Barbecue Tools That Make Your Cookout Easy and Fun

The right barbecue tools can make your life easy. Not having the right barbecue tools can make your life hard and your barbecue a chore.

Merriam-Webster tells us that a tool is something (such as an instrument or apparatus) used in performing an operation or necessary in the practice of a vocation or profession; a scholar's books are his tools.

A pitmaster has tools as well;

Some are essential. Others are not, but they're sure fun to have around, and they'll make your barbecue a breeze.

I'll go over must have barbecue tools and show you some fun ones as well.

Now let's see what you can't live without...

The Most Important Barbecue Tool You Need is a Smoker

A barbecue tool you must have is a smoker or barbecue pit

For information on smokers and how to pick the best one for you, check out our barbecue smokers page.

You can barbecue on a grill, but a smoker is the barbecue tool that gives you real barbecue flavor you can't get from a grill.

If you want to use a kettle grill, like a Weber for barbecue, you should check out the Slow 'N Sear...

This barbecue tool turns a 22" kettle grill into a serious barbecue and grilling machine. 

Take a look at it here.

Without Thermometers You Won't Know What Your Barbecue is Doing! 

How do you know if you smoker and your food are at the right temperature?

You don't, unless you have the right barbecue tools; some good reliable thermometers...

Barbecue Thermometers

You must have good, reliable thermometers in your barbecue tool box.

You have to know what the temperature is inside the cooking chamber of your barbecue pit.

You also need to know the internal temperature of what you're cooking so you can tell when it's ready to be pulled from the pit and served.

Without these two critical pieces of information, you won't know what's going on inside your smoker or how your food is cooking.

And your barbecue will not be good...

Thankfully, we have thermometers to help us out.

You need two types of thermometers in your barbecue tool box;

The smoker thermometer will tell you what the temperature is inside your barbecue pit. You need to know this so you can keep your cooker at the correct temperature to cook your food.

The instant read thermometer will tell you when your food is cooked to the correct temperature for full, juicy, flavorful, deliciousness.

Smoker Thermometers

You can check the temperature of your smoker in different ways...

Barbecue tools you can use are;

  • The thermometer that came with the cooker.
  • A thermometer mounted on the outside of the smoker.
  • A remote thermometer.
  • An oven thermometer placed inside the smoker.

Most barbecue pits come with some kind of way to tell what the temperature is inside the cooking chamber.

Units with built in electronics that have thermostats are pretty exact. You should check the temperature readings with a thermometer you know is correct to make sure the thermostat on your cooker is working right.

Some cheap barbecue pits come with thermometers that say cold, ideal, too hot, etc...

This in not what you want! You need to know what the exact temperature is inside your smoker.

If you have a pit that has one of these thermometers, replace it with a good, reliable thermometer with temperature readouts like the one pictured below...


Remote Thermometers

I love remote thermometers, and you will too;

  • They're easy to use.
  • Give you the correct temperature reading.
  • Make your barbecue much easier.

Remote barbecue pit thermometers have two pieces to them;

  • A transmitter
  • A receiver

The transmitter has a probe that you put inside the cooking chamber of your smoker. This probe is attached to the transmitter that sends the signal to the receiver that you carry around with you.

This is a great barbecue tool because you can;

  • Get other tasks done in the kitchen.
  • Watch the game.
  • Spend time with family and friends.
  • Look at your receiver display instead of running out to your cooker to check the temperature.

The transmitters have two probes; one to watch the temperature of the cooker and a meat probe to check the temperature of what your cooking.

They also have timers and alarms you can set.

The timers help you keep track of how long something's been cooking.

The alarms can be dialed in to whatever temperature you want. They can tell you when your barbecue pit is getting too hot or getting too cold. This is convenient and gives you one less thing to worry about.

Oven Thermometers

As a last resort, you can use an oven thermometer to check the temperature.

They are cheap and reliable.

The problem is, they go inside the smoker you have to open the smoker to check the temperature.

Every time you open the smoker, you lose valuable heat. This increases your cooking time. And if you keep opening the smoker to check the temperature, it'll never get hot!

I don't recommend using an oven thermometer for your barbecue.

They're made to check the accuracy of the thermostat on your oven. When you open an oven to check the temperature, it recovers much faster than a barbecue pit and comes back up to heat quicker.

Use a barbecue thermometer mounted to the outside of your smoker or a remote barbecue thermometer.

Instant Read Thermometers

Instant read thermometers are a must have barbecue tool. You have to be able to tell when your meat has finished cooking.

