This is our review and selection of the best tools for smoking meat in 2023. It will help you identify the essential and nice-to-have accessories.
Smoking and grilling should be an enjoyable experience. As with any activity, having the right tools for the task makes the job easier. So having the right tools for smoking meat will help you to not only have more fun but also grill/smoke better. The right tools will also make cooking safer, allow you to perform proper maintenance, and perform tasks in an easier way.
In this article, we have created 2 lists. One for the tools we consider essentials and a second one for the accessories we believe are only nice-to-haves. We conducted over 15 hours of research selecting the best tools in each category, combined with our own personal experience. As you start reading their descriptions and capabilities, know that you don’t need them all. The tools you need will depend on what you like to cook.
So if you are ready, let’s start.
10 Essential Tools for Smoking Meat
- Basting brush/mop
- Boning Knife
- Butcher’s block
- Charcoal chimney fire starter
- Grill brush
- Grill Cover
- Heat resistant gloves
- Instant-read thermometer
- Wireless meat thermometer
16 Nice-to-Have Tools for Smoking Meat
- Bear claws
- Black Disposable Gloves
- Burger Press
- Charcoal rakes
- Grill Basket
- Grill pan
- Kebab Skewers
- Natural Lighters/Firestarters
- Pellet Smoker Tube
- Pink Butcher Paper
- Rib racks
- Slicing Knife
- Electric Charcoal Starter
What are 10 Essential Tools for Smoking Meat?
We start off this guide with the essential accessories for grilling and BBQ. These are the tools that every pitmaster should own. Grilling without them is either impossible, dangerous or simply harder than needed.
Basting Brush and Mop
As you are smoking meat, you will expose food to heat under different temperatures. This will sometimes happen for prolonged hours. Even if you are cooking low and slow, some cuts may tend to dry up. Given this, it is important the meat be moist during the process. There are 2 main tools for this: the basting brush and the basting mop.
A grill basting brush differs from a traditional brush in that it has a long handle and silicone brushes. The long handle is important to make it more comfortable and avoid burns. The silicone brushes are necessary to avoid leaving stray fibers in the meat. It also makes the brush very durable. Basting brushes are better to use when you will be applying thick sauces such as barbeque.
A grill basting mop will also have a long handle, but the top will be a little mop. Mops are useful when you have thinner sauces or when you need to prepare larger quantities of food.
Neither the brushes nor the mops are expensive. So you might consider buying one of each to use when appropriate.
There are essential tools for smoking meat that come before any smoking. One of these tools is the boning knife. The blade of this knife is specially designed for trimming. This makes your preparation time that much easier. While barbecuing, there are few things worse than trying to cut or clean meat with a blunt knife. Having a tool set apart for trimming, cleaning, and cutting raw meat is a great way to avoid this issue. Of course, you will need to sharpen the knife from time to time and make sure you use a butcher´s block (see tool below).
Butcher´s blocks have 2 main purposes while cooking meat. The first purpose is to provide a good surface for cutting that keeps your knives sharp. If you try cutting on a plate, granite, or any other similar surface, your knives´ sharpness will soon pay the price.
The second benefit is to provide enough space for cutting. You can probably many a chicken on a traditional cutting board, but try to clean a brisket or a whole rack or ribs. For these, a regular kitchen cutting board won´t suffice. Grilling butcher´s blocks are larger for this purpose. Depending on your selection, they may also be one of the more expensive tools for smoking meat. Some butcher´s blocks are made of pretty nice woods. But don´t worry, there are also more accessible options if you are looking out for your budget.
Charcoal chimney fire starter
If you have a charcoal smoker or grill, a chimney starter is an essential tool for smoking meat. If you have ever lit a charcoal grill without a chimney starter, you probably had to:
- Use lighter fluid or another type of chemical starter or
- Spent a lot of time and energy taking care of lighting a small batch of charcoal and then slowly increasing the amount
Neither of these methods is very appealing. And you really should not be using lighter fluid or chemical starters. They add a taste to the charcoal that is not authentic. You won’t see any real pitmaster use them.
So what do to? Enter the chimney starter. All you have to do is fill the chimney with charcoal. Then take some paper towels, pour a little oil in them, light them up, and put the chimney above the fire. With only this, your charcoal will be ready in 15-20 minutes.
We know… The charcoal chimney fire starter doesn’t look like much. But trust us. It will definitely make your grilling experience easier and more enjoyable.
Just as there are essential tools for smoking meat that come before any smoking, there is at least one essential tool that is needed afterward. What is it? The grill brush.
Why is it important? Because cleaning your grill or smoker is an essential part of proper maintenance. And cleaning your grates without a proper brush can be hard. The misconception is that it might not seem essential because all your food will be ready by then. But it´s like having a really nice car and not washing it.
