Sure, tailgating is synonymous with sports. But for super serious game day cooks, tailgating is a sport all on its own. Whether you’re cooking in a field outside a football stadium, in a parking lot next to a concert venue, or right in your backyard, tailgating requires an outdoor kitchen that can be set up quickly, broken down easily, and is equipped to feed a crowd. The most important part of any tailgate is a grill, which everybody knows is the easiest way to cook outside. However, not all grills are created equally, and some are more suited to staying in one spot rather than traveling to the football field every weekend. That’s where a dedicated tailgating grill comes into play.
In order to find the best tailgate grills, we spoke with grilling extraordinaire Damon Daye, Executive Chef at The Steak Truck. We aimed to find grills that are portable, easy to use, and capable of serving up burgers, hot dogs, and chicken wings that rival those found at your favorite sports bar. These are the best tailgate grills for on-the-go game day eats.
Our Top Picks
Best Overall: Coleman Roadtrip 285 Standup Grill
Dimensions: 30.25"D x 19.19"W x 16.13"H | Weight: 47 pounds | Fuel Type: Propane | Cooking Area: 285 square inches | BTUs: 20,000
- Sliding side table adds prep space
- Legs fold for increased portability
- Swappable cooktops allow for versatility
- Doesn’t have hooks to hang utensils
- On the heavier side
Why we chose it: This collapsible grill is incredibly portable, and the large cooking surface can be conveniently turned on and off with the press of a button.
When searching for the best tailgate grill, it’s important to find one that combines portability with functionality and efficiency. All of the most critical criteria come together in this option from Coleman—wheels make it easy to move, propane fuel and button start makes it easy to turn off and on, and collapsible legs make it incredibly convenient. Better yet, the 285 square inches of cooking surface can be totally transformed thanks to the interchangeable cooktops, which means this grill can double as a griddle or stovetop.
We love that the propane fuel allows for superior temperature control, and the convenient built-in thermometer makes it easy to know what level of heat you’re working with. The instant-start button lets you get the grill up and running without any matches, and the three burners can be individually controlled for a more precise cooking experience.
Best Value: Char-Broil Portable 240
Dimensions: 16.2”D x 25”W x 13”H | Weight: 21 pounds | Fuel Type: Propane | Cooking Area: 240 square inches | BTUs: 9,500
- Lid-mounted gauge for easy temperature reading
- Extra-short legs mean a tabletop or counter is necessary
- Gets hot underneath, use caution when placing on different surfaces
Why we chose it: This lightweight grill has a large cooking surface that gets super hot, making it an efficient grill that’s an excellent value for the price.
Some of the best tailgate grills can be expensive, but that doesn’t mean they have to be. We love when we find a durable grill that’s efficient and functional at an affordable price. Don’t let this lightweight grill fool you—it performs just as well as the heavy-hitters on this list. With 240 square inches of cooking surface, it can reach high temperatures to achieve the dark and crispy grill marks everybody loves.
This portable gas grill uses propane to heat up, and an external temperature gauge lets you easily read how hot it is inside. An easy-to-use ignition system makes lighting it quick and efficient. Sturdy, silicone-capped legs make sure it won’t slip or slide when in use. Since this grill has particularly short legs, you’ll need to set it on a tabletop or countertop to bring it to a comfortable cooking height. However, use caution when setting it on different surfaces—the body of the grill can get hot when in use.
Best Charcoal: Solo Stove Grill
Dimensions: 22”W x 29”H inches | Weight: 43 pounds | Fuel Type: Charcoal | Cooking Area: 380 square inches | BTUs: N/A
- Carrying case makes it extra portable
- 360-degree airflow maintains fire for longer
- Lid hangs on the side for added convenience
- Legs are not collapsible
- Doesn’t have a side table
Why we chose it: Air flows evenly from all sides of this extra-portable grill, which means fires can start quickly and burn evenly with minimal maintenance.
Solo Stove makes some of the best fire pits you can buy, and now they’ve taken that same efficiency and functionality and applied it to grills. The Solo Stove Grill utilizes strategic air vents to encourage 360-degree air flow, which means fires start up quickly, burn evenly, and last longer. We love how quickly and easily this charcoal grill starts—allowing you to spend more time hanging with friends and less time manipulating coals.