This is critically important for chicken, which has a small window of being underdone, cooked to perfection or overcooked and dry.

It's also important for large cuts like, beef brisket and pork barbecue.

The most important aspect of an instant read thermometer is its accuracy. A great feature of instant read thermometers are that they're quick and easy to calibrate; fill a glass with ice water and adjust the thermometer until it reads 32°F.

You also want an instant read thermometer that's easy to read. Some instant read thermometers have small readouts, analog thermometers with dial readouts are prime examples.

When it starts to get dark, or you're checking the temp on something in a dark corner of your pit, seeing your thermometer can be difficult.

Thermometers with digital readouts are easier to see than a small dial on an analog thermometer. Some digital instant read thermometers have back lights built in for easier nighttime viewing.

You Need Good Sharp Knives

A good cook knows how to use a knife, like a good mechanic knows how to a use a wrench.

A mechanic relies on his tools. He wants to be sure they get the job done. And you want to be sure your knives get the job done.

A list of knives you need:

Chef's Knife

A good chef's knife is an invaluable barbecue tool. If a chef could have one knife, it would be a chef's knife.

A chef's knife is used for chopping, dicing and mincing. It's also used for butchering meat and for cutting meat into portions for cooking. A chef's knife is used to prep nearly all foods in the kitchen;

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Herbs
  • Spices
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • And poultry.

You can even use a chef's knife to open a can of juice!

What to Look for in a Chef's Knife...

Since you'll be using your chef's knife often, you want to make sure it stays sharp. This means you'll want to find one that is constructed out of high carbon stainless steel. High carbon stainless steel knives are easy to sharpen and stay sharper longer than softer steels.

Since they're stainless steel, they don't react with acidic foods and are easier to clean.

You want a chef's knife that fits your hand nicely, is balanced and isn't too long. Most chef's use an 8" chef's knife. I wouldn't get one longer than 10" unless you're butchering large cuts of meat.

The best chefs' knives are a single piece of high carbon stainless steel and have a full tang of steel that goes through the entire handle. These are easy to spot because you can see the stainless steel between the two pieces that make up the handle. The handle is often held onto the tang with three rivets.

Pairing Knife

The next barbecue tool you want is a good pairing knife.

Pairing knives aren't used to process meats, they're used for small jobs.

They're great for coring tomatoes and peeling fruits like tomatoes, apricots and peaches. Pairing knives also work well for fine work like dicing shallots and removing the seeds and membrane from small chilies.

You also use your pairing knife to check how done something is, like boiled carrots or potatoes; if the knife slips in with little to no resistance, the item has finished cooking.

Qualities of a Good Pairing Knife...

You want a pairing knife that's made from stainless steel. The thinner the blade the better. A thin blade cuts into small items without tearing them up.

The blade should be 3" to 3 1/2". A short blade is more precise and gives you better leverage. It also makes it easier to hold while coring tomatoes and peeling fruit.

It should also feel comfortable in your hand. A good pairing knife feels right when you hold it. It's like an extension of your hand. It fits nicely and moves well with you.

Boning Knife

A boning knife is one of the most used barbecue tools in the kitchen.

It's used for;

  • Trimming ribs
  • Boning chickens
  • Cutting whole chickens into pieces
  • Trimming store bought chicken parts

They're also used for;

  • Boning meats
  • Removing silverskin
  • Trimming fat from large roasts like beef brisket
  • Cutting meats, poultry and fish into portions

Boning knives are great because they have thin flexible blades that can go where no other knife can go. They can get right next to the bones. This helps you get every bit of tasty meat so there's less waste.

They also have thin, sharp blades which make cutting tough items like thick, slippery chicken skin a cinch.

What Makes a Good Boning Knife

You want a boning knife with a thin blade, at least 6" long. A thin blade will help you slice through your work with the greatest of ease.

The blade should also be flexible. This is so you can bend the blade to get around the bones and into those tight spots.

Safety is important so make sure you get a boning knife with a nonslip handle.

Boning knives can save you a lot of money if you learn how to butcher your own meats, fish and poultry.

You'll also get nicer looking pieces if you do it yourself...

You ever buy some chicken thighs that have so much skin on them you suspect they're trying to sell you skin instead of meat?

Who wants to buy chicken pieces that you have to trim? Might as well do it right the first time by doing it yourself!

Meat Slicer Knife

If you like to barbecue large cuts of meats and roasts like;

A barbecue tool you want is a meat slicer knife.

