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Barbecue accessories: Tools are a matter of taste

Published: Monday, Jul. 7, 2014 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jul. 15, 2014 - 10:26 am

Tools and accessories for the home grill are as numerous as unemployed millennials. Store displays can fill entire walls, TV commercials yak about the latest, must-have accessory, and the Internet is a tool-buyer’s paradise.

Two newer tools both deal with the unsavory side of grilling – cleaning dirty grates. The Grillbot is a compact cleaning bot that roams dirty surfaces and removes grease and bits of food while you listen to the ballgame from an Adirondack chair.

The Grill Daddy is one of those “As seen on TV” tools. It steam-cleans and scrubs grill gunk with its stainless steel bristles. It’s not a robot, so you provide the muscle. The original launched in 2006, but there are newer models like the Grand Grill Daddy and the Grill Daddy Pro.

So, which tools do most of us Joe Bag O’ Charcoals actually need? Quality tongs and spatulas are mandatory and better choices than BBQ knives and forks, which pierce and tear. Long-handled forks are suitable for a slab of ribs and flank steak, but not much else. Impaling meat and poultry with a fork releases juices you want to remain inside. A quality pair of tongs and spatula are essential.

Bill Krycia, who will be conducting grilling demonstrations at the upcoming California State Fair, has a sparse list of tool favorites.

“Tongs,” said Krycia of Antelope. “I like a shorter-handled one and a longer-handled one. The grill brush. A thermometer.”

Of course, favorite tools often depend on what you enjoy grilling. Tongs are most often used to turn and reposition food. A metal spatula comes in handy if you grill fish right on the grates or are flipping hamburger patties.

A metal, perforated, off-set spatula is favored by Lars Kronmark, chef instructor of culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone near St. Helena.

Kronmark also recommends a pair of professional-grade tongs with 14- to 16-inch handles for safe reaching over hot surfaces and for improved “grabbing.” Those comfortable with even longer handles can find versions more than 20 inches long. Flat gripping ends are less damaging to delicate foods than those with jagged-teeth grips.

Look for professional-grade tongs and spatulas online or at restaurant supply stores. Generally speaking, they are well designed, constructed from stainless steel and have long handles.

“Cheap tongs can damage more delicate foods,” said Kronmark.

He also never uses the ubiquitous grilling mitt, preferring a thick towel for gripping and maneuvering over hot surfaces.

As masters of our own grills, we’re free to purchase any tool or accessory we deem necessary to get the job done. Flame-resistant mitts are popular with the backyard barbecue crowd. They cover the hand and forearm to protect skin over an extremely hot surface. Long-handled tools are another strategy to protect skin.

Below are several more tool and accessory choices you may find useful.

Wood planks – Plank grilling is a unique style where food is cooked atop water-soaked hardwood planks to infuse the smoky essence of the chosen wood. If you have had limited experience in plank grilling, it has likely been with a popular choice long favored by Native Americans – salmon on cedar.

Dina Guillen of Folsom loved plank grilling so much, she wrote the book “Plank Grilling” (Sasquatch, $19.99, 171 pages). The book features 75 recipes, including several for planked pizzas (alder or maple).

“The best flavor for chicken and pork is maple,” she said. “Alder also is good for pork, chicken and fish. For vegetables and salmon, I prefer cedar. For beef, it’s oak, hickory or mesquite. I only use cherry wood for lamb.”

Wood planks for grilling can be purchased at some supermarkets, Costco and online. You also can have a lumberyard cut them. Guillen said planks most often are rectangular (15 by 7 inches) and 3/8th thickness. Planks can be cleaned and reused until they crumble.

Smokenator – A stainless steel accessory that converts a Weber kettle grill into a smoker for barbecuing ribs and anything else suitable for the smoker. Add hot charcoal, wood and water to the Smokenator and you’re good to go. It will save you the cost of buying a smoker.

Instant-read digital thermometer – No more guessing if chicken and pork are properly cooked. Buy one with a large digital readout.

Cast-iron griddle – Place it on top of grates. “You want it 15 by 20 inches or so and flat,” said Kronmark. “In the home kitchen we call it a pancake griddle. It will slow down the heat and create a special crust if you’re grilling fish. I use the griddle for a filet or a thick T-bone.”

Water bottles – Spritzing water on flare-ups with a water bottle gets as many thumbs up as thumbs down. Water is used to control charcoal fires. Drop the lid on a gas grill and wait a few moments for flare-ups to subside. Moving food away from flare-ups works best for both.

Long-handled basting brush – A must-have tool, especially for ribs and anything that requires basting. Many pros prefer silicon bristle brushes over natural and nylon bristles. Silicone is easier to clean (sauce doesn’t stick to bristles) and heat-resistant. Cotton, mop-headed brushes are difficult to clean.

Grill basket – Securely holds fish, vegetables, fruit and other foods that are either delicate or tend to fall through the grates. Some folks even use them for hamburgers. Flipping troublesome foods becomes much easier.

Cover – A good grill cover protects your investment from harsh weather. You’ll also appreciate it when the grill becomes the target of bird droppings.

Fire extinguisher – Always keep one near the grill. A nearby garden hose is next best. Be safe!

Read more articles by Dan Vierria



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