Every year for the past half dozen or so I’ve either been asked to write a barbecue gift guide or to contribute to other blogs with a few of my recommendations. This year, I thought about doing things a little differently. Yes, I know I could just keep every item barbecue related and that would be fine, but I thought why not open up the list a bit more? Why not just do a list of the things that I love for one reason or another, that I use often or thoroughly enjoy using when I get the chance? Along the way maybe a better story of who I am and why I do what I do may find its way into being. Where possible I’ve posted an Amazon link if you decide to add any of the items to your collection. Obviously not every item will be available via Amazon, in those cases I’ve provided links to sites I trust.
Also as a full disclosure, I’ve had a part in the success of Grilla Grills. I am proud to be apart of this team and it is one of the most rewarding barbecue relationships I have ever had. This includes releasing a signature line of sauces and rubs with them and being closely involved in the sourcing and releasing of several accessories. So it goes without saying that with that much involvement some of these items made this list. This is not me trying to convince you to buy anything from Grilla, nothing on this list made the cut if it did not meet the criteria mentioned above.
Lodge Logic Square Skillet – There are a few standards I think every kitchen needs and a classic cast iron pan is one of those things. From making corn bread to searing steaks they are just invaluable. This pan was on my list last year and it still is my favorite pan for just about everything. When I bought mine I knew I’d be using it a lot so I added the silicone handle cover as well. I wondered if I’d really think the extra $4 (pricing depends on color chosen) was worth it, and I’m glad to say it still is. Treat cast iron pans right and you have a pan literally for a life time. In fact one of my wedding presents from my grandmother almost 20yrs ago was a small round cast iron pan that she used for decades before passing it on to me. There aren’t a great many things that you can buy today that you can pass on to your grandchildren when they get married, but this is one of them.
Grizzly Coolers 60 – It’s no big secret that I’ve been on a mission for the past year to test a lot of coolers. I’ve been sent some as test units, paid full price for others and after it was all said and done there was only one left standing and that was the Grizzly line. Mark Lambert first turned me onto Grizzly and I have to give him credit there. I liked the line so much I pushed for Grilla Grills to carry them on their site. One note on sizes as Grizzly has a lot of sizes available. I really find that the 60qt size works for me. Some will want larger, some smaller, but if I were on the competition trail I know I could run two 60qt sized coolers and get the job done.
Let’s talk about what I feel Grizzly get’s right. First has to be price. Yes, there are cheaper, but in this market segment there are also some two to three times the price for the same sized cooler. Second has to be the weight. I really liked several other brands but what kept me coming back to the Grizzly was the size vs weight. They are not nearly as heavy as some and when you have to lug these things on and off trailers and in and out of the back of trucks, weight starts to matter quickly. The last thing I feel Grizzly does better than the rest is the drain plug. You want to dump out the entire liquid contents of the cooler in a minute? This cooler can do that without having to tip it over. This was a factor I never considered until I lived with several other brands and it took forever for some of them to drain after I cleaned them. And when you are doing everything from brining turkeys to hauling adult beverages, ease of clean up and keeping everything safe matters.
Let’s be real here, all the coolers in the roto molded segment keep ice for longer than anyone frankly expects. So why pay more for the cooler if you don’t have to? The only cooler that had a few more tricks up is sleeve that I really liked was the Orion. Their latching system is better, but I just can’t recommend their products due to the pricing. Orion was one of the heaviest I tested which really became an issue in the long term.
While we are talking about coolers let me bring up the soft sided cooler that Grizzly makes as well, the Drifter. I was fortunate enough to get a Drifter 20 for testing earlier this year. I have to admit I was skeptical at first, but after living with it on several trips and also seeing that I could fit a whole packer brisket in it I was sold. We took this cooler with us on a trip to Florida (14hrs in the truck) and a trip to Orange Beach, Alabama (10hrs in the truck) and each time I was more impressed with the Drifter 20. The amount of storage it has and its innovations make it a winner and frankly make it worth the $150 price tag. Never mind it’s just plain cool (see what I did there), has tons of storage compartments and isn’t just some flabby pouch when empty. If you’ve been considering a high end soft sider, I definitely recommend giving this one a look.
