The Best Tailgate Grills For Portable Cooking at Its Best
Tailgating season isn’t what it used to be, but that just means you need to think outside the box. Instead of a crowded parking lot, try your own driveway. Maybe a campsite or a park, where thanks to streaming services, you can still watch the game even if you aren’t at home. One thing hasn’t changed, and that’s that crowd or not, game or not, you still need the right grill to get your famous food served hot and fresh.
Sure, you could shop for any ordinary grill, but if you’re looking for one that’s ideal for tailgating, you’ve come to the right place. These best grills for tailgating are designed for any vehicle cooking situation, car, truck, or SUV.
For more information on the best tailgate grills, refer to our table of contents.
Table of contents
- 1. Editor's Pick: CAPT'N COOK Ovenplus Salamander Grill
- 2. Springfield Hitch-Mount Grill
- 3. Blackstone Table Top Grill
- 4. Char-Broil Standard Portable Liquid Propane Gas Grill
- 5. Cuisinart Roll-Away Gas Grill
- 6. Char-Broil Grill2Go X200
- 7. Weber Jumbo Joe Charcoal Grill
- 8. Weber Q1000 Liquid Propane Grill
- 9. Pit Boss Two-Burner Portable Grill
- 10. Coleman RoadTrip Portable Stand-Up Propane Grill
- Why Tailgate Grills?
- How to Pick a Grill for Tailgating?
- Grill Safety
1. Editor's Pick: CAPT'N COOK Ovenplus Salamander Grill
This might be the ultimate tailgate cooking machine, offering more versatility than most home kitchens for the back of your truck. It starts with the top-down grill that puts the flame above your food rather than below it. While not the conventional way, it helps eliminate flare-ups caused by grease and fat dripping onto the flames while you're cooking. So it grills your meat with less smoke and less hassle.
Then there's the top with the lid open: It works like a stove, letting you heat up liquids, cook anything in a pot, or just griddle that steak after you've gotten it seared from the grill underneath. Close the lid on the top and it's an oven that can heat up to 800 degrees in minutes. Bake a pizza in just four minutes with the included pizza stone. The manufacturer says you can cook up to 20 boxes of pizza an hour, or 80 pieces of salmon. If that's not enough for your tailgate crowd, you might just want to step up to a food truck instead.
Oven, grill, and griddle in one, versatile, easy to clean
Grill height only about 2.5 inches
2. Springfield Hitch-Mount Grill
Since there isn't always a table around and because your tailgating vehicle might be an SUV with an overhead-opening hatch instead of a tailgate, check out this hitch-mount BBQ grill. Designed to slide easily into your receiver hitch, the grill can also be removed from the base and used on a picnic table if you prefer.
When it comes time for hitch cooking, the Springfield grill offers 189 square inches of cooking surface or 130 square inches of lid-top griddle cooking. Either way, that's plenty for the family or your friends before the big game or on that camping trip. It's designed to work with a small one-pound propane tank (not included) for convenience, and it has a 12,000-BTU rating. When you're done cooking and it's time to transport, the legs fold up to become handles, making it quick, easy, and clean to move the grill around.
Slots into trailer hitch for easy mounting, plenty of cooking surface
Can't be transported while in the hitch, propane tank not included
3. Blackstone Table Top Grill
Compact and portable, perfect for tailgate grilling, the Blackstone tabletop grill offers 260 inches of cooking space with a 12,000-BTU H-shaped burner. That burner is stainless steel for corrosion resistance and long life, while the cold-rolled steel cooking surface is designed to help with even heating and durability. Because while burgers and brats might be go-to tailgate food solutions, a griddle can offer you massive flexibility. Want some pancakes and eggs since you've started off extra early? Not a problem on this griddle, which also has a built-in grease trap to catch excess oils before they spill off awkwardly.
Storage is easy as the cooking surface flips over, meaning that the dirty side is hidden away and the grill can be transported with one hand. The grill uses a one-pound camping propane container for convenience, but, as with most of these smaller grills, adapters to fit full-size tanks are available. You can also choose from a larger, 22-inch option.
