Charred burgers with all the fixings, ice-cold beer under a beach umbrella, toast with eggs scrambled over a campfire—food just tastes better in the summer. Whether you want a dialed-in picnic setup for concerts in the park, better tableware for camping, or great grill tools for cookouts, investing in a few carefully selected items will make the difference between roughing it and dining in style.
Coolers and carriers
Our favorite soft cooler’s lightweight origami structure holds 24 cans plus ice and will keep 9 pounds of ice frozen for over 24 hours.
If you prioritize portability—and you don’t need your food to stay cold for more than about two days—the AO Coolers 24-Pack Soft Cooler is your best bet. Over a 24-hour test, the cooler produced 8 cups of meltwater from an original 9 pounds of ice, a measurement that put it on a par with the best coolers in our test. And it did this while being cheaper and able to fit enough food and drink for a four-person family.
Its insulation is covered with 600-denier nylon and a thick vinyl liner, and its exterior uses origami-like folded corners and two buckles to create a rigid frame out of soft materials. This clever design helps the cooler retain its shape even when filled with bulky items and allows it to fold down flat better than any of the other coolers we tested.
Keep in mind, though, that the liner of the AO cooler is not removable, making it a little trickier to clean. We also read on some boating forums that these coolers can tear and spring leaks if you leave sharp items in them like broken bottles or the edges of crushed aluminum cans, so you don’t want to use this as your trash receptacle at the end of the day. Otherwise, with its collapsible design, excellent insulation, and good all-around durability, we think it’s a great fit for your standard family picnic. A newer version of the AO Cooler is also available, with an additional outer pocket; we haven’t tested this model yet, but we hope to check it out soon.
To keep food cold without the mess of melted ice, we recommend the reusable drugstore-paperback-sized Rubbermaid Blue Ice Block. When tested in a small cooler, it kept ice frozen for longer than we even intended to test—in fact, when we came back to check the next morning, the ice we kept with the block had still melted only 50 percent. They’re cheap enough to stock up on, so you can use several in a bigger cooler to keep a large quantity of beer or soda (or a whole picnic) cool.
A smaller option
The Rubbermaid Blue Ice Block stays frozen seemingly forever and is cheap enough to stock your whole cooler.
For individual lunches, we also liked the Fit & Fresh Cool Coolers, which come in a four-pack. They’re much slimmer and lighter than the Rubbermaid—each one is 4¾ inches square and ¼ inch thick. While they didn’t keep ice from melting as well as the Rubbermaid, at less than half the weight of the Rubbermaid, they can slip into an insulated lunch bag without taking up too much room.
We called in the ThermaFreeze Reusable Ice Pack Sheets but didn’t end up testing them—just the process of getting them ready for the freezer is laborious. You have to soak them in water for five to 10 minutes before they’re ready to go, and if you’re using the whole sheet, they take up an awful lot of space in the freezer. And even if they’d been especially easy to use, we’d still have qualms: Numerous user reports on Amazon complain of the gel leaking out, and that’s definitely something you don’t want on your food.
Reusable grocery bag
The Baggu can fold into a compact pouch for easy storage and holds the most groceries without being difficult to carry.
A reusable grocery bag can come in handy for picking up snacks to take to an impromptu picnic or hauling empty recyclables home at the end of a get-together at the park. We recommend the Baggu. It holds the most groceries without becoming difficult to carry and folds up into a compact 5-by-5-inch pouch. We tested it against two of the other best-selling reusable bags—the ChicoBag and the Flip & Tumble 24-7 bag—and it beat them in (almost) every way.
In our tests, the Baggu easily handled grocery loads that the other two struggled with. Whereas the ChicoBag and Flip & Tumble both can carry only 25 pounds, the Baggu can handle up to 50. It’s bigger, too, with plenty of space for at least two paper/plastic bags’ worth of groceries. Plus, thanks to its 2½-inch-wide handles, it’s comfortable to carry (even over your shoulder).
