Are you looking for the safest non-toxic outdoor grills for BBQing or smoking? Mamavation wants to help you prepare your favorite foods safely with the least amount of hormone-disrupting chemicals so let’s go over all the different types of grills and their food contact surfaces. You’ve trusted Mamavation to bring you topics like safest air fryers, safest food processors, safest baking sheets, & safest cookware, now join us for an investigation on outdoor grills and their food contact surfaces.
Disclosure: This post was medically reviewed by Sondra Strand, RN, BSN, PHN. This post also contains affiliate links.
Table of Contents
How Healthy Is Grilling?
The first question, we are going to assume you will ask is — how healthy is grilling in general? Not so healthy is your answer.
That smoky flavor and the char that you get from a well-grilled steak or chicken breast are not particularly healthy for you at all. The smoke that forms from grilling is a chemical called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which studies show is a carcinogen. The charred part of the meat is also full of a chemical called heterocyclic amines (HCA), which is also a carcinogen. So bottom line, grilling isn’t something you want to do every day. In fact, in 2009, a study found that people who preferred their steaks “very well done” were 60% more likely to get pancreatic cancer than those who ordered their steak bloodier.
That said, studies that link exposure to HCAs and PAHs with cancer have only been done on animals, so we are unaware of what doses would be relevant in humans based on what people normally eat. But if you would like to lessen the impact PAH and HCA will have on your family from grilling, here are some tips:
- Boiling, baking & slow-cooking (including BBQ without the grill stage) is safer than grilling and frying.
- Never order your steak “very well done”
- Marinate your meats (especially Indian garlic-turmeric marinade or a Hawaiian teriyaki marinade)
- Cut off the charred parts of your meat
- Additional ingredients to add that lessen the impact of PAHs & HCAs: rosemary, garlic, onion, tart cherries, & honey.
- Slow-cook everything instead of grilling
- Make sure the grill is clean before you use it
- Chose leaner cuts of meat so less fat drips on the char
- Flip the meats more often to prevent charring
Our Advisors’ Non-Toxic Rule of Thumb For Cookware is Also Relevant for Outdoor Grills & BBQs
Obviously, there is a good argument to be made that using the BBQ and charring things daily would not be wise. However, most people are not using their BBQs every day so this type of exposure is a different type of story. But there are some basic rules of thumb that our advisors have spelled out for us to follow around cookware (however, it’s very relevant to outdoor grills) because it’s used daily and can be a major source of contamination.
- There are no safe coatings and they should all be avoided because of the inevitable wear down and crumbling that happens over time, exposing bare base materials that aren’t meant for food contact. That especially goes for non-stick coatings that contain perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) or other poly-fluoroalkyl substances like polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). These are common PFAS “forever chemicals.”
- Nothing in this category will ever be perfect. Heavy metal leaching has been found in virtually all types of food contact surfaces, even when it’s not metal-based. Thus all types of cookware have some issues, but sometimes they are only problematic to a small percentage of allergic people.
- We recommend you rotate between different food contact surfaces to minimize constant exposure to any one material, preferably stainless steel, cast iron, and carbon steel without any non-stick coatings.
If you are already rotating your cookware between stainless steel, cast iron, glass, carbon steel, & ceramic without coatings (these are the cookware brands we recommend) at home, you are already doing a great job. In terms of getting an outdoor grill, the selections in the “better” category are far greater than the “best” category in this report. So if you find yourself wanting a grill in the “better” category and don’t plan on using it every day, we recommend you get it. For you, it’s not going to be a big exposure. However, if you intend to use your BBQ frequently, you may want to think about prioritizing one from the “best” category. There is no one recommendation. This is all about your needs and what fits into your lifestyle.
Basics of Barbecue Grills & Griddles for Outdoor Cooking
Are you ready to BBQ the perfect steaks, burgers, brisket, roast, ribs, or seafood? When the temperature warms up, it’s an American tradition to fire up the grill in the backyard and invite friends over to eat. The best grill will be useful, cook delicious BBQ, and has safe food contact surfaces. Before we get into food contact surfaces, we need to go over the different types of BBQ grills and outdoor grills available to you.
Charcoal grills tend to be the least expensive and easiest to organize at local parks or when camping. Instead of using gas or wood pellets, they use charcoal, which can be purchased at any local grocery store. The food is then cooked over a bed of heated coals. This type of grill is more time-intensive and is known for conveying a smokey flavor to the meat.
