This year has been one of the best summers I can remember in Seattle. The weather’s been perfect, and I’ve been able to relax — which includes working on a bunch of projects around the house (don’t judge how I relax :)). But one of my favorite things about summer is outdoor cooking on my Traeger BBQ 400 “Select” wood-pellet BBQ.
Regular readers of my blog know I’m a gadget geek — and while that applies primarily to electronics, it also extends to other areas, too… including BBQ gadgets. So this post is dedicated to my favorite BBQ accessories. If I missed one of your favorites, please tell me about it in the comments. I might try it out, and add it to my list!
A Quality Grill Cover
It doesn’t matter if you own a standard flying-saucer style charcoal grill or a high end Weber, Green Egg, or Traeger smoker; you should cover it when you’re not using it. A good quality cover should be water-resistant, block UV rays, and fit snugly enough not to blow away in the wind, while allowing air to get underneath to prevent mold and mildew.
If your grill manufacturer makes a fitted cover specific to your grill, it will definitely fit better than a generic one. The Traeger custom cover on my grill is made of a PVC-coated fabric called HydroTuff and lined with Kevlar, making it strong, durable, rip-resistant, and weatherproof. I also like that it “zips” into place with two zippers (one on each end), rather than closes with Velcro or cloth ties that can come undone in strong weather.
Of course, if a fitted cover isn’t available for your BBQ, there’s a good chance you can find heavy-duty grill cover that will fit your unit on Amazon.
iGrill 2 Smart Thermometer
Alright, I know I said up top that not all my gadgets are electronic, but this awesome tool allows me to combine my geeky love of tech with my manly love of outdoor cooking. Behold the iGrill 2:
Replacing their already-awesome (but now discontinued) original iGrill, iDevices’ new iGrill 2 now allows you to monitor up to four individual probes at the same time, while sending real-time data to your mobile device via Bluetooth. You can even graph your cook over time so you can get an idea of how quickly or slowing things are progressing:
I love my iGrill 2, but I do have two minor gripes about it. First is that the range on the Bluetooth isn’t enough to allow me to sit in my office and track my cook from my iPhone (based on their Amazon reviews, I know I’m not the only user with this issue). The range is probably a result of their desire to save battery life, but if the iGrill 3 allows the ability to connect to my home’s WiFi network, meaning I could track it from anywhere, I’ll be first in line to upgrade.
The second annoyance is that their unit is so darn popular, it’s been hard for me to buy a second one to use out at my cabin! As of the day I wrote this post, their Amazon page says the iGrill 2 ships within 4 to 6 weeks. And even though I was lucky enough to get my hands on one, I’ve been waiting for months for their ambient temperature probe (which allows you to track the air temp inside the grill) to come back in stock on their website. I’m sure they’ll arrive eventually, but we early adopters hate waiting!
Optimal Grill Brush
There’s a saying among hard-core outdoor cooks regarding the visual appearance of their BBQs: the worse it looks, the better it cooks. For the most part, I agree… but no matter how much char, soot, grime, and “BBQ patina” you allow to collect on your unit, a clean grill surface is a must. I’ve tried at least half a dozen different grill brush designs over the years: steel bristles, brass bristles, pumice stone, plastic grill sponge — even a steam cleaning grill brush as a Father’s Day present one year.
It’s important to use a good-quality grill brush, especially since the CDC released a report in June 2012 addressing the dangers of ingesting grill brush wires in your food (yuck).
If you’ve got a stainless steel grill surface, you can pretty much use any type of bristles you want, since stainless steel is tough. But if you have a porcelain coated grill (like my Traeger), and you don’t want to risk scratching through the coating, brass bristles are the only way to go. And among brass-bristled brushes, the Optimal Grill Brush is the only way to go. Check this bad boy out:
Oh, and if you couldn’t tell from the photo, it’s made in the USA. 🙂
There are lots of things I love about this brush. In fact, I wrote about most of them in my Amazon review of the product (check it out here, and please vote “Yes” if you agree my review was helpful).
