Nothing beats the taste of food cooked on the grill. Add in the pleasure of eating outdoors with friends and family, and it's no wonder grilling is such a popular pastime. While many barbecue fans focus on finding the right recipes and cuts of meat, the real secret to great grilling lies in choosing the right tools for the job. From selecting the perfect grill to learning how to flip and serve your steaks, the right grilling tools are critical to making your cookout a success.
Tongs are one of the most versatile grilling tools available and are a must-have for successful barbecues. They can be used for flipping food, moving it to the right spot on the grill, and serving food to hungry guests. To make sure your tongs are up to these tasks, it's important to choose the right set. Look for spring-loaded units that are easy to operate, and can be adjusted to pick up large or small items [source: Wilson]. The edge of the tongs should have a soft gripping edge to avoid creating lines on a beautifully-cooked piece of meat. Select tongs with a long handle so you can reach all the way across the grill without burning your hands, and make sure the tongs you choose are solid enough to pick up heavy steaks [source: Schlesinger].
Grilling brushes are used for adding sauces and marinades to food as you cook. Look for units that can soak up the sauce and hold it as you transfer it to the grill. Silicone bristles are great at holding large quantities of sauce, and are also heat-resistant and easy to clean [source: Lang]. Choose steel brushes to minimize the risk of fire, and look for long-handled units that can reach across the entire grill.
If you'd rather just toss your brushes after you've used them a few times to minimize clean up, grilling expert Bobby Flay suggests using regular paint brushes from the hardware store [source: Flay]. These brushes are more affordable than fancy grilling tools and can be disposed of and replaced regularly. Don't forget to have several brushes on hand to avoid mixing flavors.
A griddle is the perfect grilling tool for people who love to grill items other than meat. While vegetables and potatoes can fall through the top of a regular grill, a griddle provides a flat surface for cooking without allowing food to escape. Look for heavy-duty cast iron or steel griddles that are coated with a non-stick enamel or stainless steel finish [source: Adler and Fertig]. Grated units allow more heat to reach the food, which can help it to cook faster. Smooth units are more versatile, and can be used for everything from asparagus to scrambled eggs. Perforated griddle sheets offer a third option to allow heat to penetrate the food while keeping veggies from falling through the holes [source: Truini].
Skewers are long, thin sticks used to cook chopped meat, shrimp, vegetables and potatoes. They hold the food in place to prevent it from falling through the grate, and also create a delicious blend of flavors for guests. The most important thing to look for when choosing skewers is a wide, flat blade. Rounded skewers can allow food to spin around the stick, which makes turning and cooking difficult [source: Adler].
Grilling fans have the option of cheap bamboo skewers or more heavy-duty steel units. Bamboo skewers are disposable, making cleanup a breeze [source: Lang]. If you like to grill fairly often however, consider investing in steel skewers, which are available in many different designs to help your food look as good as it tastes.
One of the most popular myths in grilling is that you should never clean a grill. Not only can this ruin the taste of your food, but it's an easy way to spread germs and make your meal unsafe. Grills should be cleaned after every barbecue using a stiff wire brush [source: Flay]. By brushing the grill when it's still warm, you'll have a much easier time removing baked-on food and sauce before they dry. To remove any excess material that was left behind from your last cookout, use your wire brush to clean your grill once more before each use [source: Schlesinger].
Look for stiff wire brushes, and plan to replace them often. Stainless steel or bronze bristles tend to be the most heavy-duty, though almost any brush will work well if you clean while the grill is still hot.
Grilling gloves are designed to protect your hands and forearms from burns while you grill. They'll help you minimize injuries as you get the fire started, and can be a big help in the event of sudden flare-ups. Gloves are also used when basting, removing food from the grill and transferring food to serving trays. Even if the handle on your favorite tongs heats up, your hands will still be protected. When you finish cooking, you'll be able to clean the grill faster while it's still warm, which can make grease and sauce removal easier [source: Truini].
Look for gloves made from fire-proof and heat-resistant products. Higher quality gloves may cost more but can often withstand higher temperatures and better protect your hands.
