If you live for the fresh air, sunshine, and quiet of the great outdoors, you know that camping is a great way to de-stress and refresh your mind and mood. Whether you drive into a campground, hook up at an RV park, or hike out to the backcountry, life unplugged can be a welcome break from the usual hustle and bustle. But the best parts of living at home — like, say, grilling — are well worth taking beyond the backyard. It’s possible with the help of a camping grill, which is your ticket to elevating outdoor chow to campsite cuisine. To qualify as a portable camping grill, the model must be under 30” wide or tall and no heavier than 60 lbs.
Personal preference plays a big role in determining which camping grill is right for you. For instance, what type of camping do you most enjoy? What kind of fire do you want to cook over in your camp kitchen, and does one fuel type make more sense for you? How much room do you have for a grill and its fuel when packed? And how much weight can you manage to, from, and at the campsite? To help you sort it all out, our outdoor living experts have put together this guide walking you through each relevant point, with helpful tips along the way. Think of it like a friendly hike down an inviting trail, with delicious BBQ waiting for you at the end!
Choose the Fuel Type for Your Camping Grill
When searching for a backyard grill, deciding on fuel type usually comes down to how much effort you want to put into starting and sustaining the fire. That goes double when grilling in a camping kitchen in the great outdoors, where fire maintenance is crucial and you’re already forgoing many of life’s luxuries. Let’s look at the 4 available fuel types and discuss how they differ in terms of convenience, portability, and other pressing factors.
Gas Camping Grills
The majority of our grills for camping burn liquid propane, which is popular because it’s easily started, controlled, and extinguished — all of which make camp cooking much simpler and safer. Most backpackers fuel gas camp grills with 1-lb propane tanks because of their portability, though Tetris-savvy RV and car campers can connect these models to 20-lb cylinders (sometimes with the use of an adapter kit) depending on their packing skills. Also consider that 20-lb propane tanks can be refilled or swapped out at most hardware or grocery stores, whereas 1-lb tanks usually aren’t refillable. But if maximum versatility’s your game, we’ll call out the Magma Crossover Series; it’s practically a gas kitchen over a firebox!
Charcoal Camping Grills
Aside from the more immersive cooking experience — marshmallows over the coals, anyone? — these camp grills tend to be lighter than their counterparts because they lack internal components like burners and flame tamers. The addition of smoky flavors from hardwood chunks or chips is another big point in favor of charcoal. A fairly large downside, however, is the heightened challenge of fire maintenance and cleanup. Unlike the other fuel types, you can’t simply turn a knob to ignite, control, and put out your fire, not to mention that ashes need to be properly disposed of to ensure they don’t attract wildlife. Charcoal bags are also heavier than 1-lb propane tanks, which can offset the difference in grill weight.
Pellet Camping Grills
It’s tough to beat the convenience of a pellet grill as it is, but the many advantages become even more pronounced in the great outdoors. Ignition comes at the push of a button, fire maintenance is performed entirely through digital controls with incremental temperature settings, and you can use any cooking style from low-and-slow smoking to searing. If you’re waiting for the catch, here it is: pellet camp grills require a standard 110- or 120-volt outlet to operate, which isn’t always available at camp. They’re also on the heavier end of this category because of the pellet auger and other electrical components, plus the fuel source (like hardwood pellets from BBQGuys Signature) is usually available only in 20- or 40-lb bags.
Electric Camping Grills
These camp grills are highly efficient and notably lightweight without — and this is a big one — the need to haul bags or tanks of fuel in addition to the cooker in itself. The trade-off, of course, is that electric camping grills can’t run without a 110/120-volt power source and are therefore not as widely used or manufactured as their charcoal and gas brethren. Whether an electric camp grill makes sense for you will largely come down to your preferred style of camping (much more on that in a minute), but this fuel type still gets the job done when you need a grilled meal after a long day of adventuring. If anything, you can rest easy knowing an electric heating element is safer than an open flame, especially in camp settings.
Which Grill Fits Your Camping Style?
As we noted in previous sections, most of your decision about buying a grill for camping depends on the type of outdoor adventuring you prefer. Backcountry hikers probably aren’t lugging a 60-lb pellet grill and 20-lb bag of fuel with them — we’re not sure even CrossFit would encourage such a thing — just as weight becomes less of a factor for car campers who simply have to move equipment from their vehicle to a nearby camp kitchen. There’s also the chance that your usual campground bans certain types of fires, further complicating the issue. Either way, knowing your style of camping goes a long way toward helping you find the right camping grill.
