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Wood-Burning Grills You Can Pack for Your Next Tailgate

The winner gets a place of honor in my camp kitchen

My buddies and I tested some wood-burning grills (read: hung out in my backyard) to see which was the strongest summer-barbecue contender. (Sarah Jackson)
Photo: Sarah Jackson grills

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The winner gets a place of honor in my camp kitchen

There’s something primally satisfying about cooking over fire. This remains true when you’re using an upscale wood-burning grill, which offers far superior performance than any rock platform you might build in your campsite’s fire pit. With that in mind, I took three of the newest models and called some friends over for an old-fashioned grill-off.

The Test

“Test” is a strong word for an excuse to hang out in the backyard and cook. My buddies and I lit fires in each of these grills with oak and madrone wood, then started barbecuing. We compared their ease of use, portability, and how well they cooked steaks, burgers, and brats.

The Results

grills
(Sarah Jackson)

The Winner: BioLite FirePit ($200)

Ease of Use: 5/5
Portability: 3/5
Cooking: 4/5

The BioLite’s secret to success? Fifty-one air jets that pump oxygen into the fire. They run off an electric motor and make getting the flames started and adjusting the temperature extremely easy. We had the fire roaring a full ten minutes before the other two grills, and the steak seared incredibly fast. The fan also kept the flames and heat concentrated—we could hold the FirePit’s handles even after running it full blast for 45 minutes. Plus, the fan cut down on smoke, so we could tend to the meat without stinging our eyes and throats. In fact, we enjoyed working with this grill so much that we sat around and added logs for hours after the cooking was done. The grate slid back and forth easily, allowing us to quickly add more wood. “I am a really cheap dude, and I would spend $500 on the FirePit,” said one tester. The only downside was the grill size, which maxed out with two burgers, a steak, and a brat.

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grills
(Sarah Jackson)

2. Primus Aeril ($130)

Ease of Use: 3/5
Portability: 5/5
Cooking: 3/5

The Aeril is a minimalist’s grill. But despite being the lightest (sub three pounds) and smallest (about the size of a binder) when packed up, it had the largest cooking area, at 323 square inches. That extra real estate makes it nice for car campers looking to cook up food for a crowd. With its sleek stainless-steel build, the Aeril transforms an existing fire pit into a kitchen—basically, it’s a classier version of the old grates I used to lay on top of rocks over a fire in my dirtbag days. And while it didn’t affect how the Aeril cooked, the tight pattern of the grate lent the meat nice criss-crossed grill marks.

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grills
(Sarah Jackson)

3. Snow Peak Field Oven ($300)

Ease of Use: 3/5
Portability: 2/5
Cooking: 5/5

They aren’t battery-powered fans, but the holes in the base of the Field Oven helped aerate the fire and allowed us to get a flame going quickly. And the steaks and burgers that came out of this grill were the tastiest. The perfect sear and crust came courtesy of the included ceramic tray, which would have made short work of pizza, too. “This is the best at evenly cooking, if you are drinking beer and not paying the closest attention,” said one tester. Another bonus: the lid is good for baking bread or cookies. That alone would’ve ordinarily bumped the Field Oven up to second place, but we had to ding it for being a bit of a beast: it was the largest grill in the test and also the heaviest, at 19 pounds.

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Filed To: Food and Drink / Camp Stoves / Car Camping / Car-Camping Stoves