The 4 best grill brush and cleaning tools we tested in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Cleaning a grill isn’t the most fun chore, but it’s essential for both your and your grill’s health.
  • The Kona 360° Grill Brush is our favorite because it evenly scours large swathes with each pass.
  • We also have recommendations for grill-cleaning bricks and metal-free brushes below.

Keeping your grill clean is paramount to its longevity; it helps preserve the hardware, preventing corrosion and rust. It’s also essential if you want to make sure the food you cook is safe for consumption.

That’s because the residue that builds up on the grate and inside of a grill contains carcinogens, and leftover food bits are a magnet for bacteria. Safety aside, your food will also taste better and cook more evenly if you commit to regular grill maintenance.

When it comes to choosing the right grill-cleaning tool(s), Barbecue University TV host, author, and grilling expert Steven Raichlen said to look for the longest tools you can find because “grilling utensils are never long enough.” Anything over 16 inches should suffice, and anything under 12 inches is best avoided, or you’ll face some serious singeing every time you go to clean your grill.

Below, we’ve chosen the ones we find to be most useful and effective, though a combination of two or three of them is probably ideal. So long as you have at least one brush and one scraper, and make sure to put in the time to actually use them, they’ll do wonders for keeping your grill in top condition.

Here are the best grill brushes in 2021

The best grill brush overall

The best grill brush overall, Kona 360 Grill Brush

The Kona 360° Grill Brush works in all directions to clean any and all grates, and comes with sturdy bristles that won’t end up stuck in your grill, or your food.

Pros: High-quality bristles that won’t bend or break easily, multidirectional, cleans at angles

Cons: Head is not replaceable, prone to rust if not properly dried, no built-in scraper (though you may not need it with this brush)

Kona’s 360° Grill Brush is effectively a one-stop tool that makes cleaning a grill as painless as possible. Thanks to its three-part head consisting of what are basically heavy-duty, oversized pipe cleaners, it reaches angles that more traditional, square, flat grill brushes simply can’t.

After using this brush for a couple of months, we’ve found that a combination of a few different angles, and specifically using the rounded edges, takes care of almost the entire surface area of a grill grate, which makes cleanup as swift as we could ever imagine.

Lightweight and balanced, this brush is great for cleaning hot or cold surfaces (hot is always preferred, because you’ll be able to dislodge residue much more easily). However, you do want to be careful about making sure it dries properly if you use it with water to clean your grill (hanging it vertically works well for us, and we haven’t encountered any rust yet). 

You can also use this brush to clean the entire grill box, should you choose, and it is designated safe for use on ceramic, porcelain, and infrared cooking surfaces, too.

Best budget grill brush

The best grill brush on a budget, Cuisinart

Cuisinart’s Grill Cleaning Brush comes with a sturdy stainless steel handle and scraper and well-spaced bristles for getting into hard-to-reach spaces.

Pros: Long, stainless steel handle, built-in scraper

Cons: Base of the brush head is plastic, which can melt over high heat if you’re not quick and careful; brand doesn’t offer replacement heads

Cuisinart’s Grill Cleaning Brush offers just what you need for a basic tool at an affordable price, without being made entirely of cheap, heat-intolerant materials.

One of the most common problems with budget grill brushes is that their handles are often short and plastic, meaning they melt easily (and put you in danger of singeing your arm hair). Cuisinart addresses this issue by outfitting their brush with a long, stainless steel handle; it won’t burn, and it will keep your hands far enough away from the flames. 

Between the inch-long bristles and the three-and-a-quarter-inch scraper, this brush will give you everything you need (save for a little water and maybe some grill spray) to keep your grill operational.

That’s not to say this is the perfect brush — we still haven’t quite found one within this price range. The bristles are a little short, but that seems to be the case with most brushes on the cheaper side. While the majority of the tool is stainless steel, the base of the brush head is plastic, which, yes, will melt if you’re not careful. Some advice: keep moving if you’re working over a hot grill, as resting in one place too long will speed up the melting process. 

Otherwise, it’s a functional, traditional brush design with a rectangular grid of bristles. If you want to eliminate plastic entirely, you’ll have to spend a bit more, but know full well that this brush should last you a few good years, if not longer.

Best grill scraper

The best grill scraper, Kona

Kona’s Safe/Clean Wooden Grill Scraper is 100% nontoxic with food-grade varnish, molds to your grill grates over time, and won’t leave behind stray bristles.

Pros: Food-quality varnish, solid hardwood, molds to your grill over time

Cons: Takes time to mold to your grill, not as thorough as a brush

Fresh out of the packaging, you might be inclined to think that Kona’s Safe/Clean Wooden Grill Scraper doesn’t work. You’ll need to spend some time scraping your grill and forming grooves into this scraper, but once you get it to that point, it’s going to function almost as well as — and in some ways better than — a good grill brush. Its main advantage: there are no metal bristles to break off and get stuck in your grill’s grates (or your food). 

In truth, you’ll probably want to follow your work with a wet paper towel to pick up anything left over. You’ll also have to flip your grates to properly clean them top and bottom. 

We like this scraper because it has a D-shaped handle like a snow shovel, which really allows you to put your shoulder into cleaning. It’s also a lot thicker than some other options, which look like they might wear out considerably faster.

And, because there can never be too many bottle openers within reach when it comes to grilling outdoors, there’s one built into Kona’s Safe/Clean Wooden Grill Scraper.

Best grill-cleaning brick

The best grill cleaning brick, KegWorks

For that truly like-new, grime-free, high shine look, it’s hard to beat the amazing scouring power you get with the KegWorks Grill Cleaning Brick.

