There's not much better than a barbecue: A cold drink, the smell of the grill, and the gentle chirping of crickets all add up to a healthy dose of summertime magic. But it's not always so idyllic. Warm beer, coals that won't light, overcooked meat, and a swarm of mosquitoes can really spoil the party. Luckily, you can now find high-tech solutions to all of these problems by bringing a little bit of smart home magic to the great outdoors. So before you start planning your Memorial Day menu, check out our tips below for using tech to enhance your grilling experience this weekend.
You can't grill without a flame, and if you're a traditionalist, you're using charcoal. But lighting charcoal with matches can be tough, and no one likes the taste of lighter fluid. Fortunately, the Looftlighter is a handheld wand that ignites charcoal, briquettes, wood, or pretty much anything else you need to get grilling in 60 seconds using super-heated air. You'll need an electric outlet to use it, but the Looftlighter has a 9-foot cord, so there's some flexibility. It also has an integrated bottle cap opener, and in cooler weather doubles as a great way to light a fireplace.
If that's not enough to get your fire started, you might want to check out the BBQ Dragon. It's a multi-function tool that starts, accelerates, and controls the heat of all kinds of fires. Basically it's a heavy-duty clamp-on fan, with a variable motor that lets you control the amount of air—and thus the amount of oxygen—delivered to a fire. The company claims in can start a charcoal grill in under 10 minutes.
Another instance in which you might need a light, albeit in a more literal sense, is when grilling at night. In that case, the Brookstone Handle-Mount Grill Light could mean the difference between your hot dogs getting flame kissed and completely torched. It's a clip-on, weather-resistant grill light that uses LED bulbs and a pivoting design. It has an adjustable aluminum clamp which should attach to most barbecues, and automatically shuts off after six minutes, so you don't need to worry about accidentally leaving it on all night.
And if you're using propane, few things can put a damper on a cookout quite like an empty tank of gas. Many grills come with a built-in gas gauge, but in my experience, that's also the first part to stop working. Make sure you never run out of fuel again with the Refuel, a connected propane gauge that can send updates on the status of your gas tank straight to your smartphone.
Perfectly Cooked Every Time
One of the hardest parts about grilling is knowing when a piece of meat is done. The best way to be sure is to check for temperature, but there's nothing worse than pulling something off a few minutes too late. You won't need to worry about that if you're using a smart thermometer like the iGrill Mini from Weber. It uses a wired probe to measure the temperature of a piece of meat while it's cooking. You don't need even need to stick around the whole time to watch the numbers rise, since it connects with an app on your iOS device to let you know something has reached its desired temperature when you're up to 150 feet away.
If you want to get really fancy, you can sous vide your meat and vegetables before you grill them. The Anova Culinary Precision Cooker Wi-Fi is our favorite immersion circulator. It heats water to an exact temperature and holds it there, so you can cook a steak to perfectly rare before searing it off on the grill. That helps ensure accuracy and cuts down on time spent slaving over the barbecue rather than socializing.
And if you're still finding it tough to wrestle with charcoal or battle the hot spots on a traditional grill, or you're just just looking for a ridiculously high-tech upgrade, you might want the SmartGrill by Lynx. The SmartGrill is a connected gas grill that automatically cooks foods based on your preference. You can connect your iOS or Android device, select one of hundreds of recipes from the SmartGrill app, and follow the on-screen instructions, which tell you where to place each item on the grill for the best result, and have everything ready to eat at the same time. It even supports voice commands, and can talk back, telling you when it's time to flip over a steak of perform the next step in a recipe. You won't get that same charcoal-y taste, though, so keep that in mind.
If you've already mastered your grilling technique, then you might just be in search of the perfect recipe. One good place to look is Weber's excellent On the Grill app for Android and iOS devices. It's home to 280 classic recipes, along with 40 recipes for marinades, rubs, and sauces. You can tag your favorite recipes, use it to create a shopping list, and email your favorite recipes to others.
