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Backyard Basics

Tools and gadgets to jazz up warm-weather cooking

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Summertime is synonymous with grilling, barbecues, picnics, camping and other outdoor activities. So, more often than not when it’s hot outside, I abandon my kitchen stove in favor of cooking in the great outdoors. Once outside, there’s gear that I can’t be without, ranging from pricy grills to cooking gadgets you could purchase with spare change. Here are a few of my favorites.

At our backyard barbecues, guests’ requests for libations can range from lemonade and sangria to iced tea. Well, a nifty solution to varied drink dispensing is the Stacked Optic-Glass Beverage Server ($110) from Horchow. It’s a three-tiered beverage server that holds a total of 2.5 gallons in three separate compartments. Problem solved.

For sipping wine at Red Butte Garden shows or out on the patio, the Govino 16-ounce “go anywhere wine glass” ($12.95/4-pack) is terrific. It’s flexible, reusable and shatterproof, as well as lightweight. If people keep walking off with your drinking glass, invest in a colorful set of wine glass markers ($6.99/set of 6) from BellaVitaBags.com and yours will never go astray again.

Sweets are an important part of any outdoor get-together, especially when kids are involved. The Nostalgia Electrics Old Fashioned wood ice cream maker ($49.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond) will keep the kids busy while you are tending the grill. It has the look of your granddad’s old ice cream machine, but its electric motor eliminates the elbow grease necessary for churning the ice cream. For serving, I love the Good Cook Twister ice cream scoop ($14.59). It’s heavy duty and has a pointed edge that helps with piercing rock-hard frozen ice cream. The patented auger design twists through the ice cream and forms perfect scoops every time. Chunky Monkey, anybody?

Of course, s’mores are essential at cookouts, so what better tool for s’more-making than the Mr. Bar-B-Q s’mores Grilling Basket ($16.39 at Amazon.com). It holds four gooey s’mores, and has a long handle so even kids can grill at the campfire without getting too close to the flames.

When it comes to cooking outside, you could spend thousands on the perfect grill. The high-end Echelon Diamond Series gas BBQ grill, for example, clocks in at about $13,000. At the other end of the spectrum, $29.99 will buy you a Marsh Allen Cast-Iron Hibachi charcoal grill at Ace Hardware, which along with being durable, is small enough for use on an apartment balcony or rooftop, or for tailgating and camping.

Many professional chefs I know swear by their Camp Chef grills and accessories. And, although they produce world-class cookware, Camp Chef is a Utah enterprise based in the Cache Valley. They make smokers, grills, stoves, ovens, barbecues, cast-iron cookware and more. The products are mainly aimed at campers and hunters, for use in the great outdoors. The favorite model of some of my chef friends is the Camp Chef MVP ($361.00), a powerful two-burner grill that cranks out 25,000 BTUs, yet uses just a single one-pound disposable propane canister, making it perfect for road trips and campouts. It’s got removable legs, making it portable and also adaptable for tabletop cooking.

Should you already own a Camp Chef cooker or plan to buy one, I also highly recommend a very cool accessory: the Camp Chef Italia Artisan pizza oven 60 ($182). The domed oven is designed to fit atop Camp Chef stoves, reaches temps in excess of 650 degrees and delivers brick-oven pizza flavor at a fraction of the cost of a traditional wood-fired brick oven. Better yet, their stand-alone Italia Artisan pizza oven ($400) is perfect for tabletop use.

If there is a single grilling and smoking implement I can’t do without, it’s my Big Green Egg. They aren’t cheap—my model runs about $800—but they are durable and guaranteed for life. Because it’s made of heavy-duty ceramic, with thick walls and nearly airtight insulation, and thanks to a smartly designed ventilation system that allows for as much or as little air flow to the coals as needed, the Big Green Egg makes it a breeze to control cooking temperatures to within about five degrees. You can crank the sucker up to 800-plus degrees for high-temp grilling or do a slow-and-low smoke overnight, plus everything in-between, including baking.

If, as is the case for me, cleaning your grill is one of your least favorite activities, check out the Cookina reusable cooking sheet ($14.99). It’s a flexible non-stick cooking sheet designed for high-temperature cooking in grills and smokers. The sheet is great for fat-free grilling, about 16 x 20 inches in size, easy to clean, keeps small foods from falling through the grates and into the fire, and still allows for grill marks on meats and other foods. Another useful grilling gadget is the flexible skewer. Standard rigid metal and wood skewers make marinating difficult, but the Fire Wire Flexible Grilling Skewer ($14.95/set of four at Williams-Sonoma) fits inside bowls and Zip-loc bags, is dishwater safe, and holds more than twice the volume of typical skewers.

For cooking corn on the cob, the Corn Griller Basket ($16.95 at Crate & Barrel) holds four ears of corn and makes corn grilling a breeze. Another essential cooking tool for me, both in and out of the kitchen, is a good thermometer. I frequently use the Camp Chef wireless thermometer ($18.99 at Target). I just insert the metal probe and the digital transmitter keeps me informed of food temperatures up to 100 feet away, while the LED light makes it easy to read in the dark.

And finally, whether you’re cooking indoors or out, no self-respecting chef should be without the Breaking Bad Heisenberg cutting board ($36 at Etsy.com). Let’s cook!

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