by Mike Thayer
I already covered 'must have' essential tools in Chapter 2, but let's do a quick recap of the basics needed for cranking out a great meal from the grill before we get into accessories and gadgets.
The charcoal chimney: For me, there’s really no better way to light charcoal. They’re easy to use and there's no foul lighter fluid smell or residue.
Grill gloves: Get a good glove for working with charcoal chimneys, re-positioning a grill grate, lifting a hot lid or even pulling some hot baked potatoes off the grill.
Tongs: NO grill master is without a good pair of metal tongs. For added control and gripping power, be sure to buy a pair with some kind of scalloped edge in the tip end.
A good spatula: A metal spatula for the grill is a MUST have. Pay the extra buck or two for quality, a metal spatula with a rubber or silicone grip. Stay away from wood handles!
A basting brush: Get the newest brushes made out of dishwasher safe silicone. They don’t grab as much sauce like the traditional brushes do but they last longer, the brush ‘hairs’ don’t fall out and they clean up much easier. You’ll have to do a little more dipping, but that’s OK.
Meat thermometer: An instant-read meat thermometer is a good thing to have, especially if you want reassurance that what you've prepared for family or guests has hit the right temperature. Safe eats are good eats.
A good quality wire brush: It’s simply the best tool for keeping your grilling surface clean.
A good quality cast iron skillet: It can take the heat, they’re versatile and a well seasoned skillet, like charcoal, delivers another layer of flavor.
Grill Accessories & Gadgets ~ going beyond the basic tools
Skewers: There are two types, metal and wood (usually bamboo). I have both, as they each have a unique purpose.
Metal skewers are fantastic because you don't have to spend time soaking them to avoid burning, they're washable, excellent for everyday grilling. When preparing a meal for myself or family they're perfect, everybody can have their own skewer or you can pull the good eats off the skewer for family style plating. The price range for a decent set of 6 metal skewers runs between $15 and $25. Go for flat blades, not round - avoid food spin.
Wood/Bamboo skewers are something you should always have on hand. If you're into food on a stick or are grilling for a party, this is the way to go. Perhaps the best thing about them is there's no washing required, once the grilled eats are eaten, throw the skewers away or put them on the fire. There are a few downsides to wood skewers. You need to soak them for about 30 minutes prior to loading them up with eats. If you overload a wood skewer with eats they can splinter. Most wood skewers are round, so food can spin on you when you're trying to turn that meat or veggie on a stick when on the grill. It can be frustrating turning that beautiful skewer of lamb kabob, you try to rotate the meat a quarter turn for even cooking and two of those six kabobs on that stick spin in place, those two kabobs 'refuse' to cook on another side. The answer to avoiding food spin is to double up on skewers. Wood/bamboo skewers are inexpensive, easily found at your local grocery store for $1 or $2 in 50 - 100 count bags.
A Fish/Veggie Tray comes in real handy when grilling up delicate foods like fish and smaller foods like shrimp, peppers or veggie slices. A tray or pan prevents smaller bites from falling through the grates and onto the coals - a grill crime! A good grill pan or tray provides you an easy flip/rotate surface, raised edges and slots to allow smoke through. Weber makes a darn good grilling tray that runs about $20.
Flashlights just don't cut it for grilling at night, besides, they take away a hand that could be holding an aluminum can. If your grilling area is not well lit, then a grill light will come in handy for those after dark eats! A quality grilling light will have LED bulbs, a flex tube so you can adjust the direction of the light and a base that can attach to your grill area with either a screw clamp or magnetic base. Quality grill lights go for $25 and up.
Protect your grill with a grill cover. If you're like me and keep your grill outside on a permanent basis, then a grill cover is a must. It not only helps to keep your grill clean and outdoor dust/bird poo/bug free, but it extends the life and shine of your grill. Water and grills just do not mix and a grill sitting out in direct sun all day everyday fades the finish. Whether your grill is charcoal, gas or electric, invest some money in a grill cover. And don't go cheap here, buy a quality cover that will fit properly and last. Most grill manufacturers make covers to fit for their grills, try to stay away from anything 'universal' or off-brand. Quality covers go $50 and up.
Keep your charcoal, wood and/or wood pellets dry with a charcoal caddy. Not everyone has a garage or shed to store their charcoal, grilling wood or wood pellets in. And for guys married and living in an apartment, I bet your wife isn't letting you keep grilling fuel in the living room. A charcoal caddy is multi-purpose. They not only keep your fuel safe from the outdoor elements, they are portable and travel well too. A quality caddy can store an entire large bag of charcoal or pellets and feature a snap on lid that can also open up and pour. A lid like that means you can store several small bags of chunk wood in their bags, just snap off the entire lid and choose from and assortment of apple, mesquite or hickory for example. Or, pour in a large bag of charcoal into the container and when you're ready to fire up the grill, just flip open the pour lid and dump charcoal into your chimney. No charcoal dust on your hands! I have three of these. One for charcoal that I can pour. One for pellets that I can pour and one holding several small bags of chunk wood. Kingsford makes a nice caddy for around $12.
Protect your deck, patio, hard surface with a grilling mat. Let's face it, grills create greasy messes and some of that ends up on the deck/patio/surface where you grill. Grill stains are unsightly and nasty to step in. Keep things clean and stain free with a grill mat that is oil, flame and UV resistant and has a non-skid surface to prevent sliding. And mats are MUCH easier to clean than wood, brick, stone or concrete. You can even get a 'Fan Mat'! Quality mats go for $20 and up.
Don't have enough space to put everything you need for grilling? A grill organizer is great for campsites, small patios or any grilling area where you just flat out don't have any counter space..... Yes, there's a pun in there..... counter space, as in flat out of?..... Maverick puts out a decent organizer for around $25. The concept is smart because it goes up, rather than flat and out, excellent for tight/cramped spaces. The screw clamp base easily attaches to any grill or table.
There are a lot more accessories and gadgets that I could cover here and look forward to reviewing in the future, but the above will surely put you on the road to grill mastery!