When space is tight, having the best tabletop grill on deck can be a true cookout saver! Not all people can afford the space in their backyards to build a grill or install a large grill model. If you belong to this group, or you like to grill on the road, this guide offers you everything you need to know, with no grilling experience needed.
Besides talking about features and expectations, we will talk about the dos and don’ts of tabletop grilling and equip you with the knowledge to make a valuable buying decision. After all, with a little patience, anyone can become a grill master!
What is a Tabletop Grill and Who Should Have One?
Generally speaking, tabletop grills are simply small, portable versions of big grill models. Now, if something is small, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is not as good. A good grill chef will tell you that any type of a small grill can also serve the purpose of preparing a tasty, juicy steak or burger, and anyone who tells you that big grills are necessary for the food to be good is either lying or lacking experience.
Tabletop grills bring the versatility and usefulness of a regular-size grill to your table, literally. They are designed to fit any cooking surface large and stable enough to handle the weight, which is not that hard considering the compactness of these units. The engineering behind a tabletop grill is simple, and it mainly involves some kind of a system that elevates the grill to stay at a safe distance from the table it stands on.
The rest is quite simple and similar to the big versions. They have a heat source, which can differ in the type of fuel it burns (charcoal or liquid propane), and a cooking surface. Each fuel source has both benefits and downsides (more about that in the section to follow), but the principle stays the same.
The size and shape of the grill grate depend on the model, but one thing is for sure: almost every tabletop grill will have some kind of a lid or heavy-duty cover. The lid is there to help retain as much heat as possible, saving fuel and time. By good heat retention, the food you grill will also be cooked equally from each side, which is needed if you want to become a grill master yourself.
Propane vs. Charcoal Tabletop Grills
Having to pick between liquid propane and charcoal as the main fuel source for a tabletop grill is tricky business. Let’s just get this out of the way: no matter what anyone tells you, there is no definitive answer to this question. Both fuel types have their own great sides and their small quirks. After all, let’s see what they have to bring to the table, and let you decide which fuel type suits your needs best. The same question is always on the table for the best kamado grills, too. So, let’s see the details.
1. Learning curve
When it comes to the ease of mastering each type of fuel that tabletop grills use, liquid propane takes the win. This is not due to the easiness of getting into liquid propane, but because charcoal needs some getting used to. When learning how to cook with charcoal, you need to learn several things:
- Temperature control – Regulating heat on a propane grill is as easy as turning the knob on the controlling valve. Turn it to the desired flame strength and you are ready to go. With charcoal tabletop grills the story is a bit more complicated. Heat is controlled by feeding and depriving the fire with and of oxygen, respectively. This is achieved through airflow regulating vents that each charcoal grill has, and it takes a few tries to master.
- Refueling – A 2-hour grilling session can be an exhausting feat on its own, especially during the summer. Now, imagine having to deal with the fire, and refueling the charcoal pit once or twice. When cooking on charcoal tabletop grills this is a common thing. With liquid propane, you will rarely run out of gas. And, if by any chance you do, it will be once every 10 cooking sessions.
So, if you are looking to jump into grilling right away, a propane tabletop grill model might just answer that need. In the sense of which is easier to learn, propane grills take the crown. But, do not be swayed by the ease of getting into grilling, because there’s a solid reason we stated that there is no single answer to this dilemma.
2. Flavor pay-off
Which fuel has a better impact on the final flavor of the meat? If you ever had the chance to try food prepared on burning charcoal, you already know the answer to the question. There is a good reason why charcoal grilling survived for millennia, and that is the beautiful, traditional, zesty taste of meat cooked over it. Not to mention the different aftertastes that can be gained from charcoals of different wood origins, and their mixtures. The flavor can be tasted right after the first cookout on your new charcoal tabletop grill. But of course, there are some counter-views for this charcoal vs. gas grill taste dilemma.
However, liquid propane grills can achieve a similar effect by adding just a bit of wood into the fire. This process is hard to master, but it is not impossible. It would be a sin to think that liquid propane tabletop grills only bring a single flavor to your food, although, you will have to experiment a bit to learn how to properly enhance the food flavor.
