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June/July 2016

Grill Lights

What griller hasn’t desperately raced against the setting sun trying to get food off the grill and onto the table before darkness closes in?

How We Tested

What griller hasn’t desperately raced against the setting sun trying to get food off the grill and onto the table before darkness closes in? Enter grill lights: portable, battery-powered lamps that latch onto your grill and illuminate the cooking surface. Since we last tested grill lights, we’ve heard a few complaints about the latch on our former winner and seen dozens of new models appear on store shelves. Is there a better and brighter light out there?

We surveyed the market and initially rounded up 10 grill lights, including our previous winner, and then added four more products sold as camping or multipurpose outdoor lights. All the lights were battery-powered LEDs (long-lasting, high-efficiency bulbs) priced from $9.99 to $40.05. We tested each light’s fit on and compatibility with six different grills. For gas grills, the lights attach to the handle on the grill lid; for charcoal, they affix to the handles on the sides of the grill. We tried the lights on side tables, too. We then took the lights into a completely dark room, attached each light to the center of the lid handle on our winning gas grill, and used a light meter to measure brightness (in units of lux) at multiple points on the grill grate. Finally, we waited until nightfall and put the lights to practical use while grilling burgers.

The good news: Almost any light is better than grilling in the dark. The bad news: Nearly every light had fatal flaws that impeded our cooking.

A light’s primary job is to fully illuminate the grill surface, but more than half the lights failed at this simple task. Most could barely light up more than two burgers on a full grill, making it hard to see char and gauge doneness. Some lights produced narrow, excessively bright spotlights that washed out the food, turning burgers in the center of the grill blindingly white but leaving the rest of the grill in the dark. Further inspection with a light meter confirmed that as little as 5 percent of the light from these lamps radiated to the corners of the grill. Only a handful of lights illuminated the whole cooking surface with a spread of even, moderately bright light that made it easy to tell when burgers were perfectly seared.

Unfortunately, most products with a decent light had at least one fatal design flaw. Some had flimsy latches or weak clip-style clamps that caused the lights to shake, rattle, and fall whenever we moved or bumped into the grill. Others had excessively long necks that constantly tilted and drooped toward the grill grate or—on the other end of the spectrum—short, stubby necks that couldn’t reach over the lids of larger grills, rendering them practically useless. Finally, there were lights that couldn’t fit on any grill, no matter where we tried to position them. (In fairness, these were camping or work lights not designed for grilling.)

Ultimately, after testing 14 lights, we found just one we can fully recommend. We did discover a few other lights with innovative designs worth considering, including some that can stand on their own for side tables or grills without appropriate handles on the lid or sides of the grill (like our winning charcoal grill). Our winner, the Ivation Multipurpose Gooseneck 7-LED Dimmable Clip Light, had a warm spread of bright light that attached to and nicely illuminated every grill we tested it on.

Methodology

We tested 14 portable, battery-powered outdoor LED lights, priced from $9.99 to $40.05. Neck length was measured from the top of each product’s clip or clamp to the base of the light. Prices shown were paid online. Models appear in order of preference.

Brightness: Using our winning gas grill, we placed a light meter on the grill surface directly under each light to measure the brightness (lux) of the light at its strongest point in a completely dark room. Models were given full stars if their lux reading was 100 or above, two stars if the reading was between 50 and 99, and one star for readings lower than 50.

Coverage: With the light still centered over the grill grate, we used the light meter to measure the lux on the edges of the cooking grate to calculate how fully the sides of the cooking surface were illuminated. Lights were awarded full stars if they were 75 percent to 100 percent as bright on the sides of the grill as in the middle, two stars if between 50 and 74 percent, and one star for readings less than 50 percent. We also visually assessed how much of the grill was illuminated. Lights lost points if the grill was not fully or evenly illuminated, including if excessive brightness created glare or cast shadows.

Stability: We evaluated how sturdily the lights attached to the grills by fitting the lights on our winning Weber Spirit E-310 Gas Grill, winning Weber Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill, and Best Buy Weber Original Kettle Premium Charcoal Grill; rolling the grills 10 feet; and opening and closing the grill covers. Models were docked points if lights moved, fell, drooped, or needed to be readjusted.

Compatibility: We fit the grill lights on our winning and Best Buy charcoal grills by Weber and four different gas grills: our winning Weber Spirit E-310, the Char-Broil Commercial Series 4-Burner Gas Grill, the Nexgrill 4 Burner Liquid Propane Gas Grill, and the KitchenAid 3 Burner Gas Grill & Side Burner. Points were lost if lights couldn’t fit, didn’t fit properly, or if the light’s neck wasn’t long enough to reach over the grill’s lid.

Ease of Use: We evaluated how easy the lights were to put together, install, adjust, and remove from six different grills. Lights lost points if we had to dig out screwdrivers, if instructions were unclear, if clamps were finicky or flimsy, or if the lights weren’t waterproof and had to be removed from the grill after each use.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

$33.31*

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Winner
Recommended

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

$33.31*

Lodge Classic Cast Iron Skillet, 12"

Our old winner arrived with the slickest preseasoned interior and only got better. Broad enough to cook two big steaks, it browned foods deeply, and its thorough seasoning ensured that our acidic pan sauce picked up no off-flavors. Though its handle is short, the pan has a helper handle that made lifting easy. It survived abuse testing without a scratch. An excellent pan, at an excellent price, that you’ll never have to replace.