Yet cooking over flames has come a long way since the Stone Age. Grilling is now as much about entertainment as getting dinner on the table. For many outdoor cooks, it’s a hobby that borders on obsession.

Enter the gadgets – occasionally ingenious, often frivolous, designed to satisfy the hobbyist’s burning desire for more tools. Catalogs and stores are filled with new ways to flip meat, monitor temperatures and even roast marshmallows.

To help you sort through the choices, we worked with a dozen tools to determine what’s essential, what’s useful and what’s downright ridiculous.

Essentials

Chimney starter: If you cook with charcoal, you can’t beat this simple cylinder for starting a fire without chemical starter, which can leave its off-flavors on your food. Just wad a couple of sheets of newsprint in the bottom chamber, fill the top one with charcoal and light the paper with a match. In 20-30 minutes, you’ll have perfect glowing coals. From $10 at hardware stores, cookware shops and even supermarkets.

Spring-loaded tongs: The workhorse of the kitchen, these tools function just as well outdoors to move food around on the grill. Available in a variety of lengths, the scalloped ends act like an extension of your hand and the spring makes it easy to grip and hold everything from prawns to steaks. Tongs give more control than a spatula and don’t puncture meat like a fork. Stainless models start at about $8 at housewares stores such as Bed, Bath & Beyond or Macy’s.

Instant-read thermometer: Experienced grillers can tell by touch whether a steak is done. The rest of us need a thermometer to get it right. Instant-read thermometers tell you in a snap whether your burger is raw in the middle or well done, so you don’t have to cut into it repeatedly to check. Digital models are the easiest to read. Prices range from about $8 to more than $50 at housewares stores.

Fireproof gloves: A good pair of gloves with long gauntlets will keep you from getting grill marks on your hands and forearms as well as your steak. We like leather, but manufacturers are making extra-length barbecue gloves from silicone and heat-resistant neoprene that look promising. From about $15 at housewares stores.

Helpful extras

Grill basket: Whether you’re cooking salmon filets or boneless chicken breasts, an adjustable wire basket with a long handle makes it easy to move food around the grill or flip it without tearing delicate flesh. On the downside, the basket can be difficult to clean. From about $8 at housewares stores.

Grilling wok: With its perforated surface and sloping sides, this square, porcelain-coated version of the classic wok is just the thing for cooking small items such as shrimp or vegetables that might slip through the grill’s grate. You can stir-fry in it, too. From about $15 at barbecue and cookware stores.

Silicone basting brush: At first glance it’s hard to believe this new brush with its spaghetti-thick bristles would work, but it does a great job brushing marinades and sauces on everything from chicken to vegetables.

The silicone bristles can withstand temperatures up to 500 degrees, which makes the brush better than a mop or standard kitchen brush. What’s more, it cleans up easily and can go into the dishwasher. About $15 at Sur la Table and online.

Remote thermometer: This high-tech tool removes the temptation to lift the cooker lid incessantly to check on your turkey or brisket. Insert the probe into the meat, attach the long cable to the transmitter outside the grill and close the lid. The receiver will let you know the internal temperature of the meat whether you’re in the garage or next to the grill. We tried the Redi Chek unit from Maverick Industries and it was right on the mark, although the receiver’s belt clip was useless. From about $40 online and at barbecue and housewares stores.

Not necessary but fun

Food flipper: This stainless steel shaft with a sharp curlicue tip – or pig tail – gets points for style. But it also works. Just catch the hook on a piece of chicken or steak and flip it over with a twist of your wrist. You’ll look like a pro and the food won’t show a mark. Sure, you can use tongs, but this is cooler. From $15 at barbecue stores and online.

Beer can chicken rack: Sure you can cook a chicken with just a partly full beer can to support it, but it can be tricky to position the bird’s legs so it all balances on the grill. This gadget eliminates the balancing act. There are several versions on the market. From about $13 at barbecue shops and online.

Doesn’t quite cut it

Marinade injector: Unless you compete at barbecue events or entertain large groups with huge hunks of meat, this big syringe is not likely to be very useful. Marinades must be strained so they don’t clog the needle, and the injector is a pain to wash. We found the flavor advantages were minimal on the turkey breast we roasted for the test. On the other hand, the price is low – about $6 at barbecue shops and online.

Mallow Master: The promise of “the perfect roasted marshmallow every time” is irresistible, and the wand-like device does produce a marshmallow with a meltingly gooey interior. The secret is in the pair of wires you squeeze together before affixing the marshmallow. When the wires spread back to their original position, your marshmallow is done. But the device focuses only on the interior of the marshmallow, not the exterior, which is the difficult part to get just right. So, aside from the fact that the wires retract into the plastic handle, why pay $12.95 plus tax and shipping for something a stick or skewer can do just as well? Available at www.bbq-tools.com.


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