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Everything You Need to Know About Buying a Portable Grill

Thinking about buying a portable grill? Read on for the pros and cons of these types of lightweight grills.

What Is a Portable Grill?

A good portable grill gives you the flexibility to cook in confined spaces like balconies or small patios, and also brings your grill to outdoor parties, tailgates, and camping trips.

Everything about a portable grill is designed with travel in mind. Portable grills come outfitted with wheels to make them easier to transport or are light and compact enough for one person to carry.

What Are the Types of Portable Grills?

The three main types of fuel sources for grilling are wood pellets, propane gas, and charcoal briquettes. There are portable grills for every fuel source. The fuel source can make a big difference in determining which type of portable grill you buy. Some types may even be prohibited in your living space.

Portable Wood Pellet Grill

Portable wood pellet grills have a few major advantages over portable charcoal or gas grills. Wood pellet grills don't have an open flame, so there's no risk of dangerous flare-ups. For this reason, wood pellet grills are often permitted on patios or balconies -- while gas and charcoal grills, which do use open flame for cooking, are prohibited.

Wood pellet grills cook food through the combustion of wood pellets that can also add flavor to your food. The heat and smoke from the burning pellets is directed into the cooking area. Wood pellets deliver temperatures hot enough for grilling steaks and chops or can be set for low and slow cooking of ribs and brisket. You simply set the grill to your desired temperature, and it does the rest.

For smoking and other forms of low and slow barbecue, portable wood pellet grills give you more cooking surface area than portable gas or charcoal grills do. On a gas or charcoal grill, you'd need to set up a 2-zone cooking system with the heat on one side, and the food on the other. On a Traeger, you can use the entire cooking surface to barbecue.

Traeger offers three models of portable wood pellet grills.

Portable Gas Grill

Portable gas grills come in many shapes and sizes. Most are designed for use on a tabletop, though some have foldout legs so the grill can rest above the ground.

The fuel source for a portable gas grill is usually a small liquid propane canister that attaches to the grill. These canisters are light and inexpensive, but they also only last for about 90 minutes of cooking. If you do a lot of cooking with your portable gas grill on a camping trip or day-long tailgate, it's likely the canister will run out of fuel while you're in the middle of making something.

The liquid propane canisters are also disposable, so they create a lot of waste for not much cooking time.

Propane gas is tasteless, so you won't be adding any extra flavor to your food by cooking with a portable gas grill.

Portable Charcoal Grill

Portable charcoal grills are, for the most part, just smaller versions of backyard charcoal grills. The smaller size means they weigh less and are easier to transport.

Charcoal grills can be a good choice for wide-open spaces, but in any confined space (like the parking lot at the football stadium or a small deck or patio) charcoal isn't ideal. For one thing, when charcoal is lit it gives off an unpleasant odor and smoke that can't be easily controlled. And charcoal briquettes are prone to flare-ups that could cause a dangerous situation whether you're in the woods or on a friend's small deck.

Most portable charcoal grills have a very small cooking area, so they are only good for direct grilling of items like steak or burgers. To do any smoking, you'd need a 2-zone fire with the briquettes on one side and food on the other. You simply wouldn't have space to smoke anything substantial.

Charcoal briquette disposal is another drawback of portable charcoal grills. You'll have to budget time to let the charcoals cool before you can safely dispose of them, and find a safe place to put them.

What Are Portable Grills Good For?

Portable grills can be a good choice -- sometimes the only choice -- for certain activities and living situations including camping, tailgating, and apartment living.

Camping

No matter how gorgeous or secluded your camping spot, a terrific meal will make the experience that much more memorable. You want the wood-fired flavor of food hot off the grill -- not a bag of trail mix or freeze-dried eggs.

Tailgating

One of the best parts of tailgating is avoiding a meal of overpriced, over-processed stadium food (that you have to wait 30 minutes in line to buy). With a top-notch portable grill, you can fill your tailgating zone with the irresistible aroma of low and slow ribs, grilled steak, or smoked chicken.