Pros: Does an excellent job of removing grease, quick and easy to use, immediately builds groves to fit your grill

Cons: Large, a little messy in your hands, doesn’t reach corners and edges (you’ll need a brush and/or scraper as well)

A cleaning brick is similar to a wooden grill scraper in that you’ll build grooves in it with your grill grates, but because it’s softer, the grooves will take shape almost immediately. It’s going to do a great job of cleaning them, but as with the scraper, you will have to turn the grates over to get the underside.

Most grill cleaning bricks are made of nonporous pumice, and there are universal cleaning brick handles that make the job a lot smoother and easier on your hands, but they’re far from necessary. What we like about grill cleaning bricks is that they are simple and also safer and potentially less damaging to your grill’s grates than wire brushes (if you overuse them). That said, you do have to replace them more frequently than brushes, as they wear away quickly.

Any grill-cleaning brick made with nonporous pumice will do the trick, but KegWorks‘ is on the more affordable side, probably because it’s not as dense. That lightness has its benefits: this brick breaks in a lot faster than most. 

We found that this brick gets porcelain-coated stainless steel grates shining in the shortest order, but because it doesn’t have a scraper or a contoured edge, you’ll have to use something else to get into those harder-to-reach spots.

What else we tested

The best grill brush, what else we tested

What we don’t recommend and why:

BBQ Aid: This tool worked nicely, and we like the replacement head, but we have some concerns about bristle longevity due to a number of customer reviews on Amazon. We still think that the Kona 360°, being roughly the same price and having no plastic components, is the better bet.

Tool Wizard Barbecue Brush: This was another tool that worked very well, but it took a beating quickly, and we tore the mesh scrubber pad up pretty badly within the first use. You might swap the provided pads out for steel wool ones and find that they survive better, but it could wreak havoc on your grill grates so we don’t recommend it.

Our testing methodology

The best grill brushes, methodology

We spoke with experts like New York City meat purveyor Pat LaFrieda and Barbecue University TV host Steven Raichlen to learn what makes a good grill-cleaning tool. We also went to work cleaning too-many-to-count grills around the house and neighborhood.

Here’s what we looked for in the best grill brushes and tools:

Handles: During testing, we learned that handles, where applicable, had to be long and ideally not made of plastic, which can melt. Across the board, we preferred stainless steel handles, followed by wood handles.

Bristles: Bristles are highly effective, but can bend or break, which poses a hazard if they get in your food. We made sure that even over a hot grate, none of the bristles became deformed or dislodged from the plate to which they’re attached.

Ease of use: If a brush or tool was difficult to engage properly, we lost interest. Most people don’t want to spend too much time learning how to use a brush, and we think it should be easy enough for anyone to pick up and (effectively) use.

What we’re testing next

We’re not currently preparing to test anything new at the moment, but we’re going to keep testing our current picks for durability and longevity.

FAQs

What’s the best way to clean a grill?

The best way to clean a grill is while it’s still hot, which helps loosen residue and grease for easier removal. In general, it’s best to clean the grill both before and after cooking. Here’s how experts recommend cleaning your grill:

Before cooking

  1. Pre-heat your grill to your desired cooking temperature.
  2. When the grill is up to temp, use a grill brush to clean across the entire cooking surface.
  3. Using long tongs, dip a folded paper towel into high-heat cooking oil (such a vegetable or canola oil) and rub across the entire cooking surface. This helps clean and prime the cook top.
  4. Proceed with grilling.

After cooking

  1. While the grill is still hot, use your grill brush to loosen any debris and clean the cooking surface.
  2. Water is ok to use on your grill as long as it’s hot. Keep in mind that water left on cold cast iron grates or grill bodies can cause rusting.
  3. You may periodically want to use a scrubbing block for deeper grill cleaning, but this should be done on a cool grill.

How do I clean my grill brush?

Clean your grill brush with water and/or soap when it comes time, but be sure to hang it vertically so that it dries sufficiently, otherwise you’ll end up with rust.

Check out our other grilling guides

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The 5 best backpacking stoves that are lightweight, fuel-efficient, and powerful enough to cook food fast

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Backpacking stoves are vital for preparing hot meals and coffee, no matter how far in the backcountry you are.
  • The best are fuel-efficient, lightweight enough to fit in your backpack, and reliable in inclement weather.
  • Our top pick, MSR’s WindBurner, is fast, powerful, and efficient, and weighs less than 3 ounces.

There are few things as refreshing as enjoying a hot meal at your campsite following a long day of hiking. Energy bars and trail mix do well to curb hunger during the day but when it’s time to relax for the night, you’ll want something a bit more substantial. That’s where a reliable camp stove opens up the options for meals, snacks, and hot beverages, making your time in the backcountry much more enjoyable.

I spend much of the year, regardless of season, either out on a multi-day backpacking trip or planning my next one – and I’ve learned that prioritizing how and what I’ll eat is always a vital consideration. This means making sure I’m able to start each morning with a cup of instant coffee and a few bites of rehydrated scrambled eggs so that I’m replenished enough and able to take on however many grueling miles lay ahead.

Refueling at night is just as important, too. A satisfying evening meal goes a long way to making my legs feel less tired and my body less sore, despite having hauled a 30-pound pack for several hours prior. Satisfying those meal needs always comes down to the type of backpacking stove I bring along. Even on shorter trips, it always finds its way into my pack – it’s that important.

Over the years, I’ve tested an array of camp stoves, both good and bad. What I’ve found is that I keep coming back to the same two brands: MSR and JetBoil. As you’ll notice by which stoves ultimately made the following guide, those two brands have the backpacking camp stove market almost entirely covered – and recommending another model just for the sake of doing so isn’t worth it. These are the best for a reason.