Like I said in my Amazon, review, the alternating rings of bigger and smaller bristles allows this brush to get deeper down between the individual the grills better than other brushes I’ve used. It feels very sturdy to hold and allows me to press hard to remove any caked-on bits. The handle is nice and long so I don’t get close to a hot grill surface, and best of all, the bristles don’t cave in immediately after the first time you use them. See for yourself. Here’s what mine looks like after grilling with it all summer (I’d just finished cooking some yummy carne asada):
The thin design allow allows me to turn it sideways to clean in-between individual grills when necessary. As long as I remember to use the brush before the grill completely cools (and I usually do remember), I’ve never had any problem getting my grill surface clean with this awesome brush.
The MSRP is $24.95, but if you hit the OptimalGrill.com website, they’ll email you a coupon code for 20% off (which is what what I did).
Pizzacraft Cordierite Baking/Pizza Stone
Using this Pizzacraft cordierite pizza stone in a wood-pellet fired BBQ is the closest you can come to true brick-oven wood-fired pizza at home. Before using this baby on my Traeger, I hated Papa Murphy’s Pizza. Cooking them in a regular oven on a regular oven rack always yielded “blah” results. But after my first take-and-bake pizza cooked on a pizza stone, I was a believer. The smoke from the grill infuses the cheese, the toppings get cooked perfect, and (thanks to the stone) the crust is crispy and perfect. And I mean perfect.
It comes in round, rectangle, and square configurations, but the 15″ square size is perfect for a standard-sized take-and-bake pizza. In fact, I actually bought two of these stones, so I can cook two pizzas at once. It’s advertised at half an inch thick, but I measured mine and it was slightly thicker at closer to 5/8″.
To get the most out of them, it’s vital that you let them heat up on the grill before you let pizza dough touch them — or the dough will stick. Hitting it with my Fluke 62 Max+ IR Thermometer is a perfect way to make sure it’s above 400F before use:
Notice the oil marks collecting on my stone? Refer back to the “worse it looks” rule above. In fact, another great tip is to store your pizza stones in the bottom rack of your oven, and not remove it when you use the oven. Anything that drips down onto it will not only help keep your oven clean, but also helps naturally season the stone to make it work even better. Plus, the stone actually absorbs heat and works like a fire brick to help your oven return to its target temp more quickly after you’ve opened the door! And hiding it in the oven is a convenient out-of-the-way location to store your stone.
Just looking at this next photo makes me want to drive to Papa Murphy’s and cook me up some pizza! I recommend the De-Lite crust. It tends to crisp up perfect at the exactly the same time as the toppings are perfectly cooked:
I have yet to convince my wife to bake bread on the stone (she’s got a fancy bread maker that she loves), but others inform me that a pizza stone is wonderful for bread baking. But even if I never use it for anything other than Traeger pizza, I’ll have no complaints.
Brinkman Grilling Rib Rack
After using my Brinkman Rib Rack for the first time to smoke a full rack of St. Louis ribs, I understood why it’s the #1 best seller in its Amazon category. The list price is $33.99, but I bought it discounted to under $10. It’s made of non-stick porcelain coated steel, holds four racks of ribs, and has well-sized handles to make your life easy while carrying it from the kitchen to the grill and back. It’s durable, keeps the racks separated while cooking, cleans up quickly, and fits easily on my BBQ storage shelf in the pantry, as well as on my grill. Here’s a shot of the rack in use with the a recent batch of St. Louis ribs I smoked:
In fact, I think I’m going to buy a couple more after finishing this sentence before the price goes back up. If you like ribs, you should probably do the same.
Cedar Grilling Planks
If you live in Seattle, you have access to some of the best salmon in the world (friends don’t let friends eat Atlantic salmon… ever). My favorite way to grill it up is on a cedar plank. If you have a decent lumber store nearby, you can buy a cedar board and cut your own planks. But I found this 8-pack of western red cedar planks on Amazon for only $25, which was a good enough deal for me to avoid the risk of removing a chunk of my fingers with my table saw. Here’s some fresh coho I cooked up recently:
For the best results, I soak the planks in water overnight before grilling on them. They clean-up easily (water only – don’t use soap!) and I can usually get at least 3-4 uses out of them before they’re warped too much to be useful. After eating the salmon in this photo, my wife told me it was the best she’d ever had… and that title had previously been held for a long time by some restaurant she’d been to on a date with someone else (before meeting me, of course). 🙂
So if your wife’s mad at you for blowing a bunch of money on a fancy BBQ, just make her some cedar plank salmon… and all will be forgiven!