Unfortunately, this is also the least eco-friendly and most toxic option. A study in 2009 found that the carbon footprint of a charcoal grill was three times larger than that of a gas grill, over the course of the grills’ lifetimes. Charcoal grilling also emits carbon monoxide in trace amounts and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) while you are cooking with it so do not use it inside. A study in 2020 on charcoal briquettes found many impurities added like biomass, mineral matter, coal, coke, metal, rust, plastics, glues, and synthetic resins.
Gas & Propane Grills
These are some of the most popular types of grills you will find in America. These grills can become fired up and available within 15 minutes. They are more of a high-heat type of grill, but the fire can be easily controlled with knobs.
They come in two different types:
- Propane: This is the most convenient & popular option. Propane is stored in tanks, however, you will need to constantly get them refilled. During the summer months, propane tanks are readily available at local grocery stores and gas stations.
- Natural gas: This is where your BBQ sets up to a natural gas connection attached to the house or wherever you are. This means never having to refill propane tanks.
These grills are typically on the smaller side. They don’t smoke like gas or charcoal grills do. They are fueled by electricity instead of gas or charcoal. Some of these units are known to malfunction, so if there is ever smoke coming from the machine, turn it off.
Wood Pellet Grills
These grills use wood-fired pellets and are meant for slow-cooking of meats over a long period of time to get that perfect smoky flavor. These grills allow you to grill, sear, braise, roast, and smoke all with the same unit. Most of them feature digital control panels that help you set timers, and measure the temperature on the inside. These units require electricity to operate because of the digital features. They also typically come with an automatic feed system so you only need to feed the pellets from the hopper into the flavor chamber to be heated and turned into smoke.
Smokers are for people who are serious about BBQ and consider this the most authentic way to smoke meats. Outdoor smokers are ideal for smoking or BBQ for long periods of time on low heat. They have the ability to produce a more diverse menu and have the capability to bake, braise, roast, and even grill foods. This is one of the healthiest options to use, provided you skip the grilling.
A kebab grill, or mangal, is a long charcoal bed with an open top. It’s unique in that it has a shorter width and allows the skewer sticks to hang over each side so they can be rotated easily when cooking. These grills make incredible shish kebab, shashlik, spiedini, and other types of meat or vegetable skewer varieties. These types of grills are very easy to use in an outdoor patio setting and clean up very easily after the disposal of the charcoal ash.
Kamado grills are egg-shaped grills originating in China over 3,000 years ago. They then became very popular in Korea and Japan years later. Kamado grills are made of ceramic for good heat retention. They use to use different types of wood pellets, but today modern Kamado grills use charcoal. They are also very versatile and allow you to grill, smoke, and roast your food all in the same unit. Finally, because Kamado grills use charcoal, they would have a similar carbon footprint and extra toxin exposure as charcoal grills.
Food Contact Surfaces Found in Outdoor Grills & BBQs
Mamavation ranked about 75 different grills based on their food contact surfaces, so we are reporting back on what we found. Here are all the food contact surfaces broken down by their health impact, so it’s easier for you to figure out what would be healthiest for your family when you are shopping.
Best Food Contact Surfaces
These food contact surfaces are the best options if you can find them. However, note they were not the majority of what we found when we were researching types of outdoor BBQ grills.
- Stainless Steel (no coatings)
- Cast Iron (no coatings)
- Carbon Steel (no coatings)
Better Food Contact Surfaces
These food contact surfaces are considered “better” however they are far from perfect. Most of what we placed into “better” was anything chrome-plated, enameled, or porcelain coated. These types of coatings are known to leach heavy metals over time and so use precaution. However, if you only grill in the summertime and do not use your grill every day, this is less of a concern overall. Just like we recommend for cookware, it’s safer to rotate between healthier food contact surfaces to lessen your exposure, so if you mix it up, this category is not as worrisome.
- Chrome plated steel
- Enameled steel
- Porcelain enamel cooking grates
- Porcelain cast iron
- Porcelain-coated steel grates
- Porcelain-enameled cast iron
Worst Food Contact Surfaces
These are the worst food contact surfaces. The non-stick coating, if any, is the most important thing to consider when ranking and evaluating outdoor grills. These were the worst types of coatings we found in outdoor grills and BBQs.
- PFAS “forever chemical” coatings (most “non-stick” coatings)
- Mystery coatings
What is California’s Prop. 65 Law & Why is this Warning on Grills?
