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It’s not quite summer yet, but Memorial Day is often seen as the unofficial start of the grilling season. To help you prepare for the next few months, we’ve compiled a list of the best gear for your outdoor cooking adventures. Based on reviews and testing, we’ve selected three grills that will all help you stay on top of your BBQ game. There are other devices too, with items that should help you serve up delicious food all year long and expand your skills in the process.
Traeger Ironwood series
WiFi is now a standard grilling tool and Traeger does a great job of employing it on its pellet grills. In 2019, the company made wireless connectivity a feature across all of its grill lines, which means you can reap the benefits without having to pay for the priciest model. To me, the best value is in the mid-range with Traeger’s Ironwood series. These grills are expensive, but they have features from the more expensive Timberline models at a more attainable price.
Traeger completely overhauled its app in 2020, which allows you to control and monitor the grill remotely. The Ironwood series ship with a pellet sensor, an add-on that keeps tabs on your fuel supply, so you don’t have to worry about running out. The app also houses a wealth of recipes, which you can send directly to the grill from your phone, along with step-by-step guidance. The Ironwood has a barrel-shaped design, which circulates smoke and heat before it exits the exhaust port on the back, and a small side shelf to rest supplies on as needed. And because the grill has an internet connection, you’ll get regular firmware updates that improve grill performance.
Weber Genesis II EX-315 Smart Grill
I expected it was only a matter of time before Weber brought its Weber Connect smart grilling platform to gas grills. Earlier this year, the company did just that. Weber offers a few different models, but the Genesis II EX-315 sits right in the middle in terms of price. It also offers the best mix of features, with things like quick push-button ignition, a light for cooking after the sun sets, back-lit control knobs, porcelain-enameled cast iron grates and more. Weber’s Genesis line has a strong track record and these new smart grills are well-built workhorses.
Of course, the main attraction here is the Weber Connect integration. Just like it does on the SmokeFire pellet grills and the Smart Grilling Hub, the technology can guide you through every step of the grilling process. A mix of instructions and videos inside the Weber Connect app offer assistance to grillers of all skill levels, right down to when to flip your steak. What’s more, the system offers real-time food temperatures and estimated readiness countdowns right on your phone so you can better time side dishes (and keep the hangry crowd at bay). On its gas smart grills, Weber Connect can also keep tabs on fuel level so you’ll know when it’s time to swap tanks.
Kamado Joe Pellet Joe
Pellet and kamado-style ceramic grills are all the rage right now. To cater to both fan bases, Kamado Joe combined the two hot trends in one product. The Pellet Joe has the ceramic egg-shaped design that’s known for its ability to retain heat and burn fuel efficiently. But instead of running on charcoal or chunks of hardwood, this model offers the convenience of pellets.
The Pellet Joe has a smaller cooking surface than a lot of pellet grills, but additional racks will allow you to stack things vertically. This grill can also sear at 600 degrees, which is hotter than most other pellet grills. WiFi connectivity helps you keep tabs on food and grill temperatures with an app that also offers the ability to tweak settings as needed. Plus, folding side shelves, an air lift hinge and multiple food probes will come in handy during both high-heat searing and low-and-slow smoke sessions.
Ooni Fry and Koda
One very useful skill I picked up during the pandemic is making delicious homemade pizza. Now that life is getting back to some version of normal, I’m ready to impress my friends with my knowledge and technique. To help you do the same from the comforts of your deck or patio, I highly recommend Ooni’s pizza ovens. They’re a bit of a splurge, and you’ll need to buy additional accessories to make the most of them, but these things produce the kind of pizza you’d get at your local artisanal or Neapolitan-style joint. Basically, you can expect the results of a wood-fired brick oven without spending thousands of dollars on masonry.
Ooni offers the choice of wood-fired (via pellets) and gas-burning options. Both versions reach scorching temperatures to cook pizzas from below on a heated stone and with flames above in about a minute. They clean easily and fold up quickly for portability and storage. And that means you can take the pizza party on the road this summer.
Thermoworks Smoke X2 and X4
If you already have a grill or smoker you like, and you don’t need the fancy app-based guidance of Weber Connect, Thermoworks’ newly redesigned Smoke X thermometers are worth a look. These give you the ability to watch food and grill temperatures without having to venture outside. They use RF technology to relay info from the hub at your grill to a handheld receiver. You can set high and low temperature alarms yourself, so this is a completely customizable device for more experienced users.
Thermoworks says the Smoke X has a line of sight range of up to 6,562 feet (1.24 mile). I’m not sure you’d want to trek that far away while cooking, but the increased signal strength means you won’t have to worry about walls and other obstacles around your house. The Smoke X also has a long battery life. Because it doesn’t rely on WiFi, it can last up to 330 hours on two AA batteries (1,800 hours for the receiver, Smoke X2). The device duo is also protected against outdoor hazards with an IP66 splash-proof rating. Lastly, the Smoke X2 and Smoke X4 ship with all the probes you’ll need, so you don’t have to make any additional purchases there.
Thermoworks Thermapen Mk4
I get it: not everyone needs or wants to keep tabs on what’s cooking from afar. No shade there, but you do need a reliable thermometer to confirm when your food is done. I’ve been using the Thermoworks Thermapen Mk4 for over a year now and it’s the best instant-read option I’ve found. There are cheaper models available, but the Mk4 has a backlit display that rotates based on how you’re holding it. It also has motion sensing activation, so it automatically turns on when you pick up and shuts off after you put it down. The Mk4 is waterproof with an IP67 rating, so you don’t have to worry about getting it wet when you’re saucing chicken.
Anova Precision Cooker Nano
A sous vide device might seem out of place in a grilling guide, but hear me out. Since I started using an Anova as part of my steak process, I’ve massively upped my game. Steaks are tender and juicy, with edge-to-edge doneness that’s difficult to achieve on a hot-and-fast grill. Basically, I sous vide for a couple hours (or more) and then sear the steaks on a grill to finish them off. Perhaps the best part is you don’t have to invest a ton to get one of these app-connected machines as the Precision Cooker Nano covers all the essentials for $129.
In order to make the most of your sous vide setup, you’ll want to also invest in a vacuum sealer. I have the FoodSaver FM2000. It doesn’t have some of the flashy features of more expensive units, but it covers the basics just fine (and it’s well under $100). If you prefer something more robust with options like automatic moisture detection and bag storage, I’d recommend the FoodSaver V4400. Plus, you can use this to seal leftovers for the freezer or store other goods you don’t want air to get to. I’ve also found vacuum-sealed packs handy for reheating things like pulled pork. With sous vide, the meat doesn’t dry out like it would in the microwave. Sure, you could just use Ziploc bags, but I’ve done that, and a FoodSaver is worth the investment.
Stanley IceFlow Tumblers
I’d argue one of the most important grilling tools is a cold beverage. And as the days get hotter, you’ll need to plan your drinkware carefully so your monster cocktail or water supply remains at a frigid temperature. I’ve tried a number of insulated aluminum cups over the years, but Stanley has been the best. The company is known for its classic thermos, but its lineup of cups, bottles and more are affordable and do a great job of keeping drinks cold for hours at a time.
Stanley has a ton of options that serve as alternatives to popular brands like Yeti, but the IceFlow Tumblers have been my go-to this spring. The larger 30-ounce cup can keep drinks cold for up to 12 hours while the 20-ounce version can do so for up to seven hours. There’s a solid handle and the built-in flip-down straw means the drinking area isn’t exposed to the elements quite as much. At $25 and $30 each, these are a fraction of the cost of the most expensive options, and they have better ice retention than some of those too.