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The 5 best BBQ tools: Expand your grilling arsenal
What is the best BBQ tool? The Weber iGrill 2 is ZDNet's top pick. I chose and reviewed many of these products with the garden-variety barbecue enthusiast and beginner in mind. These are my favorite gadgets and equipment for when I cook outdoors.
As summer approaches and we start cleaning up our barbecues (unless you're lucky enough to have a BBQ shack, and then any season is barbecue season), it's time to start thinking about ways to bring your food up to the next level.
When I first attempted this way of cooking, my creations included black-burnt raw chicken, dry ribs, and a devastating waste of salmon with skin clinging to the grate. I've improved since then, in no small part through attending a BBQ cooking class (yes, I was that much of a disaster) and a helpful gadget or two.
There might not be much to look forward to when we look at the state of the world right now, but at the least, we can enjoy a barbecue or two with friends and family in our backyards.
If you want to refresh your cooking kit or invest in a smart accessory or two, look no further -- check out our best product picks in 2022.
The Weber iGrill 2 is an excellent product for both beginners and pros. The device, together with the Weber iGrill mobile app, works with any barbecue and has slots for four probes (two included) to monitor the core temperature of the meat. Probes can also be purchased to monitor ambient air temperature.
The app (iOS or Android) allows you to set cooking presets that work for you and the app. On my first try, the app connected via Bluetooth in less than a minute. You can set timers and check probes individually from your device, and I find the temperature readings popping up on the notifications screen (Android) particularly useful.
Weber's core and ambient probes connect to the iGrill 2 hub via wires, and while this may cause some concern for barbecues with lids, they are fine to use with closed tops as long as you are careful with your placement.
The Meater Plus is an excellent standalone thermometer with a long connectivity range of up to 10 ft for wireless and up to 165 ft for Bluetooth.
You connect your mobile phone to the probe to monitor the internal temperature of the food you are cooking. The app contains easy-to-follow instructions and the probe's charging station uses three simple LED lights to show whether or not it is connected to the probe, disconnected, or needs recharging. You can also press a button to check battery levels.
It's more chunky than you might imagine, and so while suitable for larger items -- such as whole chickens or joints -- it will leave holes in sausages, burgers, and smaller foods. However, as an added bonus, the probe also contains a secondary sensor to measure the ambient temperature.
Stylish design and charging case
Expensive just for a probe
Rather large so more suitable to bigger cuts of meat
Suck UK's BBQ Tool Box is a fantastic option if you want a smaller grill as an accompaniment to your larger kettle, barrel, or smoker, or if you want something you can take with you for safe grilling while camping.
The BBQ Tool Box, as you may imagine, looks like a classic toolbox. However, inside, you can expect a stainless steel grill area, a warming grill shelf, and a deep tray for stashing travel-sized equipment such as lighters and tongs.
There's a removable tray inside for your charcoal and the vent, found at the bottom, was useful for keeping the temperature under control. I'm not usually a fan of direct cooking but tester sausages and burgers turned out well.
If there's any complaint, it would be that the BBQ Tool Box would look better in black or silver.
Available in red or black, the Grillbot is a rather unusual accessory in the world of barbecue.
It's incredibly annoying when you are hosting a barbecue and realize you forgot to clean it after a past cooking session. If you are using a charcoal model, especially, this can lead to grime, mold, and piles of ash that need dealing with, especially if you're not using drip trays.
While not necessarily suitable for deep cleans, the Grillbot can take care of surface issues and help you keep your cooking surface up to scratch.
The Weber ambient temperature probe, for use with an iGrill model or Weber Connect, is a highly useful bolt-on that I purchased in my quest to finally get a beer can chicken right. I'd generally struggle with maintaining the right ambient temperature. I would end up destroying a chicken's skin before the meat reached a safe core temperature, but the ambient probe has helped by allowing me to check the temperature and change the vents accordingly.
Once the probe is connected to your Weber hub, you access it via the mobile app and you can easily monitor any temperature fluctuations and decide whether or not you need to tamper with your vents or refuel.
The probe comes with a clip for secure placement and you can shut your barbecue's lid on the wire, as long as you're careful.
