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Taste of Home’s Essential Gear for Summer

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We’ve got summer on our mind here at Taste of Home. It’s officially time to wipe off the patio furniture and dust off the grill in preparation for all the fun this season has in store.

To make the most of arguably the best time of the year (other than the holidays, of course), we tapped our Test Kitchen pros and Shopping Editors for their expert recommendations for grilling, summer entertaining and backyard fun. Whether you’re bouncing back and forth from summer activities, creating your dream backyard oasis or cruising along for the ride, our pros have the tools and goodies necessary for a memorable season.

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Katie’s Summer Patio Essentials

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I’ll admit, I’m a winter girl at heart. But when the hydrangeas bloom and the sun peeks out well into the evening, I can’t stop myself from getting caught up in summer’s magic. There’s something so electric about days-turned-into-nights on the patio, surrounded by friends and family.

Whether it’s for a Father’s Day celebration, an al fresco pizza party or a plain ol’ Tuesday evening, here are my top recommendations for outdoor entertaining. These essentials set the stage for a memorable summer gathering.

  • Ooni Koda 16 Pizza Oven: Date night got so. much. better. when my fiancé and I traded in our takeout meals for fresh-from-the-backyard ‘za. As one of the best outdoor pizza ovens, the Ooni Koda 16 cooks in just a minute or two, and it’s so much fun experimenting with ingredients to craft a one-of-a-kind pie. My personal favorite? A white pizza with spinach, red onion, goat cheese and a hot honey drizzle.
  • Ooni Aluminium Pizza Peel: That Ooni pizza oven? It reaches temps up to 950 degrees. That’s why a peel is a must-have pizza accessory. This aluminum tool has a heat resistant handle, and is a safety necessity for prepping, launching, rotating and retrieving pies.
  • Expandable Outdoor Table: A stylish table is the focal point of your patio. It’s where guests flock to imbibe in good food and even better conversation. I love this acacia wood table for its luxurious look and heirloom-quality finish. But the best part? It’s expandable so I can fit the table length to my party size. Genius!
  • Effortless Watermelon Slicer: Biting into a slice of homegrown watermelon is a top tier summer experience. But cutting that watermelon? Well, it used to be a chore. Now I use this stainless-steel tool for hassle-free slicing. Each pass of the watermelon slicer yields chunks that are perfect for tossing in a fruit salad, threading onto skewers, or, my personal favorite, garnishing a watermelon margarita.
  • Melamine Dinnerware Set: Investing in patio-safe dinnerware is worth it for the peace of mind. After all, no one wants to stop a party to clean up a broken plate. I love this stylish 8-piece set for its cool ombre colors and budget-friendly price tag. Plus, each piece is dishwasher-safe for easy cleanup at the end of the night.
  • Backyard Coconut Shell Candles: Here in Wisconsin, there are two culprits that can instantly foil a summer night: rain and mosquitos. To keep the latter away, I recommend sprinkling these adorable coconut shell candles throughout your patio space. The citronella scent repels pests, while the flickering flame adds ambience.
  • Charcuterie Board Caddy: When planning a party, a charcuterie board is always on my menu. But when a small group stops by, I don’t want to carry a massive board out to the patio. Enter: the charcuterie caddy. This all-in-one vessel holds snacks, two bottles of wine and four glasses for effortless transport to the table.
  • Colorful Outdoor Wine Glasses: For the same reason you want patio-safe dinnerware, you’ll want to stock up on outdoor wine glasses. I love this set of six for their fun colors (the sage is my favorite!) and choice of four glass styles. Plus, they’re so chic, you’ll forget they’re made of plastic.

Catherine’s Summer Grilling Essentials

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I’m a year-round griller. I’ve never been afraid to brave the Midwest cold for the unmatchable flavor the grill imparts on a good steak (or burger or chicken breast). Growing up in a big family, my brothers manned the grill and there were certain foods that were only grilled—never broiled or pan-fried—no matter the season or the wind chill.

So when summer finally comes, I make it a point to really enjoy making meals hot off the grill. Veggies, fish, you name it, I’m grilling it. This special season isn’t complete without the following genius products to really kick my summer grilling into high gear. Whether I’m lighting up flames or experimenting with new techniques (looking at you, Himalayan salt plank), here are my go-to grilling essentials.

