Editor’s note: This is the second of two blog posts looking at what’s needed for a successful backyard grilling season. This post focuses on the “nice-to-have” and “really-nice-to-have” items. The first post focused on “must-have” items.
You hear it all the time: Guys love gadgets.
And to be honest, at least with me, that stereotype does hold true. So naturally, when grilling season starts, besides deciding how much brisket to cook or how many racks of ribs to smoke, our attention is directed toward the myriad grilling gadgets that we see in the stores.
What should you buy? In my earlier blog post, I discussed the basics of what I think you need for grilling. Today I’m going to show you my list of what’s “nice to have” and “really nice to have” along with some tips for those that own a charcoal grill.
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NICE TO HAVE
Vegetable grill basket: I love my grill basket. It’s perfect for smaller vegetables and such that would normally fall through the grates. However, there is one important distinction that I need to point out: When shopping for a grill basket and/or wok, don’t waste your time with anything but stainless steel. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve purchased cheaper baskets in the quest to save $5 to $10, only to find out that the basket starts rusting after only two to three uses. Seriously, don’t waste your money on the nonstainless steel stuff. You’ll thank me later. Also, there are two types of stainless steel baskets — the mesh and the flat versions. I prefer the flat version, but I’m sure the mesh is fine.
Skewers: If you want to make kabobs, satay or yakitori, skewers are crucial. As with some of my other suggestions, I’m going to steer you to stainless steel skewers for the durability. Not only stainless steel skewers, but flat stainless steel skewers. Most skewers are round, which allows your food to spin on the skewers. That’s why I like the flat skewers. It gives me more control over the food when it is time to turn.
If you don’t want to invest in metal skewers, you can also use bamboo skewers. Just remember to soak them in water for at least 30 minutes before placing them on the grill. Also, I recommend using some aluminum foil underneath the exposed wooden parts of the skewers to keep them from burning while you’re grilling.
Smoker box: Although it is tougher to actually smoke on a gas grill, you can use a smoker box to help impart some smokiness to the food. Look for a box that is thick and sturdy. Most smoker boxes use wood chips instead of wood chunks.
REALLY NICE TO HAVE
Grillgrates: These are the brainchild of entrepreneur Brad Barrett. According to Barrett, even though he had been grilling for 30 years, he felt that his grilling was not only average, but often stressful. He was frustrated by having inconsistent heat and flare-ups while grilling. As someone who was in product development, he decided to do something about it.
Grillgrates lay on top of your existing grates or replace them. They’re made of anodized aluminum, so Grillgrates help amplify and even out the heat, eliminating hot spots and flare-ups. Juices stay sizzling with the food for added moisture and flavor. They also help to give you those killer “grill marks” that all home grillers like to show off. Since Grillgrates are a raised rail design, they also come with a specialized turning tool that makes the handling of your food easier. I’ve had mine for several years now and couldn’t live without them. Grillgrates work on both gas and charcoal grills. www.grillgrate.com
FOR THE CHARCOAL GRILL
Because of the versatility of the charcoal grill, I felt compelled to throw in a few extras that can really help your charcoal cooking move up a notch or two.
BBQ Dragon: This is an interesting invention. It’s like a household fan on steroids. Back in the day, I used to make a similar item out of fans and ductwork. My Rube Goldberg contraption was pretty precarious to say the least. What the BBQ Dragon does is focus air directly to where you point it. That’s extremely useful when you’re trying to get charcoal started faster and reviving a dying fire.
You can go from lighting charcoal to having it ready to cook on in less than 10 minutes, just like a gas grill using the BBQ Dragon. You can also use the BBQ Dragon if you’re trying my Reverse Sear technique when you need a screaming-hot fire.
According to local BBQ enthusiast Dan Doty, “I like the BBQ Dragon because it accelerates what can be a very slow process, lighting charcoal. It is also great to use when I want to get insane heat off of lump charcoal. Besides the grill applications I like it for starting my fire pit and getting my smoker going.” www.bbqdragon.com
Remote Thermometer: In part I of this blog post, I mentioned how important a quality instant-read thermometer is. Well, if you find yourself taking advantage of the nice weather and spending a lot of time cooking on the grill, you might want to invest in a remote thermometer.
The advantage of a remote thermometer is that you can monitor the internal temperature of any meat from inside your house or apartment, allowing you to spend more time with your guests if you’re entertaining. Also, most remote thermometers have an alert function that will warn you when the internal temperature hits a certain threshold.
Turning your grill into a smoker: Most people don’t realize that kettle grills also can be used as smokers.
However, low-level heat management on a charcoal grill can be a challenge for even the most seasoned griller/smoker. You must constantly monitor the heat, adjust the vents, and add charcoal hourly. The good news is that now there are a few devices that can make this task manageable and seamless.
Smokenator 1000: Designed for the Weber kettle grill, the Smokenator will turn your grill into a smoker. The Smokenator uses a thick piece of metal to separate the charcoal (heat source) from your food, allowing you to cook at lower temperatures and letting you to get more out of your grill without buying a smoker.
The BBQ Guru or the Pitmaster IQ: These devices use technology to turn the grill into a smoker. They manage air flow to help your grill keep a constant temperature (usually low), making your grill act like a smoker. Using a thermometer and small fan, these devices monitor the heat levels and make adjustments as needed without your intervention. So almost like an oven, you set the desired temperature using a dial and let the device do all of the work for you.
I can tell you from years of experience, this system is so much easier than constantly trekking back and forth from inside the house to the deck, checking on the heat levels, adjusting charcoal, etc., that they are definitely worth their price. It’s not a slow cooker, but you can almost “set it and forget it.” Just remember to use a timer.
I’m sure that there are a few other things that I could have added to this list, but I really was trying to keep it to a minimum. I hope that I’ve helped you by narrowing down the gadget options, and saved you from wasting money. For more information, go to www.bbqguru.com or pitmasteriq.com.
Now I’m not suggesting that you use this blog post as an excuse to go out and buy all the stuff you’ve been telling your wife that you wanted to buy. Oh, wait, now that I think of it … of course you should use this as an excuse to get what you want. So get off the computer, go get what you need and let’s start cooking some food before we lose the summer light.
Craig Jones is a live-fire cooking expert, the Grill Mayor for Food Network (2012), and owner of Savory Addictions Gourmet Nuts. He’s also a certified KCBS BBQ judge, a master student of pizza crafting and an enthusiastic supporter of the greater Kansas City food scene.