Properly cleaning your grates doesn´t take long either. Just keep the fire on high for 10 minutes after you finish cooking. This will burn any remaining residues. Then turn it off. As the grates have cooled down a little bit but are still warm, dip the brush in water and brush the grates. Just like that, the brush will do all the tough work, and all that is left is to clean the grates with a wet towel.
When selecting a good grill brush, there is one main safety tip: avoid buying ones with wire bristles. You´ll notice our top choices don’t have them. There are bad stories of people eating wire bristles that somehow got in their food. It is rare, but why take the risk?
We all know that grills and smokers are not a light investment. Of all your tools for smoking meat, they will be the most critical and expensive. So protecting your grill or smoker from the weather is very important. If you don’t, it will likely start to rust and deteriorate quickly. So a good grill cover is simple and inexpensive protection for your investment.
Grills and smokers come in all different sizes. So make sure you check the dimensions of your grill/smoker before buying a cover for it. There are many branded grill covers if you want to match the cover with your grill/smoker. If this is not important, there are also many good options from third parties. Needless to say, it is important that the cover is of a good quality that will resist the weather.
Heat-resistant gloves may seem overkill at first. After all, that´s why tongs and spatulas exist, right? Well, yes and no. Heat-resistant gloves might not be essential, but they are very practical and can help quite a bit.
For example, lifting a heavy brisket with only tongs can be awkward and complicated. Plus, you might end up ruining some of the bark you´ve been working so hard to achieve. With heat-resistant gloves this is not an issue. You can pick up the brisket easily, without burning your hand or damaging the bark. Cases like this are when the gloves come in handy.
They will also make barbecuing safer and they avoid accidents of burns with a chimney starter, hot edges, or just sheer proximity to heat. So don´t only think of them as alternatives to tongs, rather than a complement to them.
As you´ll see in our guides, we always stress the importance of cooking by internal temperature and not time. It´s hard to exactly say how much time a specific cut of meat will need to cook perfectly. And if you miss the time by just 30 minutes, you can end up with raw or too dry meat. Neither are good. Some people like to cook by feeling the meat or texture. This helps directionally, but none is as accurate as internal temperature.
This is why an instant-read thermometer is one of the essential tools for smoking meat. For grilling too. All you need to do is insert the probe into the meat and you´ll have an accurate reading in seconds. It´s also good to check the internal temperature at different points. This is because some thicker parts tend to cook slower. You´ll also need to know the appropriate internal temperature for each type of meat. But for this, you only need to check a meat cooking temperature chart.
Tongs are the tools everybody imagines next to the grill/smoker. They are iconic tools for smoking meat and grilling. Trying to smoke or grill just with a spatula is doable, but it won´t be fun. You can also try to move things only with your heat-resistant gloves. But that is probably overkill for smaller steaks or chicken breast.
For grilling tongs, you should look for long and strong handles. This will help you stay far from the heat. They can even help you move your charcoal around if needed. It´s also important to check that your tongs have a good range when open. If they are too wide and the tongs have a lot of resistance, your hand will get tired quickly. So look for versatile tongs that can move steaks but also small slices of tomato or mushrooms.
Wireless Meat Thermometer
You might be confused by this recommendation. Didn´t we just talk about the instant-read thermometer? So why are we also recommending a wireless meat thermometer? Well, because we are talking about tools for smoking meat, and smoking meat is a low and slow technique. This type of cooking requires constant temperatures for the best results. The issue with using the instant-read thermometer is that you would need to open the smoker´s lid to check the temperature. This will cause a lot of the built-up heat to escape, so you will be affecting the cooking process by doing so.
Furthermore, constantly using the instant-read thermometer can be quite a task. Depending on the cut, you´ll need to do it several times throughout the process. Briskets, for example, can take up to 18 hours to cook. Having a wireless read is just more comfortable.
This is why the wireless meat thermometer is essential. They usually have 2 probes. This allows you to measure the temperature in the smoker and the meat´s internal temperature. As such, you can keep an eye on both without having to open the grill. Once the meat´s internal temperature is close to right, you can open the lid and use the instant-read thermometer. This is still needed to check in a couple of different points that the meat is cooked throughout.
What are 16 Nice-to-Have Tools for Smoking Meat?
The following list is our selection of nice-to-have tools for smoking meat. They might not be essential for everyone, but they do make the tasks easier and more enjoyable. For some, the tools might be essential depending on their own tastes. For example, if you LOVE ribs, then rib racks should be essential. If you love pulled pork, then bear claws could be essential. Check it out and let us know if we missed any.
Smoking can be messy, so an apron can be a good idea. Some aprons also have many convenient pockets for having your gear. This is useful to keep close your phone, towel, and small tools near you.
If you worry about your looks, don’t. Some pitmasters don’t use an apron, but plenty do.
