Whether you prefer charcoal, gas, electric or propane as the heat source for your outdoor cooking, one thing’s common to all grilling adventures — the right tools help make you shine as a barbecue chef.
If you’re not a frequent griller, you might be tempted to take some tools from the kitchen out to the deck, but it’s best to avoid that temptation, as the high temps of a grill can ruin ordinary household tools. You’re better off shopping for your own grilling tools and accessories with a dedicated use.
Most grills come with storage compartments or at least hooks for keeping barbecue tools close at hand, and the only time they need to come indoors is for cleaning. Most barbecue tools are dishwasher-safe, but be sure to read labels, as some may do better with hand washing. Look for tools with hanging loops if you’re planning to hang them on the grill when not in use.
Some grilling tools come in sets, or you can purchase pieces individually for more versatility in creating a set based on your specific needs.
So what do you need to outfit your outdoor grill for any culinary adventure? First, take a look at the type of cooking you plan to do — will your grilling escapades be mostly meat-based, or will you also be trying your hand at vegetables, fish or pizza? Different tools can be helpful for each.
This handy tool is universal for all types of grilled foods. Tongs should have long handles to keep your hands far away from the heat source as you flip those chicken breasts. Whether or not the handles are wood or metal is a matter of preference, though metal tends to last longer than some woods. Nonslip handles are also a good feature. If you cook lots of brats, hot dogs or sausages, look for tongs with shaped grippers to securely grab the rounds for turning.
With barbecue temperatures sometimes reaching 800 degrees, hand protection is a must. Even if you try to keep your hands away from the heat source, it’s possible to singe knuckles if you’re not careful. Long heat-resistant gloves are a must. Whether they’re made from leather or another heat-resistant fiber, be sure they fit well and aren’t sloppy on your hands, which can be dangerous. A gripped hand surface is helpful for holding onto hot pans, racks, etc.
Whether you’re flipping some burgers or moving food from one section of the grill surface to another, a wide metal spatula is the tool of choice for the job. Like tongs, be sure there’s a long handle for ease of use away from the heat source. A spatula works well for more fragile foods as well, like vegetables and fish, where tongs might tear into the food surface. Be sure your spatula is sturdy so as not to flex under the weight of a large steak.
Some grill masters prefer to turn meats using a pronged fork instead of tongs or a spatula. It’s just a matter of cooking style. Fork detractors note that piercing meat releases juices that help to keep meat moist during cooking. But one thing’s for sure, a sturdy fork will help hold meat for carving or slicing before serving.
It doesn’t matter if your preference is for meat or veggies, there’s nothing more helpful for a beautiful presentation than skewering small portions of food. It makes them easy to rotate for even cooking and keeps pieces together for serving. Metal skewers are reusable, while wooden skewers are generally one-time use. If you opt for wood, be sure to soak them well before using to avoid flaming. Skewer racks are also available to hold multiples shafts evenly spaced.
Adding sauces and marinades while cooking is a great way to flavor grilled foods, and the easiest way to do so is with a basting brush. Available with natural or synthetic bristles, the brush needs to hold lots of sauce and be able to let it go onto the food. A long handle is great for protection. For ease in cleaning, silicone brushes release the food easily so you’re not contaminating the next meal with some of the previous meal’s sauces. Be sure the brush is dishwasher-safe for easiest cleaning.
Every griller needs a way to know when meat has reached the optimum temperature, and a meat thermometer is the best way to do that. Some are instant read, others take a few minutes to register the temperature after insertion. There are even wireless thermometers to let you know when the meat is ready without repeatedly opening the grill lid and letting out the heat — just check your phone.
Vegetables tend to be more fragile than some other grilled foods, so having baskets to hold them helps protect these smaller items from perhaps falling through the grill. Metal baskets are made specifically to hold veggies or fruits and protect them from other foods grilling at the same time.
If you cook fish on your grill, look for a shaped basket designed to encase the fish and allow it to be easily flipped without breaking apart. A locked long handle allows for safe handling. A fish basket is also ideal for grilling shrimp or other fragile seafoods.
For cooking pizza on your grill, you might find a stone helpful — preheat it for crisping crusts and holding a loaded pie flat on the heat source. In addition, you might like a large pizza spatula or peel with a perforated surface for moving the pizza around on either the grates or the stone.
As the saying goes, there’s probably a rack for that. If ribs are your specialty, look for a metal rack that holds them in place for cooking. If you’re a whole chicken cooking guru, there’s a rack for that as well. And if roasts are your preference, there’s a holder for that as well.
If you’re cooking burgers, some grillmasters like to use a weighty cast iron press to shape the meat into a perfect round and push it against the grill surface. Other press shapes are suitable for cooking bacon and keeping it flat against the heated surface. Cast iron presses require hand washing and drying to prevent rust. Presses come in different sizes and shapes depending on their use. Some have holes to allow steam to escape during cooking, and others have ridges to create grill marks on your food as it cooks.
It probably goes without saying that you’ll want to have a great grilling apron — not just for appearance, but also to protect your clothes from spattering sauces and smoke. A washable fabric like denim or canvas is ideal, but avoid vinyl as the heat can cause deterioration. A bib style offers the good protection, but some styles come with sleeves for additional coverage, depending on your cooking style.
Whether you prefer manual de-gunking or a little more technology, there’s a brush for every grill cleaner. Some are simply wire bristles for scrubbing the grates and a scraper on one end for the hardened gunk. Other cleaning brushes allow for filling with water and the creation of steam to help rid the racks of burned-on residue. But whether you go basic or high-tech, just be sure to thoroughly clean the grill after each use to prevent any health issues.
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