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Test Drive: Grilling Baskets

by Nicki Pendleton Wood

fromFine Cooking
Issue 94

Every cook who’s ever driven herself crazy dashing between the grill and the stove has wondered, What does it take to cook an entire meal outside? It takes the right tool, and a grill basket or wok can go a long way toward bringing smaller or delicate foods out of the kitchen and onto the grill, without the worry of small pieces falling through the grate. To be worthwhile, a basket or wok must tame the flame, let in the smoky flavor, and make it easy to toss or stir items to keep them from overcooking.

The grill basket category can be confusing, because similar-looking items are called baskets, or woks, or grill skillets. We focused on perforated pans with raised sides and open tops that allow you to shake or flip cut-up vegetables, pieces of meat, or shrimp—food you might otherwise skewer.

We tested a range of shallow-sided perforated pans in round, square, and rectangular versions, some with long handles like a skillet’s. Materials included stainless steel, porcelain-enameled nonstick surfacing, other nonstick coatings, and cast iron.

What to look for

  • Grill baskets need to stand up to high, direct temperatures; look for sturdy construction and hefty weight.
  • If easy cleanup is a priority, nonstick finishes surpass stainless, which takes real scrubbing to keep clean (although most stainless can go in the dishwasher).
  • Porcelain enamel tends to be tougher than other nonstick coatings. Although we couldn't test longevity, we did eliminate any nonstick baskets that showed undue flaking or chipping.
  • Holes shouldn't be so big that slices of onions or other slim veggies fall through, and they need to be well formed and smooth so jagged edges or slits don't trap food.
  • Sides should be high enough to accommodate abundant vegetables and permit shaking as well as stirring.

Grilling Baskets: top picks
Outset copper-color nonstick grill wok

Outset copper-color nonstick grill wok
$25, ChefTools.com

The perforated rounded sides on this wok allow heat to circulate evenly and make it easy to stir or toss vegetables and shrimp. The wok, which despite appearances is not made of copper but steel sprayed with a copper-colored porcelain-enamel nonstick coating, heats a little slowly. But the mellower heat means you don’t need to constantly stir vegetables, and the pan was slow to overcook even shrimp. The surface area of the bottom is smaller than that of the square woks, an issue if you want to grill fish fillets. The looped metal handles stayed cooler than those on the other woks and allow for hanging storage.

Mr. Bar-B-Q’s Platinum Prestige Premium stainless-steel grilling wok

Mr. Bar-B-Q’s Platinum Prestige Premium stainless-steel grilling wok
$16, Amazon.com

The heavy steel and solid construction of this 12-inch-square wok made it our favorite among the stainless versions. The rolled handles made transporting it, especially with oven mitts, a bit awkward, but they took up less room on the grill. The thick body delivered a predictable heat, which means better-controlled cooking for vegetables and shrimp. But the stainless material proved less forgiving than nonstick-coated woks, especially when used over high heat. The tradeoff for the durability of stainless is that you can’t close the grill and walk away, or you’ll get veggies charred on the outside and raw inside.

Charcoal Companion nonstick square wok

Charcoal Companion nonstick square wok
$15, Amazon.com

Charcoal Companion makes a comprehensive line of grill woks and baskets, and though each model has different strengths, this 12-inch-square version was the overall favorite for even heat distribution and versatility. The steel pan conducts heat well for a combination grill/stir-fry effect, and it feels substantial. Its sides are slightly higher than Mr. Bar-B-Q’s, and it has the same rolled metal handles, which are a little hard to grab with mitts. But as with the Mr. Bar-B-Q, it sits compactly on the grill. It cooked cheese polenta with minimal sticking, and cleanup with a plastic scrubber was quick.

Charcoal Companion’s cast-iron grill wok

Charcoal Companion’s cast-iron grill wok
$32, 4thegrill.com

This cast-iron grill wok deserves special mention. It behaved very differently from all the other woks and baskets tested, yet we grew to love its performance. Square, coated with enamel on the outside, and preseasoned, this wok is nearly three times thicker than the steel or aluminum woks. It heats more slowly than the other metals tested but distributes heat so well that we could leave vegetables on the grill for up to 5 minutes without a worry, and even shrimp didn’t burn on high heat. Fish turned out moist, and vegetables skidded around easily when stirred and cooked nicely, even over high heat. Cleanup was reasonably easy, too. With the extra weight (more than 8 lb.), it’s not the easiest to maneuver. But if you’re a fan of cast-iron cooking, you might want to consider this option.

more info:

How we tested

Photos: Scott Phillips

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