Half the fun of attending a major sporting event is hanging out in the parking lot beforehand, socializing with friends and cooking up good food, and that's why a tailgating grill is a must-have for any sports fan.
Whether you're partial to propane, charcoal, or even pellet grills, we've tested the top easy-to-transport options so that you can bring along the best tailgating grill to football games and other events. These portable grills allow you to serve delicious pre-game steaks, burgers, ribs, and any other tailgate recipes, and most of them can be operated right in the bed of your truck. (No truck? There are models with built-in stands, too.)
Weber Traveler Portable Gas Grill
Unique fold-flat design
Large cooking surface
Effective nonstick coating
Uneven heating, especially with lid open
Difficult to clean
Your fellow sports fans might laugh when you pull what looks like a moving dolly out of your trunk, but they’ll change their tune when you unfold it and show off just how much cooking space the Weber Traveler crams into its compact frame. It’s fairly heavy, but the wheels and folding layout make it incredibly easy to move around. The Traveler is on the more expensive side, especially for portable grills, but it’s a high-quality machine that will keep you in burgers and hot dogs for years.
When we tested this grill in our Lab, its single burner was able to get the cooking surface well over 600 degrees—plenty hot to sear steaks or chops—but it also offers fine control at lower temperatures so you can use it to keep a pot of chili nice and warm. That’s especially impressive given that the grate is 320 square inches in area, enough for up to 15 burgers at once. (Just keep the lid closed as much as possible for longer-cooking items: We got uneven temperatures on the grill surface with the lid left open.) We also like the porcelain-coated cast-iron grill for its combination of heat-retaining density and nonstick capabilities. Even fish filets released from the surface easily.
Depending on just how mobile you need it to be, the Traveler can use either a small 1-pound propane cylinder or the 20-pound version you’d attach to a larger backyard grill. (You need an adapter hose for the bigger cylinder, but one is included.) After cooking, it’s easy to fold down and take home, but once you get back, cleaning is a bit of a pain since you have to scrub the grate without removing it.
Price at time of publish: $419
Dimensions: 42.7 x 43.6 x 37.2 inches | Weight: 49 pounds | Cooking Area: 320 square inches | Fuel: Propane | Power: 13,000 BTU/hour
Hitchfire Forge 15 Grill
Incredibly sturdy and well-secured
Doubles as a tabletop grill
Two burners provide high cooking temperatures
Doesn't block trunk/tailgate access
Interferes with back-up sensors
Expensive compared to similarly sized grills
If you're a tailgating regular, the unique HitchFire Forge 15 is a worthwhile splurge for your on-the-go cooking setup. This grill is designed to be mounted to the back of your car via a standard 2-inch hitch, and you can drive and cook without ever taking it off your vehicle! It's mounted on a swing arm that gives you access to your trunk or tailgate as needed, and our tester was impressed by how well the grill stayed in place while driving, even along bumpy dirt roads.
In terms of its performance, the HitchFire Forge offers 335 square inches of cooking space and two propane-fueled burners. It even has two fold-out side tables for extra prep room. During testing, the grill easily reached temperatures over 500 degrees with both burners on high, and it gets hotter faster and maintains a more consistent temperature than other portable grills. Plus, when you're not on the go, it doubles as a tabletop grill, as well.
Price at time of publish: $549
Dimensions: 25 x 39 x 21 inches | Weight: 70 pounds | Fuel Type: Propane | Cooking Area: 335 square inches | Power: 15,000 BTUs/hour
"My boyfriend took the HitchFire Forge 15 on a four-day overlanding trip in Maine. He drove roughly 350 miles on the highway to reach the campground, and he said the grill stayed secure the whole time. He also drove another 200 miles on dirt roads and rough trails, and the HitchFire performed flawlessly." — Camryn Rabideau, Product Tester
Weber Go-Anywhere 1-Burner Portable Propane Gas Grill
Able to reach high heats
Push button ignition
Legs lock lid in place during transport
Steel grates can be hard to clean
For those who only tailgate occasionally and don’t want to splurge on an expensive grill, the Weber Go-Anywhere Gas Grill is a budget-friendly alternative. This affordable grill, which can also be used with charcoal, comes from one of the most trusted brands in grilling, and it has all the features you need to cook delicious meals before the big game.
The Go-Anywhere Grill has 160 square inches of cooking space and one stainless steel burner, and it provides 6,500 BTUs per hour to help you cook burgers, hot dogs, and more tailgating favorites. The propane-powered model features a porcelain-enameled steel cooking grate, and it has a convenient push-button ignition and glass-reinforced nylon handles. During testing, it was able to efficiently reach 600 degrees, though we did experience wild swings in temperature when opening the lid.
