Best grilling tools and accessories
The key to avoiding stress while you grill is preparing for it appropriately. “Do as much indoors as you can before you head outside,” advises Judith Fertig, who wrote “The Gardener and The Grill.” “Make sure your fire is hot enough and the food is ready to go on the grill.” To do so, rely on a collection of the right tools, which can help you prep your meal, start your grill and handle hot food safely. Anderson urges shoppers to stay away from gimmicky products that claim to be dual-purpose for grilling and smoking. In his experience, they don’t excel at both.
Approach grilling like you would riding a bike. Add new things slowly and only after you’ve got the basics down. “Pick one thing to get started and learn how your grill works — something quick like sausage or veggies,” says Angela Davis, a recipe developer at The Kitchenista Diaries. Vegetables need to be washed and trimmed, for example, but don’t need time for a brine or marinade to work. “They are not expensive — they can be eaten raw or grilled so you don’t have to worry if they’re done or not,” says Fertig.
Best oil sprayer: Misto
Best grilling pan: Nordic Ware
“Large, double-thick, rolled-edge metal sheet pans are every griller’s pal,” says Fertig, who’s partial to Nodic Ware’s sheet. “Everything goes out to the grill at once, and cooked and raw foods stay separate.” Fertig carries two stacked sheet pans out to the grill. The top pan has the raw, seasoned meat or vegetables. The bottom pan is a safe landing spot for everything when it’s done.
Best gloves for grilling: Grill Armor
An essential tool to consider is safety-oriented, and protects your hands. Slip on Grill Armor’s Oven Gloves, for example, a highly-rated option which is designed to protect you from up to 932 degrees Fahrenheit. They’re thick enough to resist heat but thin enough to allow you to still bend your fingers — and they’re machine-washable, to boot.
Best long handle fork for your grill: Big Poppa Smokers
There are only two grilling tools that Anderson considers mandatory: tongs and his long handle fork. “You don’t need anything fancy but a long wood handle with a sharp fork is all you need for flipping the biggest T-Bones and spare ribs,” he says. “The most important thing with any grilling tool: The handle must feel good in your hands.” He recommends the Big Poppa Smokers’ 20-inch BBQ fork with a walnut handle.
Best grilling tongs: GrillPro
When you’re turning a steak or vegetables to make sure they cook evenly, Fertig recommends the 20-inch GrillPro Tongs, which have rubber on the handles. “For turning slippery vegetables on the grill — and doing it often — long grill tongs with a good grip are the key,” says Fertig.
Best meat injector for grilled food: Traeger
“If there’s anything America’s Rib King (aka me) is known for, it’s flavorful, juicy, tender and mouth-watering meats. I like to inject flavorful marinades into my meats because it gets the marinade right into the muscle for the greatest flavor possible,” says Anderson. “Don’t ever buy a plastic meat injector, they are just a waste of money. Instead, invest in a good metal injector like the Traeger Injector.”
Best wide spatula for grilling: Weber
For spatulas, Phan recommends the stainless steel Weber Wide. “One thing I like about it is the wide head, making it easy to flip big fish or pizza,” he says. “It’s also from Weber so you really can’t go wrong with this one.”
Best basting brush: Weber
If you want to add sauce or a glaze as a finishing touch, opt for a basting brush like the Weber Brush. “[It] can withstand the heat, bastes better than the usual barbecuer’s throwaway paintbrush and can go in the dishwasher,” says Fertig.
Best basting mop: Grillhogs
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Thicker barbecue sauces or larger cuts of meat might call for a mop (not a typo). The Grillhogs Basting Mop gives you an 18-inch handle and, most importantly, a head that holds plenty of sauce — it also detaches so you can put it in the dishwasher. The last step for everyone who uses a grill should be a thorough cleaning. While the grill is still warm, use a stainless steel brush to clean off the grates and racks.
Best grilling basket: Grillaholics
You also want to think about oiled asparagus or peppers easily slipping through the grill grates. Fertig recommends a hinged grill basket like this highly-rated item from Grillaholics, which keeps vegetables contained and lets you cook food on two sides just by flipping the handle — it’s stainless steel build is dishwasher-safe and it sports triple-reinforced corners.
Best grilling tool set: Cuisinart
Although our experts suggest buying individual pieces instead of big sets when given the choice, if you’d prefer to go this route, Phan suggests checking out Cuisinart’s 13-piece set. “It has the tongs, spatula, basting silicone brush, grill brush, four skewers and four corn holders,” he notes. “These are essential to make typical summer BBQ dishes like kebab, corn on the cob, burgers, brats, etc and all of the tools have a nice wooden handle while the rest of the material is stainless steel.”
Best grilling thermometers
When choosing a thermometer, there are a couple of critical boxes you’ll want to check, according to Thinh Phan of BBQInProgress.com:
- Is it an instant read thermometer? The last thing you want to do is stand around waiting for a dial to move — especially if it entails letting heat escape from your grill or oven.
- Is it easy to read? This isn’t a number you want to struggle to see or get wrong. Consider dusktime grilling, for example.
- Is it durable? You want something that can survive getting dropped — or cycling through the dishwasher
Best overall thermometer: Lavatools
If you want a functional thermometer at a reasonable price, Phan recommends this compact design that’s easy to store. “It’s fast and accurate (with two to three seconds of reading time) and it can display both Farenheit and Celsius,” he says. “The display has a backlight that will turn on by itself if it’s dark around and the unit also shuts off automatically if not in use, which saves a lot of battery life. With a three-year warranty, it’s a great unit that balances affordability with functionality.”