Easy-use griddle with lots of area, convenient and compact
Finicky drip pan, a bit on the heavy side
4. Char-Broil Standard Portable Liquid Propane Gas Grill
It's not the biggest grill and it doesn't have the fanciest features, but this grill makes up for it by offering excellent value. A bargain-basement priced BBQ, this unit from Char-Broil is still made from steel with a high-temperature durable finish. It also has heat-resistant handles, so that you don't need to wait for it to cool down before moving it.
The legs lock the lid closed for easy transport. Offering an 11,000-BTU burner and taking one-pound propane tanks, the 187-square inch cooking surface is enough room to cook up to eight burgers at the same time. Better yet, the cooking grate is dishwasher safe so you can clean it up when you get home. It tips the scales at just 10 lbs, making it easy to transport. Because why spend all your cash on your grill when you can save on the cooking and put more dollars into that retro team jersey and a few extra rounds of face paint in team colors?
Affordable propane option, decent cooking surface area, relatively lightweight
Smaller burner, not stainless steel
5. Cuisinart Roll-Away Gas Grill
A built-in folding stand makes this grill from Cuisinart more flexible than some of the other options you've seen on the list so far. When fully open, it stands 36-inches tall, letting you cook at a comfortable height. When folded, the wheels on one side and handle on the other make it easy to roll along pavement, gravel, or grass in order to get the grill into position.
A large 240-inch cast iron grill surface distributes heat evenly while a 15,000-BTU burner helps make sure there's lots of heat. Twist to start ignition means you don't need to use matches to get the flame going and a temperature gauge on top lets you know when it's time to cook. The handle stays cool while a pair of folding side shelves give you room for some light prep work, or a place to put the finished food while you wait for everyone to be ready for more.
Folding table, wheels, large grilling surface
Small side shelves, assembly takes time
6. Char-Broil Grill2Go X200
A grill designed to be moved around and built rugged to handle travel, the Grill2Go x200 is ideal for your tailgate cooking needs. Starting with a cast aluminum firebox and lid to keep heat in and remain corrosion-resistant for the long haul, the grill also has stainless steel lid latches to keep it closed when not in use. The high-impact frame is designed to take a beating without getting damaged, plus it offers carrying handles for transport.
More important is the cooking, though, and this grill offers Char-Broil's TRU-Infrared technology that puts a special cooking grate below the grill. It puts a barrier between food and flame that helps prevent flare-ups and offers more even heat distribution and no hot or cold spots to let you make the best use of the 200 square inches of cooking space. The radiant heat does the cooking, which the manufacturer says means it preserves the natural juices. A top-mounted thermometer helps you keep an eye on things while you're cooking.
Infrared cooking, durable design, promotes even heat distribution, large cooking space
Main burner just 9,500 BTU, propane sold separately
7. Weber Jumbo Joe Charcoal Grill
Tailgate grilling doesn't always mean propane, you can do it with charcoal too, thanks to the Jumbo Joe portable grill from Weber. An 18-inch cooking surface offers plenty of room for your burgers, steaks, chicken, or hot dogs. The body of the Jumbo Joe is made from porcelain-enameled metal to help resist corrosion and ensure a long life for the firebox and lid, while the steel cooking grate ensures even heating and those grill marks you need.
While Weber offers a smaller grill than this, the larger size of the Jumbo gives you more room to move the coals underneath and make sure you're cooking using indirect heat when it's time for something fancier than a burger. The handle on the top also works to hold the lid, so you don't need to worry about putting the hot lid on the ground or the back of your truck, potentially starting a fire or damaging your vehicle. And like the best full-size charcoal grills, it has dampers to let you control the temperature inside for proper cooking.
Compact size charcoal grill, portable, versatile
Some reviewers report opening damper scratches finish, no height adjustment
8. Weber Q1000 Liquid Propane Grill
This grill was recently redesigned with a larger handle for easy gripping as well as bigger control knobs and more ergonomic side carrying handles, all to make the Q1000 easier to use. Uniquely, this small grill has a split grate and that has some added cooking benefits: With an accessory griddle, you can have half of your grill a grate and the other half a griddle, expanding the range of foods you can cook at the same time, making you a tailgating hit.
An accessory hose to allow the use of larger 20-lb tanks is available as well, or you can stick with the smaller camping cylinders depending on your needs. Push-button ignition is handy in this class, saving you from fussing with wet matches on a cold day and the aluminum construction makes for a grill that's lighter and easier to carry. An infinite control burner valve lets you dial in just the right amount of heat for whatever you're cooking.