We found the design a little awkward since the gas hangs below the grill, and a little too close to the control knob. When you’re finished cooking, the grill’s plated steel legs can be pivoted upward to lock the lid in place for worry-free transport. Overall, the compact form and affordable price make this grill an unbeatable option for your next tailgate party.
Price at time of publish: $89
Dimensions: 12.2 x 21 x 14.5 inches | Weight: 13.5 pounds | Fuel Type: Propane | Cooking Area: 160 square inches | Power: 6,500 BTUs/hour
Masterbuilt Portable Charcoal Grill and Smoker with Cart
Great for beginners
Precise temperature control
Time-consuming to put together
The tailgate is perhaps the best time to show off your grill skill, but it’s also a time when you might be apt to get distracted by celebrations and let your charcoal burn down too low (or up too hot). The Masterbuilt comes with a collapsible wheeled cart that lets you load it up and move it around with ease, but its big advantage is that it controls the charcoal temperature for you.
The SteadyTemp dial on the front of the grill can be set to anywhere between 250 and 500 degrees, and it activates a (battery- or outlet-powered) fan that blows air over the coals to control the heat. Literally dialing in a precise temperature with a charcoal grill sounds too good to be true, but in our tests, the grill stayed within 10 degrees of the set temperature across the entire range. The charcoal hopper sits off to the side of the main grill area, which makes it a snap to refill during longer cooks, too.
On the downside, though the wheels make it quite mobile, this grill is awfully heavy; don’t expect to haul it for that long a distance. The initial assembly is also a little annoying. It wasn’t difficult; it just involved a lot of steps, a lot of time, and an Allen wrench that made us feel like we just got home from IKEA.
Price at time of publish: $330
Dimensions: 36 x 45 x 19 inches | Weight: 52 pounds | Cooking Area: 200 square inches | Fuel: Charcoal
Weber Q 2200 Gas Grill
Extremely easy to set up and operate
Spacious cooking area
Heavy-duty porcelain-enameled cast iron grates
Large folding side tables
Somewhat heavy for a portable grill
Catch pan doesn't fit properly
If you’re on the hunt for a propane-powered grill that will be the envy of any tailgate party, look no further than the Weber Q2200 Propane Grill. This portable grill has everything you need to cook up delicious meals on the go, including 280 square inches of cooking space, porcelain-enameled cast-iron grates, and two folding work tables for quick and easy food prep.
The Weber Q2200 runs on disposable liquid propane cylinders (not included), and we love that it has a number of high-end features usually reserved for full-size grills—we’re talking a built-in lid thermometer, electronic ignition, and even an infinite control burner valve. "The grill was incredibly easy to use—with a push of the ignition button, a blue flame quickly shot up all around the stainless steel burner, which circles the bottom of the grill body," said our tester. The grill’s lightweight cast aluminum body and ergonomic side handles make it easy to move from your car to the grilling area, and the stainless steel burner gives off an impressive 12,000 BTUs per hour.
Price at time of publish: $430
Dimensions: 25.1 x 51.4 x 26 inches | Weight: 42.5 pounds | Fuel Type: Propane | Cooking Area: 280 square inches | Power: 12,000 BTUs/hour
Best Pellet Grill
Traeger TFB30KLF Tailgater Pellet Grill
Performance is comparable to larger pellet grills
Can cook up to 5 pounds of wings at a time
Digital interface for easier operation
Hot spots towards the back of the grill
If having a pellet grill may not be what first comes to mind for a great tailgate, think again. At 64 pounds, the Traeger Tailgater still take a buddy to help you get it into place, but we found this small-but-mighty option easy to set-up and start grilling away.
The 36-inch-high grill is on the smaller side, of course, with enough grilling space to cook up 12 burgers or, as we discovered, up to 5 pounds of wings. If you're feeding a big crowd, you might need to bring along an extra bag of pellets to keep 8-pound hopper filled, but a full hopper lasted us for more than 6 hours of smoking. The finished pork butt could have used a bit more smoke flavor, but it was still enjoyable.
All of our testers had accolades for how well this handles smoking, grilling, and searing—often performing as good as pricier options. We tested the latest version in our Lab and there's been some design improvements including better heat consistency, though we did observe hot spots towards the back of the grill. The current version also includes a digital interface, which is much preferable over an inaccurate dial. Since this needs outdoor power, we suggest picking up the battery-operated Grilla Power Station and the Traegar Power Inverter, which connects to your car's battery.
