Essential Grilling Gear and Gadgets

The beginning of summer might look a bit different this year, but one thing that hasn’t changed is our love of cold drinks, hot sunshine, and delicious food from the grill.

This week we’ve collected all the gear you need for your first backyard cookout and every barbecue to follow. Our longtime favorite grill tongs are precise and easy to use, our first-place basting brush makes brushing barbecue sauce clean and easy, and our winning grill spatula effectively maneuvers food around a closely packed grill. Our comprehensive grilling cookbook, Master of the Grill, includes more than 400 recipes along with countless practical tips and tricks. With tools that never fail and a grilling guide this helpful, you’ll be the master of your grill in no time. —Carolyn Grillo, Associate Editor, Reviews

A good grill has gotten even better. The Weber Spirit II E-310 put a crisp, brown crust on burgers and steaks and rendered tender pulled pork with real smoky flavor. Weber kept the heavy-duty cookbox of thick cast aluminum and enameled steel with just one narrow vent across the back, which makes it easy to maintain steady heat and distribute smoke. The angle of the lid when open helped channel smoke away from our faces. Among the changes: The burner design was tweaked to increase the evenness of heating from front to back on the grill surface, and Weber now offers a 10-year warranty on the ignition system. One side table now folds down for easier storage, an open cart with a handy shelf replaces the cabinet, the grease tray is easier to access, and the grill rolls on two larger wheels rather than the previous model’s four smaller ones. The control knobs now have a red line indicating their position, making them more intuitive, and notches in the Flavorizer bars give a view of the flames.  More on this test

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.  More on this test

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.  More on this test

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.  More on this test

This smartphone-connected thermometer relies on Bluetooth, and its range maxes out at about 200 feet in open air, plenty of distance to cover most homes. The app and base both display the temperature output in large, clear numbers, and we found this model to be the easiest to pair with an app of all the smart models we tested. Its temperature readings were accurate to within 1 degree (it does not display decimals), it transmitted temperature readings from the probe to the app in 5 seconds, and its app was easy to use. It was also the least expensive of all the models we tried.  More on this test

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.  More on this test

Testers of all sizes loved this spatula’s slim, rounded, offset handle, remarking on the agility, sense of control, and confidence that it inspired. Particularly when the grill is really packed, this is your spatula. Its relatively small head was also able to lift and move large swordfish steaks, but we noticed a bit of flex where the steaks weren’t completely supported.  More on this test

This brush boasted the highest number of bristles, including four with special reservoirs for retaining liquids; accordingly, it held the largest volume of sauce. It was a bit heavier and broader than our favorite, basting large, uniform areas quickly but with a little less precision and neatness. While its handle also melted when left touching the side of the grill, if you baste a lot of ribs or other foods that have long, flat surfaces, this tool is still a great option.  More on this test

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.  More on this test

Our former winner took top marks again, with just the right combination of light but tough construction, precise pincers that stayed aligned throughout testing and could pluck up the tiniest toothpick or hoist the heftiest slab of ribs, and an easy locking tab that opened and closed simply and smoothly. At 16 inches, they are just long enough to be safe from the heat but short enough to give great leverage and control. The tension of the arms is well calibrated to be springy but not hand-straining over the course of cooking, such as when we grilled a big batch of barbecue chicken.   More on this test

Our winning grill brush's short metal bristles and triangular head shape made for a winning combination. We could easily clean grill grates by sweeping the top of the grill or by holding the brush at an angle and wedging it between the bars. The short handle made it easier to leverage, putting our hands closer to the heat but not uncomfortably so, and the absence of a scraper allowed us to clean even the very ends of the grates.  More on this test

This thin, lightweight plastic model was easy to hold and lift but was also stable on the counter thanks to its grippy rubber sides. It’s dishwasher-safe, and while it got a bit scratched by the end of testing, it was otherwise intact, resisting warping, cracking, or staining and retaining no odors. Testers liked cutting on its textured plastic surface and appreciated that one of its sides had a small trench for collecting juices from roasts or wet foods.   More on this test