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How to Have the Ultimate Barbecue This Summer

Packing your backyard with friends to scorch meat and shotgun beers is the only way to live. Here are the tools I covet for the days when I can grill-rage once more.
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A week of sharing our ultimate fantasies for life after COVID-19.

Welcome to Fantasy Week, where we indulge all our grandest daydreams about what we wish to do when this is all over. After a year of pandemic life, we’re fantasizing about globetrotting, throwing ragers, and dressing like we truly give zero fucks, and imagining a world where we’re all vaxxed and the world is our big, briny oyster.


I never really learned to grill until the pandemic hit. My family in Florida had one of those propane numbers that gave everything a terrible aftertaste, and it didn’t exactly distill an early interest. My college roommates had an enormous smoker that they used to cook country ribs seven days a week, but I was—smartly, given that Four Loko still contained caffeine at the time, and I was a big fan—not allowed to touch it under any circumstances. Then came a series of big-city apartments, including one that didn’t have a kitchen, let alone a space to put either of those things had I wanted them.

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But then along came COVID-19 and all its misery, and grilling became one of the only activities it was possible to partake in, so I caved and bought a tiny Weber for my back patio. This ended up being a great investment in my mental health; as it turns out, grilling is one of the principal pleasures in life. Not to be too dramatic, but sweating over steaks this past summer sometimes felt like that scene where the prisoners get to tar the roof in Shawshank—a little bit of fresh air and freedom, plus an excuse to drink beer during the day. Anyway, I’ve put in a lot of practice hours since.

Regardless of whether you’re a lifetime connoisseur of the ‘cue, or someone who came to it as recently as I did, you’re going to want to show off your skills as soon as it’s safe. So dust off your tongs and use them to extricate the opossum family that may have taken up residence in your grill this winter. We’ll help you take care of the rest.

A portable grill & smoker combo

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David Vaughn, the barbecue editor for Texas Monthly, plans to throw an end-of-COVID cookout in his enormous pit made out of concrete blocks. “My celebration will be cooking a whole hog in that pit and inviting 100 neighbors and friends to come enjoy it, so the pit is kind of like a trip on the calendar that I can look forward to,” he told me. Sounds awesome, but everything’s bigger in Texas, including backyards. He said that perhaps this grill/smoker combo would be better for city dwellers. It’s so small you could fit it on a fire escape or even throw it in a rental car for a weekend upstate.

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Nomad Grill Smoker, $599 at NOMAD

The final boss of charcoal grills

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This Vision Grills Kamado doesn’t just look like a Transformer and sear, smoke, and grill like a pro; it also features more than four square feet of grilling space, has an electric starter port for easy lighting, uses less charcoal thanks to its sturdy ceramic walls, and comes in a Maserati-esque orange.

Kamado Professional Ceramic Charcoal Grill in Orange with Grill Cover, $729.99 at Home Depot

A chimney starter for your inner pyro

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If you plan on going with the same basic kettle grill like I have, you've gotta get a chimney starter. That way, you can season your meat with the ashes of old newspaper rather than a cup of lighter fluid. There’s a Seinfeld joke about how smoking makes people look dangerous because they’re not afraid to hold fire to their faces. Handling a tube full of bright-red coals is a more health-conscious way to achieve the same effect.

Weber Chimney Charcoal Starter, $20.99 at Home Depot

A grill daddy apron with streetwear vibes

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Do you wanna be a grill dad, or do you wanna be a grill daddy? The difference is mainly determined by your choice of apron and how many times you make puns about flipping wieners. 

The Essential Apron, $85 at Hedley & Bennett

Something to scrape off all that charred steak crud from last summer

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I was trying to do this with a toothbrush for way too long. This guy gets all along the sides of the grates, like an electric Oral B for your (cooking) grill. Spend the 10 dollars and replace it every year.

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Weber 3-Sided Grill Brush, $10.99 at Amazon

Smoking chips to make you feel like you’re a celebrity chef

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There’s almost no better way to exaggerate your grilling abilities than to throw a couple of wood chips on top of your charcoal. No matter what you cook, it’ll taste like it came from some hole-in-the-wall place where the food’s been cooking low and slow since before you were born. There’s no hard and fast rule as to which wood to use for which dish, so experiment and see what you like. (It will all be tight.)

Smoking Chips Sampler Pack, $21 at Food52

AstroTurf to make your concrete slab of a “patio” feel like the ‘burbs

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Do you live in a large city where your “backyard” is technically a 5’x5’ concrete slab laid over a superfund site? Us, too! But with a little fake grass, and a tiny bit of squinting, you’re basically in the ‘burbs.

Artificial Turf, $147.99 $111.99 at Wayfair

Easy drinking brewskies

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It’s important to stay hydrated while hovering over all that heat. Save valuable real estate for the food you’re cooking by pounding a few of these instead of your typical IPA. There are a lot of big-name craft breweries making what I like to call Endurance Beer nowadays, which tends to be in the 4 percent ABV range, and the Lagunitas version rocks.

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Lagunitas Daytime IPA, 12-pack, $27.00 at Drizly

Chairs to help you relax like an old Italian man smoking a cigar

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Yes, you can get folding chairs that recline or come with detachable headrest pillows and drink holders. But in a word: Why? Get these classic ones that look great and have no unnecessary bells and whistles. Fold ‘em up and throw ‘em in the garage (or a closet, or your fire escape) when the summer’s over.