The grill is sold in a bundle that includes a stand, a set of grill tools, a weather-proof grill protector and a carrying case, as well as briquettes and fire starters, so it’s an incredible value for the price. The stand is conveniently short, which means it’s the perfect height to tend to while sitting. Oftentimes the grill master is forced to stand for hours poking at hot coals, but this grill allows you to flip burgers from a comfortable sitting position. We love that 380 square inches of usable cooktop makes it easy to grill for a crowd. The included carry case makes this grill incredibly portable, so it’s great for bringing to a sporting event or to the beach.
Our expert product testers have used this grill at home for over six months, and say it performs just as well as a permanent, everyday grill in the backyard as it does on-the-go.
Best Propane: Cuisinart Roll Away Gas Grill
Dimensions: 27.3"L x 38"W x 23.5"H | Weight: 45 pounds | Fuel Type: Propane | Cooking Area: 240 square inches | BTUs: 15,000
- Fold-out shelves add prep space
- Stand collapses and easily rolls away
- Lid-mounted gauge for easy temperature reading
- Single burner
- Doesn’t stand on its side when folded
Why we chose it: This propane grill lights quickly and heats evenly thanks to a twist-to-start ignition, and the whole thing collapses easily to roll away when not in use.
This portable gas grill sits on a sturdy, durable stand that quickly collapses when not in use. The grill sits on wheels, so it can easily roll to and from your tailgate for added convenience. The 240 square inch cooking surface is made of cast iron, so once you turn the ignition, the cooking grates quickly and evenly heat up. The double-walled stainless steel lid helps trap in heat, so this grill can reach super high temperatures quickly and efficiently. Keep in mind that unlike the Coleman Roadtrip 285, this grill only features one burner, so can’t manipulate cooking temperatures and you’ll need to maintain the same cooking temperature throughout.
We love that this grill features two fold-away side tables so you can deploy a little extra space for prepping ingredients when needed.
Best Pellet: Traeger Ranger Portable Pellet Grill
Dimensions: 20”D x 21”W x 13”H | Weight: 60 pounds | Fuel Type: Pellets | Cooking Area: 176 square inches | BTUs: TK
- Has a keep warm function
- Porcelain-enameled grates prevents food from sticking
- Digital arc controller allows for exact temperature control
- Smaller cooking surface
Why we chose it: Pellet grills provide unmatched flavor and temperature control, and this conveniently designed option is ideal for toting to tailgates.
If you’re looking for that deep, smoky flavor that only a pellet grill can provide, turn to the Traeger Ranger grill. This compact version is designed to be used outdoors and on-the-go, so it’s great for tailgating, camping, or trips to the beach. At just 60 pounds, it’s considerably lighter than any other pellet grill option. The 176 square inches of cooking space features a porcelain-enameled grill top, which is helpful in preventing foods from sticking.
The compact grill features digital arc control, which means you can precisely monitor and manage your heat distribution, allowing for a more fine-tuned cooking experience. The keep warm function helps hold food at temperature until you’re ready to eat.
Best Portable: Everdure CUBE Portable Grill
Dimensions: 9”D x 14”W x 17”L | Weight: 15 pounds | Fuel Type: Charcoal | Cooking Area: 115 square inches | BTUs: N/A
- Comes with a storage tray and bamboo prep board
- It’s the lightest grill on our list
- Removable charcoal tray makes clean-up easier
- Grill grates aren’t dishwasher-safe
Why we chose it: The lightest on our list, this portable grill comes with carrying handles, a storage tray and cutting board, so you can easily tote an entire tailgate setup all stacked in one.
This portable charcoal grill is sleek, efficient, and functional. Stacked inside the grill itself is an insulated storage compartment, and the lid doubles as a bamboo prep board. That way you can pack all your essentials, get them prepared and grill them all with one convenient gadget. Strategically-placed handles make it easy to carry in and out of the car, and we love that the lid clamps down when in storage. The base features a built-in heat resistant shield that means you can safely grill on top of any surface at any time. “Having a portable tailgating grill is very important. You want to be able to set up and break down with as little time spent and limited mess created,” said Daye.
Made of durable steel, this grill has no problem heating up and cooking anything from chicken to burgers to steak. Powered by charcoal for added flavor, the charcoal tray is removable, so you can easily dispose of ashes once they’ve cooled.