Price at time of publish: $530 for grill
Dimensions: 37 x 18 x 36 inches | Weight: 62 pounds | Grilling Area: 300 square inches | Hopper Capacity: 8 pounds | Temperature Range: 175-450 degrees Fahrenheit
Everdure Cube Portable Charcoal Grill
Clever, compact design
No cooking lid
It might look like a designer beer cooler or picnic basket, but when you take off the Everdure CUBE’s cover/prep tray, you’ll find a small but mighty charcoal grilling setup underneath. It’s a mini grill in size, for sure, but two burgers, two brats, and two ears of corn fit snugly and perfectly in testing, and we got quality charring and searing, with grate temperatures we measured at well over 600 degrees.
While it can get very hot for grilling, this is probably not the best choice for slow-and-low smoking. The small charcoal capacity and lack of lid don’t allow for very precise temperature control—or very much room for large cuts of meat. For a couple ready to grill it up during football season, however, it’s a great choice.
Price at time of publish: $199
Dimensions: 13.7 x 16.7 x 9.1 inches | Weight: 15.4 pounds | Cooking Area: 115 square inches | Fuel: Charcoal
The Weber Traveler Portable Gas Grill is an ideal choice for tailgating, thanks to its large cooking area, three individual burners, and compact folding form. Another top choice, especially for those who like cooking with propane, is the Weber Q 2200, which has sturdy cast iron grates, two fold-out side tables, and a convenient electronic ignition.
How We Tested
To compile this list, our team of editors and contributors spent weeks testing the best grills you'd want to use while tailgating. In our Lab, they grilled and seared to thoroughly analyze the features and performance. They also carried grills around our Birmingham, Alabama, campus to assess portability. Our home reviewers spent weeks assessing how these grills stood up to everyday cooking and cleaning. They were also able to offer additional insights to using these during typical weather conditions. The grills are all rated on heat control and retention, size, features, performance, ease of cleaning, and overall value.
What to Look for in a Grill for Tailgating
Tailgating typically takes place in the parking lot before a sporting event, so one of the key factors to look for in a tailgating grill is portability. Since you're going to be bringing the grill to the big game, it needs to be compact and lightweight enough to put in your vehicle, and it should also be easy to set up either on the pavement, in your truck bed, or on a portable table. Some tailgating grills even come equipped with folding legs and wheels that make them easy to use on the go.
If your car is packed full of friends, you're not going to have much space for your tailgating supplies, so be sure to consider the type of fuel your grill uses. Propane grills are a popular choice for tailgating, as 1-pound liquid propane tanks are small and convenient. There are also charcoal and wood pellet tailgating grills available, but you'll likely need a bit more room to stash a bag of fuel in your car.
Ease of Cleaning
Once you're finished tailgating, the last thing you're going to want to do is a 10-step cleaning routine on your grill. Instead, look for a grill that offers fast and easy clean-up, which will allow you to get into the stadium ASAP.
Can you grill on your tailgate?
If you don't have a stand for your grill or a table to place it on, you might be wondering if you can operate a portable grill on the tailgate of a truck. This is a fairly common practice that you'll likely see other people doing at a tailgating event, and it is generally considered safe. Most portable grills don't get hot enough to cause damage to your vehicle, but you'll want to keep a careful eye on the grill to avoid flare-ups and grease spills and keep any flammable objects away from it.
What do you do with charcoal after tailgating?
Once you're done cooking, it's essential to properly dispose of hot coals before you put away your grill and leave to watch the game. Some tailgating facilities have designated metal barrels for this exact purpose—they're usually red and labeled as "hot coal barrels."
However, if there isn't a disposal barrel available, you'll want to let the coals burn down as much as possible, then transfer them into a bowl made from heavy-duty aluminum foil. From here, you can use water to douse the coals with water until they're 100% out. Once the foil is cool to the touch, wrap up the contents and dispose of the pouch in a metal waste bin.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
This roundup was put together by The Spruce Eats commerce writer Jason Horn, who’s been writing about food and drinks for almost 20 years, and grilling for a lot longer than that. He chooses gas over charcoal for control and ease of use, and he’s come up with a pretty solid method of smoking on a gas grill.
This article was originally written by Camryn Rabideau, a freelance writer and product tester who has written close to a dozen pieces on all styles of grills for The Spruce. She has done firsthand testing of a wide range of grills, including two included on this list—the Weber Q2200 and the HitchFire Forge 15.