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With the start of May came the arrival of National Barbecue Month. The long, warm days of spring are here and summer is just around the corner, with everyone enjoying the opportunity to get outdoors. And what better way to extend the enjoyment of warm, sunny weather than with outdoor cooking?
Whether you want to take the cookout on the go for a weekend camping trip, head out for a picnic, or simply enjoy the evening on your patio, a portable gas grill is a good choice – with its compact design, this item offers great flexibility and convenience without any loss of quality. Plus, they are much easier to keep clean than their charcoal-based brethren.
But with so many options available, and with such a wide range of prices, how do you make the right choice to suit your needs?
To answer that question, let’s have a look at some of the features to consider in smaller sized gas barbecues.
Start at the Start
To begin, it’s helpful to determine a few points on how, when, and where your grilling will be done. This applies to all sizes of course, but with a transportable grill, there are a couple of extra variables that come into play that will help you to ascertain the best Q available for your particular purposes.
So, let’s start with questions along these lines:
- How often do you estimate you’ll use the barbecue over the course of a year?
- Roughly how many people will be served when you grill?
- Do you need a unit that’s transportable for camping or tailgating?
- Will it need to fit in the storage compartment of your RV?
- Or are you simply looking for a compact model to use at home? Would a bigger version suit you better?
- How long do you expect your grill to last?
- And finally, what price range are you looking in?
The Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association (1) has conducted a number of polls in recent years and compiled some interesting statistics. Among them, they have found that most gas grills retail for under $300, and last an average of 3 years. This is certainly something to consider if you’re looking to average out the cost over its expected lifetime.
Once you’ve come up with an idea of just how often, for how many, and where your outdoor grilling will be done, it’s time to look at some of the specific features that will aid you in meeting your requirements.
Portable Gas Grill Features
British Thermal Units determine the output of gas to heat up your grill. Theoretically, the higher the number of BTUs, the hotter the temperature will be. On a grill, the BTU rating is indicative of the maximum amount of heat available for the main grill area only, or per burner.
It does not cover side burners, warming trays, rotisserie burners, etc. And you’ll want to have a close look at this rating – some product manufactures will lump all the burner output ratings together to make it look like a bigger number.
But the BTU rating doesn’t get the final say in determining how hot the model will get. An inefficient unit, made of thin materials that can’t hold the heat, will lose a lot of those thermal units to heating the great outdoors. As a result, you’ll need a model with a higher BTU output to grill a steak in the same amount of time.
A barbecue with a very high BTU rating for its size may be trying to compensate for lightweight components, such as the grill, lid or open side construction not being able to hold the heat.
And one with low BTUs may take longer than usual to preheat, or it may have slow recovery times after loading the grate with food.
Most portable units will only have one temperature control, due to their size. But if you’re considering any that have dual burners, look for dual temperature controls as well to accommodate two different temperature zones when cooking.
Surface Cooking Area
As most portable grills don’t have a large warming tray or holding area, predetermine how much surface area you’ll typically need. If you plan to cook your entire meal on the grate, you’ll need more space than you might for grilling up some burgers. And of course, the larger the size, the more expensive they get.
A 200 sq. in. cooking grate will hold approximately 12 burger patties (based on an average patty being roughly 4 x 4”) with adequate room left between them for proper cooking. Or, this is enough space for a meal consisting of 8-10 ounce steaks, with baked potatoes and corn on the cob for two. So, about 100 sq. in. per person is a good guesstimate to help you to determine how much space you might need.
For gas grills, look for burners that are made out of stainless steel or brass, since aluminum will burn out and cast iron will eventually rust. Stainless with an 18-8 rating, or 304 grade, is the best for corrosion resistance.
To protect the burners from dripping grease, most gas grills will have a metal deflector between the grate and burners. This also helps to produce a more even heat, reducing “hot spots” on the grate.
A good grill is important for a couple of reasons. It will help to hold the heat within the cooking area, and it conducts the heat into the food for cooking – which leaves the characteristic char marks.
Chrome and nickel plated grates usually have a wire core, they’re lightweight and therefore don’t hold the heat well, the plating can chip, and they tend to rust. Cast iron grates are excellent for holding and conducting heat, but will rust without a treatment of oil (a shot of cooking spray on both sides after cleaning is an easy solution).
Stainless grates work very well and are easy to clean, and heat-treated porcelain on cast iron is superb. But, they’re very heavy and porcelain can crack or chip. If portability is an important factor, you may want to reconsider in favor of a stainless grate.
