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You don't need a lot of outdoor cooking space to achieve grillmaster-level results -- you can bring some serious heat with a small portable grill fueled by propane, electricity, or charcoal. And because they're built to move, they're perfect to bring on a camping trip or any other outdoor adventure.

For city-dwellers especially, but really for anyone without a big backyard, finding a portable grill that works for your limited space or heavily regulated home or apartment building can be tricky. There are many brands and portable grills to choose from. There are portable electric grills, to service folks who aren't allowed to use open flame, and packable grills, which fold into nothing more than a backpack to take hiking or camping. But there are also larger -- yet still portable -- models to take to the beach bungalow or on a group or family camping trip to enjoy freshly grilled meats and veggies anywhere. 

We tested several of the most popular portable gas, charcoal, and electric grills on the market to find the best in each category and help you choose one that makes sense for your summer grilling plans. Considerations were put into total square inches of grilling space/capacity, how hot each grill got and how well it maintained that heat. We also evaluated the ease of assembly and overall sturdiness of each grill along with the quality of the frame and grill grates, once they were assembled. Finally, the ultimate test: We cooked a variety of meat, fish, meat-substitutes and vegetables on each to see how the portable grills performed in their most critical of duties.

No matter how mobile your lifestyle, there is a great grill to make it that much tastier. Here are the best portable grills in 2020.

 Read more: The best full-size gas grill of 2020  

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 extremely hot, reaching its advertised 500 degrees (F) 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 very nice looking with flare-out trays to hold your plates and grilling tools and has 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.

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 450 degrees (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.

GoBQ

While the Weber Original Kettle may have taken the top spot in our list of best charcoal grills, this newcomer is our pick for the best portable charcoal grill. Carrying a dusty, dirty charcoal grill around isn't 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, 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 we tested and is perfect for campers or hikers who need a portable outdoor 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 a most charcoal fire 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 grill to buy. 

Kenyon

This is a fully electric grill built into what looks like a traditional gas grill unit. Many apartment buildings, even those with outdoor spaces and verandas, don't allow gas or charcoal grills that heat with actual fire. If that's the case, this is the perfect grill for  the solution. What we love about this electric grill versus other griddles or similar units is how searingly hot it gets and how fast it gets there. Though you're not going to get the flame-broiled flavor of a gas or charcoal grill, you will get a comparable char and sear. Because it's an electric grill, its cooking surface area is also naturally going to maintain a more consistent temperature. We didn't notice any cold spots during our cooking test.

Other things we like about this electric grill include a grill plate that is easily removed for cleaning. It's big (155 square inches of grilling space) and sturdy enough so it feels like a real grill, but not so big that you can't move it. There is also almost no assembly required -- just slotting the grill plates into the base and plugging it in. This unit is also not terribly cheap, clocking in at over $600. The brand does have a smaller, less powerful but more affordable grilling model -- the Kenyon City Grill -- available online for less.

Akorn

This small kamado from Char-Griller is small enough to take for portable charcoal grilling on the go but just clunky enough 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 we 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 BBQ brisket. 

Some folks mentioned having trouble with assembly and misaligned parts in verified purchase reviews. We did not experience this, and the model came together fairly quickly, 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.

Giantex

If slick and modern stainless steel is your jam, the Giantex tabletop propane grill is a great option. Like the Weber Q 1200, this gas-powered gets scorching hot via its 20,000 BTUs. It also has very precise flame control, toggling between 250 and 500 degrees (F) quite easily. One big (literally) advantage the Giantex has over some of the others is a massive 266 square inches of cooking space. This propane grill also has two separately controlled burners so you can adjust the cooking temps precisely (e.g. higher temps for steak and burgers and lower for fish or certain veggies). The downside of this large cooking space, however, is its decreased mobility. It is the largest of the gas grills at 26 inches across and also the heaviest at 26 pounds. 

It's got a sturdy build with foldable legs that don't wobble while grilling. Assembly of this grill is as simple as it gets and requires little more than dropping the grill grates into the frame and screwing on the propane hose. Though this grill performed very well in our test, Giantex is not as familiar a grilling brand as some others on the list, so there may be (warranted) concerns about quality and durability over time. This grill runs on the same small propane tanks as the Weber or the Cuisinart gas grill.

Amazon

If you're looking for something simple and reliable to achieve a grill-like experience but while still using your stovetop as a heat source, I would recommend this cast iron griddle from Lodge. This griddle works wonders when you have steaks and burgers to grill but no outdoor space to fire up a traditional grill. Cast iron gets scorching hot and retains heat exceedingly well, so you'll be able to mimic the grill marks and sear of an open-flame situation. Plus, it's a steal at just $45.

Amazon

This small electric grill is perfect for indoor use, or for campers and tailgaters with access to electricity. It's simple and straightforward and gets the job done for marinated grilled chicken breasts or burgers. It won't give you the high heat sear you'll get from a real fire, of course, or even some of the more powerful electric grills like the Kenyon. But for the kind of grill master who wields their firepower with the steady control of the lid, this stainless steel indoor countertop grill does bring the satisfaction of looking like an outdoor grill with grates and all. This model also has a large easy-to-clean grease tray and doesn't take up a lot of space.

Amazon

This is not a grill. I repeat: this is not a grill. This is definitely a smoker, but if you already have any of the above devices for achieving year-round grill marks, you might just be the kind of person who can also tackle adding the nuance of smoky flavor that slow-smoking imparts despite a tiny kitchen. Where there's smoke, there's fire.

How we tested these grills 

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David Watsky/CBS Interactive

Cooking

To evaluate these grills we 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. We also cooked chicken breasts, which appreciates a hot grill to get those outer marks and retain juices but ultimately requires a lower and more consistent heat to cook the chicken through without burning the outside. We 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 very important with any grill. It's a little-known secret that the built-in thermometers on most grills don't work well, so we used a standard kitchen thermometer to see how hot things got and how well they held that heat. Most grills performed about as well as advertised, with some topping out at as much as 100 degrees (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.) We not only measured the temperature of the grill but also their consistency at it holding temperatures -- both high and low temps -- and flagged when there were issues. 

Assembly and sturdiness

We 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 us 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. We also dug through verified purchase reviews to determine if any had any consistent or glaring wear-and-tear issues to be concerned about. 

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