How We Chose These Products
To find the best tailgating grills available, we spoke to barbecue experts, performed competitive research, and utilized our own industry knowledge. Tailgates can get messy and crowded, so we sought out grills that can conveniently cook up food for a crowd, while being easy to clean and transport. We aimed to find grills that are portable and easy to use, while delivering a high-quality product every time. This piece features grills that our editors have personalized tested at home as well as grills that professional chefs and culinary professionals rave about. For this piece, we spoke to Damon Daye, a professional chef who has years of experience cooking in both fine dining restaurants and outdoor food trucks. He is now the executive chef of renowned New York food truck The Steak Truck.
Features to Keep in Mind When Shopping for a Tailgate Grill
One of the best things about a tailgate party is that it can happen anywhere, at any time. Just like camping, most tailgate parties take place outside and more often than not, there’s limited access to electricity or running water. That’s why chef Daye says “it’s important to choose a grill that will fit into your vehicle, is lightweight and is easy to move, carry and store.” Some tailgating grills stand on wheels that make them easy to move, while others come with convenient handles and carrying cases. Whether you’re tailgating in a parking lot outside a football stadium or in your driveway, make sure that your grill is easy to pack up and carry when you’re finished with it. In addition to its weight, make sure to consider how quickly your grill cools down after each use. Look for grills that have stay-cool handles or some sort of heat resistant carrying case so you can safely pack it up when you’re finished.
BTUs, or British Thermal Units, are a fuel efficiency rating given to propane grills. BTUs are the unit of measurement that pertains to your grill’s total heat output and fuel consumption per hour. Therefore, it’s a measurement of how much heat a grill gives off at its maximum output. A higher BTU rating is often associated with a better performing grill that uses heat more efficiently.
Cooking area is a key factor to consider when planning your tailgate party. Because many tailgate grills are more compact than standard outdoor grills, it’s important to consider how much of the total size translates to actual cooking area. Usable cooking space will dictate how much food you can cook at one time, which will also dictate how many guests you can feed. When selecting a grill, consider whether you will need different heat zones. Some grills offer cooking surfaces with controllable heat zones, so you can keep food warm while other foods are starting to cook.
Every grilling enthusiast has a preference when it comes to fuel type. Charcoal-lovers swear by the smoky flavor, while propane-purists love the convenience of an automatic start. When selecting a style of grill for your tailgate, keep portability and ease of cleaning top of mind. If you’re able to transport charcoal to your tailgate party and easily dispose of the ashes afterwards, a charcoal grill can be a fantastic option. If you’ll be tailgating somewhere with less resources, then a propane grill is considerably more convenient.
Ease of Cleaning
Having a grill that is easy to clean is essential. Tailgates usually occur in places where utilities are limited, so there isn’t usually a sink, hose, or other water source nearby. Whatever grill you use, make sure it’s easy to scrape clean with a brush or wipe clean with a damp cloth. Also, be mindful of your grill’s footprint. If you opt for a charcoal or pellet style grill, make sure you have a solution in mind for disposing of ash and burnt pellets.
Ask the Experts
Q: Can I set up a grill in a truck bed?
Chef Daye says that in the interest of safety, it’s best to avoid using a grill inside a truck bed. In fact, he advises that grilling should take place at a safe distance from any major structures like a car or building. “To lessen the danger of accidental fires, it’s best to use your grill at least 10 to 15 feet from any building, door, window or car,” said Daye.
Q: How do I safely grill while tailgating?
It’s easy to grill safely while tailgating as long as you adhere to a few simple rules. To start, Daye says to always make sure you’re cooking in an open, unconfined space, cook on a clean grill to avoid flare-ups, and make sure any kids or pets are kept safely away from the grill. He advises that cooks should always keep an eye on their grill when it’s in use, and douse coals or pellets once you’re done with the grill so the fire doesn’t linger. Lastly, Daye says to always allow your grill to cool completely before packing it away.
Q: What do I do with charcoal after tailgating?
Before starting your charcoal grill, always make sure you have a solution in mind for how you can safely dispose of the used charcoal. Daye says “Once your used charcoal and ash is completely cold, make sure to safely throw it away. I recommend wrapping it completely in aluminum foil before tossing it into a non-combustible outdoor trash receptacle.”
Overall, the best tailgate grills should be convenient, portable, and efficient. They should be able to feed a crowd even if you’re grilling in a field or parking lot with limited resources. Most of all, they should be easy to set up, take down, and clean. We love the Coleman Roadtrip 285 Standup Grill because it easily meets all of our most important criteria, all while featuring additional conveniences like collapsible legs, foldable side tables, and a built-in temperature gauge.