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You might want to have some barbecue // Nah, you’ll definitely want some BBQ on the beach or at camp, so you’ll need to get the best grill for your specific needs.
For most of us though, the grilling season starts on that first sunny day in spring. Luckily for you, grill testing goes all winter long. I’ve smoked ribs in the snow and grilled chicken even when it was so cold I could barely feel my fingers, all to learn which new grills are worthy of your money and time. Let’s start grilling!
We’ve looked at full-size gas grills and charcoal grills in years past, but with many of us heading out camping this spring, we wanted to find the best ways to get your grill on wherever you go. So we researched and tested a dozen new grills to see which can brat the best.
Be sure to check out our list of beach chairs to buy.
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1. Best Portable Charcoal Grill
Weber Jumbo Joe
Of all the charcoal grills I tested, the Weber Jumbo Joe strikes the best balance of affordability, features, and ease of use. It’s big enough (18.5 inches in diameter) to smoke two racks of ribs or fit burgers and corn for six people (admittedly, this was crowded) but small enough that you’ll still have room in the trunk for a cooler and camping supplies.
It’s one of the most versatile grills I tested—grilling, barbecuing, and smoking with ease. Thanks to its dual-vent system (one at the bottom, one at the top), you get the same fine-grained level of temperature control you’ll find in Weber’s full-size kettles.
It weighs 22 pounds and has a handle with a bar that fits over the top and keeps the kettle and lid together for easy carrying. I tossed mine in the back of my car for trips to the lake and the park; it never tipped over. The ash catcher at the bottom makes cleaning less of a hassle by allowing you to dump the excess without removing the grill grates.
The Jumbo Joe has a considerable following on the internet. Fans have added thermometers, fastened knobs to make it easier to open and close vents, attached hanging ashcans, and come up with creative ways to cook taller items, like beer-can chicken.
It’s not perfect, though. If you want to do any indirect-heat cooking, you’ll want to buy the hinged grill grate for $25 so you can feed in fresh fuel without removing the top grill. The $20 charcoal basket is also useful, and the Kettle Pizza Kit for $115 is fun but more expensive than the grill itself. No thermometer is included, and Weber does not make a storage cover for the Jumbo Joe.
Smaller Alternative: The Smokey Joe Premium costs $45 at Amazon. This is our top pick for anyone who doesn’t need the larger Jumbo Joe. The downside to the Smokey Joe is you lose the lower vent of the Jumbo Joe, which means less temperature control. That’s not a huge deal unless you’re slow cooking. The Smokey Joe was also more difficult to cleanout. But if you want a smaller kettle, this is a good option.
2. Best Portable Propane Grill
Weber Q 1200
If flavor is your only criteria, I would argue that charcoal is superior to propane gas. But flavor is rarely the only factor. We don’t grill in beautiful meadows under a rainbow every day. Often, we grill after-hours on a Friday while we’re also trying to set up a tent, inflate a mattress, and wrangle hungry children. And that’s when the convenience of propane trumps charcoal.
For those times, your best bet is the Weber Q 1200. It’s big enough for a family of four and strikes the best balance between ease of use and cooking performance. It has a thermometer and some side tables to hold your plates and tongs. It’s also a champ at keeping a constant, even heat in pretty much any condition. A storm blew in one afternoon, but I kept grilling despite the high wind and rain. It just kept on cooking.
It’s also good at minimizing flare-ups. To test this I marinated some chicken in lemon juice and olive oil and laid it on the grills. Every grill flared somewhat, but the Q 1200 (and the Coleman below) have heavy enameled cast-iron grates that are closed over the burners, which helps keep the flaring under control.
The main downside is its weight. It may be totally unfazed by weather, but it’s heavy. The $90 wheeled stand is worth a look if you plan to transport it a lot. Other nice accessories include the griddle for $49 and a storage cover for $17.
Smaller Alternative: The Weber Q 1,000. It’s nearly identical to Weber’s Q 1200 but loses the thermometer and side tables. The result is a more compact, though still heavy, grill. If you don’t need the tables and want to save a few dollars, this is a good option.
3. Best for Couples
For couples and small families looking for the convenience of propane, the Coleman Roadtrip 225 Portable may work better than a Weber. It’s considerably lighter and mostly matches the Weber Q 1200. Coleman also gives you the option to use only one burner, so you can grill a couple of burgers without draining your propane gas tank. With variable controls, you can sear veggies on one side while cooking meat more slowly on the other.
There’s a grease pan to catch drips while cooking, and it’s removable for cleaning. You also get push-button ignition and 11,000 BTUs of propane grilling power. What the Coleman lacks is a thermometer and a latch on the lid to let you can carry it one-handed, though these omissions don’t stop me from recommending it.
Coleman has accessories that let you use half the stove as a griddle or regular stove burner so you can simmer beans while you grill hot dogs. I enjoyed the $35 Griddle for frying, and the $35 Stove Grate (untested) gets high marks in other reviews around the web.
