Welcome to the barbecue bonanza known as the July 4th long weekend. That’s right, team, even with gas prices at historic highs and the economy facing an uncertain future, there are few things more fun and more economical than a great American barbecue.
If you’re thinking about spiffing up the backyard patio or just updating the old, rusty stuff you’ve had for years, consider some of the gorgeous — and surprisingly affordable — grilling gear we’ve assembled here for you.
The best bang for your briquetteColeman RoadTrip LX Grill: As the name implies, the Coleman RoadTrip LX is a grill you can take with you. It folds up flat for travel into a space so compact it can easily fit in a trunk (or a tiny garage or basement), with tons of room to spare. And unlike many foldable grills, it’s not only stable, it’s detachable — you can remove the folding legs and simply set the grill top down on a table and cook on it. For those of you with small balconies or tiny backyards, or with plans for a quick car-camping experience, it may be the best grill for the money.
The nicest thing about the RoadTrip LX, though, is its exceedingly easy setup and simple controls. The two-burner top puts out 20,000 BTUs (the less-expensive LE model puts out 15,000 BTUs) and has a 485-square-inch cooking surface, which will heat up enough burgers, dogs and breasts for a gathering of 6-8 people. The electric push-button ignition is cringe-free, and the grill base has two sturdy, slide-out trays, one on each side, for handy set-down for trays, plates and drinks. Uses standard propane tanks (either 20-pound for the backyard or ultra-compact 1-pounders). Takes about 15 seconds to set up. $189 (LE model is only $139); coleman.com
Worry-free cooking The Oregon Scientific AW129 wireless talking barbecue/oven thermometer: Admit it — when one of your guests says they’d like their hamburger medium-rare, you secretly break out in a cold sweat: Will it be rare enough to taste good but well-cooked enough to keep them, you know, out of the ER?
Yep — just use a meat thermometer. The most powerful, most useful version out there is made by Oregon Scientific. The biggest advantage (other than knowing exactly how well-done your food is) is its wireless, “talking” feature. The stainless-steel probe, which is placed in the meat, is attached to a base unit, which sits next to the grill. The unit transmits signals to a small, portable speaker/thermometer, which you attach to your belt or set down next to you, up to 100 feet away. When the meat’s almost done, and then done, the unit tells you, out loud. $29.95; oregonscientific.com
Best aesthetic fix CoverMates propane tank cover: Yes, aesthetics and barbecue aren’t always related. But if it bugs you that your sleek new grill has an ugly, industrial propane gas tank attached to it, you can disguise the tank (and keep it from getting corroded when it sits outside in the weather) with an inexpensive, quick fix: A polypropylene vinyl tank cover, which comes in black, khaki or green to match your grill cover. $19.99; the-cover-store.com
Basic tools Weber Style 3-piece stainless tool set: The best backyard grillers know no matter how beautifully you cook, if you can’t get it off the grill in one piece, it doesn’t matter. A basic stainless-steel tool set (I like to avoid silicone) is a great help. The Weber Style 18700 3-piece set is sturdy, easy to clean and will last you years with proper care. $28.99; amazon.com
Protecting the hand that feeds youWilliams-Sonoma Grilling Mitt: It’s suede, it works, and it’s inexpensive. Remember, this is not a hot-pad — it’s a glove that protects you from the heat surging up from the grill. The silicone mitt alternatives out there make my hand sweaty and slippery, but suede works forever, as long as you don’t leave it out in the rain. $19.99; williams-sonoma.com
See you in the backyard ...
Paul Hochman is the gear and technology editor for the TODAY Show and a Fast Company magazine contributor. He covered the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Athens and Torino, Italy, for TODAY. He was also a three-year letter winner on the Dartmouth ski team and has a black belt in karate. Paul’s blog can be found at: