10 Essential Grilling Tools
Find our favorite tools and gear to help you grill smarter and healthier.
Choosing between gas and charcoal is a lifestyle choice (and can be the topic of much heated debate), but the tools you use when headed to the great outdoors can make or break a grilling session. We’ve collected our top tools, from the very basic to the more specialized, that will give you great results. Any one of these would make a great gift for grilling-lovers everywhere.
A good grilling spatula should have an offset handle that allows you to slip the spatula under food with ease. Silicone and metal spatulas work best for grilling, and a long handle to keep the heat away from your hands is best. Spatulas work best with fish fillets and other delicate foods that need a swift flip.
If you have a charcoal grill, the easiest way to light charcoal, briquettes, or lump hardwood, is to use a chimney starter. It’s best to choose a high-capacity chimney starter, or you’ll probably discover that you need two starters to light enough charcoal for your grill (a traditional kettle grill works most efficiently with 50 briquettes). Use an odorless, tasteless fuel starter or crumpled newspaper to initiate the fire. Let the charcoal burn until it’s covered with white-gray ash, which indicates it’s at the perfect cooking temperature.
Don’t assume the cute little oven mitts you use in the kitchen will suffice when dealing with a hot grill. Large grill mitts that come close to the elbow are best. There are lots of choices on the market these days, with mitts coming in an array of high-tech materials such as silicone, fire-retardant fabrics, leather, heavy-duty cotton, and more. The main goal is to find something that will protect you from the heat or flames when flipping burgers, handling coals, or moving food from one side to the other.
To keep everyone around the BBQ happy, and more importantly, healthy, an instant-read meat thermometer is your best friend. Insert the thermometer into the center of the thickest part of the food and away from the bone. Cook beef to at least 145º; pork at least 160º; lamb at least 145º; and poultry at least 165º. Since grills can cook at very different rates, check meat near the end of the recommended cooking time so not to overcook. And remember that letting the meat rest a few minutes after taking it off the grill will make for juicier, tastier meat.
Keeping the grill rack clean is your first line of defense for healthy grilling. Each time you grill, preheat the rack with all burners on high for 10 to 15 minutes to incinerate any remaining residue from the last cookout, making it easy to clean off. Then brush the grates with a grill brush, and clean the grates vigorously so they’re smooth and free from food. We recommend brass-bristle grill brushes rather than steel bristles, which can damage the enamel finish of some grates. In a pinch, use a ball of heavy-duty aluminum foil between a pair of tongs in place of a brush.
Basting—brushing, spooning, or pouring liquids, sauces, and marinades over food—is one way to add additional flavor to grilled food and help keep it moist. The classic basting brush is made from boar or plastic bristles, which are potential traps for bacteria because they can’t be cleaned in a dishwasher. To keep the brush clean, you’ll need to dip it in bleach periodically to kill any bacteria. The newest brushes are made of dishwasher-safe silicone, but because they don’t hold as much liquid as natural bristles, you may need to dip more frequently in the basting liquid.
Tongs, especially those with spring-loaded handles, are the ideal tool for grilling. They can be used with any foods—from thick steaks and hamburgers to thin asparagus spears. Reaching for tongs rather than a big fork will help maintain the shape and juiciness of the foods—the fork will pierce and let the flavorful juices escape. Also, the long, slender handles keep your hands away from the heat.
Grilling on a wood plank imparts mild, smoky flavor and keeps food moist thanks to damp smoke from the soaked wood. Planks suited for standard grills are widely available and come in a range of aromatic wood varieties. Alder, with its delicate flavor, pairs well with salmon and other seafood. Cedar, the most aromatic, works best with hearty foods such as chicken and pork. Hickory (think hickory-smoked bacon) loves beef, pork, and anything that can stand up to its strong, smoky aroma. Maple adds sweetness to ham, chicken, and fish. Wood planks can be found in barbecue and gourmet stores, seafood markets, and even your local supercenter.
There is a plethora of grilling gadgets out there, but the all-purpose grilling basket holds up as a useful tool. They are especially useful for grilling sliced vegetables, delicate fish, fruit, and other small food that you don’t want to fall through the grill rack. There are many versions of the grill basket out there—one for meatballs, sliders, and fish-shaped contraptions. We say keep it simple and get an all-purpose, large basket that will allow you to cook a variety of foods.
You may call them shish kebabs or skewers—they’re the same thing. Either way, kebabs are accommodating, easy to customize, and they’re a natural for mixing ingredients and flavors. Wooden skewers are inexpensive and available in your grocery store. Just be sure to soak wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes before using or they’ll burn. If you grill often, invest in a set of metal skewers, which can be reused, require no soaking, and come in a variety of fun shapes and sizes.