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Must-Have Tools for Summer Grilling

How do you achieve perfectly grilled food? What’s the secret to building deep smoky flavor?

Get the answers to these questions and many others in our online cooking school course, Introduction to Grilling. Our instructors will teach you the best way to heat and clean your grill, tailor the fire to what you’re cooking, and ensure that your food is always cooked to the perfect temperature. Put those lessons to use as you make the course’s featured recipes: Grilled Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce, Grilled Bone-In Chicken Breasts with Chipotle-Orange Glaze, and Grilled Salmon with Olive Vinaigrette (featured in our photo). Another key to grilling success? Using tools that make you feel safe and comfortable at a hot grill. With new knowledge from our online cooking school and the equipment we’ve gathered here, you’ll do your best grilling ever this summer.

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

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

"There's a reason we have 20 or 30 of these in this kitchen," said a tester; others agreed, calling it "Old Faithful." They found it notably sharp, with "great maneuverability." In sum: "This is exactly what a knife is supposed to be." Update: November 2013 Since our story appeared, the price of our winning Victorinox Swiss Army 8" Chef's Knife with Fibrox Handle has risen from $27.21 to about $39.95. We always report the price we paid for products when we bought them for testing; however, product prices are subject to change.  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

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

This fairly thin, lightweight plastic model—a smaller version of our Best Buy full-size cutting board—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

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