These knives have long blades that can cut through large roasts nicely, giving you beautiful, even slices.

The balance, blade and weight of the knife are designed to make slicing meats quick and easy.

What to Look for in a Meat Slicer Knife...

You want a meat slicer knife with a long, stiff blade that has some weight to it. The weight of the blade helps you make nice even cuts with little effort.

The blade should be thin but not flexible. Thinner blades slice through meat easier.

The tip of the blade should be rounded so it doesn't get caught while you're slicing.

You also want a meat slicer knife with a Granton edge. A blade with a Granton edge has small oval scallops cut out on both sides of it. This gives a little air space between the meat and the blade which helps prevent the knife from getting stuck to the meat.

Steak Knives

If you love steaks and chops you need a good set of steak knives in your arsenal of barbecue tools.

I know most of you have a set of cheap serrated steak knives with plastic handles lying around the house somewhere.

The same steak knives that hack up your nice beautiful steak, giving you jagged, uneven pieces and leaving chunks of meat stuck in the blade.

I'm not talking about those steak knives. I'm talking about a set of good quality non-serrated steak knives.

Why would you spend all that money on good steaks...

Spend the time cooking them to perfection...

Then rip them apart with some cheap steak knives?

Don't do it!

Get yourself some nice non-serrated steak knives.

You and your steak will thank me later.

Qualities of Good Steak Knives

The most important thing to keep in mind when buying steak knives is the edge...

You want a non-serrated edge.

Steak knives with serrated edges rip your beautiful steak to shreds. Non-serrated blades give you nice looking slices.

And when a steak looks good, it tastes better.

A non-serrated blade also makes cutting your steak much easier.

Have you ever tried to cut through a thick steak with some cheap flimsy steak knife?

It's a chore...

There's ripping and tearing sounds, I think I've even seen smoke coming off my knife as I was trying to tear through my steak!

Another thing to keep in mind...

No flimsy blades!

You want a steak knife that has a hefty blade so it doesn't bend and wobble while you're using it.

You also want your steak knives to have comfortable handles.

Because steak is a fancy meal, you might want to go all out and get some steak knives that are easy to use and look nice too.

Knife Sets

If you're starting your culinary adventure and you don't have any knives or...

You don't have any knives that are good...

You may want to consider a knife set.

This is like stepping up to the big leagues; You're serious about your craft and you're willing to invest in the tools you need to hit it out of the park.

There're advantages to getting a knife set;

  • It's much cheaper to buy a knife set. Often you can get a knife set for the same price as one or two knives!
  • All the knives match, so you look like a pro.
  • 99% of knife sets come with a block. This makes the knives easy to store and quick to get to.
  • A beautiful knife set makes you and your kitchen look much better.

What to Look for When Buying a Knife Set...

A good set of knives will last you a lifetime.

See the above recommendations about each knife to get an overview about what a good knife is.

Brands that I recommend are Wusthof and J.A. Henkels. These are top of the line knives.

Wusthof knife sets are standard issue at top culinary schools across the country.

Some of these knives can be expensive.

But...

They will last you a lifetime.

You don't have to break the bank if you don't want to.

The difference in the cost of the knives is mainly the hardness of the steel and the reputation and skill of the knife maker.

Stainless steel comes in different grades. I don't think this makes a significant difference in the quality of the knife. It does to a degree, but it's not critical.

If you get a stainless steel knife, you'll have a quality knife.

Next...

If the knife is forged, it will be much stronger than if it's cast.

A lot of knives cost more because the company that makes them has a reputation for making great knives. This does play a part in the cost. I think the best knife companies are Wusthof and J.A. Henkels.

You don't have to spend a ton of money to get a nice knife set, but you will have to spend some.

Make sure you get a knife set that has;

  • Stainless steel knives.
  • Full tangs running through the handles.
  • Thin flexible blade and non-slip grip on the Boning Knife.
  • A sharpening steel.

If you look for knives with these basic features, you will get a good quality knife set that lasts a long time.

Note: Most knife sets don't come with a meat slicer knife. Some, but not all, don't include a boning knife. You may need to buy these knives separately.

Knife Sharpeners, Sharpening Stones and Steels

A knife works best when it's sharp.

Using a dull knife is dangerous...

When you cut something, you want the knife to go right through it with little effort. You don't want what you're cutting or the cutting board moving around. If you have to force the knife because it's dull, accidents will happen.

Keep your knives sharp!

