Review: Nomad Portable Grill

Review: Nomad Portable Grill
Apr 2023

[photo1]Scott Gilbertson8/10The Nomad portable grill is to grills what the Yeti is to coolers: better in every way, but expensive. That both companies hail from Texas is a coincidence. Probably.The Nomad is a new take on what a portable grill should be, or even can be. It's refreshingly low-tech and compact, it cooks phenomenally well, and unlike many "portable" grills, it can genuinely go anywhere. It's as close to a perfect portable grill as anything I've tested.I've tested a lot of portable grills over the years, and the Nomad is hands-down the best-built portable grill I've ever used.From the perforated, anodized-aluminum shell to the cast-aluminum grill boxes inside, everything about the Nomad feels solid and well made. The heavy-duty handles and latches are strong. Even the grilling surface is held solidly in place with high-temperature-resistant magnets.[photo2]The design of the Nomad is different than most grills. It's essentially a suitcase, which means you can carry it with one hand. The solid construction doesn't make it light--it's 28 pounds with one grill grate, 31 pounds if you opt to buy a second--but it's not awkward and unwieldy like our current top-pick portable charcoal grill, Weber's Jumbo Joe ($89).When collapsed in suitcase carrying position, the Nomad looks like a cross between something Jason Bourne would use as a carry-on and some kind of live animal cage. I told one person who asked about it that my kids had a pet wolverine. For a second, I think they believed me.Once you get where you're going with your Nomad, you can set it up on any flat surface. Thanks to the engineering behind the grill, it never gets hot enough to harm wood, metal, stone, or sand. I would not put it on a plastic table, but it

should work fine everywhere from your truck tailgate to your local park's picnic table. While flat on the ground is the most awkward way to cook on the Nomad, it also works.The Nomad is also pleasingly low-tech. There are no Bluetooth temp sensors, apps, or anything else. This is grilling of the old school, relying on your skills and experience. The Nomad does have a built-in thermometer on the left side of the "top." but there is no digital anything here. Thankfully.For typical high-temp grilling, the Nomad folds open, giving you two sides to grill on. The catch is that the grill for the second side is sold separately and will set you back another $130. If you get the extra grill grate, you'll have total of 425 square inches of cooking surface. Nomad claims this is enough for 30 burgers. I did not test the second grill grate, but cooking single-sided there was enough room for 12 burgers at about a quarter-pound each.The other thing to note is that the grill surface is cambered, which means that if you get both grills, you'll need to flip one over before closing it up. Nomad also points out that you can cook with the grill surface flipped over, making it something like a veggie basket.[photo3]There are two features about the Nomad worth mentioning when it comes to cooking. The first is the twin air vents. In single-sided mode, you end up with one air vent at the bottom and one at the top. If you have both sides open, they're both at the bottom. They're much smaller vents than what you'll find on typical grills, but they work well because of a second feature: the longitudinal raised slats. These ribs running the length of the grill pan hold Nomad's special charcoal cylinders off the bottom of the grill, making the air flow around them better and allowing you to maintain higher temperatures even with the lid closed.The bad news is that if you use regular charcoal briquets, the airflow isn't as good and you won't be able to get temps as high. I cooked my way through the sample box of Nomad charcoal in about four cooks and then switched to the regular Kingsford briquets you can buy almost anywhere. I was never able to get the Nomad back up above 400 with the lid closed. But I can't think of many situations in which you'd want to get temps that high, aside from perhaps baking a pizza. If that's your use case, you can always buy more charcoal from Nomad. It's $36 for a 10 pound box.While I do not like bespoke charcoal (I can't even believe I had to type the phrase "bespoke charcoal") because of the price, Nomad's charcoal is better than what you get at the big-box stores. It's denser, burns hotter and longer, and gives off less smoke. My kids even discovered it's fine enough to double as art charcoal. If you've got the money to burn (literally), Nomad charcoal is worth it.Since the Nomad can be closed up, suitcase-style, it can be used to smoke as well as grill. Smoking with the Nomad is a little trickier than with Weber's Jumbo Joe, at least at first. It took some careful tweaking of the vents to get the air flow to the point that it was maintaining the temperature I wanted, but once I had it dialed in, the temp held well--better than the Weber, in fact.The only thing I found annoying about smoking in the Nomad was needing to lift off the entire grill grate to feed in some fresh fuel. A hinged grill grate would be a nice option, especially since the magnets would hold it securely in place the rest of the time.It's also worth noting that as a smoker, you have slightly less room than on the Jumbo Joe. A single side of the Nomad is 212 square inches, while the Jumbo Joe manages 240 square inches. In practice, this isn't a big difference. I managed to smoke nine chicken breasts, and another time I fit two racks of ribs. In fact, even without the second grill grate I never felt cramped while cooking for five (two adults, three ravenous children).When I pulled the Nomad out of the box and looked inside, my first thought was, "What a nightmare to clean." This turned out to be only partly true. Cleaning the Nomad on-site is a bit of a pain. Flipping over a 28-pound suitcase to dump out the ash is awkward. The good news is that if you're just out for the day, you can close up the Nomad and head home without doing a thing. You don't even really need to wait for it to cool, since the outside never gets more than warm.Once you're home, a hose will make quick work of cleaning up the Nomad. A pressure washer will work even better, but I've been getting by just fine with a hose.The grill grate takes a bit more effort to clean. I do not recommend using anything but bristle-free scrapers. I've been cleaning mine periodically with a green scrubber and occasionally throwing some wood in at the end of a cook to burn off the grate. Follow that up with a fresh seasoning and your grate should be clean and ready to go for your next cook.The Weber Jumbo Joe remains a very good grill at a faction of the price of the Nomad. Still, the Nomad is the best portable grill I've used, and if you do buy it, you won't be disappointed. If you're in search of some grilling guidance, we love American's Test Kitchen cookbooks.