Published June 1, 2010. From Cook's Illustrated.
OXO is best in show and comes in last, too. How can that be?
To the uninitiated, all grill tongs look the same. But small design nuances have a huge impact on how well tongs handle asparagus or corn, flip a whole chicken, or turn an awkward, floppy rack of ribs on the grill. We bought eight pairs and headed to the backyard to assess how different styles of tongs could handle foods of varying shapes and weights. Tongs are extensions of our arms and hands, and a great pair should work nearly as naturally.
GET A GRIP
The main difference between kitchen and grill tongs is length: Grill tongs must keep us a comfortable distance from the fire. The usable length of these tongs ranged from 13 to 22 inches, but we found that about 16 inches is best. Any longer, and we had to work to lever heavy foods or contort our arms to stand close enough to work over the grill; shorter, and we risked getting scorched.
Our first test was arranging a chimney full of hot coals into a banked fire. We grew sweaty and frustrated with clunky pincers that struggled to get a grip on individual coals or too-springy arms that tired our hands. Grilling slim, fragile asparagus spears was a real challenge with bulky or oddly shaped tongs. Two pairs failed miserably, for opposite reasons: One pair featured sharp, turned-up teeth, difficult to slide under individual spears—or any other food. Another pair of tongs were flat. Even the food we managed to grab with them slipped back out. The best models had pincers with shallow, scalloped curves that slid under food and held on—yet didn't gouge.
To measure tong strength, we maneuvered whole chickens and full slabs of ribs, monitoring how well tongs lifted and controlled their awkward heft. Two pairs of bulky tongs were strong, but their added weight made the job much more difficult, especially for smaller testers. Other tongs felt flimsy, particularly when ribs cooked to fall-apart tenderness. The best pairs hit the sweet spot between lightweight and sturdy. While the biggest tongs weighed nearly a full pound (for body builders?), our two top-ranked pairs weighed half that.
A little springy tension in tongs is a good thing: It helps you grab and control food. But a few pairs took Hulk-like hand strength, making us work too hard to keep our grip, particularly with delicate foods. Tongs must open wide: One pair opened barely 2 inches—too small for corn, and forget about whole chickens. Some tongs were erratic, badly aligned, and jerky, while successful pairs opened and closed effortlessly. We particularly liked one lock, which we opened single-handedly just by clicking the tab on the handle against our hip. Other tongs lost points for overactive locks that haphazardly stuck during use, a frustrating flaw that can lead to burnt food.
BEST AND WORST
Surprisingly, more than half the tongs we tested failed. Our winning tongs are tough to beat. Our winning manufacturer's other entrant rated lowest: Too short, with flat pincers and a too-narrow opening, they were a flop.