Push-button ignition, aluminum construction, compatible with larger tanks
A bit on the heavier side, some wish it had more heat
9. Pit Boss Two-Burner Portable Grill
This is one of the largest grills on our list, and that means more than just more space for cooking on the 275-square inches of cooking surface. It also means that Pit Boss had room for two separate 10,000-BTU burners, making this one of the most powerful grills on the list and allowing two different temperature zones for cooking multiple foods at the same time. The grill runs on a 20-lb cylinder for plenty of cook time and has stainless steel cooking grids as well as a stainless steel exterior.
There is push and turn ignition to fire up the burners, while the extendable legs fold back up once you're done cooking to make the grill more portable and more secure when it's sitting in the back of your truck and the lid latches to make it easier to move. Despite the large cooking surface, this grill weighs 27 lbs, which isn't exactly lightweight but impressive for the size.
Twin burners, more cooking area, different temperature zones, easy ignition
Only runs on full-size propane tank, lowest heat setting isn't low enough for some
10. Coleman RoadTrip Portable Stand-Up Propane Grill
From camping gear powerhouse Coleman, this grill is designed for the road trip. It's even in the name. The grill surface is a compact 225 square inches, but this grill still offers two burners with separate controls. In this case that isn't for more power, with 11,000 BTU, but for more control and allowing you to have two different temperature zones. Folding flat and with two wheels for easy transport, it quickly unfolds and stands up for when you're ready to cook.
If you want a griddle or stove, those grates are swappable with the standard cast iron grill grates for even more flexibility. While most of these small grills use an H-shaped burner, this one is an oval and that should mean more heat in more places and less worry about cold spots or areas where your food won't cook properly. A push-button ignition means no worries about dead batteries or wet matches.
Three-year warranty, two temp zones, push-button ignition, easy to transport
Locking latch isn't the best, doesn't get hot enough for some
Why Tailgate Grills?
Photo credit: Sean Locke Photography / Shutterstock.com
Because your home grill, be it a smoker, propane, natural gas, or charcoal, is big. Heavy, clunky, and awkward to load up and take anywhere, even just to the other side of the house. These grills are compact and portable, designed to trade some cooking surface and outdoor durability so they can be lightweight, easy to carry, and ready to use anywhere you are. Camping, tailgating, or spending an afternoon at the park, these tailgate grills are ready for action.
The smaller size doesn't mean less quality, though, just different priorities. Using these best portable grill options can let you cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all with the same level of taste you'd expect at home.
How to Pick a Grill for Tailgating?
Size is important, even if it's compact. While some of these have space for as many as eight burgers, some offer double that. If you've got a big crowd to cook for, look toward the larger sized grills. They might be heavier, but you'll need the surface area unless you want half of your group to have to wait for round two. Conversely, if you're planning on lugging the grill into the woods, a smaller, lighter unit, or one with large wheels, might be a much better choice for you.
If you want the full grilling experience, then charcoal may be your fuel of choice, but since it's more difficult to work with and less predictable than propane, most will probably stick with gas. Purists, though, can't get enough of the smoky flavor that only comes from charcoal.
Propane is quick, easy, and clean. And you can bring plenty with you in either camp-size or 20-lb tanks, either of which is much easier to transport than the same amount of charcoal. Plus if you're planning on cooking all afternoon, or multiple times, then you'll need the consistency that only propane delivers.
No matter which one of these you choose, things will warm up. And we mean that literally. When you're grilling, make sure to keep the hot surfaces a proper distance from anything else flammable or that can be damaged by heat. So don't put the hot lid on the paint of your pickup bed or that plastic bed liner. And make sure that if you use charcoal that all of it is dumped out and extinguished fully before the end of your day. With propane, make sure all cylinders are closed before transporting them. Lastly, if the grill isn't cool to the touch, think twice before putting it in the back of your vehicle.
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Photo credit: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com
Evan moved from engineering to automotive journalism 10 years ago (it turns out cars are more interesting than fibreglass pipes), but has been following the auto industry for his entire life. Evan is an award-winning automotive writer and photographer and is the current President of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. You'll find him behind his keyboard, behind the wheel, or complaining that tiny sports cars are too small for his XXXL frame.
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