For most of us, camping offers an opportunity to get away from modern society and enjoy the serenity of nature. While this can be a fun and even healthy experience, it doesn’t mean that ALL modern luxuries must be left behind.
You still have to eat, and why not enjoy the food you packed or even caught during your trip? That’s why we think a portable grill is an essential tool for camping. To help you get started, we’ve put together this guide to finding the best portable gas grill.
It’s important to consider the expectations of your trip. While some enthusiasts tend to go camping under a variety of conditions, there are some considerations that will help guide your purchase of a portable grill (or even if more than one is necessary).
Features You Should into Account for Your Trip
- Length: How long do you plan to camp for? This may seem obvious, but it has some implications for your grill. For example, the faster your grill burns, the more fuel canisters you’ll need to refill it. Extended trips may also require a grill that’s easily compactable and more resistant to the elements.
- Environment: Are you heading to a local state park, or backpacking across some backcountry trails? The environment and circumstances in which you plan to camp will impact the best choice.
For example, if you plan to camp in the desert, it may be important to consider a grill propensity to ignite under intense heat. Or if you plan to camp in exceedingly cold environments, it may be necessary to consider an option with freeze-resistant fuel lines.
- Rugged: Will your grill need to withstand the elements or rough terrain? If you’re camping light or even backpacking, there may not be much to protect your grill with.
There are also a few other features to consider. Some of these are universal to all grills, while others are specific to certain models.
- BTU: This is essentially the amount of heat produced. It is used as a measurement standard for all grills and will give you an idea of its capabilities before actually using it.
It’s important to remember that this is a measurement of the MOST heat a grill will reach. It also refers to the main burners only, though some manufacturers will include a separate rating for side or secondary burners.
- Grilling Space: How much food can fit on the grill at one time? This is determined by grilling space, usually measured in square inches. This is important for obvious reasons, though a little creativity can help make a smaller cooking surface more useful.
Bigger isn’t always better, especially for portable grills. It just takes a little planning in advance.
- Construction: Some grills are composed of aluminum; others, stainless steel. Usually, stainless steel is stronger and more resistant to rust, but aluminum is lighter and cheaper.
Whichever is best really depends on it intended use.
- Portability: Some grills are more portable than others. The most portable options can be folded in on themselves, whereas the least are hardly good for much more than a backyard barbecue.
For most car camping excursions, any basic grill that will reasonably fit alongside your other gear should be a great option. For best results, trying finding a grill that folds itself into a carrying case.
- Ignition: Even among portable grills, manual ignition is becoming a thing of the past. This isn’t necessarily to say that such grills should be avoided, but it’s definitely one of several factors to consider.
Most grills, including portable ones, now use electric ignition. This activates the grill with the single push of a button. There’s also the jet fire ignition, which starts the grill automatically without the need for batteries (many would also say that it looks cool).
- Compatibility: Not all grills are compatible with all propane canisters. This is especially true for portable grills. Always ensure that you are purchasing the proper canisters for your grill.
However, if you do buy the wrong one (or simply don’t have the right one available), don’t worry. There are adapter hoses that will help increase compatibility, though often in an awkward manner.
Even the best portable propane grill is incomplete without a few essential accessories. There are many ways to enhance your portable grilling experience. We’ll cover a few of the most common tools below.
However, it is important to note that many grills come bundled with some of the most useful accessories. Therefore, be sure to choose and check your grill before making any additional purchases.
- Food tray: This is probably the most common accessory to come bundled with or even attached to portable grills. After all, your meats won’t always get transferred right to a plate.
As any great griller knows, sometimes, you’ll need a buffer in between.
- Griddle: Sometimes, a grill may not be quite enough. Many portable grills are either bundled or compatible with griddles. This is great for quick meals like eggs or pancakes.
However, not all grills are compatible, so it’s important to do a little research in advance.
- Grease Tray: Proper waste disposal is important. It protects both the immediate environment and the longevity of your grill. It is also required by law in many popular camping areas.
Grease trays make it easy to keep grills clean and properly dispose of waste.
- Side burner: Many grills, even portable ones, feature a side burner. These are typically not used for complete cooking, but are great for warming side dishes or basting.
