With the smells of charcoal and propane beginning to perfume backyards across the nation, now is the perfect time to take stock of your equipment. Whether you're an old hand or are new to this most primal of cooking methods, proper tools count.
Outside of the grill itself, here's a basic list of all the tools you'll need so you're ready when your inner chef hears the call of the great outdoors. All of the equipment should be generally available wherever grills and grilling supplies are sold, such as at hardware stores, drugstores and even some supermarkets. They're also available online.
Chimney: A gas grill is a wonderfully easy way to fire up the grilling season, but for real flavor, nothing beats cooking over charcoal — that is, as long as that great charcoal flavor isn't ruined by the taste of lighter fluid. For a quick, surefire way to light charcoal without having to douse the hardwood or briquettes with lighter fluid, try a charcoal chimney starter. It's simple to use: Crumple some newspaper and stuff it in the bottom of the chimney, then place the charcoal on top. Light the newspaper, and in 15 to 20 minutes your coals will be ready for their moment. $10 to $15.
Gloves: When you're working over high heat, gloves and grill mitts are a great way to keep your hands protected from heat and occasional flare-ups. Look for heat-resistant gloves that cover at least part of the forearm for maximum protection. Prices vary by type and material used, but are generally $15 to $30.
Tongs: Put the fork away. A good set of tongs will give you a much better grip on your steaks and vegetables, and you won't have to repeatedly puncture what you're cooking (remember, it's already dead). When looking for tongs, reach for a pair of spring-loaded or flexible bent tongs as opposed to a pair joined by a swivel pin (similar to scissors or pliers), as they offer more control. And consider size. Tongs range from as short as 6 inches to well over a foot in length. The shorter the tongs, the more control you will have. $5 to $10.
Spatula: Like a good set of tongs, a proper spatula is a must-have tool when handling foods on the grill. The right spatula can make quick and easy work of lifting and flipping burgers, delicate fillets and more as they cook. Standard metal spatulas are thicker and work well when you're flipping burgers and larger cuts of meat and poultry. For delicate items, consider a thin and flexible fish spatula. Consider buying a spatula with wide slats or holes; this allows liquids to drain while minimizing surface contact with food so it doesn't stick to the spatula and tear as it's handled. $10 to $20.
Grill basket: If you plan to grill small or delicate items such as cut vegetables or fish, consider investing in a grill basket. Perforated open baskets help to keep smaller foods from slipping through the racks, and closed mesh baskets keep delicate foods from crumbling as they're grilled. Baskets are available at cooking supply stores and where grilling supplies are sold, as well as online. $15 to $20.
Thermometer: When cooking meats or any items for which food safety is a concern, a dependable thermometer is a must. It can give a quick verification when you want to be sure of the temperature on a chicken breast or steak. Many digital thermometers have probes attached by wire to the temperature gauge so the probe alone can be left in a larger cut of meat as you check its progress. Remember to clean the probe between each use to prevent cross-contamination. $5 for a simple dial thermometer to $30 or more for a digital thermometer with a remote probe.
Grill brush: Spare yourself the expensive grill cleaning supplies and chemicals; a basic grill brush is all you need to keep your grill and racks in working order. Simply heat the grill on high after cooking to char any stuck foods and sauces, then run the stainless steel bristles of a cheap grill brush over the mess to clean it off. $5 to $10.