Dozens of crappy Grilling-Gifts-for-Dads clutter the aisles of kitchen stores this time of year, and you should avoid most of these gizmos like a Kiss-the-Cook apron.
What things should every BBQ cook own? Basic yet serious tools that will improve your cooking skills, especially if you plan on following the Grill Marks series through to our discussions on low-and-slow smoked barbecue.
1. An instant-read meat thermometer
How do you know when your 2" thick steak is perfectly medium-rare? Until you've cooked several hundred of them and can tell perfectly cooked meat by poking it with your finger, you need a meat thermometer.
Its thin metal probe inserted into the thickest part of the meat will give you the internal temperature of your food. Avoid dumbed-down thermometers labeled "Rare / Medium / Well" because who knows how they're calibrated? Get one that simply shows a temperature readout, and learn what temperatures you're shooting for.
Every restaurant supply store or Smart & Final sells professional instant-read thermometers for around $7. Most of them read up to 220 degrees Farenheit, which is plenty for checking your food. If you can find ones that read up to 550F, you can also use it to measure the temperature inside your smoker or grill. Get one that can be calibrated - it will have a hex nut behind the dial.
Don't believe in doing things half-way? Then get the king of meat thermometers, the $89 Thermapen. Its extra-thin probe reacts extremely fast and is a favorite of competition BBQ cooks.
2. A probe thermometer
Your instant-read thermometer can't be left stuck in your food while it cooks, such as when you're smoking a bone-in prime rib roast on the grill for a few hours. Why take chances on a pricy piece of meat? For that, you want a probe thermometer that monitors the internal temperature as it cooks. You want one that's simple to use, reliable and not too expensive. The $20 Thermoworks Original Oven Thermometer fits the bill perfectly.
You can't have too many professional-quality tongs. Made from stainless steel, with a sturdy hinge, professional cooks rely on these tools as much or more as their chefs knives.
For the grill, you want ones 12 inches or longer to reach over high heat zones on your grill. Don't bother with the silly ones made just for the grill, with the ridiculously large tips, or oversized handles. Why not buy tongs that you'll use inside the kitchen too? I recommend Edlund's heavy-duty locking tongs which take hard punishment with no complaint. Local sources at bottom!
4. Grill brush
The secret to keep food from sticking to your grill? Brush it clean often. A long-handled brush will keep your hands away from the high heat, but avoid expensive grill brushes which get gunked up and need replacement as often as cheap ones. I recommend a stainless steel wire brush from the hardware store made for welders. Cheap, rust-free, and for less than $5, painless to chuck it when it's gacked.
5. Welding gloves
Extra-long, heavy leather gloves will protect your hands when you're handling hot grills, flaming charcoal or scraping away with that grill brush. $20 at any hardware store.
6. Chimney starter
If you own a charcoal grill, stop using that nasty lighter fluid already and get a chimney starter. It's a must-own tool unless you cook with propane, and over the course of this Grill Marks series, I'll show you some neat ways to use your chimney starter for purposes other than lighting charcoal.
The last word in chimney starters is the $20 Weber version sold at every grill shop and hardware store in the US of A.
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For tongs and thermometers, shop local restaurant supply shops like:
The author is an award-winning BBQ Pitmaster who teaches Smoking 110 classes. Details on professorsalt.com