At the bottom of this guide, you’ll find some tips on how to shop for a backpacking stove and what else to consider, as well as the testing methodology I used.

Here are the best backpacking stoves:

The best backpacking stove overall

msr pocketrocket deluxe

Ounce counters will love the MSR PocketRocket Deluxe, which delivers outstanding performance in a tiny package. If you want to travel fast and light, this is the stove you need. 

 

MSR’s original PocketRocket is an iconic piece of gear in the outdoor industry, setting new standards for lightweight performance from a backpacking stove. But the new Deluxe model takes things to a new level by adding a push-button starter and a regulator for improved control in cold environments. 

The PocketRocket Deluxe tips the scales at a mere 2.9 ounces, making it one of the more svelte stoves on the market. It also measures just 3.3 inches in length, which is considerably smaller than almost any other model. Despite the small size, it still manages to perform well, boiling water at a rapid clip and offering solid fuel efficiency, too. It even has an integrated simmer control and a solid level of wind resistance, which aren’t common in similar stoves.

With this new generation of PocketRocket, MSR included an onboard igniter, eliminating the need to carry matches or a lighter. The igniter can be a source of frustration at times, though, as it’s not always 100 percent reliable. 

It’s worth pointing out that this stove isn’t a full cooking system, meaning you’ll need to bring a pot to prepare your meal (and possibly to eat from). Those additional items take up space and add weight to your pack, potentially negating any shaved ounces from using the PocketRocket in the first place. Additionally, the stove’s pot supports aren’t very large and can create some instability when used on uneven ground. 

Still, this little stove punches well above its weight class, delivering outstanding all-around performance in a tiny form factor. That alone makes it easy to recommend as the best ultralight backpacking stove available today.

The best budget backpacking stove

BRS

The BRS 3000-T Ultralight stove is a budget-conscious backpacker’s dream. Not only does it weigh next to nothing but it offers solid performance at a rock-bottom price, making it a great choice for those who’d rather spend their hard-earned money on other gear instead. 

Pros: Very inexpensive and lightweight compared to other models

Cons: Not very durable and average performance in all but the best of outdoor conditions 

Budget-friendly backpacking stoves aren’t particularly common in the outdoor industry but occasionally a model comes along that manages to offer solid performance at a great price. Such is the case with the BRS 3000-T Ultralight, a stove that’s compact, lightweight, and easy on the wallet. 

You won’t find a lot in the way of frills on this stove, though. It doesn’t have a built-in starter, nor does it include simmer control or a regulator to help maintain performance in cold or windy conditions. The BRS 3000-T is the very definition of a basic backpacking stove, with just the bare minimum of features. 

With that said, it does weigh less than an ounce and boils a liter of water in roughly three minutes. It also comes with a set of built-in pot holders that do a reasonably good job of maintaining balance even on rough terrain. Best of all, the BRS 3000-T costs just $17, making it an absolute bargain. 

Of course, at that price, this stove does come with a few caveats. It’s recommended that backpackers handle it with care as it isn’t the most durable. The stove can also perform poorly in windy conditions and its small burner head delivers only average performance. 

The best fuel-efficient backpacking stove

msr windburner stove

You’ll always want to consider weight, size, efficiency, and ease of use when shopping for a backpacking stove and none deliver on those as well as the MSR WindBurner, the best stove currently available. 

Pros: Compact, fast, and efficient, the MSR WindBurner is an all-in-one system that backpackers will love

Cons: No built-in igniter and not as lightweight as some other models

MSR’s made excellent backpacking stoves for decades and one of the mainstays in its line-up is the WindBurner Personal Stove System. What makes this particular stove stand out is that it’s an all-in-one option that gives users everything they need in one package. That includes the stove itself, a 1-liter insulated cook pot, a stabilizer, straining lid, and a plastic bowl. The only added extra you’d need is a canister of fuel and you’re set.

Unlike other all-in-one systems, the WindBurner offers a few extras that make it easier to use. For instance, its simmer-control system allows users to dial in exactly how much heat they want to apply to the pot. This also provides a measure of control over fuel consumption. 

The WindBurner truly shines with its versatility and efficiency. Very few backpacking stoves are as good in cold and windy conditions, and most use more fuel when preparing a meal. In fact, the WindBurner often gets twice as many uses out of a single fuel canister as its competition. That performance remains surprisingly consistent, too, even when used in a variety of environments or altitudes. 

Weighing in at 15.2 ounces, the WindBurner isn’t the lightest stove on this list but it is compact enough to comfortably carry inside a backpack, along with each of the add-ons which store inside one another. The entire package is easy to clean and can be set up or taken apart quickly. It also has the ability to boil a liter of water in just four and a half minutes, which is quite fast for a model of this size. 

The best backpacking stove for beginners

jetboil flash

The JetBoil Flash offers excellent all-around performance and great features that make it especially beginner-friendly. Compact and convenient, this is a stove first-time backpackers can quickly learn to operate and continue to use for many years. 

Pros: Fast and relatively efficient, the JetBoil Flash is extremely easy to operate, making it a great choice for beginners

Cons: No simmer control means the stove lacks subtle options when cooking a meal and its loss of efficiency in windy conditions is noticeable

Inexperienced backpackers looking for a great first backpacking stove should look no further than the JetBoil Flash. Like the MSR WindBurner, this model is an all-in-one solution that not only provides a stove but also a cooking pot wrapped in a protective outer shell. That’s essentially all you need to prepare the dehydrated backpacking meals that have become increasingly popular in recent years. 

