The joy of grilling and smoking is the essential simplicity of it: All you need is a heat source. A successful setup can be as simple as an empty barrel, a few stones, or just a campfire. But even the most straightforward rig has many variables that can mess with your results, and nobody wants to put in hours of effort for subpar grub. When your rep is on the line at the neighborhood cookout, you want to have the tools you need. These are the gadgets and gear that will optimize your grilling.
Honing Your Tools
You don’t need a $300 Japanese knife forged in the dying heart of a star. Even a cheap little number can cut like a dream if you remember the most overlooked aspect of cooking: aligning the edge. A well-honed knife will slice through food swiftly and with less sticking, which can turn minutes of food prep into seconds.
More importantly, honing makes slicing and chopping safer. For that, we like the Work Sharp Ceramic Honing Rod. Its handle perfectly positions the blade to ensure a 20° angle stroke (which seems like the kind of feature that should have become standard years ago). The tough ceramic length ends in a rubber tip to prevent compressive shock, and Work Sharp thoughtfully included an end hook to hang it at your grill for when it’s time to carve.
Forming a Better Burger
With a couple of dozen hungry guests at your backyard gathering, you don’t want to lose a half hour to forming perfect patties for the group. Enter the Burger Press, which speed-forms your hamburgers for a crowd. The tight lid shapes fillings into hexagonal cells, and the plastic remains flexible even frozen, so you can easily pop out servings.
While it’s ideal for holiday cookouts, don’t be surprised if you find yourself pulling it out to instantly prep a week’s worth of lunches. Plus, it makes forming hard-to-bind veggie burgers a breeze.
Igniting the Coals
Nobody’s saying a chimney starter isn’t a useful tool. We’re just asking: Wouldn’t you rather have a handheld flamethrower?
Jokes aside, the Grillblazer GrillGun will save you a significant amount of time waiting for the coals to catch fire. It ignites the coals evenly so you won’t lose half your briquettes while you’re waiting for their brethren to catch, which reduces the coals’ ignition time from 20 minutes to three.
And yes, you can use it with a chimney starter for even shorter bursts without ashen paper chaff blowing around your food. As if all that weren’t cool enough—or in this case, 400,000 BTUs of hot enough—the GrillGun is also great for searing food, when you’re not getting that good Maillard crust from the grill itself.
That said, not everybody wants to own a flame gun. Maybe you’re grilling on an apartment balcony or you don’t want a canister of propane in the house. Opt for Fire & Flavor Biomass Fire Starter cubes. They’re carbon-neutral and made of sustainable, densely packed wood fiber and vegetable wax.
They kick out a lot of heat for their size, meaning coals will catch once you get these green flames going. Of course, if you’re really concerned with your carbon footprint, you’re probably using an electric grill with some liquid smoke and the like. But sometimes you just need more smokiness than a tray’s worth of wood chips can give you.
Your next challenge: using the heat your grill produces efficiently. Mr. Bar-B-Q Self-Cleaning Ceramic Briquettes pick up where the old lava rocks left off, but are self-cleaning and more durable. They provide efficient, even heat without burning away.
Depending on how you configure them, you can use for high and fast cooking (piled up to concentrate heat) and low and slow barbecue when spread out to keep temperatures steady. Brisket masters love that they take the anxiety out of overnight cooking. And even the most casual roaster will appreciate they cut the amount of charcoal and gas used, saving you money and reducing emissions. Bonus: Some reusable briquettes come infused with various flavors of wood, so you’ll still get all those smoky flavors you love.
No chef wants to surrender those grill marks, but it’s a fact that grates let even the hardiest foods fall through sometimes, and sizzling oil dripping through the bars can often kick up a bitter type of smoke. That’s why the Renook Non-Stick Grill Mat is such a find. They turn any grill into a griddle and are thin enough to preserve the grate sear.
You’ve lost your last hot dog to the flames. These grill mats are nonstick, dishwasher-safe, and come six to a pack. You can even cut them to fit the shape of your grill. Their only drawback: Their heat tolerance is fairly low for grilling (400°F for quick cooks and 260°F for any smoking or barbecuing beyond 30 minutes). Renook also makes thicker mats for higher resistances up to 600°F—alas, you may lose those coveted grill marks.
Maximizing Grill Space
Grill mats are all well and good for conductive heat, but let’s say you want to take advantage of all that unused space for more convective cooking. ThatRack takes your grill game quite literally to a whole new dimension by enabling you to hang cuts vertically. You can cook a lot more at once, and achieve a crispier result in what’s described as “the outdoor air fryer.”
Configured for everything from kebabs to Cornish hens (with room for steak and ribs), ThatRack will turn a tiny grill into a tailgate to appease your entire caravan, while being light enough to take camping. Jerky makers may also want to give it a go, perhaps over your new and radiant ceramic briquettes for maximum efficiency.
Smoking Like a Pro
There are entire websites devoted to gas vs. charcoal vs. stick vs. pellet… and while they endlessly debate the distinctions between a cookout, grilling, smoking, and barbecue, they tend to nod approvingly at gravity smokers for diminishing the biggest problems with outdoor cooking.
We recommend the Masterbuilt Gravity Series 1050. There are more budget-friendly options in this line, but for the price, you’re getting a lot of features that normally come on much higher stickers renowned for their level of control. You don’t need to make a half dozen meals before the smoker pays for itself.
And not to bang a drum until it bursts, but they’re fantastic for that wonderful smoke and sear that pellet grills sacrifice in the name of consistency. Its only caveat is it has a temperature basement of about 220°F to function, so if low-and-slow jerky or fish are your main meats, pellet or gas may still be right for you—or straight logs if you’re one confident burning buckaroo.
Cleaning Grill Grates
The days of the wire grill brush—which preserved burnt oily gunk in its forest of bristles—are thankfully over. Instead, turn to better options like a pumice stone. While it may leave a light dust that’s easily removed, it’s eco-friendly and removes residue from just about any hard surface without scratching. And believe us when we say you’d rather ingest a little pumice particulate than an errant steel wire from an ailing brush.
Now maybe you want an option that doesn’t wear down with use. The Grill Rescue Barbecue Scraper is a wet-cleaning method that can go in the dishwasher when you’re done. It absorbs water which turns to steam as it scrapes away char on the still-hot grill.
Protecting Your Knives
And so we’ve come to the end of our meal. The coal has been conserved, the meats have been molded, and the racks have been restored. The only thing left to do is keen our well-honed knives to the glory they began in. Dull knives are more dangerous than sharp ones, so the sharpest knives tend to be the safest knives—unless they’re so sharp you accidentally split the hydrogen atom.
Thankfully, the Work Sharp Professional Electric Kitchen Knife Sharpener is calibrated to give you exactly the knife blade you want. Programmed for precision, it can shape, hone, and refine for ultra-sharpness with a convex profile designed to preserve the knife’s edge. It repairs chips, perfects the angle of the grind, and eliminates metal dust. You’ll have a like-new knife in seconds. Now you’ll have no excuse not to keep ’em sharp.
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