3. Cleaning and maintenance
No one likes to be stuck cleaning a grill after eating a good burger or steak. Having that in mind, there is no winner when it comes to “which grill is easier to clean”. However, charcoal tabletop grills have one extra task during the cleaning process, compared to their liquid propane counterparts, and that is ash disposal.
After a lump of charcoal is done the burning, it will crumble into a fine ash. Most models have an elegant solution in the form of an ash disposal tray, however, that doesn’t change the fact that you will have to do something with that ash. If not maintained properly, especially during longer grilling sessions, this residue ash can negatively affect the food taste, by dispersing into the hot air the meat is cooked in.
No matter the fuel they burn, both tabletop grill types require these 4 ingredients to be properly cleaned and maintained: water, soap, patience, and some elbow grease.
Even though charcoal grills seem like extra trouble to be cleaned, they have one more trick up their sleeve.
Charcoal tabletop grills easily score this point. Liquid propane burners installed in tabletop grills can reach a maximum temperature of 500-550 degrees Fahrenheit, which is more than enough for any type of meat or veggie. But, if a recipe requires you to quickly roast or sear a piece of meat, charcoal is the way to go. Standard lump charcoal used for grilling can reach temperatures as high as 1300-1400 degrees Fahrenheit.
This feature will give you access to some of the more exotic recipes, and let you prepare food in more ways than if you were using a propane tabletop grill. But, do not forget that burning charcoal, especially the kinds that burn really hot, represents a fire hazard, and needs to be handled accordingly. After all, this grill needs to be on your table, and not every material can handle such heat.
The final verdict is: the medal for convenience belongs to the propane tabletop grill, while taste and powerful heat generation belong to their charcoal counterparts.
You can also read this article to see the situation from a health point of view.
Best Tabletop Grills Comparison Chart
GIANTEX PROPANE TABLETOP GAS GRILL STAINLESS STEEL TWO-BURNER BBQ
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CUISINART CGG-180T PETIT GOURMET PORTABLE TABLETOP GAS GRILL, RED
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SMOKE HOLLOW 205 STAINLESS STEEL TABLETOP PROPANE GAS GRILL
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CUISINART CGG-200 ALL-FOODS 12,000-BTU TABLETOP GAS GRILL
|View On Amazon|
Best Tabletop Propane Grill Reviews (Updated List)
1. Giantex Propane Tabletop Gas Grill Stainless Steel Two-Burner BBQ
Now comes the most powerful tabletop liquid propane grill on our list, the Giantex. With its heavy-duty silver finish and box-like design, this model can tackle any grilling requirement you might have. The whole body stands on four solid, foldable legs, and it weighs a total of 34 pounds, which is slightly heftier than the rest of its class.
Packing a 2-burner system, this tabletop grill reaches a BTU rating of 20,000, which is considered more than enough for grilling at home. Each burner has a separate control knob and an ignition system for easy start-up.
The whole construction is made of stainless steel and is quite convenient when it comes to cleaning and maintenance. Underneath the grill grate, there’s a drip tray that collects all extra juices, fats, and grease from the food you are grilling, making it healthier.
The lid has a built-in thermometer and a lock system which further increases the safety of this tabletop grill.
2. Cuisinart CGG-180T Petit Gourmet Portable Tabletop Gas Grill, Red
The very last model on our tabletop liquid propane grill list is the most portable at the same time. This futuristic-looking model from Cuisinart is compact and foldable and can be folded into a suitcase. It has foldable legs made of aluminum for extra stability and weighs a total of 13.5 pounds, which is less than average in its class.
Inside the grill, there’s a single burner, controlled via a knob. It reaches the BTU rating of only 5,500, but do not be fooled by its size. This tabletop grill can cook 8 burgers simultaneously with ease. The burner is lit using the built-in spark system, and the grill grate is porcelain enameled. This helps it retain higher temperatures, and heat up the food on the grate more evenly.
There is an installed lock system on the lid handle, which is made of heavy-duty aluminum, for extra durability and comfort.
