When you first see the Blacktop 360 Portable Griddle/Grill/Fryer, it’s hard not to think it’s a gimmicky product. I mean it just screams “As Seen on TV” thanks to its claim to be the Swiss Army Knife of your tailgating needs with a propane grill top, a griddle for frying or warming and even a 20 oz. fryer basket. But upon further inspection, darned if it doesn’t live up to its motto, “Tailgating Turned up to 11.” Let’s take a closer look.
First of all, if you order one of these via mail order, be prepared to tip the Fed Ex guy if he has to carry this big old box up any steps. Weighing in at 37 lbs., you’ll be very pleased that the Blacktop 360 comes with a handy carry bag that is big enough to hold the grill and all the tools and accessories that come with it.
Inside that box is the griddle/grill which has three separate burners which total 24,000 BTUs and a cooking surface of 452 inches. I know that sounds like a lot of area, but most of the cooking space is arranged in a circle around the deep fryer and is divided into and infrared grilling area, a griddle and a warming plate. Organizing a lot of food on the Blacktop 360 does require the skills of a good suburban dad packing the truck of the Family Truckster before a three week vacation.
All three cooking functions are powered by a single source of propane, which can either be a small 1 lb. camp stove canister or with an optional propane hose, you can use the 20 lb. tank that powers your big gas grill. One set of knobs controls the burners for the grill, the griddle and the fryer and is sturdily constructed and well-labeled. In fact, the entire rig is quite sturdy after you extend and lock the four legs. I would recommend using a fireproof grill mat underneath the Blacktop 360, particularly if you are using the deep fryer. Better safe than sorry.
Other accessories that come with the Blacktop 360 include a nice wooden cutting board/shelf and an accessory rail for hanging your BBQ tools. A small lid is also included that can fit over the grill, the griddle or the warming plate if you want to hold in some extra heat. The fryer requires a few extra toys that are also part of the deal. A slosh ring fits around the edge of the fryer’s rim to keep hot oil from splashing out, a thermometer helps to monitor oil temperature and liquid catch bottle helps to collect and dispose of used oil or any grease eft over from grilling. (After you’ve let everything cool down, of course. Safety first!)
The infrared burner can produce heats of over 650°F and is perfect for searing meats to hold in their juices. In fact, it burns so hot that you need to really keep a close eye on whatever you are cooking until you get the hang of how to handle the extreme heat. The unusual curved shape would make it hard to cook a big steak evenly on the Blacktop 360, but it is perfect for hot dogs, sausages or burgers.
Where I live here in Tennessee, most of our football games start pretty early since Vanderbilt usually plays in the least-attractive television slot at 11:20 on Saturdays, and most Titans games kick off at noon. That’s why we haven’t done a lot of tailgating lately, but the griddle feature of the Blacktop 360 opens up a whole new world of breakfast foods to outdoor preparation. The griddle just begs for frying up some bacon or link sausages and then frying up a few eggs to make a momentous breakfast sammich. With easy clean-up thanks to the powder-coated steel cooking surfaces, this may very well revolutionize your pre-game tailgating experiences.
Then after the game, while you wait for the crowd to thin out you can fire up the fryer for some lunch foods. (As an aside, it used to be said that the biggest traffic jam in Nashville came from folks arriving late for Vandy games running into people leaving early. It’s best just to wait it out in the parking lot.) Now don’t expect to be able to fry a turkey in this thing. The 20 oz. capacity is about enough to hold 10-12 hot wings, so plan to fry them up in batches and feed your buddies a few at a time. But don’t forget that you still have all those other burners to keep the batches warm or cook some other options for your wing-craving friends.
Any time you’re dealing with hot oil, safety is a major concern. Just ask those Middle Age armies who tried to climb castle walls during a siege only to be met by a welcome gift of boiling oil poured down on them. Ouch.
The Blacktop 360 does a good job containing the oil during cooking. I did have a couple of small concerns. First of all, if you are attempting to use the grill or the griddle at the same time as the fryer, you might have to reach across the hot grill to reach the fryer or expose your arms to splattering oil if you try to extend yourself over the fryer bucket. So don’t do that.
Finally, the way that the liquid catch bottle is situated is kind of awkward. Ideally, it would be positioned between two of the legs of the grill so that you could tip the basket over to allow the cooled oil to flow out the drain channel into the bottle. Instead, the bottle is offset just a few inches from one of the legs, creating an awkward pivot point that can easily cause the entire Blacktop 360 to pitch to one side when you’re trying to drain it. Remember, it does weigh almost 40 lbs. The best work-around for this issue is to make sure that you allow the oil to cool completely, and then treat the draining as at least a two-person operation. It wouldn’t hurt if you did the whole process over dirt or grass instead of your deck or a parking lot.
But these are quibbles. The Blacktop 360 exceeded most of my expectations and will be regular part of my traveling food show. And it’s not just for the road either. I’ve already unpacked the Blacktop 360 a couple times to fry up small batches of chicken outside rather than messing up my whole kitchen just to make dinner for two. It’s useful, well-built, convenient to use and just a lot of fun. I guarantee you’ll have “looky-loo’s” visiting your tailgater to see your new toy, so pack a few extra hot dogs. You have to do that anyway, right? I never can figure out the least common denominator between eight buns and twelve dogs…
MSRP: $249.99 at Blacktop 360’s website or at many sporting goods stores.
What I like: Well-built and cleverly designed. Ease of use and clean-up ensure that this won’t be just a toy languishing in the basement.
What Needs Improvement: Liquid catch bottle is a little awkward to use. It’s a little pricey at $250, but maybe you can get your buddies to BYOB. (Bring Your Own Bratwurst)