The Flash’s ease of use is one of its biggest strengths. Simply fill up the pot with water and you’re ready to go. The entire system connects seamlessly to a gas canister, allowing the Flash to bring liquids to a boil in about three and a half minutes. That means you won’t have to wait long to get a warm meal or a hot beverage.

With its built-in heat exchanger, the Flash remains efficient, even in shifting weather conditions and colder temperatures. While not as fuel-efficient as the WindBurner, it still does a decent job of getting as much performance out of a single canister as possible.

At 13.1 ounces, the JetBoil Flash falls into the middle ground concerning size and weight. Smaller stoves, such as the MSR PocketRocket Deluxe, are more compact and less bulky but don’t include pots to prepare a meal, making the weight difference much closer than it seems. The Flash’s modular design only enhances its reputation as an easy-to-use option, too. 

The best travel backpacking stove

msr whisperlite universal

The MSR WhisperLite Universal is easy to travel with and uses liquid fuel rather than traditional gas canisters, making it the best backpacking stove for those going abroad.

Pros: Fast and efficient, compatible with multiple types of fuel which adds versatility and makes it great for international travel

Cons: A bit on the heavy side and requires regular maintenance in order to achieve optimal performance

Another mainstay in the MSR line-up, the WhisperLite Universal is without a doubt the best option for backpackers traveling outside the U.S. This stove comes with its own canister which can be filled with a variety of fuels, including white gas, kerosene, or even unleaded gasoline. It even uses standard isobutane-propane canisters when available, allowing this stove to go anywhere you’re able to find a viable fuel source. 

Compact and easy to carry, the WhisperLite Universal heats up quickly and gets nearly two hours of burn time from a single canister of white gas. Its overall efficiency varies depending on the fuel but it typically boils a liter of water in under four minutes. The stove is also easy to use, supports large pots for feeding groups of campers, and is surprisingly quiet for a liquid gas model.

The downside of using this type of stove is that it requires routine maintenance to keep it performing optimally. This maintenance isn’t particularly difficult but can be daunting and intimidating to newcomers. Additionally, at 14.9 ounces in weight, it’s a little heavier compared to other options. 

MSR ships the WhisperLite with a fuel pump, heat reflector, and a windscreen to help improve performance in windy conditions. It also comes with a few small parts to aid in the maintenance process. Unfortunately, a fuel bottle is not included, which adds an extra expense for international travelers, as well as a few additional ounces. 

How to shop for a backpacking stove

Shopping for a backpacking stove is different than what you’d look for while car camping, where size and weight don’t matter as much. When you’re carrying your entire allotment of gear inside a backpack, it’s vital to go small and lightweight.

It’s also important to find a stove that’s highly fuel-efficient in order to reduce the number of gas canisters you’ll need. 

But those aren’t the only features to consider. You’ll also want to take into account the number of people the stove supports, the kind of fuel it uses, and how durable it is. As with all outdoor gear, your stove should be extremely reliable and easy to use — there’s nothing like arriving at your campsite after sunset, exhausted and hungry, only to find your stove won’t start. 

What else to consider

It’s also important to think about when and where you’ll be using your camp stove. If you go backpacking in cold and windy conditions, you’ll want a stove that quickly boils water without using excess fuel. The same holds true when hiking at higher altitudes, where thinner air has a dramatic impact on efficiency. 

If this sounds too complex or overwhelming, fret not. There are plenty of reliable backpacking stoves to choose from, many of which are lightweight, compact, and fast. In fact, we’ve field-tested a crop of stoves currently available and came away impressed. There are now options available for just about every type of backpacker with any kind of budget. 

How we test backpacking stoves

Each stove featured in this guide went through a series of on-trail tests to see how well it held up across these four categories: Portability, weight, dependability, and value. Here’s how each category specifically factored into which backpacking stoves ultimately made this guide:

Weight: For literally anything backpacking-related, weight is perhaps the most important consideration. Even if you’re not an ultralight backpacker, counting down to the ounce is common practice, and your camp stove is no different. During each test, we loaded a backpack with roughly 20 pounds of gear (sleeping bag, clothing, food, headlamps, etc.) and would spend one to two days with the stove in our backpack, and at least one day with it in someone else’s. This helped us judge just how much of a difference those ounces truly made.

Portability: Though weight may first come to mind when assessing how portable a camp stove is, we also judged how well the stove packed down, whether into itself or as pieces that were easily packable. A highly portable backpacking stove shouldn’t take up much valuable room in your pack, and also shouldn’t be so many separate pieces that you feel like you’re assembling a jigsaw puzzle each day. 

Dependability: Setting up camp after a grueling day on the trail can turn sour very quickly if the stove you’re about to rely on for sustenance doesn’t work (and this is doubly true when the weather starts to turn wet, cold, and windy). We’ve tested these stoves in hot weather often but also made sure to put them through their paces when the wind and rain picked up. For these, we had to resort to doing so in our backyard, though time spent on trail this winter will allow for further testing.

Value: The value of a backpacking camp stove isn’t just how much it costs but more so a combination of the three categories before it, as well as its final sticker price. You want something that’s dependable and often that means spending a little more for something you can rely on (as opposed to spending less, more often on an inferior stove). 

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The 5 best BBQ smokers in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • A smoker is a great way to preserve food and spend some quality time outdoors.
  • Our favorite smoker for most people is the Traeger Pro 575 Pellet Grill.
  • It offers steady temperature regulation and has a small learning curve, but the right one for you might vary.

Smokers can be a lot of fun, and as involved or hands-off as you like. These days, you can even tend (at least in part) to your smoker via WiFi from the comfort of your couch while your food fumigates and your pellet grill feeds itself and changes temperature and smokiness at your command.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are barrel smokers, otherwise known as stick burners, which are traditionally cut out of 55-gallon steel drums. These require meticulous oversight and tending, over which many professional careers have been spent.