Best affordable thermometer: Thermoworks
Not only is this what Hugh Mangum — Mighty Quinn’s BBQ co-founder and pitmaster — uses at work but it’s also what he has at home and gifts to friends who like to cook. “It’s the most user-friendly, reliable, simple to use, easiest to read and bomb-proof thermometer I have ever found, bar none,” Mangum says. “At $34, it may seem steeper than what you can pick up at the grocery store, but I can assure you that it is money well spent, as this will be the last thermometer you ever buy and it’ll save you money in the long run due to the food you won’t overcook.”
Best smart thermometer: BBQ Guru
“This unit does everything except light your grill. It even comes with a fan that attaches to your ceramic grill and controls the air flow to give you what all cooks crave the most in their cooking: consistency,” says Anderson. “This unit can connect to your smartphone in case you are smoking up a larger hunk of meat and you need to quickly run to the grocery store. Here’s the biggest crazy feature: It even connects to Alexa.”
Best dual-probe thermometer: ThermoPro
ThermoPro’s smart thermometer boasts a 4.5-average rating from more than 11,000 reviewers on Amazon. It includes preset temperature guides to nine different meats (noting their USDA-recommended level of doneness). “A Wi-Fi dual probe thermometer lets you monitor the meat and grill temps from your phone instead of having to constantly open the grill,” says Davis.
Best high-end thermometer: Thermoworks
Although this thermometer comes at a higher price point, it’s the best you can get according to Phan. “In fact, this one is considered the gold standard on the market. The unit is solid — everything from the feel, to the material and its performance,” says Phan. “It’s also very accurate, with a temperature range from -58F to 572F and it’s water-proof with a sturdy hard plastic so you don’t have to worry about water or dropping.”
Best charcoal for grilling
Before shopping, it’s important to know that there are two types of charcoal: lump and briquettes.
- Lump charcoal burns hotter but is irregular in shape, which makes it unpredictable. “It is essentially the purest form of charcoal and has recently made a comeback because of the organic living movement, as well as the increasing popularity of the kamado grill and the Big Green Egg,” Phan says.
- Briquettes are more uniform in shape and in how they burn — they’re what most people think of when they talk about charcoal. They’re made from mixing charcoal fines with other additives to help the briquettes bind together, improve ignition and prolong burning, Phan explains. “This is where many people get turned off by briquettes,” he says. “These additives give off an acrid smell when they burn and people are afraid that it can get into their food.” If you’re likewise bothered, wait until the briquette is fully ignited before placing any food atop the grates.
There are a few tools that can help you heat up charcoal faster, too. Davis suggests using lighter cubes to start a fire. “Lighter cubes make it super easy to light charcoal quickly,” says Davis. Weber’s Lighter Cubes are made of paraffin wax — they can light when wet and won’t create ash or add off flavors to whatever you’re grilling.
You can also stack your charcoal inside a Weber Charcoal Starter. The aluminum cylinder helps heat charcoal briquettes faster and lets you distribute the coals evenly on the grill once they’re ready. “You need a good 15 minutes to get charcoal to the proper color,” says Pope. “Your charcoal should be ashen grey and extremely hot.”
Best lump charcoal for grilling
Best overall lump charcoal: Rockwood
Phan appreciates the quality of this lump charcoal that’s made in Missouri. “The wood they use is mostly oak with some hickory and pecan. “It’s all hardwood with no softwood in their charcoal,” says Phan. “They also carbonize the wood very well. You often don’t find leftover wood inside their charcoal. That’s why Rockwood burns clean with little smoke. It allows you better control of the flavor of your food by adding other smoking woods.”
Best affordable lump charcoal: Royal Oak
Phan recommends this family-owned brand, which sources its wood in the U.S. “Their price is affordable and this is the one I use often,” he says. “I’d say Royal Oak is the best ‘bang for your buck’ type of charcoal. It’s actually great for beginners because it’s not considerably expensive — so they can practice with it.”
Best high-end lump charcoal: Jealous Devil
Anderson has been a fan of this charcoal since the very first time he used it because of how hot it gets and how cleanly it burns. “You can load up your ceramic grill and this charcoal will burn up to four hours, and it’s one of the best lump charcoals for any ceramic grill or even a Weber Kettle type charcoal grill,” he says. “I love this charcoal and highly recommend it.”
Best charcoal briquettes for grilling
Best overall, affordable charcoal briquettes: Kingsford
When it comes to briquettes, Phan turns to Kingsford’s blue bag of charcoal briquettes because they provide a reliable and consistent heat source. “Everytime I cook, I know exactly how much heat I’m going to get so I don’t have to worry about that variable in my cooking,” he says. “My baby back ribs always come out nice and succulent every time I cook with Kingsford Blue. I’d highly recommend this one for people starting out on their charcoal grilling journey.”
Best high-end briquettes: Weber
This one is for people who might not want to deal with the acrid smell from burning briquettes. “These briquettes don’t have any added chemical in them, only hardwood charcoal fines. They don’t have a foul smell and are a good option for the health-conscious crowd,” Phan says. “I also find that these briquettes are bigger and heavier so I actually used less.”
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