The Weber iGrill 2 is ZDNet's top choice. With it, you can monitor the core temperature of the meat, making barbecuing easier than ever, and it provides you with ultimate cooking control.
Weber iGrill 2
Up to four probes & sensors
Bluetooth, wireless connectivity
165 ft wireless range
BBQ Tool Box
Steel, robust design
Air vent system
Nylon, steel, or brass brushes
Weber ambient temperature probe
Bluetooth/mobile connectivity (via a hub)
Which BBQ tool is right for you?
Since we're not comparing apples to apples here, the right BBQ tool really comes down to you and your preferences, needs, and use-cases. Consider the following decision tree when contemplating which BBQ tool to buy this summer:
Choose this BBQ tool…
If you want…
Weber iGrill 2
Precise, real-time monitoring of your meat's temperature.
Wirelessly monitor temperatures from afar.
BBQ Tool Box
Steel organizer to store all your BBQ tools.
Clean the surface area of your grill with ease.
Weber ambient temperature probe
Mantain ambient temperatures.
How did we choose these barbecue and grill products?
ZDNet chose and reviewed many of these products with the garden-variety barbecue enthusiast and beginner in mind.
Direct cooking and quick-and-dirty barbecue sessions in the summer are fantastic -- perhaps especially more so now considering many of us are no longer under stay-at-home orders -- but using a barbecue as a cooking method, whether charcoal or gas, is also an art in itself.
Smart and useful gadgets can help you on your way to perfecting that rack of ribs, whole chicken, or vegetable medley, and these products will assist you in learning everything from temperature control to improving your BBQ's cleanliness.
What is ambient temperature, and why should I care?
The ambient temperature is the temperature of the air surrounding your food. If the barbecue lid is open, ambient temperature measurements won't be reliable. However, if you have the lid closed, you can monitor the temperature to ensure your heat source is still active and where you need it to be while barbecuing or smoking.
It's also a useful measurement for where you put food -- as heat will likely be higher closer to the source, and it where it is cooler, the internal temperature of items will take longer to reach a safe level to eat.
What are the different kinds of BBQ cooking?
There are too many methods to list here, but some of the most popular and fun cooking techniques to try are:
Direct: When you place food directly on a heat source for quick cooking. Blasting steak, hamburgers, fish, and other items can ensure quick cooking -- but if it's too hot, you're more likely to end up with burnt food on the outside and rawness in the middle.
Indirect: Also known as low-and-slow, meat and other large items are indirectly cooked by placing them inside a barbecue but away from direct heat, closing the lid, and managing the temperature via vent control or water trays. For example, you could put an even layer of coals on the left and food items on the right. This is a great method to use if you want to throw in some wood for smoking, too.
Smoking: Smoking -- normally reserved for food including brisket and ribs -- is a slow method to imbue meat and vegetables with the taste profiles of wood. It's often the case that smoking can be performed for many hours, with meat wrapped for the last few hours to lock in moisture. Don't forget to rest meat afterwards!
Reverse searing: Indirect cooking and then finishing off a piece of meat with a quick sear at the end.
Snake method: Usable with kettles or barrel types, you lay a half or full circle of charcoal briquettes to create a 'snake' and light several at the tip to maintain low and indirect heat. This can allow you to smoke food for a long period without having a dedicated smoker at hand and, when set up correctly, means you won't need to add more charcoal during the cook.
Should you go with gas or charcoal?
This is a question that has sparked many a debate between barbecue enthusiasts. I'm self-admittedly a strictly charcoal advocate, as I prefer the taste of meat produced through these kinds of barbecues, and I'm a fan of both smoking and indirect cooking.
It's often cheaper to use charcoal but controlling temperatures via vents, not to mention the cleanup, can be turn-offs.
Gas models might be more expensive but you can bring your barbecue up to temperature almost immediately and with great efficiency. While you can smoke on a gas barbecue, it takes more preparation than throwing a few lumps of wood on a charcoal alternative.
Are there alternative BBQ tools worth considering?
With well-known brands like Weber, Traeger, and Kamado Joe dominating the market, as well as many up-and-coming companies, there are countless barbeque models and accessories on the market. While we can't include every interesting gadget in our list, you might also want to consider the products below: