimate test: I cooked a variety of meatfishmeat substitutes and vegetables on each to see how the portable grills performed in their most critical of duties.

Cooking

To evaluate these grills I assembled each one from scratch and then cooked an array of foods at various temperatures to see how they performed. Foods cooked included steak and burgers, which do best with a hot sear. I also cooked chicken breasts, which appreciate a hot grill to get those outer marks and retain juices but ultimately require a lower and more consistent heat to cook the chicken through without burning the outside. I also tested more delicate foods like fish, mushrooms and Beyond Meat (plant-based) to see how the grills performed at lower temps, but also to see how the different grill plates would handle more delicate foods.

Temperature and control

Temperature control is crucial with any grill. It's a little-known secret that the built-in thermometers on most grills don't work well, so I used a thermocouple thermometer to see how hot the surface above the grill became and how well they could hold that heat. Most grills performed about as well as advertised, with some topping out at as much as 100 F hotter than others. The better grills also generally ended up reading out a more consistent temperature throughout cooking. (Temperature consistency is important, especially if you don't plan to be chained to your grill for the entire cooking process.) I not only measured the temperature of the grill but also its consistency at its holding temperature, both high and low temps, and flagged when there were issues. 

Assembly and sturdiness

I also took into account ease of assembly and how sturdy a grill felt once it was assembled (for those that required assembly). Though the limits of a pesky time-space continuum would not allow me to measure the quality or durability of each grill over time, there were sight and touch tests employed to help determine how hefty and hearty a grill was. I also dug through verified purchase reviews to determine if any had any consistent or glaring wear-and-tear issues to be concerned about. 

grills

Three portable grill subjects assembled and ready for testing.

David Watsky/CNET

Other small grills I tested

PKGO Charcoal Grill This was a very solid charcoal grill and the only reason it dropped off of the main list is because of how heavy it is. Though it's a manageable size, at 35 pounds it's a little heavier than a grill I'd personally want to be lugging around. The PKGO it's solidly built and has a very cool dual function where the lid pops off and flips over into a hibachi so you can actually double your cooking surface and get that close-to-the-coals hibachi seer if you're looking for it. If you don't mind a little extra weight on your grill

Everdure Cube Portable Charcoal Grill: I really love this small and stylish charcoal grill with its built-in cutting board and prep container. The only thing keeping it off this list was the steep $200 price... which is a whole lot for a small charcoal grill. That said, it's well-built and easy to maneuver (under 20 pounds) and if you've got the extra coin lying around, I say go for it. 

Magma Firebox Single-Burner: This is another grill I liked, but it's not portable or affordable. The burner alone weighs 26 pounds and costs $450 but you'll need to add the grill top accessory, which costs another $450 and weighs another 26 pounds to do any actual grilling. This model was engineered with boaters in mind so if you're setting sail this summer, you might give the pricey Magma a closer look.

Giantex tabletop propane grill: I had no major issues with this grill. It worked fine, got hot and cooked evenly. When compared to the Weber Q and NomadiQ I simply like the design of those small gas grills better. The Weber Q is more solid and has those handy built-in shelves while the NomadiQ is simply the most portable gas grill I've ever seen. That said, this is a fine grill and worthy of the $170 price.

Char-Broil Portable Gas Grill: This grill is cheap and the product matches the price tag. It was rickety once assembled and didn't feel like it would last more than a season. But for $33, what more could you really hope for? If you need something to get you through a camping weekend or two, this should do the trick.

Char-Broil: Char-Broil Deluxe Tabletop Grill: While the above Char-Broil might work as a no-nonsense budget grill, this model is way too poorly designed and crafted to waste $90 on. One of the worst bangs for your buck in the small grill category and a definite stay away.

Portable grill FAQs

Should you buy a gas or charcoal portable grill?

In general, gas or propane grills make for the best portable grills since they're clean, easy and fast to get fired up. Charcoal is a fine alternative but the charcoal is heavier and messier than a small propane tank and charcoal generally takes longer to light. Small electric grills are also an option and while they sound great, remember you might not always have access to power, especially if you're camping or spending a day in the park. Plus, you won't get any of that flame-grilled goodness since there's no, well, flame. 

Why opt for a small or portable grill over a full-sized model?

While a full-sized grill is ultimately the best option if you're not planning to move it from your backyard or deck, small grills have gotten better and more dynamic over the years and can shoulder a lot of the same cooking load as their bigger cousins. There are more types of small grills now using every fuel source imaginable, including the sun. Portable grills are perfect for campers, city folks living in apartments and anyone without a big backyard or who finds themselves often on the move. 

How much should you pay for a portable grill?

Portable grills cost anywhere from $50 for a simple Weber charcoal grill all the way up to $500 or more for fancier gas and propane grills with bells and whistles galore. My favorite portable grill, the Weber Q-1200, sits at about $259 but you can find it for less on sale. Most sturdy small grills should last you several years to a decade if the unit is cleaned, covered and cared for properly.

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