Drive-In Tent Camping
The big question for car campers is the size of their vehicle. Mid-sized cars and crossovers reduce the amount of available space for a grill, while full-size SUVs and pickup trucks allow you to bring a larger grill and more fuel. Propane camp grills usually make more sense for smaller vehicles; you can fit a handful of 1-lb propane cylinders or a full 20-lb tank with little to no problem. Don’t totally disregard your grill’s weight, though — if there’s a good bit of distance from your car to the campsite, that might tilt the needle toward a lighter charcoal grill.
Camping grills are compact by definition, so the spaciousness of an RV means you can take even the largest model without much worry (assuming you have enough room for other gear). By that same token, bringing along tanks and bags of fuel becomes less of a concern when in a camper. In fact, a propane grill connected to a 20-lb cylinder is probably your best and most efficient bet in this scenario. You can refill or exchange the tank just about anywhere on the road, though it wouldn’t hurt to pack a 1-lb propane bottle just in case you run dry between scheduled stops.
Back Country Camping
How big is your backpack? More importantly, how often have you been hitting the gym? It’s all jokes now, but once you’re on the trail, a grill you can’t carry is one you shouldn’t buy. Backcountry campers should avoid pellet camping grills because of their weight, not to mention the issue of accessing electricity in the wild (ditto for electric models). That leaves propane and charcoal camp grills, using a 1-lb tank or a small bag of fuel, respectively. If you opt for the latter, charcoal fire starters are virtually weightless solutions for getting the flames going.
You might be ready for a serene walk among the trees to your camping kitchen, but we’re not ready to let you go just yet. (Yes, we can hold you here against your will until you finish the whole article. Our lawyers told us we can’t say that, but what do they know?) It’s not like us to sell you a grill then tell you to hit the road, especially when camping presents so many distinct challenges for grilling. From construction and cleaning to add-ons that’ll elevate your camp grilling experience, here are our parting thoughts on what to look for in grills for camping.
A camping grill has to check a lot of boxes: light enough to transport, yet rugged enough for campsite treatment and life among the elements. It sounds like a lot to ask of a single product, but that’s what makes camping grills so great! The best, though, come from brands like TEC and Solaire that use high-quality stainless steel in construction. Some Napoleon TravelQ grills feature other desirable materials: a rust-proof cast aluminum exterior and cast iron cooking grates, which are prized for their heat retention and may even be porcelain-coated to negate the need for seasoning. Before you buy a grill for camping, take some time to consider the materials used in construction and the accompanying warranty.
Ease of Cleaning
We always tout the virtue of frequent cleaning to preserve your grill’s lifespan, but in the great outdoors, a clean grill is about much more than longevity. A dirty grill will attract bugs in search of grub along with larger wildlife drawn to the scent of cooked meat, so you should never skip cleanup when camping. The job is easier with gas and electric camping grills: just burn off food residue, scrub the grates, and give the interior and exterior a good wiping down. Charcoal and pellet models, on the other hand, produce ash that must be disposed of after each and every cook. Aside from eating away at the metal, ash absorbs food drippings and odors — making it a beacon for hungry wildlife. To speed along cleanup, take a cue from select Weber charcoal camp grills and look for a model with an ash catcher or basket.
At some point, you’ll grow tired of the same old camp fare and pine for a proper meal. That’s where camping cookware comes in, increasing cooking versatility and opening up the possibilities for an array of camping meals and recipes. Cast iron cookware is popular for its thermal properties and ease of cleaning if kept seasoned; sturdy Camp Chef cookware includes Dutch ovens, baking pans, and more; and marine-grade Magma cookware comes in sets that completely nest together, saving precious cargo space no matter where you’re headed. Take time to consider what you’d like to cook in your camp kitchen, then get the outdoor cookware set to make it happen.
Grilling Tools & Accessories
If you wouldn’t go camping without the right gear, then you shouldn’t grill without the right tools. Make sure you have a standard set of camp cooking tools — your basic tongs, spatula, etc. — before moving into the more niche accessories that’ll really set your camp cuisine apart. BBQ Dragon accessories, for example, include marshmallow roasting sticks, high-heat BBQ gloves, and egg fire starters that light charcoal grills in minutes. Don’t forget to check out our camping tables, which can serve as an all-in-one prep area, dining table, and storage unit. Finally, there’s Magma Crossover accessories: squeezing even more from a system designed to offer so much!
That’s it for us! We hope we’ve done our part to help you find your ideal camp grill so you can enjoy the taste of BBQ no matter where you’re trailblazing. If you have other questions about grills for camping beyond the backyard or need more help narrowing down your options, don’t hesitate to call our grilling experts at 1-877-743-2269. See you on the trail!
View on BBQGuys.com