There’s nothing quite like being parked up with a cold one, waiting for the game while your meat sizzles on the ‘cue. It’s a chance to get together with your family and friends and support your team while you argue over the season’s tactics. But, it’s also undeniably an opportunity to impress! Whether it’s juicy burgers, flame-grilled hot dogs, a rack of ribs, or a side of beef, you need a piece of kit that’s up to the challenge. After all, it’s not only your barbecue reputation on the line. You’ve also got the all-important responsibility of filling hungry stomachs so that everyone can go all out shouting for your team in the stadium.
To make sure that your food is on form, even if your team isn’t, read our guide to the best tailgating grills and smokers of 2020. Our selection score highly for portability, reliability and robustness. On top of that, they all represent a good balance between offering a compact unit to transport, and maximum grill space.
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Things to Consider When Buying a Tailgating Grill
When it comes to tailgating, people often think that any old grill or smoker will do. But, even if you’ll only be using it occasionally, buying the right tailgating barbecue makes it much easier to turn out a meal you’re proud to share. Before you shop, think about these important considerations:
Buying a tailgating barbecue that simply won’t fit in your car is a total fail! So, work out how many inches you can spare in the trunk. This will depend not only on the size of your vehicle, but also the size of your brood. Those beers and burger buns won’t carry themselves to the parking lot.
You may also want to take your grill on family camping trips, so consider the space needed for tents and other equipment.
Then, don’t forget to plan where you will store the grill when it’s not in use. Is there a corner of the garage you can earmark?
Depending on your budget, trunk space, experience and taste, you’ll need to consider how your barbecue will be fueled.
Charcoal and wood are inexpensive to buy and give the most authentic taste. But, smoking meat can take more time than you have when you’re tailgating. Keep in mind that you’ll probably end up smoking smaller cuts or direct grilling over the coals rather than doing a 14-hour brisket. You’ll also need enough room in your trunk for plenty of timber or briquettes too.
On the other hand, gas grills are usually more space-efficient. They’re the easiest and fastest type of fuel to cook with. But, they’re generally not as cheap and won’t give you that smoky barbecue flavor.
It’s also worth considering how many you’ll be cooking for. Depending on the nature of your team’s usual tailgate and the size of your group, will you be dishing up ten burgers or one hundred? While there’s nothing worse than being limited to cooking two dogs at a time, it’s also not cool to transport, heat and clean a massive grill for the sake of a couple of burgers. Not only is this an ineffective use of fuel, you’ll waste time and energy tending to a set up that is way too big for your crowd.
Of course budget should come into play when choosing your tailgating grill. If you’re a die-hard fan, who also loves to camp or cook-out on the beach, or are looking for an all-round grill you can also use at home, the extra investment will pay for itself. Look for premium fabrications made from top notch materials with plenty of added extras to allow maximum control or versatility.
Conversely, if you’re an occasional fan, or if this grill is supplementing a more static set-up you’ve got at home, then spending less is probably a good option.
All of our suggestions represent excellent value for money at whatever level, whilst the fabrications may be more simple in the more budget models, you will still be getting a reliable grill that is proven to deliver fantastic food, which is half of what tailgating is about!
Best Charcoal Tailgating Grill:
Weber Jumbo Joe 18-Inch
If you’re a traditionalist and nothing gets you fired up like cooking over hot charcoal, the Weber Jumbo Joe has your name on it. At a compact 18 inches, with a small base and a sturdy handle, this grill is designed to be portable. But, with a capacity of 240 square inches, this beast is still big enough to roast a whole chicken or a leg of lamb to mouthwatering perfection.
As you’d expect from Weber, the Jumbo Joe is made with a quality porcelain enamel body and rust-resistant vents. This quality means you’ll be using it not only for your next tailgate, but for beach barbecues and camping trips all summer long too.
The trademark Tuck Away lid-locking system means you won’t be left holding a hot, heavy lid while you check on your food. And, because it’s a Weber, you’ll also be able to take advantage of their extensive range of accessories. From charcoal rails for indirect cooking to griddle plates, quality chimney starters and instant read thermometers, you’ll have all your bases covered.
Once everyone has eaten their fill and the game is about to start, it’s easy to extinguish the coals and encourage a speedy cool-down thanks to the lid-locking system and well-made vents. There’s even a removable ash tray to make clean up quick and easy. As a result the Jumbo Joe is super safe, ideal to pack up and put away just in time for kick off.
