Tailgating in the parking lot before a game or before watching a concert is ingrained in American culture. After all, with a good setup to produce good quality BBQ out of the bed of your truck etc you can have the best time possible with friends and family. I’ve previously written about the best portable pellet grills and the best tabletop pellet grills on the market. However, with this article, I wanted to discuss the best pellet grills for a tailgating party in particular and what features to focus on and which to ignore.
Disclaimer: Hey! By the way… any links on this page that lead to products on Amazon or other sites are affiliate links, and I earn a commission if you make a purchase.
Best Pellet Grill For A Tailgating Party – What To Consider
When it comes to grills for tailgating, you may be considering a gas grill or charcoal grill along with a pellet grill. While gas grilling comes with convenience and speed, it lacks flavour.
A charcoal grill can provide great flavour, but it can also take a considerable amount of time to get up to temp and regulating the fire requires your attention.
A pellet grill, on the other hand, with the right features and fuel can match a gas grill for convenience and speed while at the same time match or exceed a charcoal grill on flavour. In fact, you can now actually use charcoal in a pellet grill; more on that later.
When choosing the best pellet grill for tailgating parties though you first have to consider several questions you need to ask yourself, such as:
- What size and weight of grill are you comfortable handling?
- How much spare space you do have in the back of your car/truck?
- What number of people will you typically cook for?
- What type of food will you actually be cooking?
That last question on the type of food you will be cooking is a particularly important one when it comes to choosing the best pellet grill for a tailgating party.
You’re probably aware pellet grills are also commonly referred to as pellet smokers, and going low and slow is where the strengths of all pellet BBQs are first and foremost.
In the parking lot of a stadium before a game or concert, you probably don’t intend to slow cook a brisket, you’re more likely looking to cook hot dogs, burgers and maybe steaks and chicken wings.
However, not all pellet smokers make good grills, and when it comes to a tailgating party, its the grilling/searing functionality that is the most important feature.
Focus On Direct-Flame Access, Not WiFi/App Functionality
Our phones are pretty much an integral part of how most people run their lives at this point, and the latest pellet grills/smokers in many cases, include WiFi/App integration.
I’ve previously written about is WiFi worth it on a pellet grill/smoker. My main point in that article is it depends on what you mainly cook. Do you mainly spend your time slow cooking/smoking? If so sure, WiFi/App support is a valuable tool. Do you mainly grill? In that case, don’t focus on WiFi functionality.
When it comes to a tailgating party, along with choosing a pellet grill with a suitable cooking area and weight to suit your requirements, you want the best grilling/searing performance well that will come from direct-flame access.
Direct-flame access is exactly as it sounds, with this feature, the flames of the pellet fire are able to reach the cooking grate. That way you can be grilling hot dogs and burgers etc at around 650 degrees.
Its achieved with a sliding grease tray with slots that can be opened and closed to let the flames through. Some pellet BBQs while branded as ‘pellet grills’ have a solid grease tray without direct flame access which impedes their grilling/searing capabilities.
It is possible to grill on a pellet BBQ without direct-flame access, however, it is more difficult. Though, it is important to remember when cooking with direct-flame access to follow pellet grill safe practices.
Make Sure You Have Your Power Requirements Sorted
As you are probably more than likely aware, all pellet grills are electric. Hence that includes all portable pellet grills which are going to be used at a tailgating party.
At a tailgating party, you will have your car or your truck with you which has a source of energy through the 12V battery. However, not all pellet grills can use that 12V DC power directly.
In some cases, sure, you can plug the pellet grill directly into a 12V DC socket, the GMG Trek being an example. However, for some other portable pellet grills, you’re going to need to convert that 12V DC power into 120V AC power.
If you’re not using the pellet grill close to your vehicle or you’re concerned about draining the 12V battery, then there are other options. A small generator is a possibility, but now there are also small battery banks which can potentially do the job.
I’ve written about this topic previously in quite a bit of detail with examples in my article on portable power for pellet grills, so I would encourage you to check that out at your leisure.
Use Charcoal Pellets For The Best Grilling/Searing Results
As I stated above, you can now actually use charcoal in a pellet grill, but I don’t mean briquettes or lump charcoal, I mean via charcoal pellets.
There are two different types of charcoal pellets currently on the market. There are 100% charcoal pellets and blended pellets, which are a mixture of wood and charcoal.
As I discussed in my article on the best charcoal pellets to get the fastest heat-up time on a pellet grill, you’ll get that from 100% charcoal pellets, though you may get less of a smoky flavour profile, and they are also the most expensive.
But the general point is, to get the best grilling/searing results on a pellet grill along with direct-flame access, consider also using charcoal pellets.
Go For The Freestanding Portable Or Tabletop Pellet Grill?
Ok, so above, we have established you should focus on direct-flame access over WiFi when it comes to the best pellet grill for a tailgating party, now you have to review the options available.
Well, you have the choice of either a freestanding portable pellet grill or a tabletop unit. Which type and size of these two options will be best for you will depend on your answers to the other questions above I referenced on available space in your car/truck and the number of friends/family you want to cook for.
If you click the link above, it goes to my article I compare the 8 contenders on their various features such as cooking area, control panel technology etc and of course direct-flame access.
However, if you only intend to cook for a very small group of friends/family then you may be able to go for an even smaller/cheaper option and that would be a tabletop pellet grill.
My Thoughts On The Best Pellet Grill For Tailgating…
There are many reasons why someone might be interested in a portable pellet grill. For instance, they may wish to take their pellet grill camping or with them in their RV. In that scenario, the pellet BBQ would likely be used for both grilling and low and slowing smoking.
However, when it comes to a tailgating party where you maybe have just a few hours to set up and cook you’re really just going to be grilling. Hence, if you will mainly be using the pellet grill for tailgating parties, you want to focus on its grilling/searing capabilities.
Though, as I’ve mentioned above, you also need to consider how you are going to power the pellet grill, and I also recommend using charcoal pellets to get the best grilling performance possible.
That’s it! Thanks for reading, I hope you found my comments above on what to look for in the best pellet grills for tailgating interesting/useful. If you are interested in more information in general please check out my Wood Pellet Grill/Smoker Guide. 🙂
Back in 2007 when I first become aware of pellet grills and smokers the only brand I was really aware of was Traeger. Traeger is really where this whole concept of cooking with pellets started in the 1980s. It was a ‘slow burner’ (pardon the pun) but since the 2010s is really when pellet grills and smokers started to get mainstream awareness, discussed alongside gas and charcoal grills. There are now over 30 pellet grill/smoker brands that I’m aware of, and the link above goes to my A to Z list of brands article.
Now, you may already be aware of a few of the other brands such as Pit Boss, Camp Chef, Z Grills and I’m sure you are aware of Weber, though you may not have known they have entered the pellet grill game. However, they are now many, many more brands to look into. Some may be what are commonly referred to as ‘Traeger clones’, but many others are offering their own unique designs and features.
A pellet grill/smoker is only as good as the BBQ pellets you put into it. The type/quality of the BBQ wood pellets you use will impact temperature performance and smoke flavour. There are many pellet flavours including Apple, Hickory, Mapel, Oak and Walnut to name but a few. However, some brands are hardwood blended pellets whereas others are 100% single wood species.
In this article, I provide details on over 20 brands of BBQ wood pellets, their range of flavours, whether they are 100% single wood species or hardwood blended pellets, their typical price and where they are available. I also provide tips on how to get the best deal when buying BBQ wood pellets and how to test pellet quality. Finally, I discuss the new kid on the block, charcoal pellets and their special attributes compared to all other hardwood BBQ pellets.