We’ve been putting the Baggu through long-term testing since 2016, and we continue to love everything about it—except the fact that its stuff sack is separate and thus easily lost. This is the one detail where the Baggu loses out to the ChicoBag and Flip & Tumble, which can both fold in on themselves. But we’re willing to forgive this design choice because it’s simply a better bag than the others. If you do end up misplacing your stuff sack, you can always do as one of our readers suggests and use a small Ziploc bag. Stocking up on extras is also worthwhile. Considering that the bags are so inexpensive, it never hurts to pick up a few so you can keep them in your desk at work or your glove compartment.
The Picnic at Ascot Collapsible Insulated Picnic Basket is roomier and better-insulated than other picnic baskets and backpacks we tried. Its place settings are also a bit sturdier.
We’ve looked for an easy-to-store picnic basket for several years, but unfortunately none have really lived up to our expectations. After considering seven models for our full guide, we’ve found that the Picnic at Ascot Collapsible Insulated Picnic Basket with Cutlery Set is the best option available. Its aluminum frame and reinforced sides keep the basket upright even when empty, making it easier to fill. It folds down compactly (18½ inches wide by 11½ inches deep by 5 inches high), making it easier to store than other options we looked at.
The basket comes with plastic plates, acrylic glasses, stainless steel cutlery with plastic handles, and cotton napkins for four (you can also buy the basket alone, if you wish). The servingware feels sturdy, and we like that the acrylic glasses won’t break like glass. It’s moderately well-insulated for keeping foods like salads and grapes chilled for a few hours and large enough to hold a decent-size picnic for two or a small picnic for four. If you need something with more cooling power, we recommend getting a soft cooler and using that to lug your food, drinks, and plates to the park.
After we tested several popular designs, Vanity Fair Impressions plates emerged as our favorite paper plates for our party hosting guide because they’re tougher than their closest competitors. They’re thick and resistant to sogginess, which makes them great for wet side dishes like collard greens and chili. Sure, paper plates are not as environmentally friendly as reusable enamelware, but if you’re having a big cookout with a lot of guests, costs can add up quickly—and washing 20 plates covered in barbecue sauce and mac-and-cheese residue is no fun.
We looked into the best disposable cutlery for our party hosting guide and found that Costco’s Kirkland Signature Crystal Clear Cutlery pieces are the best. They won’t break on you mid-meal unless you’re dining with the Hulk, and they come in a huge quantity for cheap, so one package should last you through quite a few dinner parties, bake-offs, and picnics. The 360-piece set comes in real-world proportions of 180 forks, 120 spoons, and 60 knives. If you have a Costco membership, you can get the set for around $16 in stores. In testing, we found them to be consistently stronger than other top-rated disposable utensils.
Bounty Quilted Napkins are your best bet for outdoor gatherings. We initially tested napkins for our party hosting guide with the intention of finding something reasonably elegant, but we came away impressed by the Bounty napkins’ absorption capabilities and sheer toughness. They’re textured to grab every last bit of sauce off your fingers and capable of absorbing 13.6 times their own weight in water—they’re almost twice as effective as the second-place Vanity Fair napkins, which can soak up 8.2 times their own weight. We ultimately recommended Vanity Fair napkins for party hosting because they look classier for indoor settings, but when it comes to eating outdoors, looks matter less than performance.
The 4 N 1 is a full cutlery set that stows away easily and takes up minimal space. It will open bottles, too. At around $5 for each set, it’s particularly affordable if you want a few for your picnic or camp setup.
Stowable utensils that can slot together are the workhorses of any overnight camping adventure. These knife, fork, and spoon sets are usually made of stainless steel with rivets, holes, and sometimes hinges to help them snap or fold together for tidy storage. They’re great to own if you eat outdoors often, don’t like wasting disposable plastic cutlery, and prefer not to break up your good flatware set every time you go out.
We tested four of the top-rated sets, and we think that the 4 N 1 Utensil Setoffers the best quality at the best price. The individual pieces are sturdy and compact when fit together, and the knife is sharp enough to cut through meat. The set should last a long time.
We also tested a German Army Surplus model that was sturdy but larger than we liked and difficult to pack away after use, as well as the Stansport Camping Set, which was decent but more expensive and still not quite as sturdy as our top pick.