Most gas grills are now equipped with spark ignition systems. Some of these run on a battery and others will use the friction of a push button or dial to kindle a spark. Plus, for the times when the starter fails, there’s usually a “Plan B” in the form of a manual ignition hole on the side, which will take a candle lighter or long, wooden fireplace matches.
Quality of Construction
Lightweight materials and parts are important for transporting portable grills; however, sometimes lightweight can also mean flimsy in terms of construction. Because we’re dealing with flammable liquids, safety is a top concern. So, the more stable the barbecue and stand, the better.
Test the model for stability by gently pushing against it from different angles, to see if it’s unstable or prone to tippiong. Units that are welded will have greater stability than those held together with nuts and bolts or cotter pins.
Check working areas and all surfaces for sharp edges and corners that can cut or get snagged on clothing, oven mitts or aprons. Test the handle to ensure that there’s enough grip room – you don’t want to burn your knuckles on the lid when you’re opening it.
The best materials for gas grills are cast aluminum, cast iron, enameled steel and stainless steel. A few points about the metal used will help to clarify:
- Regardless of the quality of the stainless steel or aluminum, after time it will discolor from the barbecue heat and exposure to the elements. And the thinner the material used, the quicker it will lose its good looks.
- Cast iron is extremely durable but will rust if not properly painted, and its weight can make transportation a bit of an issue.
- Enameled steel won’t rust, but it can chip. Again, this is perhaps a question mark in terms of changing locations often.
In terms of construction, you often get what you paid for. So have a look at the quality of the painting, the heft and gauge of the metal used, and the welds or nuts and bolts.
If you’re buying an accessory cart, is it sturdy enough to get bumped against without a disaster? How many plastic parts are there? And what about hinges or any moving parts – do they look durable enough to last a few years?
For compact models in particular, look to see how easily, and how small, the unit will be to get in and out of your trunk or RV.
- Does the lid have a latch for secure travelling?
- Will it sit flat or does it have to stand on end?
- Does it come with a travel case?
- Is any disassembly required to move it?
- Do you need a model with wheels for easier movement?
- Will the collapsed dimensions fit in your trunk or stow compartment?
Most portable model barbecues come with small camping size cylinders of propane, which is great for a couple of meals. But in the long run, it’s often more economical to purchase a conversion kit for a 20-pound propane tank. The conversion kit is often an extra that can run up to $100, so factor in that cost if it’s not included in the purchase price.
On portable units, the shelving is often detachable or slides in and out of the way when it’s not in use. Check to see how sturdy the shelves are. You probably won’t need them to hold a 20-pound turkey, but they need to be able to withstand the weight of a plate of food, and hold the sauce and utensils as well.
Accessories may or may not be included, so you might need to consider this extra cost to stay within budget. Utensils, BBQ recipe books, and a stand or cart will all add to the final cost.
If you have to do some assembly yourself, is it going to be a hassle?
Consider the country of origin, how much of the unit is pre-assembled, and whether there’s a good manual written in clear language by a native speaker of that language. You don’t want to be drilling holes to make it fit together… particularly if you don’t know how to use a drill!
And that concludes our section on what features to look for if you’re thinking about buying a portable gas barbecue. Next, have a look at our reviews of five popular compact grills, all of which received high ratings on Amazon.
Foodal’s Top Rated Picks
The Weber Q2200 features 12,000 BTUs on a single, infinite stainless burner, porcelain enameled cast iron grates, cast aluminum body and lid, and a push button electronic ignition.
It has a large 280 sq. in. cooking surface, burner valve control, two folding side shelves, and a removable grease tray, plus it comes fully assembled. This model measures 21 x 27 x 24”, converts to a 20 lb. tank, and is made in the USA.
The porcelain enamel coated grills mean fast cleanup, and they are very durable. The heavy duty cast aluminum body means no rusting and no flexing, but yet it remains lightweight for easy transport. If you want a model that is very well made and that will last you for many years, this is your model.
Weber also has an optional collapsible cart (the 6557 Q) that can be purchased as an accessory to give you the convenience of portability, and which allows you to operate the Q2200 without having to find a table or other cooking surface to place it on.
They also offer a fixed cart option (the 6525 Q) that is not collapsible, but that is a little cheaper in price AND quality. Personally, I would stick to the collapsible version if I wanted a cart. It does ship with a 20 lb. tank adapter, so that’s one less thing that you may need to purchase if you are going with a more stationary setup.