If you have never heard of bear claws, they are pretty much what they sound like. They are bear-like claws with handles used to shred meat like pork butt (pulled pork) or chicken.
Are they essential? Well, it depends. You can perfectly do without bear claws and just use a couple of strong forks. Having said this, they are a cool-looking tool that gets the job done quickly. So if you love pulled pork or pulled meat they can be an essential and a tool to impress. Otherwise, they can be too much.
Black Disposable Gloves
If you’ve seen barbecue competitions, shows, or just a YouTube video, you have likely seen black disposable gloves. They are basically part of the look. These nitrate gloves are tougher than latex so they have a higher resistance to tear. They are also food-grade gloves, so they allow you to handle food directly.
Black disposable gloves are not essential. But they certainly come in handy with messy tasks such as handling meat or applying rubs.
If you like burgers and like doing your our patties, then a burger press might be more of an essential than a nice-to-have. For burger lovers, they should almost be a no-brainer.
Burger presses allow you to create a patty in seconds from your own prepared meat. This gives you total control over the meat quality, additional ingredients, seasoning, and the thickness of each patty.
I personally do consider burger press an essential, as I like doing my own patties. For this reason, I do have a burger press, but I know this is not the case for everyone.
Charcoal rakes have a very specific function in charcoal grills. They allow you to move around and rearrange charcoal in a safe way once the grill is lit. Their long handles and head shape make it very convenient. So are they useful? Yes. Are they essential? Not really, because you could do the same with heat-resistant gloves or tongs. But if you like to have a specific tool for this task, then you can add them to your list.
Losing small vegetables like asparagus, mushrooms, or small potatoes is common when grilling. You have probably experienced losing them as they fall through the grill grates. This tends to happen with any small vegetable, as the grill grates are designed for larger meat cuts.
Here’s where grill baskets come in handy. They allow you to cook these smaller vegetables in your grill/smoker. This way, you’ll be able to give them the smoky flavor without the risk of losing them to the fire.
Grill baskets also work well for delicate meats such as fish that can easily fall apart when cooked. How? You can remove the grill basket at any time. So you to manipulate these smaller or more delicate foods in an easier way outside the grill.
A grill pan is a tool you don’t think you need until you have one. After that, you might even consider having 2. Unless you bake, the use of the grill pan won’t be for cooking. Actually, they don’t have an essential purpose in grilling itself. But they are very convenient for carrying food to and from the grill. Given their size, they will allow you to carry large quantities of food at once. This makes them one of the nice-to-have tools for smoking meat.
If you like kebabs, then kebab skewers might be essential. Otherwise, you simply won’t have way to cook and serve them. For the rest, they are still inexpensive and nice-to-have tools. They are an easy way to mix meats, vegetables, seafood, or fish from time to time.
The best skewers have flat blades. This will prevent the food from rotating and making a mess. Ideally, also look for them to have a little handle to prevent unwanted burns.
Our favorite way to light charcoal is with a chimney fire starter. This for us is the essential, but it doesn’t mean it is the only way. A nice alternative to the chimney is using natural firestarters. These will be way better than using lighter fluid or other chemical substitutes. All you’ll need to do is light the firestarter and let it light your charcoal or wood. (Side note: They can also be handy if you want to light a fire when camping.)
Pellet Smoker Tube
Pellet smoker tubes allow you to turn your traditional grills into a smoker very easily. All you have to do is fill the tube with pellets and place it inside the lit grill. The smoker tube is designed to allow air to flow through it. This design generates smoke without consuming the pellets quickly. The amount of smoke won’t be as much as with a true smoker, but you can get enough smoke to render the desired smoky taste. You could also fill the tube with chips, but the best results are with pellets.
If you have a pellet smoker, this won’t be one of the essential tools for smoking meat. Most smokers will allow you to use chips or chunks directly. If they don’t, you can always use chips or chunk by creating a pouch with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Because of this, we only consider pellet smoker tubs a nice-to-have. However, you can still use this tool for other types of smokers if you want to use wood pellets instead of wood chips or chunks.
Pink Butcher Paper
Some recipes require wrapping the meat. This is done to expedite the cooking process and avoid The Stall. To wrap the meat you can use heavy-duty aluminum foil or pink butcher paper. We prefer the latter as it is more breathable. This allows the meat to get more of the smoke taste. Aluminum foil will work perfectly fine too. The only true downside of foil is that you can lose some bark that adheres to the foil. This can be prevented with pink butcher paper. So it’s not only about using the cool and hipster paper.
Rib racks are a tool to maximize space. They allow you to stack ribs sideways so that you can cook multiple racks at once. This position not only helps with space use, but is also beneficial for the ribs to get plenty of smoky flavors.
