Expert-Approved Grilling Tools for the Best Outdoor Barbecues
You've got the grill. Now comes the gear. No: you absolutely do not need a personalized steak brander—but investing in a few quality tools is the surest way to turn your backyard barbecue dreams into a delicious reality. We checked in with three bonafide grilling gurus—Steven Raichlen, author of Barbecue Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades and The Barbecue Bible, Meathead Goldwyn of AmazingRibs.com; and Brooke Lewy, author of Vegetables on Fire—to find out what gear they can't live without. Here's the stuff you'll be reaching for all season long.
Quarter Sheet Pans
The easiest way to organize your mis en place for outdoor cooking? A simple aluminum pan. A half sheet—about the size of most cookie sheets—can be handy for bigger projects, but at 9- x 13-inches, it's the quarter sheet pan that offers the perfect combination of compactness and versatility. "They’re light and inexpensive and they’re great for oiling long produce like stalks of asparagus and carrots, which are awkward to handle in a bowl, and transporting all your supplies from the kitchen to the grill," says Lewy. "Plus, it’s a bonus that they’re aluminum, so you don’t need to worry about having breakable plates or dishes outdoors."
Nordic Ware Natural Aluminum Quarter Sheet, Set of 2, $27 at amazon.com
Grilling Baskets and Trays
With an open-topped grill tray in your kit, you'll never lose a stalk of asparagus to your grill grates again. And veggies aren't the only thing these tools are good at corralling. "They're genius multitaskers for all sorts of small things—including shrimp, clams, and mussels" says Raichlen.
Set of 3 grill baskets, $30 at amazon.com
Do you prefer burgers that taste like beef, not petroleum-based fire accelerants? Then you're going to want to get yourself a charcoal chimney. "If you have a charcoal grill, this is essential for getting it started quickly and easily," agrees Lewy. The design is simple: just set the chimney in the grill, place charcoal in its upper cylinder, pack newsprint into the compact chamber below, and give it a light. The chimney's shape and elevated position on the grill allows for maximum airflow to the coals, creating an efficient and powerful flame. While there are dozens of similar models from which to choose, we—and the pros we polled—especially liked the generously sized Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter. Widely available and affordably priced (just think of the gallons of lighter fluid you'll save!), it earns its keep in no time at all.
Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter, $30 at amazon.com
Silicone Basting Brushes
Like to mop and marinade? Ditch those crusty bristle brushes— Goldwyn calls them "microbe factories"— and arm yourself with a set of silicone basters instead. "These hold a ton of sauce and they're dishwasher safe," says Goldwyn. What's not to love about that?
Le Creuset Silicone Basting Brush, $15 at lecreuset.com
Oxo Silicone Basting Brush, $12 at amazon.com
Grill Scraper and Grill Brush
That old saw about how your grill gets "seasoned" by grease and char—don't believe it for a minute, says Goldwyn. "I'm married to a microbiologist, so I cannot overstate the importance of good grill hygiene." Raichlen agrees: "Trust me: leaving salmon skin fermenting on your grates for a week won't make your food taste better. Cleaning your grill before and after every use should just become second nature." To make quick work of task, most pros recommend a sturdy wire brush; we're fans of the Safe/Clean Grill Brush because its heavy twisted stainless steel design eliminates the risk of dangerous bristles becoming imbedded in your grub. Other (less prickly) helpers include wooden paddles that mold to the shape of your grates with use, and pumice-like grill stones that stand up to both cool and hot grill surfaces.
Safe/Clean Grill Brush, $22 at amazon.com
The Great Scrape Wooden Paddle, $35 at amazon.com
GrillStone Cleaner Starter Kit, $8 at homedepot.com
Like tongs, a good spatula (or two!) is one of the foundations of a good grilling arsenal. Options run the gamut from slender to claw-shaped, petite to colossal. A stiff, wide-bladed, beveled edge model will slide under delicate items like fish filets without massacring them. And Goldwyn also recommends investing in at least one sharp serrated-edge spatula for stubborn and sticky tasks.
Verde Claw Tongs, $17 at amazon.com
Heavy Turner Stainless Steel Grill Spatula, $15 at amazon.com
Outset Rosewood and Stainless Spatula with Serrated Edge, $12 at bbqguys.com
Skewers and Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil
Kebabs on the menu? Save yourself lots of fiddling and opt for flat skewers that will keep your food from spinning around on the stick. Heavy-Duty aluminum foil is another great all-purpose helper: because it doesn’t tear as easily, and it’s bigger than standard foil. Lewy says she uses it constantly for making packets for grilling sturdy vegetables like beets, artichokes, and potatoes. It can also work as a grill topper in a pinch.
Stainless steel skewers, $6 at surlatable.com
Bamboo Grill Skewers, $8 at amazon.com
Reynolds Wrap Heavy Duty Aluminum Foil, $7 at amazon.com
Suede Grill Gloves
If you're handling chimneys full of smoldering coals or manning an open fire, it never hurts to give your hands a little extra protection. Sturdy enough to stand up to most any task, a pair of suede gloves is the go-to for most pros. Basic welders' gloves will do the trick, but it's worth looking for a pair that's pliant enough for to give you ease of movement and has sleeves generously sized to protect arms and wrists.
US Forge 400 Welding Gloves, $10 at amazon.com.
Best of Barbecue Extra Long Suede Grill Gloves, $20 at amazon.com
Digital Meat Thermometer
"The key to all outdoor cooking is temperature control," says Goldwyn. "That's why an instant read digital thermometer is the single best and most important tool you need to have." Indeed, a thermometer is a smart investment from the standpoints of both flavor and safety: if you're able to precisely monitor the temperature of meat, you won't have to worry about serving your pals dry rib eyes or pathogen-ridden undercooked poultry. You could spend $100 on a model that's smartphone enabled and comes with lots of other bells and whistles, but at $29, the ThermaPop is fast, accurate, and a great value—and was universally recommended by our experts.
Thermopop Digital Thermometer, $29 at thermoworks.com
A good pair of tongs should be like an extension of your hands, helping you move a slab of steak or slices of eggplant around the surface of your grill without fear of scorching yourself. Because they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, it's worth feeling around to see what tongs best suit you—just make sure they're long enough to give you some distance from the flames. Meathead Goldwyn says he's partial to 20-inch Tool Wizard Bbq Tongs because their scissor-like design is sturdy and easy to maneuver. Brooke Lewy prefers a lighter touch: "My favorite tongs are 12-inches long and silicone-tipped," she explains. "That's long enough to protect your hands from the heat, but short enough that you have control. And the silicone is gentle on soft veggies like summer squash."
Tool Wizard BBQ Tongs, $21 at amazon.com
Oxo Good Grips 12-inch Tongs, $13 at oxo.com
Weatherproof outdoor storage box
Once you've amassed an outdoor kitchen kit, you'll want to keep it clean and safe. A small weather-proof storage bin that you can keep near your grill is the perfect way to contain clutter. Not to mention, because they come in a range of sizes, it's simple to scale up as your ambitions—and your pile of gear!—grows. Rubbermaid Small Deck Box, $28 at homedepot.com