Spring is here!
As the weather get nicer, you can’t help but get excited about heading outdoors for a good old fashioned barbecue.
Ice cold beverage in your hand, warm sun on your face, the smell of the coals, meat sizzling on the grill…and the sound of happy voices from your friends or family nearby. It’s a feast for the senses.
If you’re thinking of barbecuing this season, one thing’s for sure: you need the right grilling gear.
This quick checklist will help you find all grilling tools you’ll need to properly man the barbecue:
1. Charcoal Kettle Grill
If you’re a gas man, I don’t hold anything against you. But for me, when the weather’s nice charcoal is the way to go. You get that primal thrill of tending a fire, and you get that great charcoal taste. Plus, if you’re just starting out, anything you learn to do on a charcoal grill is easier on a predictable gas grill.
I like the 22.5-inch Weber One-Touch Gold . It’s not fancy, but it’s the workhorse of barbecues. Simple and dependable. Big enough to grill a bunch of stuff, but also light and portable. It also includes a built-in ash-catcher, which makes cleanup easier.
Let’s get something straight: lighter fluid is the devil. It stinks up your picnic, you can taste it in your food…and I’m fairly certain it’s not exactly the healthiest substance to be ingesting.
So, if you’re ready to graduate beyond lighter fluid, the chimney starter is great. The simple cylindrical design allows you to pour coals in the top and stuff paper in the bottom, which you can just light with a match. And within about 20 minutes, you’ve got blazing hot coals…without the taste or smell of that fluid which will not be named.
3. Basic, Long-Handled Tongs
You might be tempted to buy some expensive, fancy tongs in the hardware store or in one of those high-end kitchen stores. But all you really need is a simple pair of spring-loaded tongs that are long enough so that your knuckle hair doesn’t get singed when you’re grabbing stuff off the grill.
Whatever you do, avoid those tongs that have toothed heads—they poke holes in your meat and release precious juices.
4. A Solid Spatula
Not much to say about the spatula, but you want something that’s sturdy, and big enough to sling a good-sized burger, but which also still feels balanced in your hand.
5. Leather Grilling Gloves
If you’re going to be around hot coals, it’s helpful to protect your hands and arms—especially if you need to lift up the grill to add more coals once the grill is hot. Don’t think you can just substitute your kitchen pot holders. They won’t stand up.
I suggest getting some high-quality leather barbecue gloves that go as far up your arms as you’re comfortable with (or do what Alton Brown does and use welding gloves).
6. Good Charcoal
If you want to keep it simple, you can go with with the old standard of Kingsford briquets. But to upgrade your fuel, you can also try Kingsford Competition Briquets—they burn as consistenly and precictably as regular briquettes, but they’re made with natural vegetable binders as opposed to parrafin and all that other nasty stuff.
Or if you’re feeling more adventurous, try out hardwood lump charcoal. This is the preferred charcoal of the pros—it burns hotter and faster, although it can be a little more unpredictable. It is, however, the closest to grilling over wood.
7. Wood Chips for Smokin’
Getting the flavor of charcoal is one thing, but to truly add some smoky goodness to your grilled food, wood chips are essential. Simply soak them in water for a short while, and put them inside a vented aluminum packet on the coals (or throw the soaked chips directly on the coals). Once you start using wood chips, it’s hard to go back to not using them.
8. Long-necked Lighter
You can get by with matches or a standard lighter, but a long-neck lighter like this one can make lighting your chimney a bit easier.
9. Thermapen Instant-Read Thermometer
I actually don’t have one of these yet, but I’m deeply jealous of people who do. These instant-read thermometers make checking meat temperatures so easy—not to mention, they’re beautifully designed. If you can’t afford this one, you can certainly use a run of the mill meat thermometer (you just don’t look as cool).
10. Grill Brush
As they say, “cleanliness is next to Godliness.” Grills can get pretty nasty, especially as the old congealed grease and soot build up. A grill brush is essential for keeping that nastiness off your grill and out of your food.
11. Basting Brush
If you want to do any basting (with a glaze, BBQ sauce, or even just olive oil), a long-handled basting brush can come in handy.
12. Aluminum Drip Trays
These aluminum drip pans can be super handy for catching fat dripping from a larger item like a chicken, or even just for soaking woodchips before using them.
13. Grilling Grate
While you can get one of those grilling “baskets” for veggies, I much prefer the grill grate. It serves the same function as the basket (keeping small things from falling through the grill grates), but you can more easily move the food around to give it less or more exposure to the direct heat of the grill.
14. Big Wooden Cutting Board
Even if you do all your prep in the kitchen (which I recommend), you’ll still want a big old wooden cutting board with a juice groove for when you’re carving a big piece of cooked meat, like a tri-tip, pork tenderloin, or chicken.
15. Carving Knife and Carving Fork
A good carving knife and carving fork will last you a long time. Get a set that has high-quality handles and a good weight to them.
16. Foil, Foil, Foil
Foil is like the duct tape of grilling—there are so many uses it’s ridiculous. Use it to tent your meat while it’s resting, wrap up leftovers, create a make-shift “griddle” so small vegetables don’t fall through the grill grates—or just to make a silly, shiny pirate hat for your nephew.
17. Squirt Bottle
Watching the flames flare up under a fatty steak is exciting, admittedly. But if those “drip fires” get too out of control you can easily wind up with meat that’s charred beyond recognition. Having a squirt bottle filled with water handy can be a great way to tame the flames.
18. Good Grilling Book
There a lot of grilling and barbecue books out there, but one of my all-time favorites is this grilling book from Cooks Illustrated—The Barbecue! Bible by Steve Raichlen being a close second. If you’re not familiar with Cook Illustrated, they make a point of really testing their recipes.
Rather than blindly follow conventional wisdom for how to cook something, they love to ask “why?” And then they run tests to see what really works. If you’re looking for a coffee table book full of big colorful pictures, this is not it. But if you want a guide that will help improve your grilling, I suggest you pick this book up.
Any other “essentials” I’m missing? Leave a comment below.