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May 13, 2022  |  Patio

Everything you need for a great cookout

How to have a great barbecue

With temperatures rising and sunlight hours reaching well into the late evening, it’s prime time to hit the grill. You definitely need a few important things, including food and friends or family. Besides those, the right gear can make or break your cookout experience.

While a quality grill is the centerpiece of any cookout, it shouldn’t be the only piece of equipment on your list. Some barbecue-specific gadgets, food storage tools, and outdoor furniture and shelters can go a long way in helping you prepare the finest outdoor grilling session imaginable.

Choosing the best grill

There are quite a few types of barbecue grills out there, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. When looking for the right variety of grill for your summertime events, some basic guidelines should point you in the right direction.

  • Gas grills: The ubiquitous gas grill delivers the most convenient barbecue experience possible. Lighting and cleanup are about as easy as they come. Plus, it’s relatively easy to find a large enough model for your entire group without spending a fortune. Experts and owners alike praise Weber and Napoleon for making some of the best gas grills on the planet, although both companies also make some great charcoal models.
  • Kettle grills: These are some of the most iconic grills in American history. At their most basic, kettle grills are as simple as can be, as they’re basically metal buckets for burning charcoal with a metal grille perched on top. They’re most effective in the hands of experienced barbecue chefs, as it takes know-how and a certain touch to reach and maintain the perfect temperature. They can also be especially cost-effective due to their simplicity. Char-Broil makes some of the most famous and effective kettle grills, though they’re also responsible for a number of other great styles.
  • Barrel grills: Traditionally made from a 55-gallon drum sliced in half vertically, barrel grills represent the biggest and beefiest option and are built to feed an army. The best require a pretty big investment, but a quality barrel grill should last for years. Dyna-Glo makes some of the most dependable ones, and they don’t usually cost a fortune.
  • Kamado grills: If you only plan to cook for small groups and are willing to invest in a top-quality option that will last for years, consider a kamado grill. These remarkably versatile grills retain heat better than nearly any other cooking apparatus and allow for high-heat searing or all-day slow cooking. However, they’re not usually ideal for large cookouts because kamado grills get extremely expensive as the size goes up.
  • Dual-fuel grills: Dual-fuel grills are somewhat of a niche product and are designed for the demanding barbecue enthusiast who insists on complete control of every part of the meal. As the name implies, they use two types of fuel, typically charcoal and propane. This lets you give some foods a high-heat sear with grill marks, while you let others slow-cook over coals and absorb all the tasty aromatics charcoal grilling entails.
  • Pellet grills: You have to really want a pellet grill if you’re going to buy a pellet grill. That’s because they’re not traditional barbecue grills, but rather partly automated smokers that use electricity to light wood pellets on fire and smoke whatever foods they’re loaded up with. Nevertheless, while the smoking process is quite different from traditional backyard grilling, it can be immensely satisfying when done right. Traeger, the company that invented the original pellet grill, makes some of the best.
  • Portable grills: Not every cookout takes place at your home. If you’re heading to a friend’s house, state park, or tailgate party, you might want to take along a portable grill. They come in many varieties, including electric, gas, and charcoal. As expected, they almost never have a comparable capacity to freestanding grills, which is an understandable tradeoff for the portability. While small, they’ll often serve perfectly for a small grill out at a campsite.

The best grilling tools

You can’t cook with just your hands — at least, not safely or effectively. The right set of tools makes a huge difference in how easy your grilling experience ends up. Luckily, you can find a great deal of comprehensive grilling tool sets. You can also research your favorite grill tongs, spatulas, and grilling gloves to make everything as simple and safe as possible.

One way to make sure you have a great cookout is to prep every possible bit of food in advance. There’s no easier way to lose focus and mess something up than trying to juggle too many tasks at once. Keeping a good set of food storage containers handy helps keep your prep work organized and clean.

Once your food is cooked, you still have to finish prepping and serving it. If you’ve slow-cooked a beautiful, tender, juicy pork butt, the best way to deal with it is to rip it apart unceremoniously into finely shredded strands of salty, fatty pulled pork. To do that the right way, get a pair of barbecue claws.