Ticwatch S Knight – I hesitated to put this one on the list since I know the world is divided between Apple and Android users, but what the heck it’s my list of favorite things and this definitely is a favorite thing. I’ve been on the fence about buying a smartwatch for a long long time, which might sound counter intuitive given that I’m a tech guy by day. I frankly just don’t think that most smartwatches are worth the cost. I also never really found one that straddled that line between fitness tracker, heart rate monitor AND personal assistant device. Several months ago while considering buying one for my birthday I ran across the Kickstarter campaign for the Ticwatch S and thought, for $130 why not. I figured I would be ok at that price and could stomach not loving it for just over a hundred dollars vice spending the $300 I was considering. Fast forward to just before Thanksgiving and mine was delivered. Being someone who is constantly reaching for my phone I wanted something to keep me from doing that as much. After all more times than not I’m covered in grease/fat when I’m cooking and I have about 5 different company emails I have to keep up with so me digging in my pocket for my phone after receiving an alert is never ending. I’m super glad to say the Ticwatch S has filled this void and I LOVE IT. For the money it’s definitely worth it, even at non Kickstarter prices. If you are looking for a great smartwach for a reasonable price check it out, you’ll be glad you did.
Camelbak Chute 40oz Insulated Bottle – I know this one sounds crazy on this list, but as someone who packs this thing around as religiously as I do my phone I had to include it on the list. Ask anyone who travels with me and they will tell you this thing has more miles on it than my truck. I also credit this bottle with helping me keep extra weight off and it was key in getting my health turned around almost two years ago.
How does a water bottle do that? Well, its about forming habits and replacing bad habits with good ones. I quit soda cold turkey about two years ago. I’ve not had even a sip since. So what I did to replace that urge was carry around my water with me everywhere, and I do mean EVERYWHERE. I wanted to find a bottle that was easy to clean, could take a beating, kept stuff cold and flowed easily. The idea was that I needed to drink a gallon of water a day and I didn’t care to be sucking on a straw all day. Thankfully I found this water bottle and Stur water enhancer at the same time. I hate to even think how much money I’ve spent on Stur in the last two years, but I go through about 20 of those little bottles a month and for me it’s 100% worth it to not be addicted to soda’s any longer.
I’m not advocating anyone necessarily do what I did, but if you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, I do advocate for everyone to take a serious look at what they are putting in their bodies, because that is likely the problem. And believe me when I tell you that your children are watching you and will take their cues from you. My two boys no longer drink any soda’s either and also drink water about 90% of the time. They do drink some juices and milk as well, but I was shocked at how much their diets mimicked mine as they started seeing changes in me physically, mentally and emotionally. Never once did I ask them to make those changes, which was all the better. My boys even have their own smaller Camelbak Chutes and that is worth way more to me than the cost of the product.
Perfect Pushup Elite – While I’m harping on health I have to plug these. Both of my wrists are completely screwed up so it was really limiting me in doing push ups. One day while visiting with Mark Graham of Grilla Grills I saw these sitting next to his desk and asked if he liked them. He gave them a glowing review and I thought, “well if its good enough for Mr. Fitness himself I’ll give them a try.” Well Mark was right, they work and I really love them. I have an alarm on my phone/smartwatch that tells me to get up and move once an hour. Since I work at home on a computer all day this is very important to me. So when my alarm goes off I grab these and bust out as many push ups as I can do then return back to being the sloth that I am. It’s not that I think these will change your life, its that I think these are apart of changing your life, and that I am all for if you are tired of looking like the “before” picture in a late night infomercial.
Thermoworks Thermopop – I get asked often, “what’s one thing you will not cook without?” My answer used to be a Thermoworks Thermapen, now that has changed to the Thermopop. I still love the Thermapen for sure, but the Thermopop is $30 and it’s much easier for me to recommend. It’s just as accurate, nearly as fast AND easier to carry around. There are very few devices that will make you better cook across the board, but this is one of them. Even if you already have the Thermapen I still recommend you buying one of these. I have about half a dozen and I keep them literally everywhere I cook and one even stays in the console of my truck and in my knife roll. I don’t leave home without it and I just don’t think you can find a better thermometer for the money bar none. Save yourself some headache and just order a couple in various colors because I don’t know anyone in barbecue that has just one of these.