Stats for the Weber Jumbo Joe 18 inch
Barbecue material: Porcelain-enameled bowl and lid
Grate material: Plated steel cooking grate with a heavy duty steel charcoal grate
Cooking capacity: 240 sq. in.
Fuel type: Charcoal
Dimensions: 19.7″H x 19.7″W x 20.5″D
Warranty: 10 years on bowl, 5 years on plastics, 2 years on everything else
Pros of the Weber Jumbo Joe:
- Compact design that still offers plenty of space for portable cooking
- Made from quality materials that’ll last
- Gives that great charcoal-cooked flavor
- Small stand is ideal for propping on your truck or table for cooking on the go
- Lid locking system means you won’t have to find somewhere else to put the lid as you check on your meat
- Designed with easy extinguishing and clean-up in mind
- Rust-resistant aluminum dampers and ash tray can handle a bit of weather (but don’t forget to clean and dry well)
- Compatible with a wide range of Weber accessories
- Can use the Jumbo Joe for smoking small cuts of meat with the charcoal rails – read our guide on how to smoke on a kettle grill here
- Works with a compatible Noa Store cover to keep your Jumbo Joe dry while transporting
Cons of the Weber Jumbo Joe:
- Small stand can be a bit wobbly if setting up directly on the ground
- The bowl design does take up a bit of room in your vehicle
- Doesn’t have a built-in thermometer which makes it harder to be precise with cooking temperatures
Best Gas Tailgating Grill:
Weber Q 2200 Propane Gas Barbecue Grill
For those who want to park up and have those first burgers sizzling in record time, the Weber Q 2200 Liquid Propane Grill is the barbecue of choice. With the push-button ignition system, your grill will be pre-heated and ready to roll in under ten minutes. This gas-powered beast out-performs its diminutive size with ease when it comes to quantity and versatility. With 280 square inches of cooking capacity, you’ll be serving prime steaks to half the town.
The cast aluminum lid and body are durable without weighing a tonne, and the cooking grills are made from rust-resistant, porcelain-enameled cast iron. The grill sits on a neat little stand so you can pop it on your truck tray or table. However, there’s also an optional Weber portable cart for stand-alone cooking.
For amazing control, there is an easy to read knob and an inbuilt temperature gauge. There’s also the option to replace one of the grills with a griddle to sizzle up some shrimp or frying bacon and eggs of a morning. Additionally, the Weber Q transforms into an oven, if roasting a leg of lamb or whipping up dessert takes your fancy.
Out of the box, the Weber Q2200 runs on disposable LP cylinders which are easy for use on the go. But, you can also grab an LP adapter hose so that you can hook up a 20 lb. tank to reduce waste and running costs.
With two swing-out work surfaces to keep your marinades and utensils close to hand, this bad boy really was designed with the cook in mind.
When it comes to cleaning up, the drip pans are disposable so simply remove and throw away. Then, fold the shelves in and away you go for a totally portable cooking experience.
Stats for the Weber Q2200 Gas Grill
Barbecue material: Cast aluminum
Grate material: Porcelain–enameled cast iron
Cooking capacity: 280 sq. in.
Fuel type: Liquid propane
Dimensions: 15.5 H x 51.4 W x 19.5 D (side tables folded out)
Warranty: 5 years on body, lid, burner tubes, grates, plastics and 2 years on all other parts
Pros of the Weber Q 2200 Gas Grill:
Quality gas grill that’ll last multiple seasons
Electric ignition means fast start-up every time
Lots of features that make this grill so portable e.g. folding racks, compact stand and disposable drip pan
Large capacity for a portable grill
Offers great flexibility in terms of what you can cook on it
Controls and temperature gauge make on the go barbecue super simple
Built-in side tables so there’s always somewhere to put your utensils
Optional work-height stand so that you don’t need a picnic table
Additional Weber Q2200 cover means your grill stays dry during transportation
Cons of the Weber Q2200 Gas Grill:
- Gas grilling doesn’t have that same authentically barbecued flavor
- Reported to sometimes have a bit of trouble with the burner clogging with fat and ash from the last bbq so regular cleaning/brushing of this part once you’re home is a good idea
Best Tailgating Kamado Grill and Smoker:
Broil King Keg
If you love the precision and flexibility of a kamado grill, but are looking for a unit with the portability of a tailgater, look no further. The Broil King Keg is the lightweight cousin of the traditional ceramic models you’ve seen on the market. It’s made from insulated, porcelain-lined steel, which works just as hard but is far less breakable, making it perfect for your next pre-game cook-out.