In between, there are charcoal, electric (sans pellets), and propane smokers. The thing to keep in mind when purchasing one is how much time you want to spend hunched over or standing beside it, and how smokey you really want your food. They’re all great options according to Steven Raichlen, TV host of Barbecue University, Project Smoke, and author of dozens of books on barbecuing (including his forthcoming release, “How to Grill Vegetables“).

Before testing out smokers, we sifted through countless reviews, spoke with several other chefs, and walked the floors of The Home Depot and Lowe’s to get a feel for what was out there.

Below, we offer recommendations across each of the categories listed above, and while we haven’t yet tested enough stick burners (smokers that use log splits or “sticks”) to determine our top pick in that category, we managed a few recommendations for those looking to dive headfirst into wood-smoking.

Here are the best BBQ smokers in 2021

The best smoker overall

best smoker overall

If you’re going to buy just one grill for barbecuing, Traeger’s Pro 575 is a tank built to maintain perfect temperature and last well over a decade.

Pros: Excellent temperature control, WiFi-equipped, hefty steel built to last

Cons: WiFi connectivity could be better, LCD interface not as intuitive as others, not modular like some other brands

Whether you’re just getting into barbecuing or you’ve spent more days than you can count hunched over a stick burner, a pellet grill like Traeger’s Pro 575 is hassle-free and offers steady temperature and smoke. It’s also the heaviest-duty grill we’ve found for less than a thousand dollars.

One of the most important things about a smoker, or any barbecue grill that you’re going to operate for hours at a time, is heat retention. If you can’t keep steady heat, you’re really going to struggle to time and cook your food to perfection. We’ve tried multiple pellet grills (see more below), and while they’ve all done their job swimmingly, the Traeger is built with the thickest steel and maintains a temperature within about five degrees of your target. Try and do that with a manual charcoal or wood-burning grill and you’ll have your work cut out for you (you’ll also learn quickly why Pitmasters earn their distinction).

Frankly, apart from the quality of the steel, all pellet grills follow the same design, more or less. Traeger might be the original, but there are plenty of other brands that come close, and if you want to save some money, Raichlen suggests looking to Green Mountain Grills’ models

We had some trouble connecting to WiFi using this grill. Our router was on the other side of two brick walls, and it couldn’t hold a connection. Though since relocating it, a lone wall hasn’t been a problem. 

Traeger, like many other brands, falls short in the way of accessories. Camp Chef’s Woodwind WiFi series, which we also recommend, is modular; you can add on grill boxes, a 28,000 BTU side-burner (great for searing, boils, and clam bakes), a pizza oven, and much more. 

If all you want your pellet grill to do is smoke and grill (they all max out at around 500 degrees Fahrenheit, so you won’t necessarily pull off any high-heat searing), Traeger’s is the one that’s built the best and made to last the longest, which is why we think it’s worth spending a little extra.

The best charcoal smoker

Weber Smokey MOuntain Smoker

Weber’s 18″ Smokey Mountain has the same timeless and sturdy design as its Original Kettle, only better-equipped for smoking.

Pros: Simple but effective, full manual control, small but plenty of cooking area

Cons: Labor-intensive, difficult to maintain temperature control

When it comes to charcoal smokers, there are almost too many designs to consider. That said, unless you’re throwing massive backyard barbecues, smoking multiple briskets, or dealing with entire hogs, you probably don’t need a ginormous offset barrel smoker (however alluring it may look). 

We find that Weber’s Smokey Mountain series’ 18-inch smoker offers the most for the casual at-home smoker. It has a relatively small footprint of about 20 inches, is made with the same solid steel and porcelain enamel as the brand’s Original Kettle grills, and it will outlast most charcoal smokers on the market for the same price.

If you do want a large offset smoker, Raichlen says look to Horizon, Yoder, or Lang — I’d also add Texas Originals to the list — but know that they’ll all weigh hundreds of pounds, and cost you four figures. We plan on testing these larger grills soon.

Depending on the amount of cooking surface area you require, you can size up to 22 inches (726 square inches) or down to 14 inches (286 square inches), but we think the 481 square inches offered by the 18-inch model (between two vertically integrated grates) is plenty for most.

Setting this grill up is easy and straightforward, and once assembled, a pile of charcoal (we recommend hardwood charcoal), some wood-smoking chips (or split wood), and a basin (included) filled with water are all you need. You’ll have to keep on top of the fire and airflow throughout to find the perfect balance — and make no mistake, that is an art unto itself, but also part of the fun.

I’ve spent the better part of a decade tinkering with and smoking all sorts of things with this very grill, and looking back on that experience I can say this: my most monumental successes in smoking have occurred on this very smoker, but so too have my greatest failures. If these prospects don’t appeal to you, save yourself the anguish and consider a pellet, propane, or electric smoker instead.

Approach this grill for what it is knowing that while it’s in some ways a starter smoker, and one that you can easily store away or station in tighter spots, it will allow you to produce a wide variety of superb smoked goods.

The best propane smoker

Cuisinart Smoker

Cuisinart’s 36″ Vertical Propane Smoker is easy to use, maintains steady heat, and fits anywhere a mini fridge would.

Pros: Convenient, consistent, efficient, portable

Cons: No timer, requires regularly adding wood chips, no casters

Propane smokers are among the easiest and most efficient to operate and assemble. They might not impart the same amount of smokiness (adding dry or soaked wood chips hourly helps), and certainly don’t create the same ambiance as a fire, but they’re convenient and maintain impeccably steady heat.

