Everything You Need for Your First Backyard Grill Set-Up

Want to set up your own grilling station but not sure where to start? We consulted some experts to get tips and product recommendations for BBQ newbies.

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Design by Chineme Elobuike for Thrillist
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After living at the same Brooklyn address for 15 years, my family and I moved to a new apartment at the end of 2021. Yes, it was bigger, but the main attraction wasn’t even part of the building. It was the backyard. For the first time in my adult life, I had my own private outdoor space.

For people living in New York City, having a backyard is like going on a bucket list trip—it’s rare, and oh so special. Our new space isn’t large, but there is enough room for a table, chairs, and, most importantly, a grill. Because we’ve never had a backyard before, we’ve also never owned a grill (minus the George Forman one I had in college, which I’m well aware does not count).

We didn’t know where to start. Gas, charcoal, or electric? What size? What brand? And what accessories were actually useful? (After all, we still live in an apartment where storage space is limited.) I decided to consult the experts at BBQGuys, who not only have an extremely comprehensive website with tons of helpful lists, but also have live agents on call to help you figure out which grill is best for you.

I spoke with Chef Tony Matassa, a former restaurateur and lead grill master and recipe developer at BBQGuys. To decide what type of grill to buy, Matassa explained: “This question, more often than not, is answered by circumstance. Generally someone who needs a grill for a boat, condo, apartment balcony, etc. will purchase an electric grill. Usually the person who selects charcoal will tell you that they’ve always cooked over wood/charcoal and this is what they are used to using. Last but not least, from the gas grill candidate, I usually hear, ‘It’s just so easy, you get home late from work, turn the knobs, and put chicken or steaks on the cooking grids fifteen minutes later.’”

Undeniably, that last description applied to me. I needed fast and easy, but still wanted that charred flavor. Matassa added that if circumstance is not the main factor, he usually tells people to think about how often they will grill, for how many people, and the amount of free time they have for cooking. Electric grills take a long time to heat up and don’t hold heat as well as the other options, and charcoal takes a lot of extra set up and time, making gas the most convenient choice.

Yup, still me. Gas was definitely the right choice for me.

But how to decide which brand and model? “For a beginner, I usually recommend a grill that has a known performance track record without a bunch of bells and whistles,” said Matassa. “Brands with good options include Blaze, Napoleon, and Weber. This helps to minimize unneeded distractions while first learning to grill.”

Once I had my grill selected, I started to think about all the hundreds of grilling accessories for sale. While I clearly needed a good set of tongs, did I really need a rotisserie and griddle? Matassa advised me to focus on getting a good spatula with a long handle, a nice long pair of tongs, and a pair of high-temperature gloves. He said I shouldn’t spend my money on smart controllers, rotisseries (if you do not specifically plan to use one), steamer baskets, pizza stones, grilling toppers, and griddles.

He also added that I should consider some safety measures when setting up my grill station. “The main safety concern is an uncontrollable fire. Always make sure to properly ventilate your grill island,” he said. “Some things to have on hand, in case of a fire incident include: a fire extinguisher, boxes of salt, and high-temperature gloves. If a grill fire begins to get out of control, turn off the grill, and, if you can do so safely, close the grill and turn off the vent hood (if you have one).” He also urged me to consider the proximity of my grill to any combustibles, gas lines, water lines, my actual house, and electric lines.

After our chat, I was able to confidently make several choices about what to buy for my brand new grill set-up. If you’re a BBQ newbie, too, here are my favorite items to purchase for the ideal grilling station for beginners—just in time for summer!

weber gas grill

Weber has been around for 70 years, now offering many more options than their original charcoal kettle grill (although that still remains one of the best charcoal grills). Their products are known to last and cook food well—and are very easy to use—so this gas option seemed ideal for a beginner like me. It has three powerful burners, cast-iron cooking grates, porcelain-enameled Flavorizer bars (which catch drippings to add extra flavor), a built-in lid thermometer, and two stainless steel side tables. My grill has provided plenty of room for prep and cooking, and it doesn’t take up too much space in my small yard. Bring out the hot dogs!

weber grill cover

With New York weather the way it is (read: unpredictable), a durable grill cover is necessary. This one is made to fit the Weber Spirit II 300 Series Grill, is water and UV resistant, and has straps that ensure it won’t blow off. Plus, it’s easy to slide on and off.