3. Smoke Hollow 205 Stainless Steel TableTop Propane Gas Grill
First up we have a modernly designed liquid propane tabletop grill by Smoke Hollow. This model is designed to be stable, with a foldable leg system, and it weighs a total of 20 pounds. When the lid is down, it resembles a suitcase, and that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be carried when not in use.
This tabletop liquid gas grill has a single burner, which takes the BTU rating to 10,000, making it more than enough to grill burgers, steaks, and veggies. The lid can be secured with a couple of built-in locks, and on top of its stainless-steel lid, there’s an analog thermometer, to help you decide when it’s the time to start grilling.
Under the grill grate, this tabletop grill has an installed drip tray, which collects all the fats, grease and juices from the food you cook, making it extra convenient for people that grill a lot of minced meat and sausages.
4. Cuisinart CGG-200 All-Foods 12,000-BTU Tabletop Gas Grill
Taking a step up when it comes to the heat provided, this Cuisinart tabletop grill is made with several foldable accessories. With its modern matte silver design, it resembles a suitcase when closed, and the manufacturer intended for it to be carried in that position. The model weighs a total of 32 pounds, which is considered slightly above average in its class, but there’s a good reason for it.
This model, even though its body is made of stainless steel, comes equipped with a porcelain-enameled cast-iron grill grate. Cast iron is widely regarded as an enriching part of cooking equipment, making your meals tastier with every cookout. The BTU rating of the propane-burning system is at 12,000, and the grill has an easy to use twist-start ignition system, which starts without fail, every time.
On the top of the lid, there’s an analog thermometer built in, and it is slightly more accurate than the rest from its class, with a margin of error of only 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Best Tabletop Charcoal Grill Reviews (Updated List)
WEBER 40020 SMOKEY JOE TABLETOP CHARCOAL GRILL
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LODGE SPORTSMAN’S TABLETOP CHARCOAL GRILL
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CHAR-BROIL AMERICAN GOURMET 18-INCH TABLETOP CHARCOAL GRILL
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CHAR-BROIL PORTABLE TABLETOP CHARCOAL GRILL
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1. Weber 40020 Smokey Joe Tabletop Charcoal Grill
Last on our list is the super-portable tabletop charcoal grill from Weber. It looks just like a traditional grill, with a standard lid that can be tucked in for extra safety. The body is made of stainless steel and it is mounted on a three-sided stand made of wire. The total weight of this model is 10 pounds, making it pretty portable.
The temperature of this charcoal grill is regulated through dampers located on the lid, and it takes some practice to master it. The lid also has a heavy-duty steel handle for carrying around. The grill grate is also made of steel, which makes it easier to clean and maintain, but its heat retention is mediocre.
This grill is ideal for beginners due to the simplified vent system, which is usually not that easy to master. On top of that, it has a tuck ‘n’ go safety option that locks the lid in place.
2. Lodge Sportsman’s Tabletop Charcoal Grill
Lodge is a world-renown manufacturer of cast-iron appliances and cookware. That being said, this tabletop charcoal grill makes a perfect addition to any kitchen, not only because of the build material but because of its versatility as well. However, keep in mind that this model is slightly heftier than the rest due to its build, weighing a total of 27 pounds.
The versatility of this tabletop charcoal grill comes from the fact that it is essentially a mini hibachi grill. This feature opens up a whole new world when it comes to recipes you can follow and the meals you can make. The cast iron only gets better with time. But, do not forget that it needs to be seasoned regularly, despite the fact that it comes pre-seasoned.
This grill has a thick stainless-steel wire on top, bent in such a way to act as a handle. The coal chamber is accessible through the opening on the side, guarded by cast iron doors.
3. Char-Broil American Gourmet 18-inch Tabletop Charcoal Grill
Another powerful cast iron model, this time from Char-Broil, has found its way onto our list. It is by far the heaviest tabletop charcoal grill model we reviewed, thanks to the sturdiness of its build, and the versatility it offers. Weighing a total of 31 pounds, this tabletop grill looks like a mini version of a professional meat smoker. As a matter of fact, it can be attached to act as an offset wood smoker to the bigger Char-Broil model from the same series.
