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What qualities separate the best grill tongs from the pretenders?
The best tool for grilling is a great pair of tongs. Grill tongs let you deftly grab, lift, and turn food without piercing it, and because they have long handles, they keep your hands far from the heat. But too often grill tongs have one of two big problems: They look like they were made for Paul Bunyan—huge, heavy, and chunky—or they’re too lightly built for serious grill work, with misaligned, flimsy arms and pathetic pincers. Either way, bad tongs make grilling harder than it should be, as they force you to fight for control over the food you’re cooking.
Since we last tested grill tongs, many new styles have come on the market, so we tested six pairs, priced from $14.93 to $29.02, including our longtime favorites, the OXO Good Grips 16" Locking Tongs ($14.93). We took them outside and tried them on a variety of tasks that tested their agility and strength, grilling delicate asparagus spears, chicken parts, and full slabs of ribs. We used them to open and close hot hinged grill grates and vents and to arrange glowing coals into a banked fire. We also asked testers of varying heights and strengths, some left- and some right-handed, to use the tongs while handling and flipping corn on the cob, a whole butterflied raw chicken, and a pound of slim asparagus. We opened and closed and locked and unlocked them 100 times each, and we left them covered with sauce and spice rub overnight and then noted how easy they were to clean. We also washed them 25 times in the dishwasher or by hand and left them wet to see if they’d rust, stiffen, or break. To push the boundaries of their precision, security, and strength, we also tried to pick up single wooden toothpicks and lift heavy glass jars of salsa.
The testing wasn’t pretty: Before it even began, one pair of tongs arrived with a pincer snapped off, a poor omen of its durability. Sure enough, the replacement pair wasn’t much tougher; while both pincers stayed attached, they quickly became misaligned, making it difficult to do precise work like turning individual asparagus spears. Another pair had the opposite problem: Its heavy-duty construction will likely last until the end of time, but this single bent slab of steel weighed nearly 2 pounds, and most testers had to use both their hands to press its pincers closed. It could not grab asparagus, it struggled not to crush hot briquettes into dust, and flipping a batch of 10 assorted chicken pieces made us adopt a sideways, two-handed “shovel and throw” motion that was anything but deft. Two more models of tongs performed moderately well once we’d adjusted to their slightly ungainly handles and pincers. But when we picked up the final two pairs, we were astonished at how natural and comfortable each felt in our hands. Hand strain was gone; they felt like an extension of our fingers on every task. They picked up single toothpicks and didn’t give us a moment’s worry as they lifted a 1-pound glass jar.
What did these successful tongs have in common? First, they were the lightest pairs we tested, at 8 and 9 ounces, which made them far less fatiguing during sustained work. By contrast, the worst tongs weighed two to three times as much. But while they were light in weight, our top tongs weren’t lightly built—both pairs were tough enough to securely lift and flip heavy whole chickens and slabs of ribs. Both had pleasing tension in their arms that let them spring back gently when squeezed, rather than flopping flat or fighting back like other pairs we tested. And while grill tongs are sold in lengths ranging from 16 to 21 inches, at 16 inches, our two winners were the shortest models we tested: This length was enough to keep us safe from heat but provided better control than longer pairs. Both pairs had shallow, scalloped pincers with narrow tips for precision work and curving sides that gently but securely grasped a variety of foods. Less-effective tongs had pincers shaped like rough teeth that inadvertently hooked into meat and snagged grates, tightly curved-in pincers that scraped off rubs and sauces, or pincers with too-smooth edges that let food slip out. Furthermore, both our top performers were durable and remained neatly aligned—with arms that operated smoothly and locks that closed securely—even after many rounds of testing and multiple trips through the dishwasher.
