Tools of the Trade
A canister of propane for your gas grill
Charcoal for your charcoal grill. Charcoal comes in two basic forms: lump charcoal and briquettes.
Lump charcoal is made from intact pieces of hardwood which are basically cooked at high temperature until all the volatile elements like oils, saps, etc are burned out, leaving just carbon charcoal. The idea is to produce a coal that burns cleanly under your food without catching fire.
Briquettes are factory made, formed into little cubes or bricks from a paste of charcoal, sometimes with wood fillers which add flavor or decrease manufacturing cost. If you don’t know which one to get, buy briquettes; they’re a bit easier to work with
Chimney starter. This is a big vertical tube that you pour your charcoal into, and which has a compartment on the bottom to wad up some newspaper. Light the newspaper, and the newspaper lights the charcoal. This device is the most efficient method of starting charcoal besides just using lighter fluid. It works so well because heat, and flames, rise, so the newspaper may catch just the lower coals on fire, but that fire draws air, and oxygen, up through the pile, feeding the fire, burning up through the pile. Too much explanation. It works.
Lighter fluid: A great tool for starting all kinds of fires. Some people claim that lighter fluid leaves a chemical taste in the food. We don’t think so. The lighter fluid burns off. Our tests prove that no one can taste the difference in a hamburger that was started with fluid vs. just newspaper. Don’t sweat it.
In fact, want to make that chimney starter really work fast? Coat the charcoal with lighter fluid as you pour it in, then light with your newspaper. It’ll be ready much faster.
Grilling fork. This is your best and most-important tool. Forget the nonsense about piercing meat and letting juices out. Meat is not a balloon; you can’t pop it. A grill fork is simply the best tool for turning and positioning meat.
Barbecue Hook: Another fantastic, and, sadly, rarely used tool. As easy as the fork, but better for flipping. Again, don’t worry about piercing your meat and letting juice run out. Silly myth, that one. Be cool, be Captain Hook.
Long-handled tongs. Another handy tool for moving stuff around on the grill. Don’t get distracted by fancy ones with padded handles and chrome. Usually simpler is better with your tongs.
Spatula. Some people call these flippers. Some children know them as spanking devices. Again, keep it simple. Just a thin flat spatula end will work better than a thick or too-wide fancy chromed-up thing.
Basting brush. Used for brushing flavorings, barbecue sauce, and butter onto your meat.
Stiff-wire grill brush. Used for cleaning the burned-on crap off of your grate. Don’t go crazy with this, because your grate doesn’t have to be shiny for good grilling, but you don’t want it to be crusted with burned gunk that comes off on the food or imparts burning food tastes to your meal.
Instant read digital thermometer. It’s not really “instant,” but only takes a few seconds to settle on the right temperature. This is a MANDATORY DEVICE for all barbecue chefs, beginner and expert alike. At BBQ Dragon, we don’t cook by time, or even by educated guesses: We cook by temperature. There’s no way around it. Get one and get used to using it. It should cost about $12.00. Less than the cost of those two ribeyes you ruined by trying to figure out how long it cooked and whether or not it felt like some fleshy place on your hand.
Vegetable grate: This is actually a really handy device; it’s a steel pan with a bunch of little holes it, so that you can barbecue things that would otherwise fall through the grate of your barbecue. It’s great, of course, for grilling vegetables, beans and the like, but also opens up your grill for lots of other animal products, like scallops, baby octopus, and chicken livers. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes; we like the one with raised sides, like a shallow pan.
Salt and Pepper: You gotta have a big salt shaker and pepper shaker. Add it right to grill. High blood pressure be damned. The food will taste better. Don’t leave it up to your guests. Figure out the right amount of salt, and cook with it.
Butter: Same thing. Don’t be afraid to baste your steaks and burgers with a little butter during the last moments of grilling. This is one of the great secrets of BBQ Dragons and fine chefs around the world.
Bottle opener: Barbecue pros pride themselves on drinking beer while barbecueing. Maybe it’s like playing pool: You feel like you’re a real hustler after a couple, and the confidence contributes to your game.
Flashlight: My eyes are bad. Especially at night. Don’t try to cook burgers in the dark. It’s got to be either a flashlight you can hold in your teeth, or one of those fancy-pants grill lights that clip onto your grill someplace.
Paper towels: Self explanatory. Your nose will run while you’re standing out in the snow grilling steaks for the super bowl party.
Skewers: Whatever. If you really need them because you’re making shish kabobs or something, just use the bamboo ones. They’re cheap, you don’t burn your fingers picking them up, and you don’t have to clean them. Soaking in water may slow the burning, but don’t count on it.
Aluminum foil: Can be used to wrap fish or vegetables in. Also, depending on your philosophy, and how deep in the South you live, can be used to wrap ribs or brisket for part of the low-and-slow smoking process. Don’t say you read it here at BBQ Dragon.
Garbage can: Also self-explanatory. Unnecessary if you have a dog and a goat. A drop in the bucket if you have kids, but fun to explain the use of, over and over.
Confidence: Work carefully, pay attention to what you’re doing, and plan the steps of your meal. If you’re cooking a number of foods, you’ll need to coordinate carefully the whole process. But then: NEVER APOLOGIZE. EVERYTHING CAME OUT JUST THE WAY I PLANNED, DAMNIT.