Are portable grills worth it? Grilling advice from experts

Portable grills seem compact, cheap, and just as good as the full-sized thing. But are they actually worth it?

A portable grill on a hillside in front of a sunrise
(Image credit: Getty Images / Patchareeporn Sakoolchai)

If you're like me and live in a city, you know that grilling can be pretty tricky. While I'd love a huge five-burner gas grill, I don't have the room or the money. 

Portable grills seem like an obvious solution. They're small, cheap, and get the job done. However, it can be off-putting to buy one; it always feels like you're short-changing your grilling experience. 

I've tested dozens of best grills, including lots of portable grills, so I know first-hand that - used correctly - a portable grill can be a great addition to your home. I also spoke to a grilling expert for more insight. 

What's the point of a portable grill?

large stainless-steel gas grill on a patio

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Portable grills are exactly as the name implies. They're grills small enough to use on a balcony, a tabletop, or at a tailgate. Portable grills use a wide range of fuels. You can find charcoal, gas, and electric portable grills. 

What are the benefits of portable grills?

Grilling beef on a portable grill

(Image credit: Getty Images / Chiociolla)

Portable grills are fantastic for small spaces. If you live in a city and have limited outdoor space, a portable grill will let you grill without taking up too much space. You can keep the grill in a corner or grill on a tabletop, getting all the flavors of a full-sized grill without losing any space. 

The best thing about portable grills is that they taste exactly as good as full-sized grills. One of the best burgers I've ever had was from a portable grill like this at Amazon. My friend grilled it for me in her little city garden and it was as good as burgers I've tested on large Kamado grills or from fancy burger joints cooking smashed burgers on a griddle. 

Because they're so small, portable grills are usually hundreds - if not thousands - of dollars cheaper than full-size grills. If you're on a budget, you won't find a cheaper grill than a portable model. 

Portable girls are also, well, portable. You can take them on hiking trips, to a local park, or tailgating, so you can grill pretty much anywhere. Grilling expert Mike Williams told me 'The grill I use regularly is portable and even allows me to grill indoors. It's great for the colder months when I want to grill but don’t want to be outside. I like being able to move mine when I have company over or when I want to take it on a camping trip or to a tailgate.'

You can even get good results on a disposable grill like this from Walmart. A friend and I once grilled chili peppers on one of these and we achieved a perfect, delicious char. Just be sure to check the rules about grilling wherever you plan to grill. 

What are the drawbacks of portable grills?

A portable grill cooking meat, peppers, and an onion

(Image credit: Getty Images / Artem Stepanov)

Portable grills are small, and the grilling surface is usually no bigger than 200 square inches. You can cook a few burgers at once, but nothing else, and you'd struggle to grill larger items like a whole chicken. This means they're poor for feeding large families, or at least for feeding everyone at once. 

Because they're so small, portable grills don't have all the bonus features of a full-size grill. You won't have a side burner for searing steaks or caramelizing onions, and you won't have any warming racks or a rotisserie function. You also won't have forgettable but essential features like a tool rack, side table, or even a bottle opener.

There are also some potential issues with fuel. Grill expert Mike Williams told me that 'Some portable grills require an outlet which may not be an option for where you want to take your grill. Additionally, transporting elements like gas or charcoal can be messy and sometimes dangerous - especially if trying to transport while the grills are still hot after grilling.'

A final warning is that many grills marketed as 'portable' aren't all that portable. For example, we love the Weber Traveler, available at Weber. It's a great option for tailgating or grilling in a campsite. However, it weighs in at 37lbs, so while it's hardly heavy, you won't be lugging it up the trail for a burger midway through your hike. 

A headshot of grill expert MIke Williams
MIke Williams

Mike Williams is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Kenyon. Kenyon is an electric grill company that makes portable, smokeless, and flameless electric grills that help make grilling season run year-round. Mike is an expert on all things grilling.

Should I buy a portable grill?

If money is tight, I recommend a portable grill, because you can make good food without spending hundreds of dollars. If you don't have much space, I recommend a portable or tabletop grill to save some room. However, if you love to host big parties, or want something easy, buy a full-size grill. 

Portable grill FAQs

Can you use a portable grill on a wood table?

Yes, almost every portable grill is safe to use on a wood table. You may want to put down a layer of aluminum foil to stay on the safe side. 

For more advice on grilling, check out my coverage of  grill vs griddle and how much you should spend on a grill

Alex David
Head of eCommerce

As Head of eCommerce, Alex makes sure our readers find the right information to help them make the best purchase. After graduating from Cambridge University, Alex got his start in reviewing at the iconic Good Housekeeping Institute, testing a wide range of household products and appliances. He then moved to BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine, assessing gardening tools, machinery, and wildlife products. Helping people find true quality and genuine value is a real passion.