Meathead The Science of Great Barbecue – seriously is there a better name for a cook book? I really like Meathead’s take on things. Its one part Good Eats format where the science is the focal point and one part great cook book. In the end I think we can all agree that Craig “Meathead” Goldwyn and his site AmazingRibs.com has become the encyclopedia of all things barbecue. I recommend articles from his site weekly and he has made a career of proving scientifically what works and what doesn’t. Give this book a try, it’s worth the read.
Extreme Ownership – I stumbled on this book late last year and it changed a lot of things for me. The past year has been a quest of getting my head right. If you are looking to be a better leader, make a change in your life or just generally figure out how to be a better human give this book by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin a read. I’ve bought several copies for friends and I just can’t recommend it enough. Want to hear more of what Jocko has to say? Subscribe to the Jocko Podcast. If you are military or former military this podcast should be mandatory. Start at episode 1 and work from there. Believe me it’s worth the ride.
Way of the Warrior Kid – Yes, another Jocko Willink book. This one is for any kid in your life. I’ve personally bought almost 20 copies of this book and have given to every kid I have coached, mentored or ever worked with. This book changes things for young people. It shows them they can make a difference. They can own their situation. They do not have to be afraid of working hard. My 7yr old has read this book and will tell you it is favorite by far. This story is told through the eyes of Mark a 5th grader. Mark’s uncle Jake, a Navy SEAL, comes to stay with Mark’s family for the summer and he helps Mark with his fear of water, the school bully, multiplication, memorizing the Presidents and pull ups. If you have children take the time and read this book right along with them. It will be worth the time and effort, I cannot recommend it enough. Our job as parents is not just to love our children always, but to help arm them with the tools and ideas that will make them better humans and citizens. It all starts at home with you. There will never be a better time than right now to start making a difference.
Lodge L410 Hibachi – It seems like everyone is always looking for the best steak searing device and I always wonder why this little jewel doesn’t get recommended more. It’s compact, you can’t break it and you can get this thing rocket hot for some insane steak searing. Need some great charcoal you can find in your local big box store? Check out B&B Hickory Lump, its quickly becoming a favorite of mine.
Dalstrong Shogun Gyuto – I actually have a few Dalstrong knives now, but I keep coming back to this 8in Gyuto blade. I just love it. I’ve tested the Dalstrong Phantom Chef’s knife as well and really enjoyed it for it’s agility and super light weight. Where the Phantom’s are light and agile the Shogun’s have a weight and strength about them. I just can’t describe it, but the weight and feel of these knives just feel reassuring in your hand and make you feel more confident. The pinch on these knives are fantastic and the blades are razor sharp. I’ve also purchased the Shogun paring and birds beak knives, each phenomenal in their own right. Dalstrong does a great job of releasing limited run knives and some really interesting options. Be sure to keep checking them out because if they do not have one that you love right now, give it a month they will.
Grilla Injector – Let me just say that I love this injector. This is another great example of the partnership between Grilla Grills and I. At Memphis in May we were cooking whole hog and we had probably 8 injectors on site and throughout the course of injecting both hogs every single one of them failed. I went to Mark Graham and said “that’s it man, we are going to fix this once and for all and offer it on the website.” Mark said “lets do it, bring it on.” Well fast forward a couple of months, a few prototypes I tested and the end result is this behemoth. It’s heavy, its stainless and I love how the needles thread onto the syringe. I could wax poetic about this work of art for days, but check out the YouTube video, it pretty much sums it up. If you don’t have this, GET IT.
Don Francisco’s Hawaiian Hazelnut Coffee – This is definitely one of my favorite things. I have one really good cup of coffee a day. That cup is almost always DF’s Hawaiian Hazelnut. I know it’s odd to include coffee on a Christmas list, but that should tell you how much I enjoy this coffee. It’s not always easy to get via Amazon and when it is available I order a couple of tins to make sure I don’t run out.
If you love hazelnut coffee, this one kicks in just a hint of coconut which makes it great black without added sugar. For me I add the slightest hint of pure Stevia powder and it’s perfect.