Last year we chose the Ka-Bar Hobo Knife, a utensil set that folds down into a multitool-like package. Although we still like it, for this year’s update we wanted to find a more affordable alternative that would work for a multiperson picnic setup. You can buy four of the 4 N 1 sets for $20, which is less than the price of one Ka-Bar Hobo Knife. The 4 N 1 set has a slimmer profile than the Ka-Bar set when it’s packed together, and we didn’t notice any substantial difference between the cutlery sets when cutting chicken, slicing bread, or spreading cheese. In fact, the knife of the 4 N 1 set seemed better suited for spreads than the more aggressive pocket-knife-style blade of the Ka-Bar.
One of us once spent six months living in a tent, eating meals day after day with a utensil set nearly identical to the 4 N 1, and the experience was excellent. Having a spoon, fork, and knife snapped together in one spot every night ensured that, come dinnertime, they were always where they needed to be.
GSI Outdoors makes nice-looking and affordable enamelware that lets you be more environmentally friendly by ditching the paper or plastic bowls, plates, and cups at your picnic.
Enamelware is great for outdoor eating because it has the lightness and durability of plastic and an appealing aesthetic. After considering seven sets, we found two we like. For an inexpensive set that’s good enough to replace disposable plates, bowls, and cups, look into GSI Outdoors enamelware. We don’t think this GSI set offers the absolute best quality, but we do believe its quality is vastly better than that of other cheap sets and will work perfectly fine for picnics or camping.
Most speckled enamelware, regardless of who brands and sells it, is made by the same company in Mexico. So you’re basically looking for the brand that has the strictest quality control—and GSI is it. While other brands’ customer reviews complain of chips out of the box or corroding enamel, GSI has very few issues. The 10-inch plates, the highlight of the set, have a large usable area. The bowls are decently sized but have narrow bases that leave us a bit concerned about their stability. The mugs, however, are the weak link, as the handles are simply too small. This design makes them unusable with hot liquids, because the thin metal conducts heat straight onto your knuckles and can burn you.
Sometimes GSI sells the same set of enamelware under different names. After monitoring the Amazon page for some time, we determined that the Pioneer table set seems to be the cheapest and most consistently in stock. Occasionally, other GSI enamelware sets, such as the Sierra, are available at a lower price; in those cases, feel free to buy the cheaper option, as it’s effectively the same thing.
We’ve seen a few Amazon customer complaints about this set rusting and being of low quality overall, but those complaints are from a few years ago. After a year of owning these pieces and using them while camping, we haven’t seen rust from normal use.
Our favorite paring knife is from Victorinox. In our testing it performed as well as those five times more expensive. It’s cheap enough that you won’t cry if you lose it.
Having a small, sharp knife is important for slicing cheeses or charcuterie and for opening packages. While the knife in a reusable utensil set can cut many things, you’ll want a separate knife for shared foods. The Victorinox 3¼-inch paring knife fits that bill perfectly. We found in testing that it performs just as well as models that are about five times more expensive, yet it’s cheap enough that you won’t miss it if you lose it. We also like that it comes with a little plastic sleeve that makes it safe and easy to transport.
Water pitchers and stoppered bottles can dress up a dinner table, but it’s a lot more convenient to have a large dispenser that you don’t have to worry about refilling. We were hard-pressed to find many reliable professional write-ups of beverage dispensers, but after sifting through hundreds of user reviews, we found the 3½-gallon Buddeez Unbreakable Beverage Dispenser. Not only will this dispenser’s internal ice cone keep your drinks pleasantly chilled (and undiluted) for a few hours, but it’s also made of Tritan plastic (making it virtually unbreakable), dishwasher-safe, and designed with a nonskid base (which you’ll be thankful for when you’re tilting the thing to get the last drops of your beverage out on a hot day) plus liquid measurements on the back for mixed drinks. Buddeez also makes a double-walled version for extra insulation on those unbearably balmy August weekends.
About 87 percent of reviewers really like this dispenser, versus 70 percent for its closest competitor, the popular 3-gallon model from CreativeWare. This difference in ratings is partially the result of the CreativeWare’s inefficient design, which places the ice storage below where the beverage sits. This arrangement means that the ice will be in contact with the beverage for only a little while until it melts, at which point it loses most of its cooling effect.
