Is it summer yet? While it may be a few weeks away, warmer weather’s got us dreaming of backyard barbecues, weekend grill n’ chills, and hungry hordes waiting to be fed by benevolent grillmasters.
We thought we’d put together a helpful list of need-to-have grilling equipment for people like us, who may be just beginning our burgeoning grilling careers, and for whom money is an object. While we may daydream of fully furnished integrated outdoor kitchens, our money might be better spent on, um, rent, or something.
These are the items you need to have in order to get the most out of your grilling experience, the most bang-for-your-buck grill essentials.
This may seem obvious, but you may be surprised at how many times people have tried to pass off a rusted out smoker as a grill. A grill needs to be big enough to facilitate a two-zone fire (coals stacked on one side for high heat searing, and the other side for lower, indirect heat finishing) and to fit food for a crowd.
Go with the timeless Weber Original Kettle 22-inch Charcoal Grill. Your parents probably grilled on one of these, and their parents before them. They’re still around for a reason: they’re the best at no-frills, get the job done grilling. And they’re affordable. If you live in a shared house, get your roommates to pitch in thirty bucks and go pick one up at your nearest hardware store. Commence party. (If you’re not much into entertaining, go with the 18-inch model.
If you’ve got some extra money to spend and don’t want to fuss with charcoal (although you’ll sacrifice smokey flavor and much of the allure of grilling), you can’t go wrong with the Weber Genesis gas grill.
Finally, if space is an issue, try this Japanese yakitori-style grill. It’s portable and perfect for grilling small portions of meat or veggies.
Soaking your charcoal in lighter fluid can result in an off taste in your food. Using a chimney to start your fire uses natural air flow to draw heat upward, leaving out harmful chemicals or unwanted flavors. And it usually works faster than lighter fluid; you can have white-hot coals in about 20 minutes.
You can’t have a charcoal fire without charcoal! There’s many different types to choose from, so it can be a little tricky trying to pick a bag out. As a general rule, try to get the most natural hardwood charcoal you can find (not soaked in lighter fluid). Real wood lump charcoal is best and burns hottest, resulting in the most dramatic sears and pure woodsmoke flavor in your meat.
For crisp grill marks that look like they were drawn on with a Sharpie, you need clean grill grates. A lot of buildup and grease can develop on your grates if they’re not cleaned before after each use, so a once-over with a good wire grill brush is required to keep your grates maintained.
It would be ideal to have two types of spatulas, one for light finesse work (say, if you’re cooking fish) and one to do most of your heavy lifting. If you’re inclined to only have one spatula, go with a sturdy one with a long handle to ensure you don’t burn your hands or arm when flipping burgers. This one from Mercer oughtta do the trick.
For a flexible but hardy spatula for flipping delicate fish, the Victorianox Chef’s Slotted Fish Turner is a great affordable option—these can get pricey, but they don’t need to be.
Having restaurant-grade half sheet pans, so named because they’re half the size of a full “hotel” sized sheet pan (inappropriately large for most home kitchens), just makes. things. easier. This can’t be over-emphasized. They’re sturdy enough to carry large quantities of food without buckling, like chafing dishes tend to do, they’re reusable (like, they’ll last you a lifetime), they’re easy to clean, and they’re multifunctional. Use them to keep your grill tools tidy, but they’re also the best baking sheets around. And at ten bucks, they’re inexpensive, to boot. Check out these half sheet pans from Nordic Ware.
Last, but far from least, is the digital instant read thermometer. These can get pricey, and some of those high price tags are totally justified—when they say “instant,” they mean it literally. But for the home grill master, a cheap digital meat thermometer like this one should do just fine. Using a thermometer is the only sure-fire way to make sure your meat is cooked all the way through without being overdone. All that mumbo jumbo about touching your nose or chin to compare a steak’s doneness is just that—a load of whooie. (Everyone’s face fleshiness is different, and even professional cooks who have felt thousands of steaks still use a thermometer.)
That’s it! You’re set to throw down over some open flame. Call up some friends and test out your skills on coffee-marinated flank fajitas with pico de gallo or grilled artichoke with lemon, garlic and ginger. Happy grilling!