Tools and gadgets are designed to make grilling easier. A few are essential, some are useful, and others are just plain fun. The following accessories can make time spent cooking outdoors even more of a pleasure.
A long-handled brush with rustproof metal bristles is indispensable for cleaning the grill grate: brass bristles are good for porcelain-enameled grates, steel for cast-iron grates. Use it to brush the hot grate both before and after cooking. Employ a smaller, more angled brush for cleaning between the grate bars. You also need a few pairs of sturdy metal tongs of various lengths and a medium-length spatula for turning foods.
The best and easiest way to test large meat and poultry cuts for doneness is with an instant-read thermometer. Simply insert the probe into the thickest part of the protein, away from any bone, and in seconds, it registers the temperature. It's also important to keep track of the temperature inside the grill, especially when you'll be cooking food for a long period of time. Specialized grill thermometers attached to the grate can be wildly inaccurate. A good oven thermometer is a better choice. A laser thermometer is even more reliable, but also costly.
Burnt fingers don't look good on anyone -- especially a grill master. Keep an oven mitt or pot holder made of heavy quilted cotton close by to protect your hands from the grill's intense heat. Leather gloves made for grilling or wrangling fireplace fires are also nice to have.
Cotton mop-style basting brushes look good during barbecue contests, but they are hard to clean and not very sanitary. Pastry brushes are usually so short that your fingers get toasty when you apply sauce, and they are also hard to clean. Brushes with long stainless-steel handles and silicone bristles work beautifully, both at the grill and the sink.
Wood or metal, round or flat -- folks are divided on which skewers are best. If you prefer metal, buy a set of flat metal skewers at least 8 inches (20 cm.) long. The metal conducts heat nicely, which helps your food cook more quickly and evenly. If you opt for wood, soak the skewers in water -- or in beer, wine or fruit juice for extra flavor -- for at least 30 minutes before using.
Baskets, Plates & Screens
Hinged grill baskets, plates and screens come in handy for delicate foods that are difficult to turn, such as fish fillets, or for foods that might fall through the grill grate, such as asparagus. A plate is a perforated metal sheet, and a screen is a fine wire mesh in a metal frame. Brush all three with oil to prevent sticking and preheat over direct heat before adding the food.
A chimney starter is the most efficient way to light your charcoal or hardwood fire for a charcoal grill. For a medium-sized grill, look for a starter that is at least 7 1/2 inches (19 cm.) in diameter and 12 inches (30 cm.) tall.
A drip pan is set on the grill bed of a charcoal grill under large cuts of meat and poultry to capture dripping fat and juices, preventing flare-ups. It is also indispensable if gravy is on the menu. Any disposable aluminum pan as long and as wide as the item being grilled and 2 inches (5 cm.) deep will work.
A smoker box is a heavy, vented metal container for holding soaked wood chips or herbs in a gas grill. If your grill doesn't have one, you can fashion your own box out of aluminum foil.