We like Cuisinart’s 36-inch Vertical Propane smoker because of its basic but robust steel design. There are very few moving parts, and there’s only one control knob. And while this smoker lacks a timer or programming, it’s propane, which you’ll always need to shut off manually anyhow.

If you’re willing to forego the element of fire, a propane (or an electric) smoker is a great way to go. It requires almost no input from you beyond adding wood chips and igniting a burner. There’s also plenty of surface area spread out between four roughly 200-square-inch porcelain-coated stainless steel racks, which is comparable to the cooking surface area of a medium-sized barrel grill. And because it runs on propane, you can load it into the back of a truck for car- or off-grid camping, should you be so inclined.

The size of Cuisinart’s 36-inch Propane Smoker is also convenient for small spaces or those who prefer to store it in the garage. And thanks to the side handles, it’s much easier to put away than some other models. Still, we do wish it had casters because it’s a bit heavy for many people.

Even with an electric grill, this is as easy as smoking gets, and about as compact as well. So, if you don’t want to tend to a fire and would rather not pay for wood pellets, this is your best and most efficient option.

The best electric smoker

The best electric smoker

Masterbuilt’s 30″ Electric Smoker operates with nothing but electricity and wood chips, and is as easy and predictable as smoking gets.

Pros: Intuitive, glass door to check progress, efficient

Cons: No casters or handles, short warranty

Electric smokers are among the easiest smokers to operate. They’re insulated, maintain almost perfect temperature control, and can cook for hours and hours without much attention (save for adding wood chips).

Masterbuilt’s 30″ Electric Smoker comes practically preassembled (attach the legs, the digital monitor, a latch, and it’s ready) and will be up and running with the press of a few buttons.

There’s no fussy fuel to deal with, and all you have to do is remember to deposit a handful (half-cup) of either dry or pre-soaked wood chips, which you’ll want to replenish about every hour or so, depending on the temperature you set.

Vertical electric smokers are the same shape, size, and every bit as straightforward as propane smokers, but without the hassle of dealing with propane (namely, running out of it). The size lets you cook just about everything you would on a mid-sized barrel grill or smoker, and a glass window in the door is a nice touch that allows you to keep an eye on things without having to open it up and lose heat.

We wish this grill had handles because we have had to move it quite a bit, and there’s no great place to get a grip on it. Plan to keep this grill more or less where you park it, and know that you’ll need a solid electrical source.

Adding wood chips might also be sort of a nuisance if you’re not familiar with smoking, but it’s incredibly easy compared with maintaining a fire, and it also helps you keep things from overcooking. Otherwise, there’s not much to worry about with this smoker. We smoked fish, meat, and a pile of vegetables in it and everything came out perfectly, evenly browned and cooked through. This is as fail-safe and as effortless as smoking gets.

The best versatile smoker

best versatile smoker

Camp Chef’s Woodwind WiFi lets you monitor your grill from inside, and it’s compatible with many attachments.

Pros: Modular with several options for attachments, easy to move, industrial-style casters

Cons: Doesn’t maintain temperature as well as our top pick (but only a matter of 15 degrees)

While we like the Traeger Pro series for people specifically looking to smoke and grill (with smoke), we haven’t found any pellet grills as versatile as those in the Camp Chef Woodwind series, which we’ve been testing for nearly two years now.

Apart from offering remarkably user-friendly interfaces, the smokers in the Camp Chef Woodwind series (we think the 24-inch model with 800 square inches of cooking surface area is best for most people) are compatible with multiple accessories, and it’s hard to imagine something you couldn’t cook. 

As far as attachments, we recommend Camp Chef’s 28,000-BTU Sidekick, an extremely powerful propane burner capable of searing anything and boiling massive stock pots of seafood (we put the latter to the test twice). The Sidekick also comes with a flat-top griddle and a grease catchment system, and you can add on the “Outdoor Oven” which is really a stainless steel pizza oven. There’s also the Sear Box, which works like a miniature propane grill with cast-iron grates and a stainless steel cover. 

While this grill isn’t made of the same hefty steel used in Traeger’s Pro series, we haven’t encountered any issues with it, and it’s already been through two winters, accidentally left uncovered through snow, rain, and even hail, and is no worse for wear. We also really love the casters, which seem to be the same kind you’d find on industrial stainless steel carts.

If you want a do-it-all outdoor smoker (or grill for that matter) that lets you smoke, grill, braise, bake, boil, and more, this is our favorite modular option. 

Read our full review of the Camp Chef Woodwind Wifi 24.

Our methodology

methodology BBQ smokers

We recently retested three of our top picks and, paying careful attention to the heat retention, temperature fluctuations, general ease of use, and the overall quality of the materials and design.

We also walked through Lowe’s and The Home Depot opening and examining every smoker there. We looked at fittings, the quality of the seal between the lid and the grill, and the thickness of the steel.

We then spoke with several experts including chef Shola Olunloyo of Studio Kitchen and veteran author and Barbecue University TV host Steven Raichlen to find out what makes a good smoker. 

Here’s what we looked for in our top picks:

Smoking method: While smoking over hardwood is probably the most fun experience, we all agreed, not everyone wants to spend the better part of a day hunched over a fire. And while pellet grills might not offer the same flavor charcoal and wood-burning grills do, they come mighty close and are almost entirely hands-off.

Ease of use: Inextricably linked to the smoking method is the ease of use. The learning curve on wood-burning grills is stratospheric. Pellet grills offer a great balance between smokiness and user-friendliness, but some don’t hold a steady temperature all that well, which presents another set of problems.

Material quality: Most smokers have to live outside, and while a cover is a worthy investment, a grill is still going to have to withstand the elements. Flimsier metals and cheap wheels were immediately disqualified. Thicker steel and industrial-grade casters were positive points, especially on competitively priced smokers.