As for other options, initially we also considered stainless steel or glass dispensers. But the stainless ones, such as the cafe-classic fusti (originally meant for olive oil), turned out to be too expensive (you could buy five of our pick for the price of one similar-size fusti). Glass looks nice but weighs too much; safety is also a concern, especially if little kids are involved.
The Wine Enthusiast Two-Bottle Neoprene Wine Tote is kind of dorky-looking—like something you might carry home from a winemaker’s trade show—but it’s excellent. We compared it directly against the popular Built totes, and it kept white wine cool for longer in our tests. As nice-looking as the Built totes might be, they just can’t compete with the Wine Enthusiast bag. Both bags are made of neoprene, but whereas the Built bag just has a thin layer that meets in the middle to create two separate wine compartments, the Wine Enthusiast tote is structured with a section for each bottle (or one bottle and some glasses) and a zippered top. The trump card: It also includes two gel packs that you can freeze, ensuring that your white wines will stay cold for much longer than the Built could ever promise. But even without our freezing the gel packs, this tote still beat out the competition.
Picnic attendees thought that it was a good idea but didn’t like the neoprene’s aesthetic. Ganda said, “I thought it was quite comfortable, good if you accidentally drop the bottles along the way. I can’t imagine having the forethought to put the freezer pack in the freezer, but I guess you could just leave it in there all the time.”
In addition to having our guests evaluate the totes, we tested the two top totes for insulation performance. With two bottles of white wine, and even without the frozen packs, the Wine Enthusiast bag caused temperatures to rise an average of 11.5 °F over two hours. The Built bag caused temperatures to rise an average of 15 °F. That isn’t a huge difference, but it is absolutely noticeable in the taste and temperature of the wine.
A good corkscrew should reside in your basket at all times so you’ll never ruin a picnic by forgetting one. In testing for our corkscrew guide, we found that the Truetap offers a tried-and-true design, and it’s one that our picnic guests really appreciated. (In a pinch, the foil cutter can double as a small knife.) A picnic attendee used it to open a bottle of wine and said it was unremarkable in a good way: “The best design is invisible.”
For making fresh lemonade or summery citrus-based cocktails, we recommend our favorite citrus juicer, the Proctor Silex Alex’s Lemonade Stand Citrus Juicer. It performed on a par with units we tested that were 10 times the price.
If you’re planning to make enough fresh lemonade to hydrate a block party, invest in the Proctor Silex Alex’s Lemonade Stand Citrus Juicer. It isn’t the prettiest or the quietest, but it gets the job done cheaply and efficiently.
If you prefer a manual press for making cocktails, we recommend the Chef’n FreshForce Citrus Juicer. It comes with recommendations from several top bartenders, and it outperformed other popular, highly rated models in our barware tests.
Building on a decades-old design that has earned the love of chefs and backyard-grilling aficionados alike, Weber’s 22” Original Kettle Premium has everything we loved in our previous recommendation, the One-Touch Gold.
For many years in a row, we’ve chosen a Weber as our favorite charcoal grill for most people. Weber gets near universal praise for its kettle grills from professional chefs, barbecue champions, and scores of backyard-grilling aficionados. Right now, we’d get the 22” Weber Original Kettle Premium. It comes with all of the features that made Weber’s now-discontinued One-Touch Gold grill great, including a one-touch ash disposal system and ash catcher, premium hinged steel grates, a tough enameled steel firebox and dome, and one of the best warranties in the industry.
Offering an unrivaled combination of performance, usability, versatility, durability, and value, this is the best grill for most people.
Weber beat out the competition once again with the Spirit II E-310. This three-burner gas grill is compact enough to fit on almost any patio or deck, but its grilling surface is big enough to cook a complete meal (meat or fish and a couple of veggies) for a family, or a dozen burgers for a party. With a thick, rustproof cast-aluminum firebox, it’ll last for years.
Barbecues don’t always happen in the backyard. While you could haul along a full-size charcoal or gas grill to every picnic, camping trip, or day at the beach, actually doing so is a pain. What you want is a compact grill that’s small enough for you to throw it into the trunk of your car but large enough to cook a reasonable amount of food for yourself, your family, and your friends. While we have both gas and charcoal offerings, it makes a bit more sense to go with gas in this case, since a single 16.4-ounce canister can last for two to two-and-a-half hours and is only the size of a Nalgene bottle; you’d need a whole bag of charcoal to get the same cooking time as a couple of canisters.
