America's Test Kitchen equipment review: grill tongs

Sep 8, 2017

Of all the tools used for backyard grilling, grill tongs may be the most important. They need to be long enough to keep you from getting burned, sturdy to lift large cuts of meat and heavier vegetables, and easy to open with one hand while cooking with the other. Lisa McManus leads all the equipment testing and ingredient tastings for America’s Test Kitchen. She talked with Managing Producer Sally Swift about the results of a recent equipment review of grill tongs. A full list of recommended items can be found below their interview.

Sally Swift: I was thinking about you guys the other day because I have this seriously bad pair of grill tongs that are worthless; they've never worked. My husband put an amplifier in my kitchen at the very top of the cupboard. I can't reach the volume, except with those rubber-tipped tongs. So now they have a dedicated use. However, it occurs to me, tongs are badly designed.

Lisa McManus: Yes. So many tongs are horrible. They're either big and clunky, so they look like they're made for Paul Bunyan, or they're lightly built, so that they don’t work for serious cooks. They're flimsy, have pathetic pinchers, can't grab anything and don't line up – they just sort of flop. They make grilling harder than it has to be.

SS: What makes a great pair of tongs?

LM: It should feel like a natural extension of your hands, and it shouldn't make you work harder. Our ideal one was about 16 inches long and weighed about 8 or 9 ounces. Not too light or flimsy. Not too heavy to hold and pick up other heavy things. Pinchers that meet nicely in the middle and don't get out of alignment. A scalloped head with scalloped edges that grab things without ripping, tearing, or snagging. A locking mechanism that you can easily open and close with one hand, especially the opening part. The closing part, you don't really care about because you can use two hands. But the opening, as you're walking towards the grill with your platter of food in one hand and your tongs in the other, it's nice to be able to pop it on your hip and open it up.

 

Lisa McManus

SS: You betcha. Like a gunslinger.

LM: Exactly.

SS: How did you test these?

LM: We tested all kinds of things. We made light foods and heavy foods, even round, awkward foods. We did grilled asparagus spears, corn on the cob, and full racks of Memphis ribs. We made a whole ten-piece barbequed chicken dish where a lot of pieces had to be moved quickly; they're all different shapes and sizes, and you don't want to scrape off that barbeque sauce or rip the skin. We picked up a single toothpick, a glass, and a one pound jar of salsa. The tests gave a sense of how controlled the tongs were and how precise they could be. All these things matter because you don't want to have to think about your tongs when you're cooking. You want think about the food, the fun, and what you're going to eat.

SS: We have low expectations of tongs, I have to say.

LM: We should have higher ones. These are important.

SS: What was your winner?

LM: They're called the Oxo Good Grips 16-Inch Locking Tongs; they're the ideal tongs. They weigh just 8 ounces – not too heavy or too light. They’re 16 inches long, giving you enough space from the grill but not so much that it's hard to pick things up. They're agile and very comfortable with a springy tension. The scalloped pinchers can pick up a single toothpick or big, heavy glass jar, no problem. They unlock and lock in a snap, just push the little tab on the end. And they clean up in the dishwasher. If I had to take just one tool out to the grill, it would be these tongs.

EQUIPMENT TEST RESULTS

Winner / Highly Recommended

Oxo Good Grips 16-Inch Locking Tongs

Our former winner took top marks again, with just the right combination of light but tough construction, precise pincers that stayed aligned throughout testing and could pluck up the tiniest toothpick or hoist the heftiest slab of ribs, and an easy locking tab that opened and closed simply and smoothly. At 16 inches, they are just long enough to be safe from the heat but short enough to give great leverage and control. The tension of the arms is well calibrated to be springy but not hand-straining over the course of cooking, such as when we grilled a big batch of barbecue chicken.

Recommended

Rösle 25054 16-inch Barbecue Grill Tongs, Matte Handle

These tongs are sturdy, sleek, and well-constructed, with precise pincers that stayed aligned throughout our testing. The only downside? A slightly too clever locking system that works automatically, depending on whether the tongs are gently squeezed while pointing down to unlock or up to lock. This never became fully natural; we had to keep stopping to reposition them as we cooked. (One tester’s family likes to ask unsuspecting guests to try unlocking these tongs for amusement.)

Weber Original Stainless Steel Locking Barbecue Tongs

While these tongs were moderately lightweight, they also seemed a bit flimsy to our testers, especially when lifting heavier foods. A little longer and heavier than our winner, they required a bit more work to use. The unusual curved-in pincers were surprisingly effective at grasping larger foods, though their shape made the position of the tip visually ambiguous during precision work such as picking up slim asparagus spears and the cupped shape tended to scrape off and collect rubs and sauces. The locking mechanism was a little uncomfortable to push in for unlocking, but a big metal loop made it very easy to grab and pull out when locking.

Recommended with Reservations

Lodge Outdoor Tongs

While these tongs were not exactly bad, there are better choices. Just a bit too heavy, too long, and too stiff, with slightly excessive tension in the spring, they were sometimes fatiguing to use. The bare metal locking mechanism on the handle had a sharp edge, which was a little painful to push in, especially if we did it one-handed by popping it against a hip. And finally, we’d much prefer to toss tongs in the dishwasher, but these should be washed by hand, the instructions warn, probably due to the wooden handle inserts (which were a bit uncomfortable for some testers and emerged slightly roughened after being washed 25 times).