One of my favorite things to cook on my Traeger is whole chicken. It’s almost impossible to mess up. Brush on some oil, sprinkle on some seasoning, put it on the grill on “high” and walk away for an hour — and don’t you dare lift that lid to peek. Remember: if you’re lookin’ — you’re not cookin’!
But sometimes, if I’m feeling like reconnecting with my inner redneck, I’ll cook me up some “beer can chicken.” It’s exactly what it sounds like: you pop open a beer (I’m not a beer drinker, but I’ve found the cheaper the beer, the better the results), shove it all up that chicken, and stand it on the grill for an hour.
The problem with that approach is the beer can isn’t exactly stable, and even a slight bump will knock it over. To solve that problem, I use a chicken throne. It’s an inverted funnel-shaped container that holds your preferred liquid, while helping keep your bird upright and stable:
I bought two of them from my local hardware store. Here are two whole chickens, side by side, ready to cook on their thrones:
On the left, I used Coors. On the right, I used Ginger Ale. You just spray some cooking spray on the outside of the porcelain throne, pour in the liquid of your choice, slide the chicken on top, and place them on the grill. The liquid infuses the bird from the inside with flavored steam, producing one of the juiciest chickens you’ll ever eat.
You can get turkey-sized thrones too, and that’s a strong possibility for this year’s Thanksgiving turkey!
Himalayan Salt Block
I bought this thing on a lark. I had just finished having lunch with my buddy Chris Taylor, and we were walking back to our cars… when we got sucked into Sur La Table — a “froo froo” kitchen products store. This huge slab of salt had originally been priced at $40, but was on clearance for $19, and I couldn’t resist (the exact same block is currently $35 on Amazon). It still strikes me as kind of a gimmick, but it’s still a fun gimmick. Here’s what it looks like out of the box:
Like a pizza stone, you should pre-heat it before cooking on it (it takes a long time to pre-heat), but once it’s up to temp it stays hot for a while. The best things to cook on it are shrimp and thinly-slice meats that don’t already have a lot of seasoning. The block “salts” the food naturally while it cooks. I made some carne asada last week on it, and it turned out yummy:
A little erodes away after each use (and also after washing… also with no soap), and apparently once it’s too small to use, you’re supposed to chop it up and use it as bath salt. I’ll report back more on that, later. 🙂
The next thing I want to try on it is scallops, as I hear they are fantastic which quickly seared on a salt block.
I use two types of gloves when cooking. For prep work while handling food before it’s cooked, I use plain old, powder-free, blue nitrile safety gloves. They’re perfect for applying rubs, handling poultry, or even while cleaning a cold grill before you cook.
But once things get hot, unless you like singed hair and first-degree burns, a decent pair of silicone cooking gloves are a “must have” on any BBQ accessories list. I love my bright orange EkoGrips. I mean, look at them. How could you not love them?
I love these gloves because they’re thick enough that I can grab hot food and flip things over without tools. I love them because I can throw them in the dishwasher when they’re dirty. I love them because their textured surface provides excellent grip when handling slippery food, or when trying to open a stick jar lid. But the main reason I love them is because every time I put them on, I yell “IT’S CLOBBERIN’ TIME” like Ben Grimm in the Fantastic Four. That’s what they make me think of! Or should I say “Thing” of?
What Are Your Favorites?
I’ve shared with you some of my favorite BBQ accessories, and I may update this list as I test out new ones. Did I miss your favorites? Let me know about your favorites the comments below, and feel free to come join my BBQ Buddies Facebook group to share recipes, photos, and tips and tricks for outdoor grilling, smoking, and cooking.