One of the best in the game for cooking, this grill offers 280 square inches of cast-iron grate to fill with your favorite home-made burgers, ribs or even pizzas. With the addition of a chrome-plated steel rack giving you the flexibility of an extra 200 square inches, you’ll be feeding the whole parking lot with ease. Thanks to the ingenious design, you’ll have no trouble basting the lower rack. The top rack swings out to allow that all-important access.
With all the standard features in place; cast-iron and aluminum dampers, a thermometer and a removable ash drawer for easy cleaning, you’re definitely onto a winner with the Broil King Keg. And with tailgating at top of mind, this baby even comes with a bottle opening stand, what more could you possibly need?!
Oh, maybe a tailgate grill hitch so you don’t even need space in the trunk for this baby? Yep, Broil King have one of those too! It’s sold separately but means you won’t be sitting around waiting for your barbecue to cool down enough to load it up on the truck. Simply link the keg up to your trailer for the drive home.
Stats for the Broil King Keg
Barbecue material: Insulated steel with a porcelain-coated interior
Grate material: Cast-iron primary grate, chrome-plated steel secondary grate
Cooking capacity: 480 sq. in.
Fuel type: Charcoal
Assembled size (in): 47(H) x 41(W) x 27.5(D)
Warranty: 10 years on body, 2 years on everything else
Pros of the Broil King Keg:
- Ingenious design that makes the kamado portable
- Offers larger capacity than most tailgating grills
- Can use the optional diffuser to cook low-and-slow at the game
- Stand-alone design with side tables so you don’t need to haul a table with you
- The cast-iron grates can be reversed so one set will last a very long time
- Built-in bottle opener means you won’t be wondering where you left it
- No need to leave room for your barbecue in the trunk, hook it up using the trailer adapter that’s sold separately
- You’ll be the envy of every other tailgater!
Cons of the Broil King Keg:
- Like all kamados, they take a while to cool down so the trailer adapter might be a must if you’re planning on cooking closer to home time
- Cast-iron grates need a bit of TLC but can last a lifetime
Best Tailgating Pellet Smoker:
Traeger Tailgater Pellet Smoker
Offering 300 square inches of cooking real estate, but with no less power, this grill and smoker really packs a punch where it matters: flavor!
Having to constantly watch the temperature of a wood-fired barbecue at the game can be more hassle than it’s worth. But, with the Traegar Grills Tailgater Pellet Smoker, wood-fired is the easiest and most consistent option. Just flip a switch to ignite, select your temperature and enjoy a cold one. Thanks to the electronic auto-start and the Integrated Digital Elite Controller, this grill will let you smoke, bake, roast, braise and barbecue your favorite foods while it automatically maintains your chosen temperature, give or take 20 degrees.
The Traeger Tailgater does use power so you will need an inverter. But, Traeger sell one that’s designed for this very use. It’s even got two, three-pronged power plug and USB so you can charge your phone and anything else you need for the game too.
With the flexibility that wood-smoking offers, you could be imparting hickory flavors one week and apple the next. Or how about trying Traeger’s signature blend for your next tailgate? Specifically designed with smoking in mind, the lid and vents will allow that gorgeous aroma to waft right over your meat, imparting all those delicious flavors while everyone’s mouths water.
The big bonus with this grill is that you won’t need a surface to put it on to use it at waist height, thanks to the hinged legs which ingeniously fold away for transporting. Made from steel, with a porcelain grate for easy cleaning, this grill is built to last, even when it’s being thrown around the back of your car every week.
Specs for the Traeger Tailgater
Barbecue material: Powder-coated steel
Grate material: Porcelain-coated steel
Fuel type: Wood pellets
Cooking capacity: 300 sq in
Pellet hopper capacity: 8lbs
Heat range: 160°F – 400°F
Assembled size (in): 36(H) x 37(W) x 18(D)
Warranty: 3 years
Pros of the Traeger Tailgater:
- Unbeatable taste fueled by 100% hard-wood
- Makes it easy to create that wood-fired flavor, even when you’re tailgating
- Set and forget technology so you can focus on your friends and the game
- Large cooking capacity
- Highly versatile barbecue
- Could even use the Traeger Tailgater regularly at home
- Quality construction that’s built to last
- Comes with a standing height stand that folds down so it ‘s easier to fit in your truck
- Easy to clean porcelain-coated racks
Cons of the Traeger Tailgater:
- Even though the legs do fold up, this grill does demand quite a bit of trunk space for transportation
Best Hibachi Tailgating Grill:
Lodge Sportsman's Grill
Hibachi grills are best known for packing a punch despite their diminutive size. In other words; they’re perfect for your next tailgate. And, the Lodge Cast Iron Sportsman’s Grill takes the size and portability of a hibachi grill and pairs it with some of the best control and versatility on the market.
