The Pros and Cons of Propane, Charcoal, and Pellet Grills

If you think the best thing about tailgate parties is the food, consider the best grills for the job.

Grilling fruit and fish.
Tailgating and grilled meats go hand in hand.Weber

For many people, food just seems to taste better when cooked and eaten outdoors. And with the boom in tailgate parties before sporting contests and other events, outdoor grilling is more popular than ever. In fact, more than three in four Americans own an outdoor grill or smoker, according to recent findings by Mobile Research. For those who enjoy tailgating, many companies produce grills that are easy to transport and use when away from the comforts of home. To choose a tailgate grill that is perfect for you and your guests, first consider whether you prefer to cook over gas, charcoal, or wood pellets.

Propane Grills

Coleman RoadTrip 285 Portable Stand-Up Propane Grill
This lightweight gas grill is made for cooking on the go.Coleman

Propane grills are the cleanest and easiest option for tailgate parties. There’s no charcoal or lighter fluid to make a mess, or heavy bags of wood pellets to manhandle. Small gas grills offer plenty of cooking area, depending on how many quests you will have. Simply turn on your grill, cook your food, and turn it off again. Then shuffle on over to the cornhole match and try to unseat the reigning champion. While many propane grills are light, remember you do have to carry a heavy propane bottle to fuel them, although some smaller grills run off camping-size gas canisters. Of course, there are those who think that meat cooked over propane just doesn’t taste as good as meat cooked over charcoal or wood pellets. Hank Hill would most certainly disagree.

Charcoal Grills

Weber 14402001 Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill, 22-Inch, Copper
This lightweight charcoal grill gives purist tailgate chefs the ability to cook over charcoal—the way many feel grilling should always be done.Weber

Some companies make travel-sized grills that use charcoal, and many purists prefer them over their handier gas counterparts. When purchasing a charcoal grill for tailgating, look for one with an adequate cooking area (which will depend on the number of people you’ll be feeding), easy portability (a 100-pound grill is not fun to move), and an adjustable heat control system that lets you regulate your cooking temperature. Remember, when using charcoal, you’ll need to carry along a bag of charcoal and whatever materials or fluid you use to light it. And when you’re done, you need to carefully bag up the remains, so you don’t leave a mess or end up with ashes spread throughout the inside of your vehicle. But if you are one of those people who believes the charcoal taste can’t be beat, those are small sacrifices for meat done right.

Pellet Grills/Smokers

pellet grill
This lightweight wood pellet grill yields an authentic smoky taste while being very easy to transport.Country Smokers

Jumping up a notch from charcoal, some tailgate chefs prefer a wood pellet grill/smoker for cranking out the very best meat possible. Pellet grills/smokers have several advantages, including being very easy to ignite and use, providing even heat with no flare-ups, allowing a wide range of temperatures, keeping temperature consistent, and even making it possible to give your meat whatever wood flavor you prefer. And while they do make more mess than a gas grill, they’re not any messier than cooking with charcoal. Additionally, if you plan to get to your tailgating spot early enough, with a pellet grill/smoker you can even smoke up some ribs to make the occasion even more special. Doing so will make you a hero to your guests and the envy of your neighboring tailgaters.

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