Allows for two-zone cooking
Can be used as two separate hibachi grills
Cast iron heats up quickly
Heavy and bulky
The need for charcoal limits convenience
The PKGO Camp and Tailgate Grilling System is the “portable” version of the PK360, a cast iron grill that’s developed a cult-like following, thanks to users that claim it’s the perfect charcoal grill. PK Grills designed this smaller version as a way to take the exceptional cooking quality of charcoal grills with you on the go, but is it as portable as its tagline would have you believe? I tested it myself to find out.
Setup Process: Fairly easy
There’s not a lot of setup involved with the PKGO Camp and Tailgate Grilling System, but everything is wrapped in plastic and zip ties, so it took several minutes to get everything unwrapped and cut open. I definitely needed a pocket knife, so keep that in mind if you’re opening this for the first time while you’re camping or tailgating.
Design: Heavy, and a little clunky
When I lifted the PKGO grill out of the box, the first thing I thought was, “Wow, this is heavy!” The whole grill—both top and bottom—is made out of cast aluminum, giving it a total weight of around 46 pounds. Not only is the grill heavy, but it’s also pretty bulky, at 13 inches high and 21 inches wide. At that size, I can’t imagine lugging it around on a camping trip or tailgating at a football game. It could be an excellent addition to an extended camping trip, though, because you'll likely be situated in one place for more than a few days.
At that size, I can’t imagine lugging it around on a camping trip or tailgating at a football game.
The grill is expertly designed, with a rounded shape that’s ideal for venting and two-zone grilling. The lid is attached with open latches that make it easy to remove when it’s time to convert it into two open hibachi grills. And it comes with everything you need—including a Flipkit stand and extra grill grates. The lid sits snugly on top of the stand and the grill grates rest on top of both cast iron pieces.
When opened up, the total cooking surface area doubles to 408 square inches—204 square inches on each grill face—which is plenty big enough to serve a crowd. I cooked four strip steaks, two large chicken breasts, and eight hamburgers simultaneously—and there was still some room left to spare.
Features: Double the grilling space
In addition to doubling the grilling space, the design of the PKGO Camp and Tailgate Grilling System allows you to create a two-zone grilling system—a hot direct zone and a moderate indirect zone to achieve the perfect consistency for whatever you’re cooking. It utilizes a four-point venting system: There are two radial exhaust vents and two lower dampers that allow oxygen to flow through the grill.
I was able to strategically open and close these vents to control the amount of heat I got while cooking—perhaps my favorite feature. You can cook your foods low and slow over indirect heat and then move them over to the hotter side to finish them off. While this method works great for all foods, it’s especially helpful for making perfectly seared steaks—something that’s not easy to pull off on most grills.
I cooked four strip steaks, two large chicken breasts, and eight hamburgers simultaneously—and there was still some room left to spare.
The grill also has a digital probe access door. If you want to get the precise temperatures of the meat you’re cooking, you can thread the probe through the opening and monitor your meat. I have a dual meat thermometer, and I appreciated the ability to precisely monitor the temperature of different kinds of meat rather than trying to guess when my food was done.
Performance: Exceptional for slow cooking
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the PKGO Camp and Tailgate Grilling System made easy work of cooking every single thing I threw at it. From steaks to burgers to chicken to veggies, everything had a grilled-to-perfection taste. But the PKGO grill really shined with its low and slow cooking.
Because I could create a two-zone heating area and control the heat by leaving one top vent and one bottom damper closed, I was able to slowly bring my steak up to around 120 degrees Fahrenheit and then finish it off by moving it to direct heat. The end result was a juicy steak that was perfectly charred on the outside and had just the right amount of pink inside. It handled hamburgers, chicken, and veggies well too, but the end result was similar to most other grills I’ve used, so it didn’t blow me away as much.
Cleaning: Needs a little elbow grease
With its cast aluminum top and bottom and coated cast iron cooking surfaces, the PKGO grill isn’t as easy to clean as some of the other grills I’ve tested. Food sticks a little bit more, and I needed some elbow grease to scrub off bits of stuck-on food. However, if you time it right and clean it when the grill is cooled down but still a little warm, it’s easier to get it totally clean.
Of course, there’s also the matter of disposing of the charcoal. Once the ash cooled (I sped the process up by pouring some cool water on top of it), I was able to dump it onto a piece of aluminum foil, wrap it up, and throw it away. While it sounds like an extra step, the process is easy enough, and it’s actually less messy than trying to wipe grease up from the bottom of the portable propane grills.
I was able to strategically open and close the vents to control the amount of heat I got while cooking—perhaps my favorite feature.
After the first use, the inside of the grill stayed a charred color and didn’t wipe clean, but that’s part of its magic—similar to a perfectly seasoned cast iron pan.
Price: On the higher end
At an MSRP of $269.99, the PKGO Grill is on the higher end of the price spectrum. Granted, unlike other grills of its size, you have the option to double the grilling surface by using it as two hibachi-style grills, so technically you’re getting two grills in one. If you regularly serve larger crowds or you can’t imagine using propane over charcoal, the price is fair enough. But as far as convenience goes, I’d much rather shell out the cash for the NomadiQ Portable Grill.
PKGO Camp and Tailgate Grilling System vs. nomadiQ Portable Propane Gas Grill
It’s difficult to pit (barbecue pun intended) the PKGO Camp and Tailgate Grilling System against other compact grills because it’s so different, but I think there are two important points to address: portability and convenience.
Although the PKGO grill is marketed as an excellent companion for camping and tailgating, I can’t imagine having to lug it—plus charcoal—around with everything else that I bring on a camping trip. It may make more sense for tailgating, but I would much rather take the nomadiQ Portable Propane Gas Grill (view at Amazon), which only weighs 12 pounds—about a quarter of the weight of the PKGO. And not only is the nomadiQ lighter, but it also folds up flat so you can easily fit it into your car without taking up a lot of extra space.
Yes, the nomadiQ uses propane, so that might be a dealbreaker for diehard charcoal grillers, but it does have 226 square inches of cooking space and the ability to operate each burner independently, so the features (and the price) are similar otherwise.
For charcoal purists only.
Performance-wise, the PKGO Camp and Tailgate Grilling System does an excellent job, but the bulkiness and weight shaved some points off for me. If you’re in the “charcoal is the only way to grill” camp, you may think it’s worth the extra effort, but I’d rather go with something more easily portable for both camping and tailgating.
- Product Name PKGO Camp and Tailgate Grilling System
- Product Brand PK Grills
- Price $269.99
- Release Date October 2020
- Weight 46 lbs.
- Product Dimensions 20.9 x 13.1 x 15.3 in.
- Color Silver/black
- Cooking Surface 17.0 by 12.0 inches
- Warranty Up to 20 years, depending on the component
- Materials Rust-proof cast aluminum top and bottom, coated cast iron cooking surfaces