With a draft door to regulate heat and a grill that’s height adjustable, this tailgating barbecue offers excellent temperature whether you’re scorching steaks or warming coffee. Access to the coals is via a separate door, so there’s no need to disturb the food to stoke the flames.
While some people are put off the idea of a cast-iron because it takes a bit of work to season, the Lodge Sportsman’s Grill comes ready to use. It’s already seasoned with 100% vegetable oil and no synthetic chemicals or coatings. This means there’s nothing to do except to get using your new grill. Additionally, the more you cook on it, the better the seasoning will get and the more delicious your finished product will taste.
As with all cast iron, cleaning and drying the surface in a timely manner is essential to prevent rust. However, we usually find that maintaining cast iron is faster than cleaning a regular grill and if you look after it, it’ll last a lifetime.
Another advantage of barbecuing with cast iron is that it’s specifically designed to give that picture-perfect sear to accompany the spot-on flavor. And, although it’s reasonably heavy, the Lodge Sportsman’s Grill has been carefully designed with portability in mind. The sizeable grill surface will easily accommodate enough burgers for a small crowd but won’t take too long to heat.
Made in the home of barbecue, Tennessee, you are guaranteed to receive a high quality, durable grill that will see you through many seasons of tailgates, parties and camp-outs.
Stats for the Lodge Sportsman Grill
Barbecue material: Seasoned cast-iron
Grate material: Seasoned cast-iron
Cooking capacity: 120 sq. in.
Fuel type: Charcoal
Assembled size (in): 8.2(H) x 10.2(W) x 19(L) inches
Warranty: None but Lodge state they stand by every product made
Pros of the Lodge Sportsman’s Grill:
- Strong and sturdy piece of equipment that won’t get damaged from being hauled around
- Decent cooking capacity
- Adjustable rack height to control heat
- Separate door for coal access so you don’t need to move your food as it cooks
- Gives that authentic barbecue taste
- Will last longer than a lifetime if you follow the simple maintenance instructions
Cons of the Lodge Sportsman’s Grill:
- No lid which somewhat limits what you can cook when tailgating
- Cast iron will rust if you don’t maintain the seasoning. But, it’s fixable if that happens
Best Compact Tailgating Grill:
Fox Outfitters Large Quick Grill Folding BBQ
If space in your trunk is at a premium, the Quick Grill is for you. Super easy to set up and take down, this grill comes in at a compact 13.5 x 7 x 2 inches when folded, leaving plenty of room for the beers.
Made with premium stainless steel, this model won’t rust so it’s sure to accompany you on tailgate parties, camping trips and beach days for years to come. Perfect for whipping up a few burgers, hot dogs or veggies at your next tailgate, it even comes with a carry bag, for maximum portability. Despite being sturdy when erected, the grill weighs in at under 5lbs including the case, so the kids have no excuse to get out of helping to set up.
Offering you the choice between charcoal or wood, you can flex your barbecue muscles week in week out with a variety of sizzling favorites.
Stats for the Fox Outfitters Quick Grill
Barbecue material: Food grade stainless steel
Grate material: Food grade stainless steel
Cooking capacity: 210 sq. in.
Fuel type: Charcoal or wood
Assembled size (in): 17.5 (L) x 13 (W) x 8.5 (H) inches set up
Pros of the Fox Outfitters Large Quick Grill:
- Good option for barbecue when space is really limited
- Lightweight and portable
- Quality materials that fold out to be surprisingly steady
- Works with either charcoal or wood depending on your personal preference
- Can use it as a small fire pit for cooler evenings
Cons of the Fox Outfitters Large Quick Grill:
- Limited cooking space that’s suited to smaller groups
- Some care must be taken to prevent the cooking grate from folding in two while you’re using it