The Weber Q 1200 is a gas grill equipped with a single stainless steel burner that kicks out 8,500 Btu of cooking power. That might not sound like a whole lot of heat, but when paired with the Q 1200’s well-designed cast aluminum dome, fire box, and porcelain-coated cast iron grates, it’s more than enough to cook and sear chicken breasts, skirt or flank steaks, burgers, hot dogs, or sausages beautifully. The grill’s 189-square-inch cooking surface provides enough space to cook enough hamburgers to feed six people at a time while still leaving adequate space between your meat or veggie patties to allow for convection.
Consumer Reports, About.com, and AmazingRibs.com are all fans of Weber’s Q-series grills. When we recently asked AmazingRibs’s Max Good about the hardware, he simply told us, “The Weber Q series gassers and their portable kettle grills will perform well, because they’re designed so well. You can’t beat those things, particularly for tailgating.”
Speaking of Weber kettle grills, If you’d rather cook over charcoal, we’ve got your back: Weighing 22 pounds, the 18″ Weber Jumbo Joe is a portable, 18-inch iteration of our favorite full-size charcoal grill, the Weber Original Kettle Premium. Boasting a porcelain-enameled, stainless steel firebox and dome, rust-resistant aluminum dampers, an ash catcher, and a stainless steel 240-square-inch cooking grate, the Jumbo Joe employs the same simple kettle design that has made Weber’s charcoal grills so popular with amateur cooks and professional chefs for decades.
A charcoal option
Royal Oak briquets burn hot and evenly, don’t add any negative flavors to your food, and don’t generate much ash. Buying this charcoal online can be pricey, so we suggest looking for it at local grocery stores or other retailers.
Whether you’re hosting a cookout at home, in the park, or on the beach, we recommend having a bag of Royal Oak Ridge Briquets.
The Royal Oak offering doesn’t burn quite as long as our runner-up pick from Stubb’s, but its near ubiquity in stores makes it much easier to find. For your average outdoor-picnic grill, the Royal Oak briquets leave plenty of time for you to get at least two rounds of hamburgers out before the coals lose their heat. Our testers reported no negative taste to the food cooked with this charcoal. Like our runner-up, the Royal Oak charcoal can get pricey to buy online with shipping, so we recommend keeping an eye out for it at local grocery stores or other retailers.
Burns longer but harder to find
These briquets burn extremely hot, last a long time, and produce minimal ash.
If you can’t find Royal Oak, or if you really need the small amount of extra burn time, we recommend Stubb’s charcoal as your next-best pick. Stubb’s 100% All-Natural Bar-B-Q Charcoal Briquets emerged as the clear winner. This charcoal burns hot and evenly, so you’ll get a good sear while grilling up meat, but it doesn’t spark or spit like some other all-natural briquets. It also doesn’t add any bad flavors to your food, and it flakes less after burning than the competition, which means you have less danger of ash blowing everywhere if the wind picks up. The only real minus for the Stubb’s choice is that it can be difficult to find at times (and expensive to buy online).
No matter what size or kind of grill you opt to cook with, having a few simple, high-quality tools can make cooking over open flames a whole lot safer and more pleasurable.
The best tongs
More affordable and precise than competitors, these 16-inch stainless steel tongs offer the best balance of comfort and dexterity for cooking over open flames.
Good tongs are great multitaskers. You can use them to transfer raw chicken from a plate to the grill, turn delicate veggies, or plate a rack of ribs once they’re cooked to perfection. For cooking on a blazing-hot grill, we like the 16-inch Winco UT-16HT Extra Heavyweight Utility Tongs, because they’re comfortable, easy to use, and sturdy—and long enough to keep your hands a comfortable distance from the flames. They’re also the most affordable tongs of all the models we tested. The Winco tongs have a comfortable “spread” when open, and the spring provides just enough resistance, so your hands don’t get fatigued when grilling for a crowd; many other tongs are too stiff and quickly tire out your hands. Among the tongs we tested, the narrow angle of the Winco model’s scalloped heads provided the most control whether we were grabbing thin asparagus spears or sauce-slathered chicken. In contrast, the wide-angled heads on many competitors don’t let you pick up small stuff. Winco’s heavy-duty stainless steel tongs are sturdy enough to securely grip large cuts of meat and are dishwasher safe.