Apartment, Condo, Tiny House, or RV Living

If you're lucky enough to have an apartment, condo, or townhouse with outdoor space or balcony, a portable grill is one purchase that will really help you enjoy it.

Even if you don't have your own outdoor space, a portable grill can let you turn a campground or parking lot into your personal outdoor kitchen.

What's the Best Portable Grill for Camping?

A Traeger wood pellet grill offers the best combination of portability, versatility, safety, and ease of use for car camping and RV-ing.

At just 13 inches tall by 20 inches wide, the Traeger Scout wood pellet grill won't take up much room in the car and has enough cooking surface for 10 hot dogs, 6 burgers, or a rack of ribs.

Because a Traeger can be set for low and slow, roasting, or direct grilling, you can use it to make anything from the morning's biscuits to a slow-cooked stew in the evening.

Unlike gas or charcoal, wood pellet grills don't have an open flame. You don't need to worry about dangerous sparks or flare-ups that could spread fire.

And the simplicity of wood pellet combustion and total temperature control means your food will cook perfectly; just like it would on your stove or oven at home. No need to worry about disposing of hot charcoals or gas canisters.

What's the Best Portable Grill for Tailgating?

A Traeger wood pellet grill is the best choice for tailgating because it will give you superior cooking results and is safer than gas or charcoal.

Traeger wood pellet grills offer precise temperature control that gas and charcoal simply can't match. Temperatures range from smoking levels (225 degrees Fahrenheit) up to direct grilling temps (450 degrees). Whether you want to slow cook ribs, fire up some burgers -- or both -- you can do it on a Traeger with the flip of a switch.

And because wood pellet grills don't have an open flame, you won't need to worry about dangerous flare-ups ruining the party.

What's the Best Portable Grill for Apartment/Condo/Tiny House Living?

A wood pellet grill is the best option for living spaces with small yards, patios, or balconies -- often, it is the only permissible option.

Many HOA or other property regulations prohibit the use of open flame grills which can cause dangerous flare-ups and spread to other units on the property. Portable charcoal and gas grills are both open-flame cooking methods.

Wood pellet grills, however, generate heat within a secure combustion box that is separate from the cooking area. With a wood pellet grill, you also get the benefit of precise temperature control and the versatility of being able to smoke, roast, bake, or grill all on one device.

Can I Use a Portable Grill in My Kitchen?

Never use a portable grill in your kitchen or any other indoor space. Portable charcoal, gas, and wood pellet grills all emit carbon monoxide during the cooking process. Carbon monoxide is tasteless, odorless, and invisible, but when it accumulates in enclosed spaces, it can kill.

What Are Some Good Recipes for a Portable Grill?

We recommend these tried-and-true recipes for your next outdoor adventure.

Whole Roasted Trout

Take your fresh catch to the fire with this simple recipe that brings out the natural flavors of the fish.

Ingredients

  • 1 trout, interior cavity cleaned
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
  • Salt, as needed
  • Black pepper, as needed
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 rosemary sprig

Serves: 1

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Croissant S'mores on the Grill

Buttery croissants bring a decadent touch to this classic campfire dessert.

Ingredients

  • 6 croissants
  • 25 large marshmallows, regular
  • 8 ounces chocolate

Serves: 6

Cooking time: 2 minutes

Dehydrated Smoked Barley Mushroom Risotto

You can make this naturally smoked risotto at home or on the road, then simply reconstitute with water at the campsite.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 whole shallot, minced
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • Thyme, to taste

Serves: 2

Cooking time: 4 hours

Baked Peach Cobbler Cupcakes

A few simple ingredients -- plus boxed cake mix -- make it possible to have this delicious fruit dessert anywhere.

Ingredients

  • 2 large peaches
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Yellow cake mix, boxed
  • 1 can vanilla icing

Serves: 8

Cooking time: 30 minutes