A propane gauge is a must for those with propane-powered grills. These grills use metal tanks of propane, making it difficult to tell how much fuel you have left when you're ready to grill. A gauge can keep you informed of propane levels so you can avoid running out while you're grilling. After all, is there anything worse than abandoning the grill to finish cooking in the kitchen?
Many propane gauges also contain a monitoring device that will warn you of leaks before a fire has erupted [source: Lang]. You may pay a bit more for this feature, but it can be a lifesaver when it comes to heading off a potential fire. Look for steel units, as plastic ones can melt or warp due to levels of heat exposure.
While tongs can be used for many purposes, there's nothing quite like a quality spatula for turning and serving fish and other delicate items. Thin, wide-blade spatulas can easily slide under a filet without damaging the fish. Look for materials that are strong but lightweight, so you can use them for steaks and burgers, too. Stainless steel handles are best for reducing fire risk, and the blade of the spatula should be made from a nonstick material or coating. Some units have built-in teeth or blades on the side for cutting or piercing large filets, while "dogleg" or offset spatulas offer the most flexibility and ease of use [source: Schlesinger].
Nothing ruins a great party faster than food poisoning, which makes thermometers a must-have tool for grilling enthusiasts. Choose a unit with a metal tip that can withstand high temperatures, and make sure the gauge is clear and easy to read [source: Wilson]. Not only can you make sure your food is cooked safely, but you'll also be able to cook steaks to exactly the right temperature to please your guests.
To keep temperature readings from being affected by the heat of the grill, consider using a metal probe connected to a digital thermometer placed nearby [source: Rodgers]. No matter which type of thermometer you choose, be sure to check it often as you grill to avoid overcooking.
When it comes to grilling tools, nothing is more important than the grill itself. One of the most hotly contested debates is over the benefits of charcoal versus gas grills. Nothing can match the taste and aroma of food cooked over charcoal, though charcoal grills are much more difficult and time-consuming to use. Gas grills offer a quick and easy way to get your cookout started, but lack the rich smoked flavor of charcoal grilling [source: Adler].
No matter which of these technologies you prefer, it's important to balance style and function when selecting your grill. Look for a unit that's the right size to feed all your guests, and make sure the grill you choose has a hinged lid to provide for fast and thorough cooking. Gas grills should be capable of 30,000 to 50,000 BTUs to ensure sufficient heat and power [source: Fine Living].
Barbecue season is upon us in all its mouth-watering glory. What's your BBQ IQ? Find out with this quiz.
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More Great Links
- Adler, Karen and Fertig, Judith. "Weeknight Grilling with the BBQ Queens." Boston. 2006.
- Fine Living. "Choosing a Grill." Fine Living Essentials. Date Unknown. 10/8/09.http://www.fineliving.com/fine/favorite_things_essentials/article/0,,fine_1426_1875833,00.html
- Flay, Bobby. "Bobby Flay's Grill It!" New York. 2008.
- Hanna, Mary. "Gas Vs. Charcoal." Grill Search. 2009. 10/9/09.http://grillsearch.com/html/gas_vs_charcoal.html
- Kaminsky, Peter. "Francis Mallman's Top Grilling Tools & Techniques." Food & Wine. June 2009. 10/09/09.http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/franciss-top-tools
- Lang, Adam Perry. "Top Barbecue and Grilling Tools." Oprah.com. Date Unknown. 10/8/09.http://www.oprah.com/slideshow/food/cookingadvice/20090601-orig-adam-perry-lang-barbecue-grilling-tools
- Rodgers, Rick. "Barbecues 101." New York. 2001.
- Schlesinger, Chris and Willoughby, John. "Grill It!" New York. March 2008.
- Truini, Joseph. "Top 8 Tools for Backyard BBQs." MSN: Delish. Date Unknown. 10/08/09.http://www.delish.com/kitchen/best-grills/top-8-bbq-tools
- Wilson, J. Scott. "Impress Your Guest With Top Grilling Tips." WSMV-TV. Date Unknown. 10/08/09.http://www.wsmv.com/food/16362124/detail.html