Burgers and fish don’t deal too well with being compressed by tongs. That’s where a good spatula comes in handy. Our favorite is the Mercer Hell’s Handle Large Fish Turner. It’s sturdy and maneuverable, and it has a wide, super-heat-resistant plastic handle that’s comfortable to hold. According to a representative of the manufacturer, the polypropylene handle can withstand temperatures of up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Over the years, we’ve found fish turners to be the most versatile spatulas, and this large version is no different. In our tests, the Hell’s Handle proved to be the one spatula that testers kept reaching for.
The stainless steel blade on the Hell’s Handle has a fine edge, a stable feel with the right amount of give, and a tapered shape that seamlessly slid under our burger patties without resistance. Though it’s very flexible, the Hell’s Handle is still strong enough to help transfer whole chickens from grill to cutting board. The tapered shape of the spatula allowed us to work successfully on a full grill, easily slipping in between burgers to get a clean flip. This wasn’t the case with large rectangular turners, which offered less agility in our tests. The Hell’s Handle also boasts a limited lifetime warranty.
If you’re looking to sauce up a cut of meat or add some moisture to a veggie patty with a bit of marinade, we suggest using the OXO Good Grips Large Silicone Basting Brush. In our testing, its thick, tri-layer, 2¼-by-1½-inch silicone brush head sopped up and spread more sauce over a greater area than any competitors. Its silicon bristles are dishwasher-safe and far more sanitary than a traditional horsehair or cotton marinade mop.
The best grilling gloves
If you must get your hands close to the flame while grilling, US Forge welding gloves are a cheap way to protect yourself when you need to add charcoal or play hot potato (literally).
From time to time you’ll want to protect your hands from the scorching heat of your grill. Cheap, washable, and tough as nails, these welding gloves from US Forge are just the thing. With a pair of the company’s 400-series lined leather welding gloves on, you’ll be able to pick up hot potatoes right off the grill, safely add charcoal to your barbecue’s firebox halfway through a cook, or even handle a hot grill grate—that’s something a silicone oven mitt can’t do.
The best grill brush
The three rows of thick wire bristles allow this heavy-duty brush to clean a hot grill quickly, which is good news for your hands.
Scouring your grill’s grate clean after you’ve finished cooking (and in some cases, before you start cooking) is key to making a great meal and will prolong the life of your hardware. In our tests, the appropriately named Best BBQ Grill Brush was indeed the best at removing stuck-on sauce and carbonized bits.
With its three rows of thick-gauge wire bristles, the Best BBQ Brush covered the most surface area of any brush we tested, and its sturdy construction refused to bend during tough scraping tasks. Unlike brushes with coiled metal pads, the Best’s steel bristles stayed intact and upright with no signs of breakage or shedding. All of that, combined with a comfortable 10-inch plastic handle, made the Best BBQ Grill Brush stand out among the brushes and scrapers we tested.
If you’re hellbent on “no wire brushes,” The Great Scrape’s Woody Shovel is our favorite wire-free grate-cleaning option. This hardwood paddle has a straight tapered edge that takes on the pattern of the grates by branding them in while the grill is hot. We used the Woody Shovel on both the Weber Spirit E-310 and the Weber Genesis II E-310 (because they have identical grates), and it did a good job of clearing sticky cooked-on sauce and charred bits alike.
An upside to using the Woody Shovel instead of a wire brush is the pleasant smell of burnt hardwood every time you use it. The Woody Shovel is good if you have only one grill, as the grooves form to a specific grate shape; multiple grills would require a dedicated Great Scrape tool for each, and that can get costly.
The best chimney starter
If you’re going the charcoal route, Weber’s Rapidfire Chimney Starter can bring your coals up to temperature more quickly than just waiting for them to heat up in the grill.