The body is made to look like a barrel and it has a large ash disposal tray beneath the cast iron grill grate. What makes this model stand out is the intricate temperature control system, regulated via vents on the side of the upper chamber. The body of this charcoal tabletop grill stands on a non-foldable four-legged stand, and it is quite stable.
This cast iron tabletop charcoal grill can be used to smoke smaller amounts of meat.
4. Char-Broil Portable Tabletop Charcoal Grill
To start this list of tabletop charcoal grills, we decided to go with the most affordable model by Char-Broil. It is designed to look robust, and when the lid is down, it resembles a rectangular metal box. The whole grill is built of steel, which adds to the durability and resistance to the elements. The firebox (and the grill itself) is elevated and mounted on a couple of foldable, thick, stainless-steel wires, which act as lid lockers when not extended.
The cooking surface of this grill is made of chrome plated steel, which is known to be extra durable, but it has average heat retention. The lid has a heavy-duty handle on top for easier carrying, and you can find 2 stainless-steel handles on the side for easier relocation while in use. The only downside of this grill is the ash disposal system, specifically the lack of it. You have to tip the grate a bit to get to the coal-burning pit.
Tabletop Grill Buying Guide
So far, we have seen how tabletop grills function, and how different fuels affect the flavor and the grilling process. Now, it’s time to dive into those sweet details and features you should look out for while selecting the right tabletop grill for your outdoor kitchen.
1. Setup construction
Every type of grill has some sort of folding legs or a wheel system, but when it comes to tabletop grills this part of the whole unit must be executed perfectly. Why? Because you will have to put a burning metal grill on a table, and you do not want to have the fire department on speed dial.
The stand will either be welded to the burning chamber of the grill, or it will require some assembly before use. Either way, you should look for a solid construction (preferably made of metal) that is not clunky in any way. This goes especially to owners of charcoal tabletop grills because as we already established, charcoal can burn pretty hot, and safety comes first.
The way you assemble the grill before use is a part of the portability feature, however, there are some other specifications to look for in a tabletop grill if you want to maximize its portability.
When it comes to the weight of tabletop grills, you should look for a model that is not too heavy (for portability reasons) and not too lightweight either (due to stability). Check out the specification table and look for a model that is easy enough for you to carry around. This is a pretty important feature for people who like to travel a lot and spend time grilling outdoors. You want to be able to make great food on the go, camping or hiking, and if you want your tabletop grill to be lightweight and portable, forget about cast iron models.
The rule is simple: if portability is an issue, always look for models that have as many handles as possible. The number of handles varies, but at least 3 should be there: 2 on the sides, and 1 on the lid. Now, just going for quantity is never ideal, and different models have varying quality of grabbing mechanisms. Heavy-duty handles made of steel are solid and will get the carrying job done, but there’s a catch. Steel handles tend to stay hot after you are done the grilling, and no one likes waiting. In this case, you can look for special wooden or durable plastic handles, designed to endure high temperatures and the pressure of carrying around.
2.3 Foldable Parts
The last factor regarding portability is the number of things you can fold when putting away the grill. This specification deserves a mention because a significant number of models have non-foldable legs to stand on. This means it will stand firmly on the table while you grill, however, relocation can be a bit of a hassle. Double check what kind of a standing system the model you want has.
Another important parameter to look after is the build material of the grill and the grill grate. There is a wide variety of alloys used for making tabletop grills, but we can pinpoint two main materials used to build them. This can change the whole cooking experience by a large margin, and should not be underestimated at any cost.
Whether it’s stainless or cold-rolled steel, one thing is for certain: this material is sturdy and resistant to damages. Getting a stainless-steel tabletop grill will allow you to be more relaxed when it comes to using utensils and cookware. The downside of this material is its mediocre heat retention. If the grill radiates heat outside of the cooking chamber, you will have to put in more fuel, and that eventually means slightly higher expenses.
A grill grate made of stainless steel is excellent if you don’t want to worry about seasoning it. Additionally, cleaning the grate is much easier and you will definitely save time by not having to store it in special conditions.