Using your knife causes it to lose its sharp edge. To bring it back, you need a sharpening steel. Contrary to it's name, a sharpening steel does not sharpen your knives, it merely brings back the edge between sharpening.

When you cut something, the blade loses its fine point and doesn't cut as well. The sharpening steel realigns the edge of the blade.

After a while, the sharpening steel will no longer be able to bring back the edge. This is because the knife has become dull and needs to be sharpened.

To sharpen your knives you need a knife sharpener or a sharpening stone.

In the professional kitchens that I've worked in, the sharpener of choice is a tri-stone or three stone sharpening system. They work well and give you a razor sharp edge.

Knowing how to use a sharpening stone is the trick...

The key is to hold the knife at the correct angle and the correct angle is about 20°. You're probably asking "how do I know what 20° is?" It's a little less than half of 45°.

So...

To get the correct angle, hold your knife at a 45° angle to the surface of the stone. Then bring it down a little more than half-way towards the stone. Now you're holding the knife at about 20°.

One more tip...

When you use your sharpening stone, hold the knife like you cutting a thin slice off of the stone. This will give you the correct angle. You can also feel if the knife is scraping the stone or gliding nicely across the top of it.

With practice, you'll get the hang of it.

Some people do find it difficult to use a sharpening stone. If so, you can also use a knife sharpener.

Knife sharpeners have the stones lined up at the correct angle and you put your knife in the sharpener and run it against the stone to sharpen it.

They work well and are easy to use.

You can get small inexpensive knife sharpeners all the way up to nice electric models.

There's also fixed angle knife sharpening kits that hold the knife at the correct angle and you run the stone against the blade. They work great because you always get the correct angle to give you a sharp edge.

Whatever knife sharpening tool you decide to use, you need to use it. Having sharp knives makes cutting whatever you need to cut faster, easier and safer.

Make sure you keep your knives sharp. Do this by insuring that you have something to sharpen your knives with in your bag of barbecue tools.

Barbecue Tongs

The next barbecue tool you need is a good set of barbecue tongs.

Tongs get a workout when you barbecue or grill. You're always turning, moving or looking at what you're cooking and you need a good set of tongs to do this. 

What to Look for When Buying Tongs

First of all, you want long handled tongs.

Barbecue pits are big and grills are hot; you want to be able to get to what you're turning without burning your hands. Long handled barbecue tongs makes this possible.

Next...

You want to make sure that when you close the tongs, both side of the pincers meet with no gap between them. This insures that what you pick up stays in the tongs and doesn't get dropped on the floor! You don't want tongs where the tip of the pincers touch with a gap between the rest of the pincers.

You want to look for tongs that are easy to close and spring right back. Some tongs have heavy springs, which make them hard to close. Cooking a lot of items that you're turning constantly with hard to close tongs will make your hand tired and cramp up.

Make sure you get some heavy-duty tongs that will hold up to the weight of what you're cooking. You don't want to drop that precious barbecue because of some cheap, flimsy tongs.

Tongs that lock in place when you close them is a nice feature. This saves you space when you set them aside during use and helps them to fit in your kitchen drawers when you're not using them. 

Spatulas

A spatula is a barbecue tool you need to turn small, flat or delicate items...

Turning over boneless fish fillets with tongs may cause them to fall apart. And turning burgers is much faster and easier with a spatula then with a pair of tongs.

You need two types of spatulas to be a true grillmaster;

  • A long handled spatula with the turning surface about the size of a large hamburger patty. Like the one pictured below.
  • A long handled spatula with a rectangular turning surface about 7 1/2" long. See the one below.

The smaller spatula is used to turn small items like burger patties and small fish fillets.

The larger spatula is used to turn larger items like large fish fillets and whole fish.

You can also use the larger spatula to help you take foods off the grill that are too heavy for a pair of tongs; you slide your large spatula under the food and grip the top off the item with your tongs as you're moving it. The spatula supports the food and the tongs keep it on the spatula. 

What You Want in Your Spatulas...

Spatulas used for barbecue and grilling should be metal, preferably stainless steel.

Silicone and rubber spatulas are good for cooking eggs in a non-stick skillet, but for grilling you want metal spatulas.

The turning surface of the spatula should be thin so you can get under what you're turning and release it from the grill.

You want a spatula with a long handle; this makes it easier to flip your food without burning your knuckles.

Barbecue Tool Sets

Barbecue tools sets are something you may want to consider...

They're nice because;

  • You get a variety of barbecue tools in one set.
  • The tools match so they look good.
  • Often they come with a case. This provides easy storage and portability.
  • It cost less to buy barbecue tools in a set.