Performance: Because heat retention and maintenance of a consistent temperature is so paramount to smoking, we chose grills that excelled in those areas with little oversight. In the case of charcoal or wood-burning, you are entirely on your own.

Warranty: We considered warranty to a degree, and looked for at least two years, but in the case of some picks we made concessions. In the end, the grill is only so good as the quality of the materials and build, and it’s hard to call in a warranty on something like a grill or smoker because “normal wear and tear” involves starting fires and spilling grease. Plus, it’s going to live outdoors. We find that investing in a grill that’s built to last is ultimately the better consideration.

What else we tested

Best charcoal grill 2021 what we’re testing next

Dyna-Glo Wide Body Vertical Offset Charcoal Smoker: The Dyna-Glo is a fine grill in design, but we’re not convinced that it will last more than a few seasons based on looking at the materials used. Expensive as it is, there are plenty of options that will probably well outlast it for a little more money.

Nexgrill 29-inch Barrel Charcoal Grill/Smoker: If you’re on a tight budget or you just want a charcoal grill (and smoker) in a pinch, this is the best you’re going to do. Our hesitation is that this is one of those grills that you could outfit with gaskets to function very well, but the quality of the parts means it’s not destined to survive past a couple of years with moderate use.

What we’re testing next

What we're testing next bbq smokers

Broil King Offset Smoker: Based on inspection in-store and in a neighbor’s front patio, this grill seems like it will last a while and costs less than most higher-end brands. We’re planning to have a better look and try it out soon. All that said, keep in mind that charcoal smokers require a lot of attention, and you have to dedicate yourself to maintaining the right temperature.

Green Mountain Grills: We’ve been hearing a lot about Green Mountain Grills’ pellet grill as a great budget option, and Steven Raichlen tells us he’s a fan, too. We’ll be trying one as soon as we can.

Masterbuilt Gravity Series 1080: A self-feeding charcoal grill is enticing; it offers all the flavor of a charcoal fire without having to maintain the right balance of coals (and temperature) on your own. We’ve heard good things, and we’ll be trying one out soon.

FAQs

FAQ BBQ smoker

What is the easiest type of smoker to use?

The easiest smoker to use is far and away an electric smoker, followed by a propane or pellet smoker. This is because each of these smokers maintains temperature automatically, so as long as you have your fuel (wood chips, propane, or pellets, respectively), you don’t have to do much of anything at all.

When it comes to charcoal and wood- or stick-burning smokers, you have your work cut out for you, and have to maintain the right amount of fuel to keep the temperature as close to your target as possible.


What can I put on a smoker?

You can put just about anything you’d eat on a smoker. Meat is what most of us associate with smokers, but vegetables, fruits, and all types of seafood can be extraordinary on the grill. Figuring out the endless options and recipes is part of the fun of taking up smoking as a hobby.


How do I make a brine?

When you want to smoke food, oftentimes a recipe will call for a marinade or brine. You can do this any number of ways, and arguments will abound until the end of time over how to make the perfect brine, but here’s a basic recipe for preparing and smoking with a brine, start to finish:

Note: You’ll want to start this process between about four and 24 hours ahead of starting your smoker.

  • Add a 1:1 ratio of salt and sugar into a gallon of water in a stock pot.
  • Heat up to a boil, or until the salt and pepper dissolve. 
  • Add any herbs or other seasonings.
  • Let it cool for at least an hour or two, then place it in the fridge.
  • Once cool, add food and let marinate for anywhere from a couple of hours (vegetables, lighter meats and seafoods) to 12 or even 24 hours (beef, pork).
  • Remove food from the brine, pat dry, and light the grill.
  • Add any dry rub or glaze you want to put on.
  • Wipe or spray grill with a little cooking oil. You can use olive oil or any oil of your choice, and because you’re cooking at low heat, you don’t have to worry about smoke or burning points.
  • Apply food, checking regularly to make sure fuel and temperature remain consistent.
  • Remove when ready (a thermometer helps).

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The 5 best grill brush and cleaning tools in 2021

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • Cleaning the grill isn’t the most fun chore, but it’s an essential one.
  • The Kona 360° Grill Brush is our favorite because it evenly scours large swathes with each pass.

No matter how often you use your grill, it’s important to keep it clean both for the safety of your food and the longevity of your grill.

The black residue that builds up on the cooking surface of your grill contains carcinogens that can have serious health implications if transferred to your food. Further, bacteria can develop on leftover food bits, so scraping those bars and grates clean after each use, and again before the next cookout, is the best practice for good measure.

Properly cleaning your grill also helps preserve the hardware by preventing corrosion and rust, which can expedite its life expectancy while also presenting additional health risks, of course. Finally, and perhaps most obviously, food tastes better and is easier to handle when it is prepared on a clean grill.

As for choosing which grill-cleaning tool is right for you, it doesn’t hurt to have a few different options at your disposal. Below are the ones we deem most effective, though a combination of two or three of them will more than suffice. Just make sure to have at least one brush and one scraper, and, of course, make sure that you use them.

Here are the best grill brushes in 2021

Best overall

kona grill brush

The Kona 360° Grill Brush cleans in all directions to scrape away bits of food and built up soot on the top, sides, and the bottom of the grill.

Pros: Cleans in all directions, lightweight and balanced, safe for use on all types of grill

Cons: May rust if not properly dried

Cleaning your grill is important. We’ve already established that. But it can also be tedious. The Kona 360° Grill Brush is perfect for people who value a clean grill but want it cleaned fast. Its design allows you to clean the top, bottom, and sides of each bar of the grill without removing the grill top and with a minimal number of passes.