Ion Tailgater Express – I am most definitely 100 percent an audio file. I don’t do much of anything without music playing. When it’s not music it’s podcasts. I bought this earlier this year because I wanted something to take to the pool to listen to with the kids. It is splash resistant, has a really big built in battery that lasts a long time, has bluetooth and a USB port to allow you to charge your phone. In addition to all these features, it sounds fantastic. I like this thing so much that I now travel with this speaker when I go on trips. If it died tomorrow I would order another immediately. This little speaker has replaced a Bose unit that I ordered for the kitchen. I know, crazy right!?!!? I got the Bose in, unboxed it and listened to it for about 10 minutes and honestly did not feel it sounded significantly better than the Ion so I returned it. This little box is a strong bang for the buck.
Ladder 8 Steel Grill Brush – This is probably one of the items I get asked about more than any other in the grilling world. I don’t know why but finding a great grill brush seems to be nearly impossible. I’ve gone through about 15 different models over the years and this is the only one that I still recommend. Now before someone comments about the dangers of a bristle breaking off and being digested let me address that right up front. First off that danger is slim and if you wipe down your grates after brushing them it is virtually eliminated. Second the material the brush itself is made from will determine how likely the bristles are to break off. That is why I love this brush. The bristles are strong and after over a year of use mine still looks new. If that wasn’t enough every single one of these brushes are backed by a lifetime warranty and a love it or leave it money back guaranty.
All of that is fine and good but how well does it work? The 4 head design of this brush and the angle of attack built into the handle make all the difference. There is very little on your grill that this brush won’t take care of in just a few swipes. If you are looking for your “next” grill brush, order this one, it will be the last one you buy.
Grilla Grills Signature Sauces and Rubs – Before I get into talking about each of the sauces and rubs let me talk about what this product line means to me. I’ve gone on record as saying this is hands down the best work I have done in my 10yrs in barbecue. I really do mean that. My relationship with Grilla is special and there is something about it that has brought what I do to another level. Everything I do with them I want to be best. They make me better and I make them better. It is a rare partnership that works this well. I was called crazy when I agreed to sign on to help out a company, that at the time was a complete unknown. I was warned that I would be used for my ideas and kicked to the curb. I was told that taking a backseat in a larger organization was career suicide. All I know is that when I sat down with the team at Grilla I knew they were something special and different. I knew immediately that with someone on board who had been through all the pitfalls in this community that they could be quickly successful. So I shook the owners hand in that meeting and told him I’d give him everything I’ve got and expected their trust in return to make this company something amazing.
Those ideas and sentiments are what drive me to be the best. I refuse to release any product before it’s perfect and I refuse to put out any sauce and rub that is not world class. I have zero doubt that what has come from this partnership is one of the best sauce and rub lines in existence bar none. That is not said to be cocky, but it is said because I know the amount of time and effort I have put into every single one of these products and I believe that to the very core of my being. Find another grill company who has sauces and rubs that will say that and can back it up. It’s a very rare thing indeed. The core difference is that most grill makers add sauce and rubs and accessories to pad their bottom line. They just want to make another sale. They make huge profit margins on those things and frankly do not focus on making them the best they can be. Mark and I refuse to do that. Every single product has to be the best we can make it, done so at a reasonable price and delivered as frequently as possible with free shipping.
Thick & Bold – This started it all and was the basis of the initial partnership with Grilla. We took this sauce to the World Championships at Memphis in May and tied for first. It was one heck of a lead off product and is fantastic on everything. This sauce set the bar really high for me and I knew I could not release anything else unless it was equal in every way. The thing that makes Thick & Bold special is the balance between the sweet, the tanginess and the way can be used as everything from a dipping sauce to a finishing glaze. This sauce is as versatile as they come and we have competition teams even using it as part of their brisket program and winning just about every time they cook.
Gold N Bold – I swore for a very long time that I would never do a mustard sauce. Frankly I didn’t think I had much to say in this genre of sauce and Ron Worby of Susquehanna Blue Smoke had done it as well as it needed to be done. When I was asked to finally dig in and see what I could do I ordered every mustard sauce I could find. Frankly most fell into two categories. Mustard that had some spices added that were very hard to stomach. Seriously try to eat spoonfuls of mustard and see how that goes. And then there were what basically were tomato based sauces that had mustard added to make them more tangy. Neither of these appealed to me. I wanted to find a mustard sauce that you could eat directly off of the spoon, still top a hot dog/hamburger with it, but had something more going for it flavor wise to make it worthy of doing. After an insane amount of trying and failing I finally found this sweet spot of balance and I knew I was on to something. We took this sauce back to Memphis in May and served to the on site judges on our whole hog entry. When they all freaked out over it and asked where they could buy it I knew it was good. When the two chef’s on our team told me it was the best they had eaten then I realized it was time to stop messing with it and get it ready for final release. It took from June until September for the factory to get it dialed in to my requirements, but in the end all that frustration was worth it. Its a great sauce and even if you think you don’t like mustard sauces you should give it a try.