Prop. 65 requires businesses to provide warnings to consumers living in California about significant exposures to chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm. These chemicals can be in the products they purchase, in their homes or workplaces, or released into the environment. By California requiring this information to be provided, it enables consumers in California to make informed decisions about their exposure to these chemicals.
When you see the Prop. 65 Warning from California (typically on small kitchen appliances or supplements) it should read like this.
WARNING: Consuming this product can expose you to chemicals including [name of one or more chemicals], which is [are] known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm. For more information go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov/food.
Prop 65 is a right-to-know law, which means it’s only information. It does not ban the sale of any of the chemicals inside these products.
It’s important to put into perspective what Prop. 65 does tell you and what it does not tell you. A chemical will be added to the Prop. 65 list if there are enough quality studies to point to it being a carcinogen. But what it cannot tell you is the amount of ingredients you would need to consume to likely cause cancer. This is why you’ll see plutonium listed next to bacon. Both are linked to cancer, but obviously, plutonium you don’t want to digest even once. Bacon is linked more to long-term exposure and can be consumed numerous times before anything bad can happen.
Most of the time when you see a prop. 65 warning on small kitchen appliances, it’s calling out lead or bisphenol-A in the chords. Outdoor grills have very different types of warnings that we are not used to seeing based on all the parts, including electronic parts, that are used. We’ve done our best to monitor the warnings in the California Prop. 65 database to help you make decisions here.
Mamavation’s Investigation on Outdoor Grills for BBQing
Mamavation ranked about 75 outdoor grills and BBQs based on food contact surface materials, coatings, and Prop. 65 warnings that are mandated for California consumers. We sent emails to companies that had food contact materials we were unclear about and did not receive information back from most of them. Therefore, please get in touch with us if you hear something different from these brands so we can adjust the report. Thank you!
Not Our Favorite Outdoor Grills for BBQing & Smoking
These Outdoor BBQ Grills are not our favorite. We either found mystery coatings, non-stick coatings, PFAS coatings, or have serious Prop. 65 warnings for carcinogens or reproductive contaminants. However, if a brand was claiming prop. 65 for their use of wood pellets and not something having to do with the machine itself, we did not put them here. We are assuming you know burning things and inhaling them is carcinogenic in general.
- Camp Chef Pursuit Portable Pellet Grill (Prop. 65 Warning with no additional information)
- Cuisinart 2-In-1 Outdoor Electric Grill (cast iron with non-stick coating)
- George Foreman Indoor/Outdoor Electric Grill (non-stick coating)
- Razor Griddle (possible non-stick coating)
- RealCook Charcoal BBQ Smoker Grill (Prop. 65 warning with no additional information)
- Traeger Flatrock 3 Cooking Zone Propane Griddle (cold rolled steel with nonstick coating)
- Weber Spirit E-315 3 Burner Propane Grill (Cover for propane tank was covered with PFOA via Prop. 65 notice 2023, also Prop. 65 warning for Diboron Trioxide which is listed in EC Annex VI CMRs – Cat.1B; Nickel Monoxide which is listed in EC Annex VI CMRs – Cat.1A, Prop 65, and OEHHA RELs; Cobalt (II) Oxide and Titanium Dioxide which are listed in Prop 65 and IARC Carcinogens)
- Weber Genesis E-325S 3 Burner Propane Gas Grill (Cover for propane tank was covered with PFOA via Prop. 65 notice 2023, also Prop. 65 warning for Diboron Trioxide which is listed in EC Annex VI CMRs – Cat.1B; Nickel Monoxide which is listed in EC Annex VI CMRs – Cat.1A, Prop 65, and OEHHA RELs; Cobalt (II) Oxide and Titanium Dioxide which are listed in Prop 65 and IARC Carcinogens)
