Ahh, grilling season. Who can resist the allure of an outdoor cookout? Whether you're a seasoned pro or a barbecue pitmaster in training, we could all use a little inspiration to keep our barbecues fresh and tasty and our burgers less, well, hockey-puck-like!
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So, we talked to barbecue and grilling experts, from a New Orleans grill master to a New Zealand food truck smash burger expert, to find out what grilling accessories, gadgets, barbecue seasonings and grill tools are their top picks for keeping their outdoor feasts filled with flavor. Pick up one or more of the items in this buying guide to up your grilling game and be prepared to impress your guests — and their taste buds!
1. Charcoal Chimney Starter
Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter
Why: "This chimney is basically every charcoal griller's not-so-secret weapon! We use it almost every day and for good reason. Chimneys light charcoal faster and safer than lighter fluid. To use one, simply place it on your unlit grill. Then, pour the unlit charcoal into the cylinder and either bunch up some newspaper and stick it in the cone area or use a lighter cube. If you love BBQ, you need one ... or four, like we have!"
2. Burger Seasonings
Isaac Toups Heatwave Burger Seasoning, 22 oz. Jar
Mother-In-Law’s Korean Chile Flakes, 3.25 oz. Jar
Crystal Hot Sauce, 12 fl. oz. Bottle
Picked by: Isaac Toups, chef and owner of Toups Meatery, is a four-time finalist for the James Beard Award for Best Chef: South, author of award-winning book "Chasing the Gator: Isaac Toups and The New Cajun Cooking," and fan favorite from season 13 of "Top Chef."
Why: "My cooking style is inspired equally by my time in the fine-dining kitchens of incredible chefs, including Emeril Lagasse, and time spent at my Cajun grandmother's kitchen table. I created a line of seasonings and sauces to bring my unique take on Cajun cuisine to grilling and cooking. My Heatwave seasoning is a must for grilling the perfect burger. It's got all kinds of pepper and balances the fat in the ground beef.
And I love using Korean Chile Flakes when grilling — it adds a sweet and smoky flavor to whatever protein you're cooking up and can stand up to high heat. And when it comes to hot sauce, grill with Crystal Hot Sauce. It's sweeter and calmer yet still gives you the nice acidity and kick of a hot sauce."
3. Smash Burger Press
Sasquash Smash Burger Press
Picked by: Alex Moore started his culinary journey as a teen working at a Dairy Queen in Illinois. He has since brought his affinity for American diner-style eats to the food truck he owns and operates in Cromwell, New Zealand.
Why: "I specialize in smash burgers, which are gaining popularity more and more. This burger smasher does the trick and is quick and easy on your hands if you're making a lot of patties, like I do on the food truck. When you smash burgers, they tend to cook to the surface of the grill. So, a really good grill scraper is also useful in keeping all the burgers' crispy, crunchy edges, which have so much flavor, intact. No more dry, hockey puck burgers like dad used to make!"
4. Grilling Pads
Renook Grill Mat Set, 6-Count
Picked by: Millie Pham is a Korean-English interpreter who turned her love of cooking into a lifestyle blog during the pandemic.
Why: "When using a charcoal grill, it's important that each part is heated evenly so as not to burn one side of your meat before the other side has reached perfection. Grilling mats make doing that a breeze. These are dishwasher-safe and reusable. Just make sure they are clean and dry before using them again."
5. A Smoky and Tangy Charcoal Rub
Sebastian & Co. Asado-Inspired Charcoal Rub
Picked by: Sebastian Cortez is a chef, butcher and grilling expert who is bringing a modern twist to his Old-World-style butcher shop, Sebastian & Co. Fine Meats, in Vancouver.
Why: "I was raised in Chile, and I have such fond memories of friends and family congregating around the grill. This charcoal rub basically emulates the flavor of the South American asado open-fire barbecue, and I developed it in hopes of making the 'asado' experience accessible to all. The flavors of the rub are subtle with a hint of smokiness, a slight tang of citrus and an overall essence of cooking over real charcoal."
6. LED Grill Light Spatula
Grillight LED Grill Light Spatula
Picked by: Luke Lorick, the founder of National Tailgating Day and an all-around grilling fan.
Why: "This has been my go-to tool for years. It's an effective spatula with a built-in, waterproof LED light so you can actually see what you're grilling at late-night cookouts. Whenever I use it, I can see exactly what I'm doing and how the meat is coming along. Just push the button and behold — there is light!"
Save the Date!
National Tailgating Day falls on the first Saturday in September. According to Lorick, it’s an annual day to tailgate and celebrate food, fun, friends and football. Sign us up!
7. Reusable Skewers
GRILLART 17" Kabob Skewers for Grilling, 10-Count
Picked by: Adriana Smith, the creator of Willamette Transplant, is a recipe developer who was vegetarian for seven years, a strict vegan for two and has since adopted a more "flexitarian" diet.