While most grill brushes feature a panel of bristles facing in one direction, this clever tool has bristles facing in all directions. And what’s more, there are three coils of said omnidirectional bristles, so you can scrape away at a broad swath of the grill with each pass.

While lightweight and easy to wield, this grill brush is far from dainty. In fact, it’s backed by a five-year warranty and is tough enough to use on all types of grills for hot or cold cleaning.

For the record, you’ll get the best results using it on a heated grill and with occasional dips into a bowl of water, or with water sprayed across the grill — just watch out for hot steam. And though rugged, the many fine bristles are safe for use on ceramic, porcelain, or infrared cook surfaces, too.

Best for stubborn residue

grill brush and scraper

Whether it’s baked on after a marathon barbecuing session or caked on after a long season of disuse, even the most stubborn grill residue doesn’t stand a chance against the BBQ-Aid Grill Brush and Scraper.

Pros: Extra strength bristles, steel scraper breaks up stubborn grit, ergonomic wooden handle

Cons: Plastic plate can melt if left on the grill

There’s nothing fancy or technically advanced about the BBQ-Aid Grill Brush and Scraper. It has a wooden handle, a three-inch by three-inch panel of bristles, and a steel scraper set into the end of the unit. But what it lacks in extravagance, it makes up for in brute strength. This is the grill cleaning brush you break out after an all-day smoking session, before an end-of-season deep cleaning, or when you uncover your grill for the first time after a long break from barbecue cooking.

This grill brush has 72 bundles of stiff stainless steel bristles that work together to loosen and remove even the most stubborn grease, grit, food bits, and soot. With a bit of muscle behind it, the brush is almost unstoppable. But should you ever come up against a chunk of cooked-on crud too mighty for the brush alone, that’s when you apply the steel scraper. This blade-like tool can break up anything that adheres to that grill, and then the bristles can handle the cleanup work.

The only downside is that the bristles are mounted in a plastic plate that can melt if left on a hot grill. But as long as you’re scraping with some expediency, or waiting until your grill is cool enough to clean, you should be fine.

Best on a budget

grilll brush

The Room Essentials Tough Brush has heavy-duty bristles that scrape away grit and grime about as well as any other basic grill brush at a fraction of the cost.

Pros: Comes with spare bristle pad, built-in scraper

Cons: Bristles prone to bending and detaching with time

There’s not much to say about this grill brush aside from the fact that it’s affordable and gets the job done. The solid plastic handle is durable enough to apply as much pressure as needed while scraping away at that dirty grill. There’s also a metal scraper built into the head of the piece, and a handy hook to store the brush off the side of the grill or wherever you keep your grill cleaning tools.

This grill brush also comes with a replacement bristle pad in case the first one wears out, which is downright thoughtful, really.

I’ve used a cheap grill brush plenty of times in my day, and while this one doesn’t hold up as long as a higher-priced option, it will work just as well for a couple of seasons of use.

Best with no metal bristles

charcoal companion scraper

The more you use the unique wooden Charcoal Companion Safe Scrape Non-Bristle Cleaning Tool on your charcoal grill, the better the tool will perform as it adopts a shape customized to your grill.

Pros: Becomes a customized cleaning tool, no metal bits that can get into foods, good low price

Cons: Requires break-in period, could catch on fire

Using an old grill brush with metal bristles could become hazardous if you’re not careful. The bristles can fall out over time and potentially get into your food, which could lead to injury if you accidentally swallow one. But there are alternatives to metal bristles, like the Charcoal Companion Safe Scrape for those who want to be extra careful.

Just know that the first time you use the Charcoal Companion Safe Scrape Non-Bristle Cleaning Tool to scrape away grime and gunk on your charcoal grill’s grates, it’s not going to be very effective. The second and third time you use it, expect the same story. But stick with it, for soon enough, this clever paddle-shaped wooden tool will adapt to fit the exact width and placement of your grill’s bars.

Each time you use your Charcoal Companion grill cleaner, the grooves worn into it by cleaning sessions become a bit deeper. That means that soon won’t just be cleaning the top of the grill, but will be scouring away at the sides of the bars as well. And because the tool is made from wood, it will never scratch or damage metal grill grates. Even with regular, vigorous cleanings, the Charcoal Companion Safe Scrape Non-Bristle Cleaning Tool will never damage your grill top.

As it is wooden and flammable, just make sure you don’t leave this grill cleaner near a hot grill or atop the grate.

Best grill cleaning brick

grill brick for cleaning

For a truly like-new, grime-free, high shine look, it’s hard to beat the amazing scouring power of the KegWorks Grill Cleaning Brick.

Pros: Removes even the finest grime, customizes shape to grill with repeated use

Cons: Often leaves behind bits of stone, best when used with a second tool

Like the previous wooden grill cleaning paddle, this KegWorks Grill Cleaning Brick won’t be at its best the first few times you use it. But by always scraping at your grill in the same pattern (moving back and forth along the length of the bars, in other words), you will slowly carve grooves into the surface of this nonporous pumice stone block. Over time, it adapts to fit your grill, and this brick will become a more precise, effective scraping tool, even above that of a wire brush.

Also, it’s cheap, which is pretty great.

Despite how well the KegWorks Grill Cleaning Brick can scrape off the top of the grill, it will take time for it to be effective on the sides of the bars. And you also might want to wipe down or even rinse off the grill after each use, as bits of stone may adhere to the grilling surface.

I recommend scouring and scraping away with this stone, then using another grill brush to remove the bits of grime it loosened, as well as the bits of stone itself. Yes, that’s more work and will require two tools, but the cleanliness of your grill will go unmatched.

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best charcoal for grilling
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