4. Best Smoking Grill for Groups
Our top charcoal pick, the Weber Jumbo Joe, is a capable smoker, but it’s not large enough to squeeze in more than two racks of ribs—and even those will need to be cut in half. Oklahoma Joe’s Rambler has a rectangular design that lends itself to longer cuts of meat like ribs.
Oklahoma Joe’s is well known for its full-size smokers, but the Rambler is a relatively new effort to bring the power of the full-size smoker to the tabletop. The result is mostly successful. It has a built-in thermometer and large dampers to control temperature, and it’s the most solidly constructed of all the grills here, by far.
Getting the Rambler ready for your first cook takes some work. It has the most complex assembly of these grills, and you’ll need to season the cast-iron grates, but the results are worth it. I barbecued and smoked up some wonderful results with this grill, including some really nice smoked cauliflower I wasn’t able to duplicate on the others.
The downside to the Rambler is that it’s heavy at 49 pounds. If you’re going from car to picnic table, that’s not a big deal, but if you’ve got a decent walk, like down the bluffs to the beach, the Rambler is tough to carry alone.
5. Best for Grilling Emergencies
Cooking over extremely high infrared heat is different than typical grilling. It took me a few failures—none of which I can attribute to the grills—before I got the hang of it. The theory is simple: Heat a ceramic element with flame and then let the radiant heat from the element do the actual cooking. It’s not a crazy-unique concept, but “infrared” certainly makes it sound like science fiction.
When you’re in a hurry to get dinner on the table, infrared cooking is your friend. Hook up a propane tank (yes, needed), fire it up, let the heating element get to temp (about five minutes), and you have a grill capable of 500- to 600-degree searing. Veggies need 30 seconds a side and have beautiful grill marks. Thin steaks like flank or skirt take a mere minute or two per side and turn out incredibly juicy and flavorful.
The best infrared option I tested was the Char-Broil X200. Char-Broil calls its infrared TRU Infrared and claims it eliminates flare-ups, which is almost true. It flares less than I would have expected, but if you get something good and juicy on there—marinated chicken or brats for instance—it’ll flare (though they don’t last long). Like the Weber Q 1200, the X200 is well built. It’s sturdy yet weighs only 20 pounds, and the lid locks tightly.
The downside is it can get too hot. It’s difficult to do anything but sear. Turning it down means the flame, which is tiny to begin with, tends to get blown out by the slightest breeze. This is a problem with infrared in general, not just the X200. I had the same problem with the Solaire option mentioned below. Still, despite that flaw, infrared will spoil you. Want to grill some veggies a few minutes before dinner is supposed to be done? With the X200, that’s no problem.
Alternative: The Solaire Anywhere Grill. I enjoyed this grill. Its ceramic heating surface works much better than the X200’s metal surface, but even a slight breeze from the front can blow out the burners, and because the infrared flame is so small, to begin with, you might not notice that your flame is gone. I liked everything else about the Solaire, but it’s a tough sell at this price.
6. Best Grill on Wheels
The Coleman Roadtrip 285 is similar to the Roadtrip 225 above, but it’s freestanding and easier to move around thanks to the wheeled dolly system. The included stand also frees up some space on the picnic table, making this a nice choice for larger gatherings.
The inside of the Roadtrip 285 is rather different than the 225. Here there are three interwoven burners, each with their own knob for fine-grained temperature control. There are two outer burners, left and right, and then one inner burner running between them. I most often used all three at once to produce a high-temperature sear, then backed it off and let the outer burners finish cooking.
There’s a grease pan that you can slide out the back for easy cleaning, and a thermometer on the lid monitors your cooking temperatures. There’s a nice griddle accessory as well, which I used to make pancakes for a crowd.
7. Best Big Green Egg
Big Green Eggs are indeed big. Even the smaller MiniMax Big Green Egg I tested isn’t terribly portable, but if you want to smoke, grill, and bake outdoors, this ceramic cooker is a strong choice.
The Big Green Egg is a Kamado-style cooker (Kamado is Japanese word that roughly means “stove”), which really makes it much more than a grill. The ceramic construction retains heat and turns it into a portable oven as well. The MiniMax Big Green Egg is identical to its larger cousin in nearly every way, it’s just smaller. It weighs 75 pounds, making it by the far the heaviest grill I tested, but the double-handle carrying system makes it easy for two people to lift it around. The problem is that the 13-inch grilling surface of the MiniMax can really only grill for about four people.
It’s big enough to roast a chicken, sear a couple of large steaks at a time, or fit about six 12-inch skewers. But if you’re doing meat and veggies for a family of four, you’re going to be cooking in batches. In practice this isn’t so bad. Most meats need to rest when they’re done cooking anyway, giving you time to do your veggies. In my testing the Mini Big Green Egg had excellent heat control and, like the larger version, is extremely fuel efficient.