Finally, both offered locking mechanisms that could be opened with one hand—a useful feature when you’re headed to the grill bearing a heavy platter of food in your other hand. But one of the two, the Rösle 16-inch Barbecue Grill Tongs ($29.02), had an invisible locking system that was operated by gently squeezing the arms while pointing down to unlock or up to lock. This seemed like a great idea in concept, but in practice the tongs sometimes popped open or locked shut at the wrong moments, and even after lots of practice we often had to pause and reposition them so they could open or close before use; it never became fully natural. And at twice the price of the other pair, which opened simply by pushing in a soft grippy knob at the end of the handle, the Rösle tongs slipped into second place. That left our former winner, the OXO Good Grips 16" Locking Tongs, as champion again. Tough, precise, intuitive, comfortable, and agile, they’re what we’ll grab next time we head out to grill.
We tested six pairs of grill tongs, priced from $14.93 to $29.02 and purchased online. We had multiple users put each pair of tongs through a battery of tests. The tongs are listed in order of preference.
AGILITY: We rated tongs higher if they made it easy to manipulate food (lift, flip, and put onto and take off the grill) with precision, feeling like a natural extension of our hands.
EASE OF USE: We gave more points to tongs that were comfortable, with well-shaped handles and spring tension that did not cause strain and fatigue; had a length that kept us far enough from the flames while providing good control and leverage; and had a locking mechanism that was easy and comfortable to operate and only locked or unlocked when we wanted it to do so.
CLEANUP/DURABILITY: We gave more points to tongs that cleaned up easily, preferably in the dishwasher, and did not become rusty, stiff, overly floppy, misaligned, or otherwise damaged in the course of testing and abuse.
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.
These tongs are sturdy, sleek, and well constructed, with precise pincers that stayed aligned throughout our testing. The only downside? A slightly too-clever locking system that works automatically, depending on whether the tongs are gently squeezed while pointing down to unlock or up to lock. This never became fully natural; we had to keep stopping to reposition them as we cooked. (One tester’s family likes to ask unsuspecting guests to try unlocking these tongs for amusement.)
While these tongs were moderately lightweight, they also seemed a bit flimsy to our testers, especially when lifting heavier foods. A little longer and heavier than our winner, they required a bit more work to use. The unusual curved-in pincers were surprisingly effective at grasping larger foods, though their shape made the position of the tip visually ambiguous during precision work such as picking up slim asparagus spears and the cupped shape tended to scrape off and collect rubs and sauces. The locking mechanism was a little uncomfortable to push in for unlocking, but a big metal loop made it very easy to grab and pull out when locking.
While these tongs were not exactly bad, there are better choices. Just a bit too heavy, too long, and too stiff, with slightly excessive tension in the spring, they were sometimes fatiguing to use. The bare metal locking mechanism on the handle had a sharp edge, which was a little painful to push in, especially if we did it one-handed by popping it against a hip. And finally, we’d much prefer to toss tongs in the dishwasher, but these should be washed by hand, the instructions warn, probably due to the wooden handle inserts (which were a bit uncomfortable for some testers and emerged slightly roughened after being washed 25 times).
These oversize, overbuilt tongs made everyone crack jokes—until we tried to use them and our laughter turned to bitter complaints. So stiff that they took two hands to pinch closed, they were clumsy, heavy, and ineffective—and quickly became painful to manipulate. The misaligned pincers completely missed toothpicks and let the glass jar slip and drop onto the counter. The final blow? Despite their macho build, they’re too delicate to go in the dishwasher.
The first pair arrived broken, and the second, equally flimsy pair became floppy and misaligned within a few uses, making us sweat and curse as we struggled to pick up asparagus or move briquettes to set up the fire. The toothy pincers hooked into chicken, snagged on grill grates, and tore off bits of sponge when we tried to scrub them clean. The gimmicky, bulky heat shield, which was supposed to swing freely on the handle to stay between your hand and the heat, didn’t always work, and over the course of testing, it became too stiff and creaky to swing freely. Finally, a hook designed to lock the tongs for storage often engaged while we were working—clamping them shut miduse.