The Pit (& Other BBQ Gear)

When most Americans say, “barbecue,” what they really mean is “grill.”. Barbecue and grill, important both as nouns and verbs, have completely different meanings. When you barbecue, you cook over a slow, smoky fire. Grilling is a short trip past hot coals.

A barbecue can be a grill, but a grill is never a barbecue. A barbecue (strictly speaking, in this context a barbecue is really a “pit”) must have a lid to hold the smoke and heat inside. Cooking is accomplished through both radiant heat, from the glowing coals, and convected heat, like inside an oven. Smoke from burning wood is essential for real barbecue flavor. If you want make real barbecue, get a pit. The standard Weber kettle (or a cheaper imitation) works great. The ultimate pit is made from a split food-grade 55-gallon drum, but you won’t find one at Home Depot. Check the welding shops in areas with lots of barbecue joints.

A grill can be anything from an hibachi to an old coffee can, as long as there’s a place to put the fire and a grate to hold the food. Hibachis and similar fire-based outdoor cookers can’t do real barbecue and are not pits. They’re grills, and perfectly fine for grilling, but don’t get the two things confused.

You may also want some of this other stuff…

Your most important tool. You’ll use tongs to turn food, lift the grill to add more charcoal, and poke the fire. Buy long, good quality tongs at a cookware store, and not the kind that cross in the middle like scissors. The best are spring-loaded and shouldn’t be too hard to close.

You’ll need a wide, long-handled spatula for burgers and other items not easily grasped with your tongs.

After my expensive, fire-proof, asbestos barbecue glove caught on fire, I switched to plain old leather work gloves. If you value the hair on your arms, buy longer gloves.

Wire brush
More expensive barbecue cleaning brush-scrapers are available at kitchenware shops, but any old wire brush works fine for cleaning the grill (I buy mine at garage sales for about a quarter). The secret is to light the fire first, then put on the grill and let it heat up before you brush it. It gets hot and the burned-on stuff comes off easily, but this is why you need the gloves.

Fire pan
If you’re doing real barbecue that takes a few hours, or even if you’re just cooking a lot of vegetables, you may need to replenish the charcoal. Some kind of fire pan is handy for starting another batch of charcoal without setting your lawn or deck afire. An old metal garbage can lid (standard river-running fire pan) works great, or another barbecue (if you have a kettle with lid and an hibachi, you’ve got it made).

Fire extinguisher
Might as well be safe, especially if you live in a crowded or particularly fire-prone neighborhood.