Without rib racks, cooking ribs can take up a lot of space in your smoker or grill. So if you love ribs or if you usually cook for a lot of people, then a rib rack should be an essential.
So you have put all the work into smoking and the meat is finally ready. Now, the most important tool you’ll need is a slicing knife. These knives are long and sharp to slice through a whole cut. They are especially good when you have cuts like Brisket or a Tri-Tip. It will allow you to have a professional presentation of your food just before eating it.
But proper slicing goes beyond presentation. Cutting meat in the right direction has a big impact on texture, so it is important to have the right tool to do so. We don’t think of the slicing knife as an essential because you could have another good knife to do this. However, it is really nice-to-have.
A good spatula is a great compliment to tongs. They could be considered an essential item if you like burgers and you need to flip patties. Otherwise, they can be only a nice-to-have tool for smoking meat.
Good spatulas should have a good handle, decent length, and a good balance of flexibility to strength. If it is too flexible, it will bend with heavy cuts. If it´s too rigid, then flipping burgers won´t be as fun as it can be.
Electric Charcoal Starter
We’ve already covered the chimney and natural fire starters. A third way of lighting charcoal can be with an electric charcoal starter. This device heats up and releases hot air to ignite wood or charcoal. So all you need is to let it warm up and point it into your fuel. Just like the chimney and natural fire starters, you have the benefit of lighting your charcoal without any chemicals. It can also be used to light fireplaces or pits.
The electric charcoal starter is a very quick way to light charcoal. It can also be a dangerous tool as it gets extremely hot. For this reason, we prefer the chimney or natural firestarters. But an electric charcoal starter is still a great option if you take safety measures.
We leave this tool for last because we know it doesn’t seem like a tool. However, a journal is a great friend to any grilling enthusiast in their journey to pitmaster. How? Well, it will allow you to keep track of what you did right and what to avoid.
A barbecue journal will have a space for you to record the critical variables each time you grill/smoke. This will keep track of things such as temperature, time, seasoning, weather, etc. In the end, you will also record the results in texture, taste, appearance, etc. After a couple of tries, you’ll start seeing the trends in your results.
Keeping track of all this will allow you to replicate and improve upon your success. You will also avoid previous mistakes.
In our lists above, we have talked about many tools. For this reason, it is hard to provide a buying hard to every single one individually. Yet, there are many variables that apply to each of them:
Grilling and smoking are demanding activities for tools. They will be exposed to extreme heat for long periods sometimes. This makes the material an important aspect of all tools for smoking meat. Check for the metals to ideally be stainless steel, cast iron, or better metals. When there are plastic parts, make sure they are high-quality and heat resistant. For example, some grill brushes will be ruined in only a couple of uses if the brushes are not heat resistant. This is why our recommendations have silicone brushes that can withstand high temperatures.
Many of the tools discussed are related to your own safety and protection. It is not only about convenience and comfort. Investing in good tools will make your barbecues a safer activity. This will apply in all the ranges from avoiding burns to not finding metal bristles in your food.
What Your Needs Are
Before buying any tools, think of what tools you already have and what you plan to cook in the future. Buy accordingly to these questions. If you are not a ribs person, don’t buy rib racks. If you have a gas grill, don’t buy a charcoal fire starter.
Think of your own grill/smoker and if you have any limitations with it. Some grills will specify if you can or can’t use certain grill brushes or grill grates.
Very related to the point before, don’t lose sight of your budget. Some accessories are essential and some are just nice-to-haves. Think of this in relation to what you want to buy. It would be a pitmaster’s dream to buy all the tools available, but this might not be wise financially.
If you are on a tight budget, consider better value-to-price alternatives. Some options will work just as well as other fancier tools.
Frequency of Your Barbecues
How often your smoke should influence decisions on tools for smoking meat. If you only smoke occasionally, it would be impractical and a bad investment to buy tools you won’t be using.
If you smoke very frequently, then you might want to consider better tools that will last longer. The initial investment might be higher, but they will be a better choice in the long run.
Where should you store BBQ tools?
A common mistake with grills, smokers, and tools for smoking meat is to leave them outdoor and exposed to the weather. This will drastically deteriorate them. Grills and smokers should, at a least, have a proper cover. Tools should be stored in a dry place once they have been cleaned thoroughly.
What are the essential tools for smoking meat and what are nice-to-haves?
We tried to separate in our lists above what we consider to be the essential tools versus the nice-to-haves. But this selection has some subjectivity depending on what we like to cook. If you are a ribs fanatic, then rib racks might be essential to you. Always keep in mind your preferences to define what your essentials truly are.
Having the right tools for smoking meat will make your experience more fun and enjoyable. It will also make your life easier.
Although we would all love to have all the tools in the world, this won’t make us instant pitmasters. So take your time creating your toolset. Start with the tools you need the most, and start adding others as you progress with your skills.