They are especially useful for camping where you won’t likely find an oven or microwave nearby. Of course, side burners will consume more gas, so they should be used conservatively.
- Rotisseries: Given their popularity with conventional grills, some manufacturers are attempting to bring rotisseries to portable grills as well. Honestly, this is usually unnecessary.
The trouble of making dishes that require rotisseries is that it’s not worth it. Some of the more enthusiastic campers would also argue that campfires can do the job better. While it’s ultimately up to individual preference, rotisseries for portable grills are usually more trouble than they’re worth.
Portable Grills – Are They Necessary?
You may be wondering if a portable grill is even necessary. After all, what campsite or even outdoor recreational area doesn’t offer mounted grills? Of course, you have no way of knowing what those grills have been through or what has actually been on them.
Also, they remain completely exposed to the elements. Yes, it may be possible to remove everything through proper cleaning, but this is often more work than it’s worth and compromises the grill’s integrity even further.
What are the Knobs for?
It may seem a little unusual that a grill would feature more than one knob. After all, shouldn’t we be able to control the heat by increasing or decreasing the gas level? However, these knobs are actually important for proper grilling. Here are their uses:
- Ignition: The ignition knob sometimes looks similar to the others, so it’s important to always check the owner’s manual before using your grill.
- Regulators: Propane gas travels through the valve to the burners of your grill. The amount of gas flow is usually up to you, though some grills may have a recommended maximum output (which is important to follow for safety). Many grills will feature one knob for each burner.
- Side burner: If your grill includes a side burner, it will need a knob of its own. The knob will usually be placed alongside the others, and though it would make sense for it to be controlled by the closest knob, it’s still a good idea to confirm as much in the owner’s manual.
Are Natural Gas and Propane Grills Interchangeable?
Although they are often regarded as interchangeable, natural gas and propane are not the same thing. So how does this translate to grills? Though most use propane, some operate on natural gas.
Natural gas comes with the tradeoff of being more expensive but also more convenient. Natural gas is also cleaner, making it better for the environment. However, the majority of gas grills use propane.
It’s also important to note that the two are not interchangeable. A propane grill can be converted to natural gas, but the process isn’t usually worth it for portable grills. Ultimately, it’s usually best to find a grill that meets your needs and then use the fuel that it specifies. In other words, let the grill guide your decision, not the gas.
Gas Grill Safety
When fire and gas are brought together, some safety measures should always be taken. Grills, even portable ones, are usually built with stringent safety measures in mind, but that’s no excuse to be careless.
Here are a few safety tips.
- If the ignition fails to start a flame, turn it off. The problem here is that the gas will continue to flow, and if enough accumulates before the spark ignites, it could prove disastrous. This is especially concerning when camping, as help could be miles away.
- Before lighting, always double check all connection points between your hardware and hoses. Leaks, even small ones, can be easily detected by rubbing a mixture of soap and water along hoses and watching for the buildup of bubbles. If any leaks are found, the grill should not be used until it has been repaired.
- Don’t let a small grill’s size fool you; smoke inhalation is still a hazard. Even small amounts of smoke contain chemicals that are hazardous to your health. Keep an eye out for the smoke’s direction and how it may change with the wind.
- No matter how safe you are, fire is always a potential hazard. This is especially true in windy environments. Always check the area around and above a grill to ensure that nothing, including the wind, will cause a potential fire.
Remember, all it takes is for a few dry leaves to come into contact with a hot surface on the grill. It’s also a good idea to have a fire extinguisher nearby.
- Always ensure that your grill conforms to any possible local regulations. This is especially important when tailgating. Also remember that private property owners (including businesses) may have different rules than government bodies.
A Few Grill Options to Get Started
So now, we’ve kind of given you an idea of what to look for and expect in the best small propane grill. Now, we’d like to offer a few suggestions to get you started.
Weber Liquid Propane Grill
Weight: 42 lbs.
Dimensions: 25.1 x 51.4 x 26 inches
Design Features: White, aluminum body, iron cooking grates, stainless steel burners, electronic ignition, ergonomic design
Best Use: Car camping, tailgating, power outages
Description: A trusted name in the industry, the Weber portable propane grill sets an industry benchmark at a surprisingly affordable price. As with all of Weber’s products, it features a pleasing design and the iconic “Q” symbol.