Many traditional grill masters will choose cast-iron over steel, no matter its quality. This material is known for having a special effect on grilled food. A well-seasoned cast-iron grill will make your food taste better every time you cook, but that comes with a price. Cast-iron requires special treatment before and after use: it needs to be seasoned which takes time and some fuel, and it needs to be stored in a dry environment. Also, this material will add a substantial number of pounds to the weight of the grill, and it has lower resilience to damage compared to the steel tabletop grills.
4. Bottom Heat Isolation
Lastly, what needs to be checked with every model is the quality of the tabletop grill bottom and stand. Every model is made to stand firmly, yes, but how will they transfer heat to their surroundings? Tabletop grills, regardless of the fuel they burn, need to be handled with care, and if the bottom of the grill tends to overheat, you will have to elevate it even more or use a metal tray underneath.
If you plan to use the grill on a wooden or a ceramic table, make sure that it is elevated to the fullest, as much as the stand provided by the manufacturer allows. If it is a charcoal tabletop grill, you will have to make sure the ash is properly disposed of as soon as the ashtray is filled up. This way you can avoid unnecessary spills, and preserve the surface your grill rests on.
5. Additional Features and Accessories
As with any cooking appliance, any extra help you can get is more than welcome. Here’s a short list of the most common extras you can get expect to get with the tabletop grill you decide upon:
- Additional side surfaces – This is more common with the liquid propane models. A couple of clean board surfaces to help you with holding the meat you want to cook, or already cooked food, can be a lifesaver. It would be ideal if these come as a foldable or a detachable option, just to further increase the portability of the grill.
- Analog thermometers – Some say that using accurate temperature to cook food is just as important as the ingredients themselves. If you want to make sure that the meat is cooked at the right temperature, look for a model that has a built-in thermometer. Just keep in mind that they can wander off by 10-20 degrees, so take the measuring with a grain of salt.
- Larger ash disposal trays – Getting rid of burnt charcoal can sometimes be a nuisance. Tabletop grills with larger ash disposal trays do not need that much attention. The larger the tray, the less time you will be spending emptying it.
- Lid lock – After you put the meat on the grill grate, there is not much to do except turn it over now and again. If you want to fully immerse your meat in the heat, a lid lock is a great way to do it. It also acts as a safety measure if there are kids running around.
FAQ About Tabletop Grills
1. Can I use my tabletop grill on a plastic garden table?
Unless you have a professionally made plastic table, designed for grilling on top of it, you should avoid putting the tabletop grill on it. Plastic tends to melt on high temperatures, and that can damage both the table and the grill. It is sometimes hard to notice, but even a slight deformation of the table under heat can make it impossible to grill on. The safest bet is to do it on a metal or wooden table, with another metal plate for extra security.
2. Can I modify my old liquid propane grill into a charcoal grill?
People used to do this in the past by removing the propane apparatus and the burners. They would plug the holes made during the process, and use the hull as a charcoal pit. We strongly advise against this practice, not only due to the warranty but for safety reasons as well. Even a slight oversight can let some burning coal through and make a mess.
3. Can I use a cast-iron grill grate instead of the provided stainless steel one?
This is a common question, and there is no “yes or no” answer to it. After gathering some grilling experience, people often want to try and use cast-iron, for its famous qualities. If you happen to find a cast-iron grill grate that matches your tabletop grill exactly, you can replace it permanently. However, we don’t recommend doing it if the grill you own has foldable legs, which are not made to support heavier objects. Cast-iron is a heavy material by nature, and if you implement a grill grate made out of it on a lightweight grill, you risk tipping over the grill while cooking. So, double-check the size and weight, and test it on an empty, unlit grill.
And there we go, everything you need to know about these compact cooking stations. Arming yourself with knowledge is the very first step to the best tabletop grill you can get. There’re plenty of choices out there, and there are many features to choose from. Take a moment to study this guide, and ultimately use it as a checklist in the decision-making process.
Tabletop grills are becoming more and more popular by the day, especially with people who like to travel a lot, or busy people in general. Having the commodity of making a perfect steak, without the hassle of large, charcoal-eating grills is what you get by opting for a tabletop solution.
In case you have something to add, or to ask us, feel free to do so in the comment section below, and we will gladly provide an answer. Cooking awaits!
P.S. We will review tabletop electric grills soon.