Why: "Skewers make grilling approachable even for novice cooks since they reduce grill time, help ensure even cooking and make turning, charring and searing easy. Reusable stainless steel skewers are best for piercing food (no need to soak wooden skewers or struggle with piercing tricky foods!) and are dishwasher-safe. The benefit of these 17" skewers? Their extra-long handles hang off the grill so they never get too hot to hold. Plus, they have a slider handle that effortlessly pushes grilled meats and veggies right onto your plate."
Go From Big to Small
Start with oversized and sturdier vegetables and meats, Smith recommends. Think: pineapple, quartered bell pepper, whole button mushrooms, sausages, jumbo shrimp and cubes of steak. Then, as you familiarize yourself with how skewers and kebabs cook and how to handle them on the grill, you can expand the number and types of ingredients you use!
8. Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce
Embasa Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce, 7 oz. Cans, 12-Count
Picked by: Sylvia Fountaine, creator of the Feasting at Home food blog, loves to take advantage of sunny grilling days (when the rain slows down!) in the Pacific Northwest.
Why: "This humble little can of peppers packs a smoky, spicy punch that can boost any store-bought barbecue sauce and add flavor to marinades for grilling meats or veggies. It's smoky, a little spicy, and a little sweet, so I love adding it to my homemade barbecue sauce for mellow spice that doesn't steal the show. It's inexpensive and easy to find in stores or on Amazon, and when opened, it keeps in the fridge for weeks in an airtight container."
9. Wireless Thermometer
MEATER Block Wi-Fi Thermometer, 4 Probes
Picked by: James Mack, aka Smoking Dad BBQ, a pitmaster who helps families master their backyard barbecues.
Why: "A wireless meat thermometer makes my steaks the perfect level of 'doneness' and also helps to keep tabs on my longer cooks with different cuts of meat, like pulled pork and brisket. This one from MEATER comes with several probes to track different cooks. It's also connected to a handy app that takes notes to help me remember what my BBQ guests liked so I can repeat it in the future. And it even sends alerts to my phone when the food is ready. This way, I can spend more time enjoying being outside with company vs. worrying about dinner!"
10. Mandoline Slicer
Benriner Mandoline Slicer
Picked by: Sophina Uong, chef and co-owner of Mister Mao in New Orleans, is the "Chopped Grill Masters Napa" champion.
Why: "This is a go-to tool for me, especially during the summer. It can shave and julienne beautiful, colorful veggies that you can throw on a salad or toss with some grilled asparagus or veggies. This one has all sorts of interchangeable blades so you can make different-shaped veggies to create a really beautiful plate. Plus, it's got a very easy dial which lets you adjust thickness."
Be sure to use a mandoline on a flat surface and always hold the mandoline vertical and slant it forward. This is much safer than attempting to move it side to side, according to Uong. Most importantly: “Keep those fingers away from the sharp blades. Tuck in your fingers and bend your knuckles!” Uong says.
11. A Beloved Seasoning Blend
Trader Joe's Everything But the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend, 2.3 oz. Jar
Picked by: Jen Cardenas, a recipe developer and vegan food blogger who is on a mission to share just how easy and yummy veganism can be.
Why: "This is my most utilized seasoning for BBQ all summer long. It's so versatile and elevates the flavor of anything it's put on. Even for kids, it adds a lot of flavor without adding spice, which is a benefit for those who don't like spicy foods. After grilling some summer veggies, I love to sprinkle it on top. It's amazing on grilled corn on the cob!"
12. Smoke Box
Char-Broil Cast Iron Smoker Box
Picked by: Thomas Ricci, head chef of the meal kit service Gobble, who has been in the culinary industry for over 30 years, cooking in both neighborhood restaurants and fine-dining establishments.
Why: "One of my favorite ways to add flavor to simply grilled items is a cast iron smoke box. It helps prevent the wood from catching on fire and features vents to direct smoke toward the food. I place this on the BBQ grill over a low flame before adding different flavored woods and/or charcoals. I mostly use a propane tank when grilling. So the cast iron smoke box lets me add flavors to the meat or fish slowly at first and turns my grill into a smoker."
13. Sofrito…and a Little Love!
Cooking con Omi My Fresh Sofrito
Picked by: Omi Hopper is a Puerto Rican makeup-artist-turned-chef in Rhode Island who started sharing recipes on social media when her studio shut down during the pandemic.
Why: "My favorite barbecue food is pinchos, or in English, kebabs. It's a Puerto Rican favorite to have on the island, so it always reminds me of home. You can get really creative with them by adding your own twist of seasoning and veggies. However, I like to keep mine very simple and authentic to the taste of Puerto Rican cuisine. Sazon, Adobo, Sofrito, y amor. These are staples in Puerto Rican cuisine."