Kongo Kick – When it comes to “hot” barbecue sauces I just do not feel there is ever a clear win. Those that know me well know I will not play if I cannot win. So when Mark Graham asked me to make one for Grilla I was apprehensive. The reality is that they are never hot enough for the people who love heat and the mention of heat drives away all other consumers. Thankfully early on the name for this sauce was decided on and that allowed me to set the tempo for what the sauce should be, a great barbecue sauce with a kick at the end. I went through about 15 different pepper blends before finding a combination that I felt added a great dynamic to the sauce while also allowing the heat to gradually build as it was being eaten. Most people are surprised that there is some habanero in this sauce as they assume it would be painfully hot. I love the flavor of habanero’s but not always their heat. I was able to find away to add a great robust chili middle flavor profile and use the habanero as the light clear bite at the very end. Think of a great bass guitar solo where the drummer joins in and ends it all with the crash of a cymbal. That is exactly what Kongo Kick does and I love this sauce for that reason. It was yet again me trying to balance all of this flavor chaos like a conductor while not letting any one thing outshine another. Even if you do not like “hot” barbecue sauces you should give this one a try, it has a whole lot more going for it than just heat.
AP Rub – All Purpose as a name has been so used and abused in the world of barbecue. So much so that it’s frankly become a bit of an inside joke. If you don’t know what you should name your rub, name it All Purpose. Well when I first came up with AP almost 10 years ago and then revamped it a few years later I wanted something that really lived up to the name. The balance of salty, sweet, herbs and heat make this great on everything from chicken and ribs to popcorn and veggies. AP Rub is the first product that I went back and revamped after I really learned how to balance flavors. That principal has stuck with me ever since and from this product came many successful products after. There is a reason that Grilla sells out of it…because it simply works.
Grilla Beef – The lore associated with the Beef Rub has been years in the making. From the days of Draper’s Moo’d Enhancer to us pulling it off of the shelves and getting hate mail to me finally deciding to redo the product and release it Grilla. Well, its been one heck of a ride. This single product more than any other I was so afraid to redo. Moo’d Enhancer was something special. It was the first time that I really felt I had caught lightening in a bottle so to speak. It was 1 part intuition, 1 part happy accident and 2 parts stubbornness. I really wondered for a long time could I recreate it if I had to. I frankly avoided doing it like the plague. I knew it would be the place where I had to face whether I still had “it” or not. For songwriters and composers they are always worried they will somehow anger the God’s and no longer be able to connect with that part of themselves where the lyrics and melodies come from. It’s no different for me. I had been told I was done, I couldn’t make magic any more, that I was washed up and that barbecue as an industry had moved on. In the end I had to gather myself up, ignore all the haters and self doubt and just get back on the horse and get after it. I’m proud of every product I’ve ever done, but Grilla’s Beef Rub was a defining moment for me where I proved to myself that I still have something to say. From this lesson Gold N Bold and Kongo Kick were also born. I still have a lot of miles left in me creativity wise and I’m glad to get to release those ideas with a company like Grilla Grills. I am blessed beyond measure just from getting to work with such a great team that believes in me. I try everyday to measure up to that and do my best for them and their customers.
From this dude in Western Kentucky, that for whatever reason people have decided to listen to, I appreciate each and every person who takes the time to read this post. I am just a guy doing what I love and I am thankful for every friend I have made doing this crazy barbecue thing.
I hope this list gives you some ideas for Christmas, but more than that, I hope it gives you a small insight into me and what I do. It’s never glamours, always takes more out of me than I expect and is hard on my family and I wake up everyday thankful for another opportunity to share what I love with you and yours.
Have a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, be blessed my friends and always stay saucy 🙂