Top Tools Our Grilling Expert Can’t Live Without

This week we asked resident grilling expert Morgan to share what tools she uses while grilling.

Cook’s Country Deputy Food Editor and resident grilling expert Morgan Bolling has loved barbecue since she was a child in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. While developing recipes for grilled strip steak, brisket, and pulled pork for Cook’s Country, Morgan has found the best grilling setups for the home cook. This week we asked her to share what tools she can’t live without. There are some tools that you’d expect to find— a grill spatulaa chimney startera thermometer—but did you know that a cooler is an indispensable piece of equipment for achieving tender and juicy brisket at home? Read on to find out what else our grilling connoisseur uses when she’s grilling, as well as more tips, tricks, and recommendations.

—Carolyn Grillo, Associate Editor, ATK Reviews

Our previous winner is still the best option and, at $14.99, it's also one of the least expensive models we tested. It always felt comfortable and secure thanks to its two handles: a roomy, comfortable primary handle that stayed cool and a slim secondary handle that helped us lift heavy loads and guided our pouring. Its sturdy cylindrical body was easy to load, lift, and pour from in a controlled manner. It also had two generously sized chambers; the top one held sufficient charcoal for all our recipes while the bottom one fit two full sheets of loosely crumpled newspaper and allowed for plenty of air circulation for quick and easy lighting.

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This grill spatula aced all our tests. Its front edge is just 3 inches across, so it can fit between the most closely packed burgers on the grill, but the head then flares out toward the handle to support wider items such as grilled pizza. Its comfortable, rounded handle with a silicone grip never became slippery, and at a moderate weight of 8¼ ounces, it wasn’t fatiguing to use for extended periods of time. It lifted 10 pounds with ease and survived abuse testing looking good as new. 

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The convenience of gas plus the flavor of charcoal make this grill a worthwhile (albeit pricey) upgrade from the basic model. Built around our favorite 22.5-inch Weber kettle is a roomy, easy-to-roll cart (much sturdier than the kettle’s legs) with a pullout charcoal storage bin; a lid holder; and, most significant, a gas ignition system that lights coals with the push of a button—no chimney starter needed.

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Weber’s versatile, well-designed classic kettle was an expert griller and maintained heat well, and its well-positioned vents allowed for excellent air control. The sturdy ash catcher makes cleanup a breeze, and it was the fastest and easiest model to assemble and move. We appreciate this model's updated, sturdier leg attachment system with metal tabs that snap together more securely. Our only wish is that the hinged portions of its grate were slightly larger.

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This smaller version of our favorite Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill shares many of its attributes. The ample cooking surface fit six to eight burgers at a time or a 1½-pound flank steak. The domed cover allowed us to grill-roast a butterflied chicken perfectly. Adjustable vents on the cover and on opposite sides of the grill’s body gave us plenty of control over the fire.

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This thermometer, with an oven-safe probe, was the most accurate among those we tested, plus it had an intuitive design. It’s the only model we tested that can be calibrated; we also liked the programmable high- and low-temperature alarms, the adjustable brightness and volume, the on/off switch, and the small knob on the probe that stayed cool for over-the-pot adjustments.

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Our old winner is still the best instant-read thermometer on the market. It's dead accurate, fast, and so streamlined and simple that it's a breeze to use. It does just what we want: “Tell me the temp; get out of my way,” as one tester put it. Its long handle gave us plenty of room to maneuver, allowing for multiple grips, and a ring of slightly tacky silicone kept our hands confidently secured. The automatic backlight meant we never had to stop and adjust in low light, and the rotating screen is handy for lefties and righties needing different angles. The auto wake-up function is extremely useful; you don't have to stop and turn the thermometer on again midtask. The digits were large and legible, and it's waterproof in up to 39 inches of water for up to 30 minutes. It's also calibratable, promising years of accuracy.

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Right out of the box the base paired automatically with the receiver, making it ready to use in seconds. Both base and receiver had bright, clear displays that could be read easily in both bright and dim light; both also have backlights for operating in the dark. The unit maintains a connection for up to 300 feet and alerts you when you go out of range. When you go back into range, it automatically reconnects, and its alarms were loud and easy to set. While we used it primarily for grilling, this thermometer can read up to 572 degrees and transmits temperature data from the probe to the base in 8 seconds, which also makes it useful for candy making and deep frying. It can be made to work with a smartphone by purchasing the Smoke Gateway ($89); however, we found it difficult to set up and the app glitchy.

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This budget-friendly model did a decent job of cooling, keeping ice for six days—longer than any other product priced under $100.00. Its wheels made it more portable, and its roomy interior easily held a weekend's worth of groceries. We liked that the side handles were molded into the body, which prevented them from breaking when dropped. The telescoping handle you use to roll the cooler (like a luggage handle) wasn't so durable, though; one of the poles dented after we dropped the cooler, which prevented us from pushing the handle down and obstructed the lid from opening fully.

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