BBQGuys tool set

There are literally hundreds of barbeque tool sets on the market, with some containing 20+ items. In the spirit of keeping it simple (and realizing I probably would never use corn on the cob holders), I opted for this durable yet attractive four-piece set, which includes tongs, a spatula, a fork, and a cleaning brush. The main characteristics to look for when selecting grilling tools are that they are long enough (too short and you risk burning your hand), are stainless steel at least on the business end, are easy to grip, and are very durable. This set fits the bill and is easy to use and clean.

grill cleaning brush
Williams Sonoma

Although we hadn’t owned a grill before, we had used many public ones. And let me tell you, they are tough to get clean. So while a simple metal brush might do the trick every once in a while, more often than not you’ll need something heavy duty. This brush uses the power of steam to help dislodge baked-on food and grease. You just fill the handle with water, turn on the grill, start scrubbing, and watch the grime melt away.

grill cleaner

Am I obsessive about our brand-new grill being squeaky clean? Maybe. If you’re in that camp, I recommend this heavy duty cleaner for when things get really messy. While a grill brush is great to use immediately after each grill session, there will inevitably be some build-up after a while. That’s when you bring out the big guns—like this Carbona cleaner, which uses a special solution to soak the grates in overnight, leaving them sparkling clean and good as new.

grill prep trays
Williams Sonoma

When you’re grilling, it’s important to keep the raw meat away from the cooked meat, so it doesn’t get contaminated (duh). These handy melamine trays help you do just that. Use the red one for your uncooked burgers, steaks, chicken, etc.; and once they’re cooked, place them on the black tray for serving. They are shatterproof, dishwasher safe, and come in three sizes.

basting bottle
Bed Bath & Beyond

There are dozens of basting brushes out there to spread marinades and sauces, but almost all of them require a separate container for the sauce. Not the case with this genius invention by Oxo, which has a silicone basting brush right on top of a squeeze bottle, allowing you to squeeze and spread the sauce without switching tools. A valve helps regulate thick and thin liquids, while a collar helps prevent messy dripping. There’s even a second interchangeable cap with a regular pour spout, allowing this bottle to do double duty.

grill grids
Sur la Table

I love the taste of grilled veggies, but I don’t love it when they fall through the grates. These stainless steel grids let you grill veggies and cubed meats and fish without worrying about them falling into the fire. The three sizes ensure there’s room for whatever you need, and handles make them easy to carry to and from the grill.

grill caddy

This handy caddy increases the usable space on the sides of the grill by easily clamping onto the side—no drilling necessary. It comes with a removable condiments holder for sauces and marinades, and three C-hooks for hanging extra tools. Instant organization!

Collapsible Caddy

My backyard is more than a few steps from my kitchen. This means whenever we grill we have to carry a lot of things (food and dishes) outside. This large collapsible container with a handle makes it easy to bring out all the ketchup and mustards (yes, we have multiple mustard types in our fridge) we want, as well as dishes, utensils, napkins, and more. And when it’s not in use, it flattens for easy storage.

silicone oven mitts
Cravings by Chrissy Teigen

Heat resistant gloves are a must at the grill, but most are not very stylish. This set of two peach-colored silicone gloves resist high heat and have a fun pattern of fish and veggies on the lower fabric part of the glove. Win win.

serving tray
Williams Sonoma

Carrying everything outside from the kitchen requires multiple trips, but this extra-large, shatter-resistant melamine tray with handles makes the process a little bit faster. It can also be used to ferry items from the grill to the table, and the Sicilian ceramic-inspired design means it’s pretty enough to use as a serving tray, too.

digital thermometer

This handy NSF certified thermocouple thermometer is water resistant and shatterproof, plus it’s very precise, ensuring your meat temperature is accurate—no undercooked chicken here! It’s easy to use, too, thanks to a backlit, large digital readout and easy-to-press buttons, and a flip-down probe that can be inserted into foods as thin as 1/8-inch.

Kingsford Pellet Smoker Tube

I was admittedly a little sad when I decided to go with gas instead of charcoal: Would the food taste smoky enough? My prayers were answered when I discovered this divide by Kingsford, which they say can turn any grill into a smoker. To use, you just fill the BBQ smoker with any wood pellets (Kingsford makes eight different types), lean the smoker tube against the inside wall or on grill grates, and let the pellet smoker tube release smoke. Voila! Instant (and delicious) smoky flavor.

steak knives

Once you’ve got your steaks perfectly cooked, you’ll need some good knives to start digging in. These steak knives are sharp and durable, thanks to high-carbon stainless steel serrated blades and polywood handles—which also make them dishwasher safe.

Williams Sonoma

Staying hydrated during those hot summer days standing over the grill is a must. Be classy about it with this pitcher made from Tritan Renew, a BPA-free plastic made with up to 50% recycled materials. It looks just like glass, yet it won’t crack, shatter, break, cloud, or discolor—and it’s dishwasher safe.

Williams Sonoma

And while you’re at it, get some matching tumblers made from the same high-quality materials.

tongs and skewers

This may seem extra, but how many of you have burned yourself, dropped a skewer, or had trouble flipping food with regular tongs when making kabobs? This ingenious device pairs six stainless steel skewers with specially made wide tongs with slits at the top that allow them to perfectly fit around each skewer, allowing for easy flipping and removal. Kabobs for everyone!

HotShot Explorer Portable Fire Pit
Home Depot

After the main meal is served, why not retire around a fire pit for marshmallow roasting? This stainless steel one provides more heat and 70% less smoke than a traditional wood-burning fire pit. It comes with a stand to help air flow, which flames the fire while helping reduce smoke and protecting the ground. Time for s’mores!

Devorah Lev-Tov is a Thrillist contributor.
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