Oh, and if you have a charcoal grill, you’ll want to think about picking up a charcoal chimney such as the Weber Rapidfire Chimney Starter. Just fill the chimney up with charcoal, set a flame to its base, and watch as your cooking fuel ignites and comes up to temperature in no time. When your coals are ready, all you need to do is carefully pour the chimney’s red-hot contents into your grill’s firebox and start cooking. Magic!
A more portable starter
For a quick charcoal-lighting cheat, we like Weber Firestarters. They’re easier to carry to a park or beach than a chimney starter, can’t spill or leak like lighter fluid, and will still have you up and grilling in no time.
If you don’t want to haul a chimney starter to the park, we recommend Weber Firestarters. These odorless and nontoxic cubes won’t light your charcoal pile as uniformly as a chimney, but they are much easier to carry, and their performance is good enough to get your standard grilling session started. We looked at and dismissed three other firestarters that were all too expensive before choosing to test the Weber cubes.
In our tests they left no lingering odor or residue once it was time to cook. Waiting for our charcoal pile to light did take a little longer than it would have in a chimney, but not by much. We suggest one or two cubes per 70 to 100 briquets (or about a Weber chimney’s worth), enough for one of those public grills in recreation parks. For a mini Weber, which uses about half that number of briquets, one Weber Firestarter would suffice.
We asked Weber directly to confirm what the cubes are made of, and the company did not respond. This material safety data sheet from Home Depot lists the chemical name as N-Alkane Hydrocarbon (C10-C13), a generic term for the Firestarters’ mix of hydrocarbons, the compounds all fats and oils are made of. Lowe’s says these cubes are made of paraffin wax.
Plenty of BBQ enthusiasts on forums swear by the Weber cubes, even using them to start their chimney piles at home.
Outdoor fire pit
Easy to assemble, the Landmann City Lights Memphis has that fire-pit ambiance and can hold a lot of wood (great for long marshmallow-roasting sessions in the backyard).
A grill is essential for the actual cooking, but when it comes to ambiance (and roasting marshmallows), you want an outdoor fire pit. You’ll find a wide variety of pits available, all with different vibes (one even looks like a flaming Earth). For a more universal aesthetic, our pick is the Landmann City Lights Memphis. It has a look that will appeal to just about everyone. It’s durable, capable of holding a good amount of wood, and easy to assemble.
We like that the sides of the Landmann are partially exposed. This design does two things: It allows air to circulate around the fire, and it lets your partygoers enjoy the flame whether they’re sitting or standing, no matter how small the fire is. Solid-walled models, like the CobraCo Copper Fire Pit, block out the view of a small flame unless you’re standing right next to them.
Because the Landmann is deep, it offers a lot of flexibility in fire size. The large bowl (almost 2 feet across) also translates into less stress—you don’t have to worry about the fire shifting and a log falling out like you do with shallower models similar to the Fire Sense Folding Fire Pit.
The Landmann comes with a cooking grill so you can keep the party going while the kids make some hot dogs for themselves (though for actual grilling, we suggest charcoal or propane and an actual grill as opposed to a difficult-to-control wood fire). It also has a screen for wayward sparks and a built-in safety ring so boozed-up Uncle Billy won’t burn his leg when he stumbles past.
If the weave pattern of the City Lights Memphis is too humdrum for your tastes, Landmann has a number of similar models with different bowl cutouts, including the popular Big Sky Stars and Moons and Wildlife.
For working off that picnic meal, there’s no better game than Frisbee. Rather than making do with a crappy promotional disc or one from 7-11, get a substantial one like the Discraft Ultra-Star 175. We asked Make magazine editor (formerly of Wired and Outside) and Major League Ultimate Frisbee player Nathan Hurst to help us pick. He plays for the San Francisco Dogfishand has tried every disc on the market. (Note: Wham-O has a trademark on the Frisbee name, so these things are often called “flying discs.”)
“The AUDL [one of the two Ultimate Frisbee leagues] uses what has traditionally been the most popular flying disc, the Discraft Ultra-Star, which continues to be used in most other non-MLU play, from kids to college to amateur to screwing around on the beach,” Hurst said. The Ultra-Star fits perfectly in most people’s hands and is easier to grip and balance—customer reviews and Yahoo Answers agree.