Of course, it’s not just about look pretty. Though it adds to the overall aesthetic appeal, the rounded off black handles are also ergonomically designed to maximize comfort. The cradles are sturdy enough for camping trips on rough terrain, and fold-out trays are included on each side for convenience.
It produces 12,000 BTU per hour and offers an impressive grilling space of 280 square inches. It also comes fully assembled. Best of all, the price is surprisingly low compared to similar options.
Solaire Anywhere Portable Grill
Weight: 20 lbs.
Dimensions: 13 x 21 x 12 inches
Design Features: stainless steel, infrared burners, V grids, 155 square inch grilling space
Best Use: Car camping, tailgating
Description: At only 20 lbs., the Solaire Anywhere Grill was carefully designed with portability in mind. Its small size features only the essentials for small-group excursions. However, it is also versatile and features compatibility with a variety of accessories.
This includes adapters that allow it to connect with cylinders larger than 1 lb. Its stainless steel constructions ensures durability, though the grilling grids do seem to wear a bit faster than most. Only minor assembly is required to attach the regulator and handles.
Char-Griller 3001 Pro
Weight: 88 lbs.
Dimensions: 50 x 25 x 42 inches
Design Features: Roll cart, 438 square inch grilling space, electric igniter, warming rack, steel construction, cast iron grates
Best Use: Home grilling
Description: With a height of 50 inches and a weight of 88 lbs., Char-Griller’s Pro grill may not be the most portable option, but it’s definitely one for convenience. The Pro Griller features an impressive grilling space of 438 square inches with an additional warming tray of 192 square inches.
The exterior features two side trays, utensil storage, a bottom tray, and a cart with wheels for easy transportation. While it may be a bit large for most cars, it’s easily moved around within a local vicinity.
Its 40,800 BTUs offer the ultimate grilling power. An electronic ignition gets it started fast, and several dials offer complete control over the grilling environment. Best of all, this is one of the most affordable options to make the list.
Napoleon LEX Gas Grill
Weight: 175 lbs.
Dimensions: 49.25 x 27.25 x 61.75 inches
Design Features: Stainless steel construction and color finish, double walled lid, jet fire ignition, backlit knobs, side trays, condiment area
Best Use: Home grilling
Description: A grill enthusiasts dream, the beautiful Napoleon LEX Gas Grill is the ultimate backyard food prepping machine. It features a stylish finish both inside and out. The knobs even feature an eye-catching back glow for night-time cookouts.
It also offers plenty of storage for extra food and utensils. In fact, one of the side trays can even double as coolers.
The other offers an additional burner. It uses a jet ignition starter that enhances it aesthetic appeal even further. This isn’t just a grill: it’s a hub for the ultimate outdoor party.
Napoleon TQ Portable Propane Grill
Weight: 30 lbs.
Dimensions: 22.8 x 19.2 x 14 inches
Design Features: Compactable design, 2 burners, cast iron grilling grids, lid thermostat, carrying handle
Best Use: Camping, tailgating
Description: Napoleon’s TQ portable grill offers unprecedented portability. It transforms from grill to carrying case in just a few easy steps. Its dual burner setup offers 12,000 BTUs, an impressive offering for its size.
It also features a surprising 285 square inch cooking space. It sets up easily on on flat or rugged surfaces. Its aluminum construction keeps it light, though you’ll want to be a little more careful with it than some of its stainless steel counterparts. However, it does feature a stainless steel grid for longevity.
A grease tray offers easy cleaning without polluting the surrounding environment. The TQ features a simple, yet attractive, blue finish.
A guide regarding grills can only do so much, as personal preference tends to play a pretty huge role here. However, we do hope that by reviewing the basics of gas grills (particularly portable ones), we have helped set a foundation to make an informed personal choice.
There are many options to consider, providing us with an array of choices for our perfect setup.
And, of course, it may ultimately require more than one choice or even some trial and error. So, don’t be afraid to experiment a little along the way.
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