- Weber Spirit E-215 2 Burner Propane Grill (Cover for propane tank was covered with PFOA via Prop. 65 notice 2023, also Prop. 65 warning for Diboron Trioxide which is listed in EC Annex VI CMRs – Cat.1B; Nickel Monoxide which is listed in EC Annex VI CMRs – Cat.1A, Prop 65, and OEHHA RELs; Cobalt (II) Oxide and Titanium Dioxide which are listed in Prop 65 and IARC Carcinogens)
- Weber 22 in Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill (Prop. 65 warning for Diboron Trioxide which is listed in EC Annex VI CMRs – Cat.1B; Nickel Monoxide which is listed in EC Annex VI CMRs – Cat.1A, Prop 65, and OEHHA RELs; Cobalt (II) Oxide and Titanium Dioxide which are listed in Prop 65 and IARC Carcinogens)
- Weber Q 1200 LP Gas Grill (Prop. 65 warning for Diboron Trioxide which is listed in EC Annex VI CMRs – Cat.1B; Nickel Monoxide which is listed in EC Annex VI CMRs – Cat.1A, Prop 65, and OEHHA RELs; Cobalt (II) Oxide and Titanium Dioxide which are listed in Prop 65 and IARC Carcinogens)
- Weber Spirit E-310 3 Burner Propane Gas Grill (Cover for propane tank was covered with PFOA via Prop. 65 notice 2023, also Prop. 65 warning for Diboron Trioxide which is listed in EC Annex VI CMRs – Cat.1B; Nickel Monoxide which is listed in EC Annex VI CMRs – Cat.1A, Prop 65, and OEHHA RELs; Cobalt (II) Oxide and Titanium Dioxide which are listed in Prop 65 and IARC Carcinogens)
Better Outdoor Grill for BBQing
These outdoor Grills are middle of the road. Most of them have food contact surfaces with coatings that are known to have higher amounts of heavy metals and other contaminants, however, those are more long-term exposures if used frequently and they do not contain PFAS “forever chemical” coatings. All types of cookware (including grills) should be rotated to ensure contaminants are nullified, as long as the reader is practicing our rotation rule most of the week with their cookware in the kitchen, getting a grill from this category would be fine because it’s not used every day. We have organized them into 4 sections for you: charcoal grills, propane & natural gas grills, electric grills, & smokers & wood pellet grills.
- Americana Walk-A-Bout Portable Charcoal Grill (chrome-plated steel)
- Berghoff Leo Portable Tabletop Charcoal BBQ Grill(chrome-plated steel grate)
- Captiva Designs 18″ Kettle Charcoal Grill(chrome-plated cooking top)
- Captiva Designs Heavy Duty Outdoor Barrel Charcoal Grill(porcelain enamel cooking grates)
- Char-Griller Classic Charcoal Grill (porcelain cast iron grates)
- Dyna-Glo Dual Zone Charcoal Grill(porcelain enameled cast iron grates)
- Expert Grill Charcoal Portable Rotisserie BBQ Grill (enameled steel)
- Grill Smith 14″ Charcoal Grill-Black (chrome-plated cooking grate)
- Expert Grill Kamado Charcoal Grill (cast iron, chrome plated steel warming rack)
- iMountTEK Portable BBQ Grill Charcoal Grill(chrome-plated cooking grid)
- MF Studio 34″ Charcoal Grill(porcelain enameled grates)
- MF Studio 18 in Portable Kettle Charcoal BBQ Grill (chrome-plated steel grate)
- MF Studio 22 in Portable BBQ Grill (chrome plated stainless steel)
- Nexgrill Cart Style Charcoal Grill(porcelain cast iron grates)
- Oklahoma Joe’s Hitch Portable Charcoal Grill(porcelain coated cooking grates)
- Old Smokey Charcoal Grill(chrome plated grid)
- RevoAce 22″ Square Charcoal Grill (porcelain coated steel, chrome plated steel warming rack)
- Royal Gourmet Charcoal Grill(porcelain enameled steel, chrome plated warming rack)
- Sophia and William Portable BBQ Charcoal Grill with offset smoker(porcelain enameled grates)
- Sophia and William 34 ” BBQ Charcoal Grill(chromium, porcelain-enameled grates)
- Sophia and William Portable 22″ Kettle Charcoal BBQ Grill(chrome plated grate)
Propane & Natural Gas Grills
- Coleman Sportster Propane Grill(porcelain coated steel grates)
- Cuisinart Two-Burner Dual Fuel Gas Grill (porcelain coated cast iron, ceramic coated burners)
