Top Tools for Outdoor Eats
This week’s guide is filled with everything you need to enjoy food in the great outdoors. This insulated tote is perfect for keeping drinks cold on the go. Our top-rated plastic storage container ensures that you can transport food without spills or leaks. And our favorite compostable bowls are a durable and eco-friendly choice for dining outside. Grab your gear and your favorite food and drink. We’ll see you out there!
This cleverly designed, supercompact, and extra-lightweight grill is easily the most portable of the grills we tested. With a rectangular steel body and a handle on top, it feels just like a tackle box. Curved steel legs swing up to latch the lid. Narrow vents slow the escape of heat and smoke and help the cook box stay hot, as does the griddle-like grate that resembles an enameled broiler pan. It doesn’t create impressive grill marks, but it gets the job done, and it’s extremely simple to clean.
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.
Testers raved about this travel mug, which not only kept coffee hot and cold for far longer than any other mug we tried but also was the easiest to use. Slim from top to bottom, it was comfortable for hands of all sizes to hold, open, and close, but because the opening is narrow, we had to aim a little more carefully when filling it. A simple push of a button popped open its lid, exposing the clean drinking spout within. Testers also loved that this leakproof mug came with an equally easy-to-use locking mechanism, which provided good insurance against accidental spills. Just a few minor durability issues: Like the other models, it dented when dropped, and it smelled of coffee even after several washes. Also worth noting: Because it’s so good at retaining heat, you may want to cool your favorite beverage to the temperature you prefer before sealing the mug or you risk a very hot surprise on your first sip.
Long, comfortable to grip and pinch, and easy to open, these grill tongs are almost identical to the ones we originally reviewed. They’re just as agile, durable, and easy to use—sturdy enough to maneuver heavy racks of ribs but also capable of more precise work, such as turning delicate asparagus spears and pieces of chicken. The arms of the tongs are slightly wider than in the previous incarnation. As a result, the tongs are a touch heavier, though they are still lightweight and agile. And because the arms are wider, it’s actually easier to clean their interiors. The pincers are virtually unchanged; their shallow scallops ensure that you’ll never accidentally tear any food that’s in their grip. Two small bonuses: a big loop at one end for storage and a built-in bottle opener.
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.
Our new favorite passed every test and looked good doing it. Its clear, lightweight Tritan plastic material stayed as clear and stain-free as glass, and its audibly snug seal didn't leak, even when we turned the container upside down and shook it hard. It held a generous amount of chili, and its low profile helped foods chill or heat up more evenly than did deeper containers. Microwaving chili was easy and neat, with lid vents that let you leave the container fully sealed while keeping splatters contained and extended rims that stayed cool for easy handling. Its flat top made for secure, compact stacking in the fridge or freezer. One quibble: While we like that the gasket is attached so we don't have to fuss with removing it, you do need to clean carefully under its open side, as some testers detected very slight fishy odors. It's also sold in sets, in varying sizes.
The newer version of our former winner works just as well as the original. In a 90-degree room, this tote kept orange juice safely below 40 degrees for 2 hours. This was no surprise, given its moderate size, thick layer of insulating foam, and additional gauze-like filler designed to maintain the bag’s interior temperature. Its square, flat design and wide woven shoulder strap made it comfortable for short and tall testers alike. Though a faint yellow mustard stain remained, it showed no other signs of wear and tear.
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.
These bowls were the most durable of all the commercially compostable models we evaluated. Their thicker sides helped compensate for their thinner bottoms: While their bottoms softened when holding hot foods, their walls didn't soften or become sweaty. We also liked their wide rims and bases and short sides, which made them easy to grasp and lift, comfortable to hold, and a pleasure to eat from. These bowls are fine as long as you’re not eating hot foods out of them and would fare well with most picnic foods, such as potato or pasta salad.
BUY FOR $13
This set of utensils has it all: a fork with effective, pointy tines; a sharp knife with many small serrations; and a perfectly shaped spoon. The fork cleanly punctured even the most delicate pieces of lettuce as well as the slippery pasta. Plus, this set is both sturdy and comfortable to hold and eat from. These utensils are made from a compostable and renewable resource, but keep in mind that they need to be commercially composted.
This smoker performed admirably in cooking tests, producing moist, smoky salmon and chicken. The snug, flat metal lid slides on and seals in the smoke for smaller foods; whole chicken has to be covered with foil. The handles stayed cool on the stovetop and easily folded onto the sides of the smoker to fit in the oven or for storage. The rack and large drip tray were easy to clean.
BUY FOR $50
These plates, which are made from pulped and pressed sugarcane husks, were the roomiest of the bunch, with an 8-inch eating surface and a steep lip to keep food from crowding or spilling over. Thanks to their thick bottoms, they were impervious to pizza grease, had no trouble holding up 2 pounds of food, and didn’t budge when prodded with a fork or knife (though testers noticed a tiny bit of floppiness after food sat for 5 minutes, food was still safely contained).
Our favorite disposable bowls had a wide base, generous rim, and short walls that made them comfortable and easy to lift, hold, and eat from. They were also durable: Their waterproof coating kept them from becoming soggy after containing hot or cold foods for prolonged periods of time. They also showed little damage after we used disposable forks and knives to cut food in them and poke them. These bowls are large, which makes them ideal for main courses or large salads but a bit too big for just a slice of ice cream cake or a side of potato salad. However, these are an excellent overall option.
Our favorite commercially compostable cups were almost as comfortable to drink from and as durable as our top-rated plastic model, with a couple minor differences. Their rims were a touch thicker, and the cups developed a small crack at the rim when we squeezed them repeatedly when empty. Otherwise, these cups felt secure in our hands, held up to repeated squeezing when full, and weren’t damaged by soda or alcohol. If you have access to a composting service, these cups are an excellent option; however, the manufacturer does not recommend composting them at home.
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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