Pair of Classic Webbed Folding Chairs, $69.97 at Home Depot

An inflatable pool to make day-drinking feel like bottle service

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There’s obviously no pretending that an inflatable pool will ever be as good as the real thing, but at least this one will never crack. Mylle designed it specifically for people with “city rooftops and tiny bungalow yards,” and it folds up nice and small into a carrying case for the off-season. It also looks like it could make a cameo in Architectural Digest

Mylle Terrazzo Inflatable Pool, $115 at Nordstrom

A retro cooler that will offer aesthetic escapism to simpler times

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Rather than spending half your afternoon running in and out of the kitchen to make off-off mixed drinks for your guests, batch a summer cocktail and serve it in this cooler that looks straight out of Saved by the Bell.

Barrel of Fun 2-Gallon Jug, $39.99 at Igloo

A ton of hot dogs (can’t go wrong)

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Little-known fact: A German immigrant named Charles Feltman invented the hot dog (an incredible food) and was the first to sell it on the Coney Island boardwalk—Nathan (of Nathan’s Famous) was just his employee. Although the spinoff restaurant is the one that’s become über famous, the original red-hot still has the superior snap. There are only a couple of places in NYC you can get one, like the legendary McSorley’s Old Ale House, but you can order the retail version shipped anywhere in the continental US.

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54 Natural Casing Hotdogs, $114.99 for 52 at Feltman’s of Coney Island

Portable power

Ranger

There’s a reason lots of grill-fluencers (@MerriamWebster, u up?) are die-hard Traeger fans—the products rock. This portable, space-saving pellet grill with precise temperature control is all you’ll need this summer. 

Ranger, $399 at Traeger 

What’s so great about the Swiss Army, anyway?

BBQ Multi-Tool

They make cool knives, granted, but do they make sick BBQ multi-tools? (Well, no, but they do make a ton of solid, colorful kitchen gear.) This grilling gadget is just like a Swiss Army knife, in that you probably can’t take this on a plane, either. It features a spatula, pig tail, bottle opener, corkscrew, and a basting brush they suggest you use to “sauce your chicken,” which sounds a little rated-R to us.

BBQ Multi-Tool, $49.99 at Traeger

Wrap up your hog

Butcher Paper

… Otherwise the juices will get everywhere! All jokes aside, though, if you’re planning to do a low-and-slow brisket, you can’t skimp on the butcher paper. This roll is FDA-approved, and locks in juices while letting in smoke and flavor to keep the final product moist and mouthwatering. 

Traeger X Oren Pink BBQ Butcher Paper Roll, $44.99 at Traeger

Nebraska is for lovers

Classic Ribeye Pack

Not everyone lives near a butcher, or has a grocery store that has one in the back. If you’re one of these people, it might be easier—and cheaper—to simply order your meat online. This Classic Ribeye Pack is a beef-lover's dream care package, and you can’t beat the half-off discount. It comes with four eight-ounce ribeyes, eight five-ounce Omaha Steaks Burgers, eight three-ounce Gourmet Jumbo Franks, four four-and-a-half-ounce chicken fried steaks, one package of all-beef meatballs, four four-ounce New York cheesecakes, and a jar of the company’s signature seasoning. 

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Classic Ribeye Pack, $335.90 $167.99 at Omaha Steaks

Calluses won’t cut it 

Stockman's Glove

Don’t do it, dude. It’s hot. We know everyone is watching and you wanna seem tough (and you “do this all the time!”), but do yourself a favor and put some gloves on before rummaging around through hot coals to locate your misplaced man-card. The thick, genuine leather and insulating, heat-resistant fabrics protect your hands while the long cuffs protect your wrists and forearms. It’s a no-brainer.

Stockman's Glove, $45 at Huckberry

Don’t poison your guests 

Meater+ Wireless Thermometer

… Unless, of course, they forget to bring beer. (Kidding, mostly.) This meat thermometer takes the guesswork out of cooking times, since when it comes to grilling, recipe guidelines will vary drastically depending on the size of your grill, how hot your grill gets, how well it retains heat, and a slew of other factors. The easiest way to know when the grillin’ is done is by checking the internal temperature. This guy works wirelessly up to 165 feet away, so you can crack a cold one with the bros and know exactly when your meats hit medium rare. Or well done. Or whatever. Eat your steak how you like—don’t let people meat-shame you.

Meater+ Wireless Thermometer, $99 at Huckberry

Because your grill hasn’t been cleaned since last summer

Cast Iron Flat Pan

Go outside and take a look at those grates, friend. You wanna lick ‘em? No? Then why are you putting your food on them? Sure, high heat probably kills most of the germs, but that gnarly layer of caked-on grease and carbonized meat remnants isn’t going to do your store-bought burgers any favors. Instead, pop this cast iron on your grates and get the perfect sear every time. 

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Cast Iron Flat Pan, $45 at Huckberry  

Spice up your life 

canned beer rubs

You can get all sorts of spices online these days, including this six-pack of canned beer rubs, perfect for slathering on your various summer meats. Or yourself. 

6 Pack Beer Rub Sampler, $70 at Huckberry


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