It’s best practice to use disposable gloves when performing this all-important task. Not only is it more sanitary for diners, but pulled pork and shredded beef are awfully hot when they come off the grill or out of the oven. They’re greasy, too, and you don’t want to scrape pork fat out from underneath your fingernails for the rest of the week.

Smoking meats at a cookout

To smoke or not to smoke, that is the question. If you’re willing to wake up at or before dawn, load meat into a smoker, skewer it with a thermometer, and monitor it all day, you’ll end up with smoked meat that the neighborhood will talk about for years, but smoking meat isn’t for everybody. In addition to waking up early, it requires considerable preparation, patience, and trust in the laws of thermodynamics.

For these reasons, it’s recommended you get some experience with a smoker before hosting a large cookout and relying on your brisket to come out tender and on time. A pellet grill is the easiest way to smoke meat, fish, and vegetables. To really get the feel for what you’re doing, though, a manual smoker is the way to go. In addition to their gas and barrel grills, Dyna-Glo’s smokers have a good reputation for a reason. Similarly, Smoke Hollow makes a number of top-quality models that use either propane or electric heating elements, which can take much of the guesswork out of the process.

Alternatively, you can add mild smoke flavor to anything you grill with a simple smoker box. It’s nothing more than a metal compartment for holding wood chips while you grill and keeping them from burning up right away. Technically, you can turn any grill into a smoker using one of these, although many older grills aren’t built to retain the smoke effectively, and cleaning dense soot from a gas grill can be a nightmare.

To grill foods smaller than steak or burgers, such as chicken wings, shrimp, or your favorite vegetables, pick up a metal grilling basket. These let you manage tasty, bite-size pieces without letting them fall through the grill but while still delivering the direct heat needed for a delicious level of char.

FAQ

Q. Is gas or charcoal better to cook with?

A. There’s no right answer when it comes to outdoor grilling. Propane and natural gas burn more efficiently, which makes cleanup and maintenance considerably easier. It’s also remarkably simpler to maintain consistent temperatures with a good gas grill. So, if you don’t have a ton of experience with charcoal, a gas grill might be your best bet.

If you’re willing to practice and gain experience with charcoal, it can have a profound effect on the food you grill. When the juices and seasonings drip from meat and vegetables onto blazing hot coals, the resulting vapors are packed with subtle and complex flavors that gas grills can’t quite replicate. Since charcoal grills rely slightly more on conduction than convection to cook food, those aromatics will stay put in the grill longer, imparting those flavors into the food.

At the end of the day, the choice between charcoal and gas grills comes down to preference. If you’re sure you want the best of both worlds, you can always opt for a dual-fuel grill.

Q. What kind of furniture is best for a cookout?

A. It partly depends on the weather. If you’re in a high-humidity area with lots of heat and bugs, consider a rugged party tent, ideally with mosquito netting. If heavy winds won’t be an issue, you can probably get by with a slightly lighter-duty camping canopy.

Naturally, everyone will need somewhere to sit and eat. Anyone outfitting their own backyard for summer gatherings should look into a high-quality outdoor dining table. Those putting together a portable or pop-up cookout package will be better served by one or more durable outdoor folding tables.

When it comes to the grill itself, a few key pieces of equipment can protect it during and after the event. A solid grill gazebo keeps the cook and their tools out of the elements during the process. At the same time, a dependable grill light can be hugely helpful to the cooking experience after dark. Finally, once your grill is cleaned and cooled down, a rugged grill cover will protect it from the elements until you’re ready to fire it up again.

Q. How do you make the best homemade burgers?

A. Grind and season the meat yourself. Start with a decent cut of chuck roast and put it through a quality meat grinder. Make sure to season it properly because the spices you’ll use require a combination of heat, moisture, oil, and time to fully develop into the best versions of themselves. Consider a premium premade spice blend, but also don’t be afraid to experiment with your own recipe.

Paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper are the most common spices found in burgers. You can also get exotic if you like. Ingredients such as cumin, hot smoked paprika (which is nearly the same as ground chipotle pepper), Worcestershire sauce, and even ground breakfast sausage will have guests begging for your secret recipe.

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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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