Say goodbye to the days of a Spam-and-crackers menu and hello to campsite cuisine, because portable grills for camping add a whole new dimension of enjoyment to adventuring in the great outdoors. Whether you’re hiking into the backcountry, driving to a campsite, or “glamping” in an RV or cabin (hey, where’s our invitation?), there’s a grill that complements your outdoor lifestyle. Here are answers to your most pressing questions about camp grills and recipes, how to use them safely —especially in bear country — maintenance tips, and more.
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Common Camping Grill Questions
If you’re camping in bear country, handle the ashes from your charcoal camping grill the same way you’d store food and dispose of scraps, trash, and anything else that could bring in a bear. Grease that drips off the food during cooking mixes in with the ash and will attract bears. When the coals are completely out, store them in a bear-proof container and pack them out or put them in a plastic trash bag and hoist it up in a tree at least 10 feet off the ground and 5 feet from the trunk. If bears aren’t about, bury the ash away from your campsite (if regulations permit) or pack it out.
If you are using a camping grill, probably not. First, the fire is contained in a steel vessel. Second, if you’ve set up your camp kitchen properly, there is little chance that a gust of wind will spread the fire to other combustibles. Third, if you are using a gas camping grill, simply shut if off if you have any concern about the flame getting out of control — say, if the wind starts gusting enough to affect it, or the food catches on fire. To help prevent this, set up your gas grill with the front facing toward the wind. Hot air vents out of the back, so gusts blowing hot air back into the grill could interfere with the venting and cause a potential fire hazard.
Fire starters are by far the safest, simplest, and least expensive way to get your charcoal camping grill going. These are generally non-toxic, inexpensive, environmentally safe, and contain no accelerant, so they might melt but will not combust unless lit. They weigh next to nothing and do not leave a chemical residue that can be transferred to the food. Alternatively, charcoal chimneys are also quick and easy lighting solutions.
Before leaving home, season new cast iron cookware. Seasoning protects the material from rusting and will keep food from sticking to it. Apply a thin sheen of grapeseed oil or corn oil on the cooking surface and bake it in the oven until the oil begins to smoke. A well-seasoned cast iron surface has a satin appearance and resists rusting. At the campsite, gently clean cast iron with a rubber scraper or coarse salt and wooden spatula so as not to damage the seasoning layer. Dry and store it upside down. If rust appears, use a chain mail scrubber and common vinegar to remove it and re-season the cookware on your camping stove. Repeat the seasoning process as necessary to restore the satin look.
A BBQ griddle is a cast iron — typically coated in porcelain-enamel — or stainless flat top for frying eggs, making pancakes, and cooking food that would fall otherwise through traditional grill grates. The best and safest way to make sure the griddle is level is to make sure the grill grate is level. Some grills have adjustable legs; otherwise, shim up a leg to keep it from wobbling.
No matter what, never try to cook with a grill inside a tent. Grills give off potentially deadly fumes that will stay trapped inside the tent. For that same reason, it’s not a good idea to put a dining fly over the cooking area. Hot air and fumes from a grill can get trapped under it, creating potential health and fire hazards. If the rain is a drizzle or light sprinkle, cover the food with the grill lid or aluminum foil and keep cooking. If it’s a downpour, it’s best to call it a day. Salvage what you can off the grill, shut off the gas grill or douse the charcoal, and get out of the rain.
The best way to ensure coals are fully extinguished is to dump a bucket of water on them and stir them around. Feel around in the sludge to make sure all the coals are cold. Make sure you get all of it out of the grill because it will damage the bottom. In bear country, treat the ash, sludge, and anything used to clean the grill the same way as food and scraps. Otherwise, bag the waste and pack it out or, if conditions and regulations allow, bury it away from the campsite.
Gas camping grills are safer than charcoal camping grills. The heat is easy to control during cooking and can simply be turned off if food starts to burn. Ensuring the fire is completely out after cooking is as simple as turning off the burners, closing the tank valve, and disconnecting the hose from the grill. When disposing of charcoal while camping, be sure the coals have cooled completely and turned to ash before dumping, or pour water over them and mix well to guarantee they cannot ignite nearby organic debris.
Hot dogs and hamburgers will always have a place on the campsite menu. With a grill, though, whatever you can cook at home can probably be cooked it in the great outdoors with a little planning and preparation before heading out. Check out our favorite camping recipes and meals for a little inspiration.
Grills that are portable and light enough for camping use propane gas, charcoal, or food-grade wood pellets for fuel. That’s the first decision when choosing a camping grill, and people narrow down to their final choice based on factors such as weight, construction, how much fuel they’ll need and how they want to control the heat while cooking. Generally, camping grills weigh between 20 and 60 lbs, are no more than 30” wide to minimize the space needed for transport, and are easy to carry, set up, and fold down at the campsite.
With a little planning before heading out, your campsite meals can include everything from appetizers and entrees to sides and desserts. Simplify your camp cooking experience by prepping food before you leave, pack it in order so you can get all ingredients for each meal without having to dig through the fixings for the others, and remember your grilling tools. Bon appétit!
Leave a gas grill’s burner on high to burn off stuck-on food, use a spatula to scrape off the sticky bits, then wipe the inside clean. For a charcoal grill, leave the coals burning, scrape the grate, and extinguish the coals with water or let them burn out (stir the ashes with your hand to make sure everything is out and cold). Remove whatever is left and store or dispose of safely, then wipe the inside clean to prevent damage from ash residue. Be careful with the waste — including ashes and wipe-down cloths — in bear country; anything with any food residue on it can attract bears, so secure it.
First, do not transport gas cylinders attached to the grill, even if just carrying from one spot at the campsite to another. In a vehicle, store cylinders upright and secure them so they don’t fall over and roll around; milk crates or plastic storage bins are perfect for that. After cooking, shut off the valves, disconnect the tank, and store it away from tents and protected from the elements. Our guide to caring for propane tanks has more information if you’re up for some extra reading.
Yes, with a conversion kit to accommodate the 20-lb tank’s fitting. Over time, the conversion could be a money-saver. 1-lb bottles are typically not refillable and cost $4 or $5 at a big-box outdoor store. Refilling a 20-lb tank, on the other hand, usually costs between $14 and $18 depending on local propane rates. The equivalent amount of fuel in non-refillable, 1-lb bottles could run up to $100. The trade-off, however: besides the considerable size differential, a 20-lb tank weighs nearly 40 lbs when full; a full 1-lb bottle about 2 lbs.
The only fuel suitable for gas camping grills that are rated LP (which will be stamped on the rating plate) is liquid propane, which is compressed into a gaseous state and available in portable tanks. If a gas grill is rated for dual fuel (propane and natural gas; consult the owner’s manual), it can be plumbed into a home’s gas service, but it’s probably too big and heavy for camping. Compressed Natural Gas, another fuel that may seem suitable, is actually an industrial product and will cause fire and safety hazards if used with a gas grill.
Charcoal grills are lighter than gas grills, which have internal lines and burners. There are charcoal grills that weigh as little as 9 lbs. Otherwise, grills of both varieties weigh 20–60 lbs. Unless you have a pick-up or RV, grills over 60 lbs are probably not the best for camping; they take up a lot of room during transport to the campsite and are awkward to move and set up once there.
Plan for about 2–4 people to be able to eat off one camping grill. Generally, you should allow about 72 square inches of grilling space per person. For 2 people, that would be 144 square inches; for 3, 216 square inches should do it; for 4, 288 square inches. Larger than that and you’re probably talking about a grill that’s too big and weighs too much to take camping unless you’re in a pick-up or RV.