What to Look for When Purchasing Barbecue Tool Sets for Yourself or as a Gift... 

Barbecue tool sets go on sale as barbecue season approaches.

You'll see them at grocery stores, discount stores and even at department stores.

A lot of these barbecue tool sets are constructed of cheap metals and flimsy handles that will fall apart after one or two seasons.

You want a barbecue tool set that is constructed out of steel, preferably stainless steel. Stainless steel is great because;

  • It doesn't react to acidic foods like vinegar, barbecue sauce and lemon juice.
  • It's easy to clean.
  • Stainless steel barbecue tools look great.
  • Anything made from stainless steel will last a lifetime if taken care of properly.

You want to make sure they have the features and benefits that I've described earlier in the text above about each individual tool.

Before I buy something, I like to find out everything about the product. This makes me feel like I'm getting what I want for my hard-earned cash.

That's why I like Amazon...

  • They have anything you can imagine.
  • The site provides great product descriptions.
  • There's also answers to customers questions.
  • They have tons of customer reviews.

And if that's not enough...

  • Amazon has a simple and fantastic return policy; if you don't like it, return it. No questions asked!
  • With Amazon Prime you get free two day shipping on over 100 million items!
  • Plus tons of free movies, TV shows, music and books. 

Barbecue Mops and Basting Brushes

A barbecue mop sauce is essential for good barbecue. If you're using a wood fired pit, you need to use one.

To apply a mop sauce, the barbecue tool you need is a barbecue mop.

Barbecue mops are small basting tools used to apply a barbecue mop sauce. They're typically made from a wooden handle with some cotton string tied onto the end. They resemble miniature mops.

In some barbecue joints, they use actual floor mops for basting barbecue, typically when cooking whole hogs or large quantities of meat.

(Of course, the mops are clean and have never been used on the floor.)

You can use a barbecue mop to apply barbecue sauce. This works great if you have a lot of meat to sauce. Because barbecue mops hold a large amount of sauce, you can sauce the meat fast and close the lid to reduce heat loss.

For more on barbecue mops, when to use them and barbecue mop recipes, go to my barbecue mop page.

If you like barbecue sauce, you need a good basting brush.

Basting brushes are used to apply barbecue sauces, glazes and flavoring oils.

Basting brushes don't hold as much sauce as a barbecue mop. This means it takes more time to apply barbecue sauce with a basting brush. This is fine if you're grilling or smoking a small amount of meat.

Because they hold less sauce than a mop there will be less waste; you see, barbecue mops are more absorbent than basting brushes. Some sauce will be trapped in the barbecue mop. This sauce will get washed out of the mop and never used.

For best results, you need a barbecue mop and a barbecue basting brush.

What to Look for When Buying a Barbecue Basting Brush...

First of all, you want a basting brush with a long handle, This allows you to reach everything you need to baste without burning yourself.

Next, you want a silicone basting brush because...

  • Silicone basting brushes hold a lot of sauce.
  • They are heat-resistant.
  • The bristles don't fall out of the brush and into your food.
  • Silicone basting brushes are easy to clean.

Spice Grinders

A barbecue tool that every pitmaster or good cook should have is a spice grinder.

Spice grinders are used to grind herbs, spices and dried chilies.

When you buy herbs and spices, it's best to buy them whole and grind them yourself. Once you grind herbs and spices, they're exposed to oxygen, and they lose the oils that make them so tasty.

After 3-6 months, they become dry, tasteless piles of dust.

Whole herbs and spices can last twice as long as their ground counterparts.

Some people will tell you that they will last much longer. I guess that's true, but they won't taste good.

When making barbecue rubs, you need black pepper. Sometimes a lot of black pepper. Grinding all this black pepper by hand can be a chore. A spice grinder makes this about a 30-second process.

You have to grind it because...

You Should Never Buy Ground Black Pepper

Or any ground pepper;

  • Black
  • White
  • Green
  • Red
  • Or Pink

Always buy whole peppercorns and grind them yourself.

When you go to a nice restaurant, they grind the pepper from a pepper mill as they put it on your food. Every cook grinds pepper for his station right before the restaurant opens for service.

Chefs in good restaurants grind pepper fresh every day. That's because it tastes better.

And the tool that's used to do this is a spice grinder.

You should do the same thing. It's easy and makes a world of difference in the flavor of your food.


I hope you've found this page on barbecue tools helpful.

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