- Dyna-Glo 3 Burner Propane Gas Grill (porcelain coated cast iron grates, chromed steel warming rack)
- Dyna-Glo Premier 3 Burner Natural Gas Outdoor Grill(porcelain-coated cast iron grates)
- Highsound 3 Burner Propane Gas Grill (porcelain enameled cast iron grates and warming rack)
- Napolean Products Travel Portable Compact Outdoor Propane Gas Grill(porcelain coated enamel cooking grids)
- Nexgrill 5 Burner Propane Gas Grill (porcelain enameled cast iron)
- Nexgrill 6 Burner Propane Gas Grill (porcelain coated cast iron)
- Ozark Trail Portable Table Top 1 Burner Camping Gas Grill (cast iron, chrome plated steel cooking grids)
- Royal Gourmet 6 Burner BBQ Gas Grill(porcelain enameled cast iron, stainless steel)
- Sophia and William Stainless Steel Portable Propane Gas Grill- 4 Burner(porcelain coated iron, 304 stainless steel, porcelain coated warming rack)
- Thermos 3 Burner Propane Gas Grill (porcelain coated grates)
- Americana 1500-Watt Black Electric Grill (porcelain coated steel)
- Char-Broil Patio Bistro TRU-Infrared Electric Grill (double porcelain coated steel)
Smokers & Pellet Grills
- ASMOKE Wood Pellet Grill & Smoker (porcelain coated cast iron cooking grids)
- Char-Griller Texas Trio 4 Burner Dual Fuel Grill with Smoker in Black(porcelain coated cooking grates)
- Dyna-Glo Signature 460-Sq inch Pellet Grill (matte enameled cast iron cooking grates)(Prop. 65 warning about the wood pellets, not the machine itself)
- Pit Boss Wood Pellet Grill/Smoker Pro Series PB850PS2 (crosshatch porcelain coated cast iron cooking grids)(Prop. 65 warning about the wood pellets, not the machine itself.)
- Traeger Tailgater 20 Pellet Grill #TFB30KLF (Porcelain coated grill grates)
- Z Grills 573 sq. in. Pellet Grill and Smoker #700D3 (porcelain coated grates)
Best Outdoor Grill for BBQing
This category of outdoor Grills has our top picks with the safest food contact surfaces: stainless steel, cast iron, and carbon steel with no coatings. We are not basing this investigation on the type of fuel used, so please note that the convenience of a charcoal grill would be using a more toxic type of fuel than a propane or natural gas grill. The same goes for smokers and kamado grills. For your convenience, we divided the sections into charcoal grills, propane & natural gas grills, kamado grills, & smokers.
- Char-Broil 24″ American Gourmet Charcoal Grill (cast iron grates)
- Char-Broil 18″ American Gourmet Charcoal Grill Black (cast iron grates)
- Char-Griller Blazer Charcoal Grill (cast iron grates)
- Char-griller 32″ Charcoal Grill(cast iron)
- Masterbuilt Portable Charcoal Grill(stainless steel)
- Ozark Trail 10″ Steel Portable Camping Charcoal Grill (food grade stainless steel)
Propane & Natural Gas Grills
- Blackstone 2 Burner Propane Gas Griddle(Hot rolled 1020 steel composed of 99.5% iron, 0.2% carbon, 0.3% Manganese. Soy oil coated)
- Blackstone 36 in Propane Gas Griddle Station(Hot rolled 1020 steel composed of 99.5% iron, 0.2% carbon, 0.3% Manganese. Soy oil coated)
- Char-broil Deluxe Tabletop Gas Grill (stainless steel grates)
- Char-Griller Flat Iron 3 Burner Outdoor Griddle Gas Grill(stainless steel)
- Costway Stainless Steel Propane Grill(stainless steel)
- Grill Boss Outdoor BBQ 3 Burner Propane Gas Grill(stainless steel)
- Kenmore 4 Burner Smart Gas Grill (stainless steel)
- Megamaster Stainless Steel 2 Burner Flat Top Propane Gas Grill(stainless steel)
- Napoleon Prestige Natural Gas Grill(stainless steel)
- Nexgrill 4 Burner Propane Gas Grill(stainless steel)
- Sophia and William 2 Burner Propane Gas Grill(stainless steel, cast iron)
- Char-griller Akorn Kamado Kooker-Black(cast iron cooking grates)
- Kamado Joe Classic Joe 18 in Charcoal Grill in Red(stainless steel)
- Kamado Joe Big Joe II 24 in Charcoal Grill(stainless steel)
- Kamado Joe Jr. 13.5 in Portable Charcoal grill(304 stainless steel)
- Costway Outdoor BBQ Grill Charcoal BBQ Pit with Smoker (stainless steel)
- Victory 21-inch Kamado Grill & Smoker(304-grade stainless steel)