It doesn't have to be all about grilling, mind you. Smoked ribs are just as good. But if you've ever spent a day smoking ribs with a charcoal smoker, you know how hard it can be to keep the meat cooking at . Gas smokers are somewhat easier to control, but still require constant attention in order to maintain the low and slow cooking method that produces smoky, fall-off-the-bone ribs. With the Char-Broil Digital Electric Smoker with SmartChef Technology, all you have to do is program the smoker from your Android or iOS device, hit a button, and sit back with a few cold ones until the app tells you that your food is ready.
Grilling or not, one of the worst parts about cooking is cleaning up. Luckily, there's a robot that can do the work for you. The Grillbot is essentially a Roomba for your barbecue. Simply place it on a dirty grill, turn it on, and it will automatically get down to business. It features three electric motors that power its wire brushes and propel it across your grill. A chip inside controls movement, speed, and direction of the brushes. You don't even need to stick around until the job is done—the Grillbot will sound an alarm to let you know it's finished.
There's more to a barbecue than just good food. And nothing can kill a party quite as fast as warm beer. If you didn't budget enough real estate in the cooler or fridge, you can chill drinks on demand using the Cooper Cooler Rapid Beverage Chiller. Simply fill the device with water and ice, place the beverage of your choice inside, and it will spin rapidly to accelerate the cooling process. The Cooler can chill a can of beer in just one minute, or an entire bottle of wine in six minutes. That's about 40 times faster than your freezer can chill cans, and 10 times faster than it can chill wine. And rest assured, carbonated beverages like beer or soda will not foam or explode after taking a ride in the Cooler.
For cocktails, ditch those plastic bags of convenience store ice cubes so clumped together you need to go all Basic Instinct on them in order to make a drink. Instead check out the Opal Nugget Ice Maker. Unlike traditional ice makers that produce hard, smooth cubes, this cool countertop machine uses a unique compression process to produce the chewable nuggets you get in bars and restaurants (like Sonic). You can even connect to it with your phone to see how much ice is left and set schedules.
If it's frozen drinks you're after, look no further than the Coolest Cooler. The Coolest Cooler is a very clever idea: Stuff everything you need for a barbecue (minus the grill) into a single gadget-filled cooler. It's literally crammed with features, including a Bluetooth speaker, serving supplies, and a USB port for charging your other devices. There's even a blender, and I know for a fact that piña coladas pair extremely well with burgers.
Speaking of coolers, the IcyBreeze Portable Air Conditioner and Cooler looks like a standard cooler you'd pack full of drinks and sandwiches and wheel onto the beach. And it is, but it's also an air conditioner. That's right, an air conditioner. It uses a fan, along with the chilled air inside the cooler, to blow a constant breeze of cool air up to 25 miles per hour at up to 35 degrees below the outside temperature. And it has a rechargeable battery, so you can stay cool whether you're on the beach, camping, or tailgating. We've come a long way from the misting fan.
All the Other Fixin's
No barbecue would be complete without the right soundtrack. I can't help you decide what to play, but I know you're going to want a powerful, rugged speaker to play it on. The EcoXGear EcoCarbon is a favorite of ours. Not only is the speaker fully waterproof, it floats, making it a great companion for your next pool party. Throw in the ability to charge mobile devices, speakerphone functionality, and even a built-in flashlight, and the EcoCarbon is an ideal speaker for the backyard. Oh yeah, and it sounds great, too.
And in case you experience some unexpected visitors—in the form of mosquitoes—you might want to break out something a bit more heavy-duty than a citronella candle and a bottle of bug spray. That's where The Executioner Mosquito Racket comes in. It looks just like a typical tennis racket, but once you press the button on the handle and swing, it will activate each of its three bug-zapping layers. It sounds a bit inhumane, but hey, you're the one that's probably grilling a burger, right?
With all of these tools in tow, you should have no problem hosting the perfect barbecue this Memorial Day—as long as it doesn't rain. So far, there isn't an app for that.