Even the most experienced home cook can feel intimidated by the idea of grilling. Maybe it's the varying temperatures, the rules, or the tons of gadgets and accessories that can feel necessary for success. But don't let all of that deter you. "I always say that grilling is 90 percent the will, and 10 percent the skill," says Elizabeth Karmel, the founder of Girls at the Grill. And when it comes to all those grilling accessories, she says you only actually need a few things.
Here's what Karmel says you do — and definitely do not! — need.
What You Need
1. Two pairs of 12-inch long-handled locking chef's tongs.
All the fancy spatulas and spears are nice, but — surprise! — not totally necessary. You just need great tongs! Two of them. "It's essential to have one for cooked food and one for raw," says Karmel. "I'll even put red duct tape on one set, and green on the other. Red means stop, raw food touched these! And green means go!" And the 12-inch handle isn't just a random suggestion. "It's long enough to keep your hand well away from the flame, but short enough that you still have control while you're cooking."
3 Tongs We Love
2. A brass bristle cleaning brush.
Karmel likens cleaning your grill to cleaning your teeth: You need to do it twice a cookout, just like you brush your teeth (at least) twice a day. "Before you cook, you should preheat the grill, then clean it before you put the food on," she says. "Then after you cook, leave the heat on for a bit to burn off any cooked food, and then clean it again." And while a brass bristle cleaning brush is a must-have for deep cleans, she has a fix for those times when you can't find your brush or you've only done some light grilling: Just take a piece of crumpled-up aluminum foil, lock it in your tongs, and clean your grates that way.
Our pick: Rosle 25053 Barbeque Cleaning Brush, $42
3. An instant-read meat thermometer.
Even if you think you're good enough to know when your meat is done, Karmel says that most home cooks and non-pros could use the help of a thermometer. "Very few people actually know by touch and feel whether something is done, and you don't want to have to cut into it [to check] because then you lose some of that delicious juice," she says. "On top of that, cooking is a natural, organic process, and every time you prepare something, it's going to be just a little bit different." A meat thermometer takes any guesswork out of the process.
Our pick: ThermoPop, $29 at Thermoworks
4. A basting brush and a resealable plastic bag.
When grilling anything beyond hot dogs and hamburgers, you need what Karmel calls The Grilling Trilogy: olive oil, salt, and pepper (although the pepper is technically optional). "With anything from a bushel of vegetables to a steak, you can throw it in a bag; add the oil, salt, and pepper; and then massage it, flip it around, and make sure it's all coated." Then when you're cooking, you can use the basting brush to make sure you're getting all that goodness onto the food. "That's all you need to promote caramelization and prevent sticking."
2 Basting Brushes We Love
What You Don't Need
1. A vegetable pan or basket.
There's no need to make grilling veggies any more complicated than it needs to be. According to Karmel, vegetables should go straight on the grill grates. You'll get better flavor and caramelization this way. "Just look at the shape of your food, and remember to put it against your grill grates," she says. "So if you're cooking up green beans or asparagus, which I love to do on the grill, place them perpendicular." When it's time to turn them, just pick up those must-have tongs.
2. A grill fork.
This staple of all grill tool sets is actually not necessary, says Karmel. And her reasoning is surprisingly simple: "I don't ever like to prick my food because it lets precious juices out," she says. Again, use your tongs!
3. An oil mister — or anything that oils your grates.
Karmel is very against oiling your grates: "The instant any vegetable or protein hits a heated surface, it sticks," she explains. "But as it cooks, it releases itself — unless you're moving too fast, or you oiled your grill." Don't do either of those things! Stick to her rule of oiling your food, not your grill, and practice some patience.
4. A pizza stone.
Grilled pizza sounds delicious, right? Right! Just don't believe the hype telling you that you need to buy special stuff in order to make it happen. "You should put the dough directly on the grill," says Karmel. "It's much better that way." Trust her — she's the expert.
Which grilling tools do you swear by? And which ones do you think are unnecessary?