There’s nothing like a great meal to complement a great day, and there are few better ways to make a day great than by spending it outdoors with friends and family. When you prepare fine foods at a campsite, picnic on a beach, or just hang our in your own backyard, cooking is part of the larger experience and becomes more of a pleasure than a task. That is, so long as you have a decent portable grill on which to do the cooking. I can tell you from plenty of personal experience that trying to cook with inferior equipment while you’re far afield is a recipe for white hot rage and under-cooked burgers.
If all you need to do is heat up water to rehydrate packs of camping food, then by all means, stick with a pocket-sized camp stove. If you want to grill up some ribeye, burgers, or salmon fillets while you’re away from it all, then one of these five portable grills will certainly serve all your al fresco cooking needs.
There’s no manlier way to cook than with an open fire. This rugged grill folds flat for storage and opens up into a sturdy, durable cook surface that perches atop the flames of your campfire charcoal bed. Its 24-inch by 16-inch cook-top will accommodate several steaks, up to eight burgers, and plenty of roasting veggies. Unfortunately, with its rugged design comes a hefty 10 lb weight, making this grill a bad choice for backpacking. Also, you’ll need some fire starting chops.
If you want a gourmet grilling experience when far from home, consider the Coleman RoadTrip LXE. It’s far too bulky for the hiker or mountaineer, but for RV travels or car camping, it brings the comforts of a standard gas grill out into the country. It has two fully adjustable burners, side tables for tools or food, and it folds down small enough for the trunk of most any car. This grill is also small enough to be the perfect addition to a city balcony or patio where saving space is a priority.
So for this one, you’ll need an outlet, limiting you to campsite with facilities, an RV, a cabin with power, or your own backyard. But what you lose in suitability for use in remote locations, you gain in amazing performance. This plug-in electric grill could well be the only grill you use at home thanks to its superb heat control and the high temperatures it can reach. You can clean the grate by hand or in the dishwasher; the drip trays last for many uses, but can be tossed once overly soiled. Shout out to Kenyon for keeping things simple: the grill is controlled with just one knob, which features an off position and eight different heat settings ranging from low to high. Also, this is the “Official Grill of the Boston Red Sox,” just FYI.
Ah, the little grill that could. If you’ve never cooked using a Weber, you’re missing out on a classic slice of American life. This little grill is every bit as a capable as its iconic larger cousin, the Kettle Grill. The Smokey Joe, however, weighs less than 10 lb and will fit in your compact car’s trunk. Just don’t forget the charcoal. And maybe some lighter fluid. Oh, and the meat … never forget the meat.
Design nerds and outdoor cooking enthusiasts unite! The UCO grill is brilliant and capable — each piece of the grill slides into a steel tube when disassembled, and assembly takes just a few minutes. The result is a 10-inch by 9-inch grill surface that perches above your campfire, cooking perfectly seared meats. At less than 20 oz in weight, this clever, compact grill is light enough to carry during days of trekking. Great food and the great outdoors, together at last.
And, if all of these are just a touch too heavy for your ultra-light ways, check out our list of the best cooking gear for car camping and backpacking, or the Wolf & Grizzly Grill, which The Manual named Best in Show for Camp Cooking at the 2018 Outdoor Retailer + Snow Show.
Article originally published May 21, 2015. Last updated April 11, 2018.