What Others Are Saying
Satisfied customers like the solid construction, convenience and pre-assembly, fast heating and the size, which is good for 1-4 people. Those that needed replacement parts also commented favorably on Weber’s high level of customer service.
There were a few complaints about having to clean the holes in the burner. The Q2200 and its siblings are given near unanimous praise by thousands of satisfied owners and maintain high marks on Amazon.
The Cuisinart All-Foods Tabletop is powered by 12,000 BTUs and reaches 500°F with ease, plus it has a twist-start ignition for easy start up. The grill lid and handle are stainless steel, as is the burner, while the grill with its modular, interchangeable surface is porcelain-coated cast iron.
It also comes with stainless folding shelves, a temperature gauge, and a removable grease drip tray. Measuring 20 x 28 x 13”, its one piece welded grill base is porcelain coated steel, and this made in China model can convert to 20 lb. tank.
What Others Are Saying
Good quality and well built for its size and price, this unit heats well and holds the heat. The folding shelves make it convenient to use, and it’s suitable for transport in the RV as well as tailgating.
On the other hand, there are a few reports of a loss of temperature when converting to a 20 lb. tank, a number of errors in the pre-assembly from the factory, and customers complained of difficulty in reaching customer service. Check out all of the reviews on Amazon now.
Coleman Road Trip
The Coleman Road Trip Grill has 10,000 BTUs on each burner with independent controls for a total of 20,000, and a large grill with a 285 sq. in. cooking surface. The collapsible scissor legs include two wheels, and they fold down into tote mode for easy moving and storage.
It has an electronic ignition, removable grease tray, porcelain-coated cast iron grates, and two sliding shelves. It, too can convert to a 20 lb. tank, it measures 46 x 18 x 35” and is made in China. It’s a decent unit that won’t break the bank, and it is great for camping.
What Others Are Saying
Quick and easy to set up with a small footprint, this unit is great for travelling and converts well to a 20-lb. tank with good heat output – all in all, good for the price. There are a couple of customer complaints about the lid size being too small for closed grilling and a couple of complaints about the regulator breaking after a year or so. See all customer reviews on Amazon.
The Aussie Table Top Grill has 12,000 BTUs, a U burner and a 305 sq. in. surface. Its lid locks for transportation, the legs fold up for storage, and it has a removable grease tray and a warming rack.
Measuring 27 x 12 x 17” it converts to a 20-lb. tank, and this FORMERLY MADE IN THE USA product is now made in China (with thinner stainless steel material). Big thumbs down for that move.
What Others Are Saying
Customers enjoy the convenience and portability of this unit, its quick heating, and the high heat it achieves. But, there seem to be some problems with the regulator fitting loosely into the burner and having to fidget with the ignition to make it work.
The Camco Olympian Grill has 12,000 BTUs and 180 sq. in. of cooking surface. It is made of stainless steel construction and has a stainless burner and grate with a cast iron smoker plate, as well as an electronic ignition and a removable grease tray.
It comes with a mounting rack for the RV, quick connect fittings on a 39” hose for low pressure outlets on the RV or trailer, it locks for transportation and has folding legs for the tabletop. Measuring 24 x 15 x 12”, it converts to a 20-lb. tank and is made in the USA.
Although the Camco can easily be used on a table top, its unique design feature is that it may securely clamp on to the railings of an RV and can hook directly into the vehicle’s gas supply. The Camco is unquestionably the best portable gas barbecue grill for RV use.
What Others are Saying
Customers report that it’s well built and compact, yet it has an adequate cooking surface, and is lightweight with good heat and no hot spots. Some feel that it burns too hot and the smoke plate flares up due to the high heat, the tack welds are flimsy, and the grate is thin. Check out all of the reviews on Amazon to see if the Camco Olympian is the right choice for your needs.
That’s the end of our portable gas barbecue grill reviews. If you’re looking for a convenient and portable barbecue for summer cooking, check out some of these models to get the grilling season started.
Have more questions? Check out all of Foodal’s barbecuing and grilling articles now.
(1) Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association – http://www.hpba.org/
About Lorna Kring
Recently retired as a costume specialist in the TV and film industry, Lorna now enjoys blogging on contemporary lifestyle themes. A bit daft about the garden, she’s particularly obsessed with organic tomatoes and herbs, and delights in breaking bread with family and friends.