For weight, you can go up to 200 grams, which is supposed to be best for playing in the wind, but Hurst told us that “it’s just a gimmick.” We’d stick to the standard 175 grams. For children or beginners, Hurst likes the Discraft J-Star. It weighs only 150 grams and is 9½ inches wide, in contrast to the regular Ultra-Star’s 10¾-inch diameter.
We’ve listened to more than 157 Bluetooth speakers over the past few years, the UE Roll 2 for picnics and small get-togethers. The flat, saucerlike shape of the Roll 2 makes it easier to slip into a picnic bag or to lay on a blanket, and it provides 360-degree sound for listening from any angle better than most conventional Bluetooth speakers. This model doesn’t offer much bass, but the sound isn’t thin or harsh as it is with many Bluetooth speakers. In our tests the battery lasted long enough for most picnics and BBQs.
Even if you aren’t watching birds (or people) out in nature, using a pair of binoculars is a fun way to pass the time between courses of food or to help find errant kites lost in the trees. The travel-size Nikon Trailblazer 8×25 set was recommended to us by Milan G. Bull, the senior director of science and conservation at the Connecticut Audubon Society. These binoculars are waterproof, but note that if you get sea mist on the glass, you should not wipe them dry, as the salt crystals will scratch your optics; instead, get them damp to melt the crystals with a wet lens cloth and then work that salt off and out.
We tested 13 LED lanterns before finding the UST 30-Day Lantern to be the best. Not only does it have three brightness settings, but it also has a month-long battery life.
The good times in the great outdoors don’t have to stop when the sun goes down, provided you’re prepared to beat back the darkness with a little manmade light. We tested 13 lanterns before coming to the conclusion that the UST 30-Day Lantern is the one you should get.
Slightly larger than a pint glass, the UST 30-Day Lantern has three brightness settings, can crank out up to 300 lumens of illumination, and boasts a crazy-long maximum run time of 720 hours (on its minimum 29-lumen setting) on three D-cell batteries. What’s more, the lantern comes with a lifetime warranty.
If spills are a special concern, or if you value toughness and durability over comfort, the MIU Color Blanket is the easiest we’ve found to clean. Its polyester fabric feels similar to what you might find on outdoor lawn furniture or a tablecloth. It isn’t exactly soft, and it doesn’t feel like a traditional picnic blanket, but it will definitely last. Instead of elastic bands the MIU comes with a Velcro strip that you use to wrap it up fully. This design means you need to be slightly more precise than with the Victory when rolling it up. But for basic durability and spill and water resistance, the MIU can’t be beat.
Although not our absolute favorite, Purell is a decent hand sanitizer that’s easy to find. It leaves some residue, but it’s effective and better than alcohol-free formulas.
In an ideal world, we’d have access to a sink with warm water and soap every time we needed to wash our hands. In reality, that’s almost never the case. Carrying hand sanitizer and using it properly can fill the gaps between sink visits. In our original review, we recommended Method Sweet Water, which has since become hard to find. Purell was our next favorite. It feels a little more like lotion than Sweet Water, evaporates a touch slower, and leaves a bit more residue, but overall it performs about equally.
We also looked at alcohol-free sanitizers, but the CDC doesn’t recommend them, and neither can we. The compounds in some alcohol-free sanitizers have been shown to trigger antibiotic resistance in some cases—that is, bacteria that medicine can’t kill. Yikes. For other sanitizers based on thyme and other essential oils, which have been shown to have antibacterial properties, it’s hard to find information on how effective they are in comparison with alcohol-based offerings. Better to stick with what you know works.
These single-use wipes are handy and work well even if you can’t take your shirt off. In our tests, they were the only stain remover to really get rid of red lipstick.
Picnics and barbecues can get messy. We pitted three instant spot stain removers against some DIY methods, and our favorite is Shout Instant Stain Remover Wipes. We splotched a silk shirt with wine, coffee, lipstick, and mustard, treating the fresh stains immediately. In our tests the Shout wipes easily outperformed the Tide To Go pen. They were the only stain remover that got rid of almost all traces of lipstick on the collar.
The single-use towelettes mean you won’t wind up redepositing an old stain on another piece of clothing. They also did a fair job on wine and coffee spills, leaving a minimal ring where the stain spread out across the silk.