Tools for the barbecue

Choose the tools best suited to your grilling style.

The right tools make the trade easier. Choose the tools best suited to your grilling style.

Useful tools for the barbecue

Which tools you find essential and which merely 'nice to have' depends on the type of barbecuing you plan to do. But there's a list of tools that most backyard chefs will find come in handy much of the time.

Sometimes it's best to start with the end in mind and the end of every barbecue is the clean-up phase. Some grill models can be a nightmare but with the right tools it can be relatively painless.

One way to ease the burden of clean up is to not get so messy in the first place. Disposable drip pans are a great way to accomplish that. They catch any grease or bits of meat and bun that fall through the grill and after cooling off you just pull them out and toss them into the garbage. After a couple of days, though, the garbage will begin to smell very foul with old grease in it. Make sure it doesn't stay around very long unwrapped.

The next best thing to disposable drip pans are removable ones. If you can't throw one away, at least you can make the job easier by pulling out the pan and spraying and scrubbing over a large sink. Oven cleaner is a lot easier to use when you don't have to wipe around a dozen other parts that are in the way.

It also makes for a better grill experience, since any oven cleaner used on a grill really has to be rinsed/removed before the next use. The alternative is foul smelling and foul tasting, if not downright unsafe.

A wire brush will be essential for most clean up situations. Getting a dual purpose style is helpful. These have wire brushes on one side and a metal scraper on the other. For scraping crusty carbon off the grill, there's just no substitute.

There are many tools that make the cooking itself a pleasure rather than a chore.

Skewers are handy for shish-kabob style meals and essential as part of cooking a chunk that requires repeated turning. A good pair of tongs complements the set. 'Good' here means easy to grip, low slip and no chance of overheating in your hands. Modern materials have done wonders in solving this problem.

Oven mitts will still be useful for most applications, though. It's almost inevitable that you'll come in contact with grill parts and metal tools that make wearing gloves the only sensible thing to do. Hot plates, hot food and other aspects of barbecuing make them mandatory.

You'll probably find a wire basket handy from time to time, if you cook fish or want to be able to turn a slice of ham without using tongs. Add to that a different style that allows, for example, putting vegetables into a wire mesh container with a handle and you've got a convenient way to make a healthy meal outdoors.

There are dozens of useful barbecuing tools. Check out your list of favorites and always buy quality. That way they end up in your hands, and not in the drawer collecting dust.

Thermometers old and new

Using a thermometer to measure the temperature of the oven and the food is a practice with a long history now. For over 50 years instruments have been sold that allow cooks to add a little science to their art. Today, the variety of meat thermometers is greater than ever.

The traditional meat thermometer is a metal rod with an analog dial. You insert it into the meat, wait a minute, then read the temperature. Good cooks can judge the safety and taste of the ultimate product in part by the process. While effective, there are some drawbacks to that method.

Most cooks will leave the lid of a smoker or covered grill open while they take the temperature. That allows heat to escape and that alters the cooking time and evenness, especially with thicker cuts of meat. The oven and meat cool down, requiring the temperature to be built back up to the original level that existed before opening the lid.

Technology to the rescue!

There are a few features of contemporary thermometers that help solve that problem: oven safe materials, instant-read displays and (among higher end models) wireless transmission.

Materials science has advanced to the point that non-melting metal alloys and plastics can be cost-effectively used in home barbeque thermometers. You open the lid, insert the instrument, then close the lid and walk away for a minute. You don't have to fear the instrument becoming too hot because it's practically indestructible (by heat anyway).

In some models, measurements have also gotten much faster than in days past. A good meat thermometer can now absorb heat much quicker, and transfer the information to the display almost instantaneously. You insert the device, read the number and pull it out. The lid only has to be open for a few seconds.

Some will allow the number to 'stick'. Pulling the thermometer out doesn't cause it to change the number back to the air temperature until you manually reset it. No need to worry about trying to read the number while having your face over a hot grill.

Some more advanced models even have a probe that can be inserted into the meat at any time and will transmit the data to a display up to 100 feet away. You can sit in your favorite outdoor lounge chair, have a beer and glance from time to time at the small monitor on the table.

Whichever model you get, there are some best practices to observe with meat thermometers.

Insert the instrument into the thickest part of the meat in order to get the best reading. You don't want meat that's burnt on the outside, raw on the inside. Slow cooking is made easier and more reliable this way.

Avoid making contact with any bones in the meat, since they can absorb heat to a higher degree (in both senses of the word). They may be at a higher temperature than the meat, and they absorb more heat longer.

Take measurements at different points in the meat and throughout the oven using both a meat thermometer and an oven thermometer. A thermometer in the lid is a great feature for the latter goal. That way you find out where best to place your cut for slow cooking (more barbecue style) versus fast cooking (grill style). It also allows you to average the numbers and see whether your interior temperature is more or less uniform.

Prices range from a few dollars to over $100, so shop around.