  • Electric Firestarter: To avoid the flavor that lighter fluid imparts on grilled food, I used to use a chimney starter. But the Looft lighter is so much faster. Just plug it in and point the end where you want to start the coals. In about one minute, the fire spreads to the other coals. The cord is over nine-feet long (yes, nine feet!), which means I don’t need an extension cord. Bonus: It starts the logs in my fireplace, too.
  • Thermapen: Whether I’m grilling, cooking or baking, the Thermapen One is always in my back pocket. In fact, it’s one of our Test Kitchen’s best loved gadgets because it offers the most accurate reading within one degree, in just one second. Its speed and accuracy means I don’t have to rely on the feel of the meat for doneness, which is something professionals and home cooks alike will certainly benefit from. The display is bright and easy to read, even without my cheater glasses.
  • Rastelli’s Grilling BoxIf you’re like me, grilling season is every season. Whether you’re grilling on a weeknight or hosting a barbecue bash, Rastelli’s grilling boxes are the perfect fit thanks to individually wrapped portions that store in the freezer until you’re ready to get cooking. I love that I can customize my box to fit the occasion with a variety of grass-fed beef, chicken, pork and fish. Rastelli’s cares about the quality of their products (read: no hormones, antibiotics or steroids)—and it shows. The boxes make a thoughtful gift for grillers, too.
  • Grill Kilt ApronI can almost hear the bagpipes when I put on this tartan grill kilt. And if Black Watch or Cunningham Tartan aren’t your thing, this grilling apron comes in camo, cayenne, olive and slate colorways. The generously sized pockets easily fit everything I need to bring out to the grill. Gone are the days of trying to balance a platter of meat, utensils, thermometer, sauce and a beverage when heading out to grill! Just tie on the apron and everything I need is in reach.
  • Himalayan Salt PlankIf you haven’t grilled on a salt barbecue plank yet, you’re in for a real treat. The Himalyan salt from the block gently seasons veggies, seafood and meats. I use it on my gas grill and place the plank in its holder directly on the grates. I set the temp low to slowly heat the salt plank (this is key for avoiding thermo shock). Then, I gradually increase the temperature until it’s right where I want it. Oh, and the plank makes a gorgeous sushi platter. I like to chill the plank for several hours before adding my faves: Sushi grade salmon and tuna.
  • Oil SprayerAn oil sprayer is key for adding a light coating of oil to my grilled items. This oil spray bottle sprays just enough delicious EVOO to keep meats and fish from sticking. Too much oil can cause the grill to flame up, covering everything it touches in a layer of gray smoke. To avoid a flare up, I like to spray the food just before placing it on the grill. Pro tip: Fill the spray bottle with flavored olive oil for extra pizazz.
  • Nonstick Grill Basket: If a nonstick grilling basket isn’t in your rotation yet, take this as your sign to snag one. This Cuisinart nonstick grilling basket checks all the boxes for me. The 12×9-inch surface area is large enough for layering veggies and potatoes, or several pieces of salmon. The long rosewood handle stays far enough from the heat to prevent charring. Grilled veggies and sides have truly never tasted better.
  • Grill GlovesGrilling gloves are a must for protecting hands from the high temps while grilling. Heat-resistant up to 500 degrees, these grilling gloves are thick enough to protect my hands without being overly bulky. I appreciate the silicone grip pattern on the gloves that help ensure the platter makes it into the kitchen without slipping. They keep hands safe while cooking inside, too.

Madi’s Backyard Fun Essentials

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If you need me this summer, I’ll be slathering on sunscreen and soaking up the sun in my backyard oasis. While backyard fun looks a little more sophisticated these days than jumping through the sprinkler as a kiddo, there’s something about the season that never fails to bring out my inner child.

In the spirit of another fun-filled season, I’m grabbing my closest friends and indulging in the warm weather with the help of these fun summer essentials. Bean bag toss competitions? Yes, please! Tiki-themed frozen treats? Say no more. No matter your backyard, deck or balcony size, my picks below keep the good vibes rolling. Bring on the backyard fun!

  • Solo Stove Fire PitThis Solo Stove bonfire pit had me at smokeless. It’s true, simply add a foundation with finely chopped wood and fire starters to the fire pit base. Get the flames going with a lighter and voila! It’s ready for roasting all the hot dogs and s’mores—and you don’t have to worry about smoky flames ruining the vibes. Bonus: The fire pit is complete with carrying case to tote from the backyard to the beach.
  • Marshmallow SticksSpeaking of s’mores, a good pair of marshmallow roasting sticks is necessary whether you’re camping or cooking over the backyard bonfire. Upgrade those old roasting sticks to these telescoping marshmallow sticks. They extend more than 24-inches so little ones (and adults) can safely handle them on their own. Pack ’em up in the included carrying bag and let the summer evening fun commence!
  • Bean Bag TossWhether you call it corn hole, bags or plain ‘ole bean bag toss, this outdoor game is what summer dreams are made of. If your corn hole boards are super well-loved and need an upgrade, look no further than these lacquer bean bag toss boards. Choose the color and design that fits your aesthetic and tack on a personalization for an extra special feel. Seriously, there’s not a more classic summer game than bean bag toss competitions with the cousins and friends.
  • Tiki Ice Pop MoldsSkip the ice cream truck, we’re making homemade ice pops inside these tiki molds all summer long! Whether you prefer a boozy frozen treat or kid-friendly concoctions, these fun molds take dessert to the next level.
  • Bug-Repellant LightsI’m a sucker for string lights. There’s just something about their cozy ambience that transports any backyard, deck or balcony into an upscale restaurant patio. But these string lights are no ordinary accessory. They actually repel mosquitoes within a 330 sq. foot radius, meaning you don’t have break out the stinky bug spray. How’s that for backyard fun?
  • Hammock and StandIf relaxing with a cold drink and a good read inside this breezy hammock doesn’t sound like bliss, I don’t know what will. This incredibly easy-to-assemble hammock comes in a variety of shades each equally comfy as the next. The hammock stand holds up to 485 pounds and it’s totally portable—just in case you need to move from the backyard to the camp ground.
  • Can Cooler: This summer, you can find me hanging out at the pool with one of these can coolers in hand at all times. It keeps my favorite summer fizzy drink (ahem, hard seltzer) ice cold for hours, and there are sizes for classic and slim soda and beer cans. The range of colors make it easy to match my personality to my can cooler design. I’ll cheers to that!
  • Washable Outdoor RugThere’s regular outdoor rugs, and then there’s Ruggable’s washable outdoor rugs. I’m not the only one who prefers them—just ask any Taste of Home editor and they’ll agree these are the time- and sanity-saving solution for every backyard. This rug stands up to spills, pet and kid messes, and weather elements. Just remove the rug from the rug pad, throw it in the washing machine and it’s good as new for summer fun (and style) to come!

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