Around the Kelly household, husband Patrick is called "Barbecue King." As the days grow longer, our kids tromp about the back yard later into the evening, and the barbie gets smoking. Tri-tip and sausages are his usual fare, though he has done turkeys and the occasional filet of fish. At his family's annual Fathers' Day party, I saw him eyeballing his brother's barbecue tool set. Patrick, though not usually the covetous type, talked with envy about the set on the drive home that evening. With his birthday a few weeks away, I thought I would get him a quality set of tools for his craft.
I started my quest with Barbecues Galore in La Mesa. "If you are buying a set," explained the salesman, "go stainless steel because they are durable, low maintenance, and they are not going to rust. Look for overall quality with the set. Look at the workmanship and the handles. Stay away from stuff that looks cheap, and look for the variety of tools inside the case. Any one of our Barbiechef sets is good [ $40 to $70 for a 10- to 12-piece set]."
What about particular pieces?
"The thermometer forks are good [around $20 ]. People break them often because they think that they can use them as actual cooking forks, but you can't. They are strictly for temperature; just stick them in the meat while it is on the grill.
"A lot of people are buying stainless steel grills now and building them into islands," he continued. "Stainless steel grill brushes are great for those. Brass is not going to last anywhere near as long as stainless steel, and the stainless steel won't rust."
Another salesman at Barbecues Galore filled me in on pumice stones. "There are pumice grilling stones [ $12.99 each] that you can use to clean the grill depending on what the grill is made out of. If the grill is a cast iron with a porcelain soft finish, you don't want to use a stone because it will scratch the finish. I prefer using a wire brush to clean the grill because it has a long handle, and it's best to clean a grill when it's still warm. If you're using a stone to clean it, it is going to be kind of hot and you have to be careful. If you have a brush with a long handle, you can do it a lot easier."
"We have a tool set that is $47.95 that comes in a soft red roll-up case that has been flying out of the store," said Crate & Barrel's store manager Trish Guajardo. The 6-piece set (which comes with bamboo skewers) is stainless steel with Santoprene handles. "The set also has one of the barbecue silicone basting brushes, which are great," she added. "They aren't the hair brushes, so the hairs don't fall out, and they don't get gross after a while. They can go into the dishwasher; they can withstand really high temperatures. We also sell them separately, starting at $2.95 up to $15.95 ."
Guajardo also recommended a little mop. "We carry the little barbecue mops [ $1.95 ], which are fun and really popular in the cooking shows. It looks like a tiny floor mop and you dip it in your barbecue sauce and brush it on. It's similar to a basting brush, but it is called mopping for barbecuing; it gives you a thicker coating."
The saleslady at Great News Discount Cookware added another tip in buying barbecue tools. "You want something sturdy, but it is really just whatever feels best to you. Someone that has a smaller hand isn't necessarily going to want a very large handle; they are going to want something that fits better in their hand. We carry a few sets. All-Clad is a popular brand, and we carry a set of theirs [ $99.94 ] that is stainless steel and has the fork, the basting brush, the tongs, and the turner."
"For thermometer forks," she continued, "we carry different brands. The Taylor brand [ $17.94 ] is a good one because it has a very large digital display and it is backlit, which is always nice when you are barbecuing at dinnertime."
Beldon Lyons, assistant store manager at Brookstone, touted their Heritage Professional Barbecue Grill Tool Set ( $100 ). "It was recognized by the Wall Street Journal as the best overall tool set on the market," he explained. It comes in a black molded case, and the set includes "ten tools and also a corkscrew, our Super-Brite Chef's Fork, which has a lighted thermometer in it, and a grill light that you can attach to the barbecue. The tools have rosewood handles and stainless steel parts to them, and they are dishwasher safe."
Lyons continued, "We also sell other things you can use with your grill, like our Handle Mount Grill Light [ $50 ]. It's a handle-mounted grill light that uses a fluorescent bulb in it, and it can help provide extra light while you are grilling at night. It also has a timer on it to help save the battery."
"We also sell a wireless talking grill thermometer called Grill Alert Talking Remote Meat Thermometer [ $75 ]. There's a little probe that you put in your meat, and it has a little wireless sensor so you can walk up to 300 feet away and it will show you how your meat is doing. If you are mingling through the party, you don't have to worry about your food burning. You can come back to it, and everyone will say, 'Oh, look, it's all done. It's perfect. You are a great chef.'"
Patrick is a Wall Street Journal junkie, so I knew he would appreciate their recommendation. And he is forever looking for the corkscrew at our parties, so I knew he would love a set that included a corkscrew. I had found his gift.