I’ve gradually accumulated a bunch of barbecue-related stuff, usually as the need arises . If you’re looking to start barbecuing yourself, this page may help you make your own purchases. For the large part, I’ll only mention things that I’ve used and owned.
Turns out you need some sort of grilling or smoking vessel to cook on. Surprise! I’m currently using a Weber Original Premium Charcoal Grill 22-inch. It is technically not a smoker, but can be easily adapted for that purpose. The primary difference between the “premium” version and the “original” is the pot underneath the grill that catches the ashes; this is pretty useful for long cooks were you’re using a lot of coals. There is now actually a “Master-Touch” Weber that is a little bit larger. It is also equipped with some charcoal holders, a second “warming” rack and nicer wheels. It is about twice the price of the most basic version — $200.
My main motivation for getting a Weber was the attractive price and because I already had one before I started smoking. As a poor graduate student, my decisions at the time were mainly influenced by cost-per-dollar (now instead of being a poor graduate student, I’m just poor). With some accessories, you can turn your Weber into a lean, mean smoking machine for less than $250. For comparison, the Weber Smokey Mountain, which is Weber’s dedicated smoker will run you $200 for the 14-incher; that’s a bit smaller than I prefer. Meanwhile, equally priced offset smokers are generally considered to be bad quality and leaky.
To make smoking easier with the Weber, I got a Slow ‘N Sear insert. It is essentially a charcoal holder with a built-in water pan that allows you to organize your two-zone cooking easier. It runs around $89 dollars — a bit high for a 5-pound piece of metal — but I’ve found that it is as nearly indispensable as the grill itself.
Overall, I’ve found that the Weber grill is an extremely versatile piece of equipment. I’ve cooked everything from fish, to vegetables to traditional barbecue meats. You can easily achieve the same results as many of the more expensive smokers. My only complaint is the capacity, but that’s largely for parties of 15-plus people. When smoking meat (or just cooking indirect), you lose about half of the surface area of your grill rack to direct heat; you’ll start running into problems feeding everyone at the same time past a certain point.
An absolute necessity to barbecue, and grilling in general, is a reliable thermometer. The thermometers included with grills and smokers are often unreliable because hot air rises; your temperature at grate level can vary up to 50 degrees over a difference of several inches. My research led me to the Maverick ET-732 wireless thermometer.
It is a beast. I’ve done nearly everything possible to it, including, but not limited to: spilling water on it, dropping it on the ground, forgetting it outside for a week, and forgetting to turn it off. The battery life is good; I’ve accidentally left it on for weeks at a time. The only issue I’ve had is not having a small screwdriver on hand to install the battery. It is also programmable, allowing you to set alarms for temperature ranges for your meat and barbecue. Maintenance-wise, the probes are probably the weakest link. Be sure not to burn them over direct heat or get water into them.
I keep a separate hand-held thermometer to double check meat temps and for grilling. I have the Lavatools PT12 Javelin (I like how all of these sound like the names of missiles). It works well. It’s not as fast as some of the other more expensive models, but is pretty worth it for the price. As with the Maverick, avoid getting it in water and direct heat.
I have a pair of “artisanal” insulated barbecue gloves. They allow me to manipulate meat that is directly on the grill without hurting my pansy hands. They’re pretty easy to clean; just put them on and wash your hands with dish soap. They’re a little bit big for a guy of my size (small), but you don’t really need all that much dexterity to move meat from one place to another. Try not to get water inside the gloves because it can get hard to dry out, and you run the risk of mold developing. For more dextrous food handling (artisanal gloves give -5 to dexerity), get some disposable nitrile gloves.
This is a pretty standard purchase for anything charcoal related. The chimney is used to light coals — it is a lot faster and more efficient than lighting them any other way, taking between 10-20 minutes. It also doubles as a standard unit of measurement for coal amount (one chimney, two chimneys, etc.) Pretty much a must-buy. It can get really hot, so use the gloves I previously mentioned. There is a smaller half-size version that heats “twice as fast,” which is sort of dumb because you’re only heating half the amount of coals
Other Grill-related things
Those are probably the most key things to have when barbecuing. Here are some other accessories likely to come in handy.
Nitrile gloves – Use nitrile gloves for food preparation. No one wants your hand gunk all over their food. Most of the bacteria will die while cooking, but it’s better safe to be sorry. Nitrile tends to have more chemical resistance than vinyl or latex and doesn’t cause allergies.
Starter cubes – Though you can use old newspaper with your chimney starter, I prefer these light cubes because they create less ash.
Grill brush – It’s a good habit to clean off your grill grate of any leftover debris before and/or after a grill.
Apron – Save your clothes, buy an apron.
Spray bottle – Handy for lowering your grill temperature or keeping meat moist.
Flat metal skewers – Though much more pricey than their bamboo counter parts, the flat blade of these skewers allow you to turn your meat for more even cooking. They’re also resusable.
Tongs – So many tongs. Get more than you think you’ll need because I guarantee you they will disappear somehow. Tongs are like the socks of the barbecue world.