The weather is starting to get cooler, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to head indoors for winter just yet. There’s ample time to enjoy the backyard, porch or balcony before the first snowfall. We’ve rounded up the best outdoor gear for cooking, relaxing and imbibing this fall, from a pizza oven, to a uniquely designed fire pit and a smart outlet for your outdoor lighting.
Ooni Karu 16
If you’ve opened Instagram in the last several months, chances are you’ve seen someone firing up an Ooni pizza oven in their backyard. The company has become even more popular during the pandemic, and rightfully so. Its line of wood- and gas-fired pizza ovens allow you to make restaurant-quality pies at home. The Karu 16 is the company’s latest offering, with a larger stone for bigger pizzas, an easier to access fuel chamber and a built-in thermometer. The door is also attached so it’s simpler to use and has a glass window so you can keep an eye on things without losing heat. Like commercial Neapolitan-style ovens, the Karu 16 can reach temperatures of up to 950 degrees Fahrenheit, and does so in just 15 minutes. This model runs on wood chunks out of the box, but the company offers an optional gas burner for $100.
Traeger Ironwood 650 and 885
Cooler weather is a perfect time to tune up your backyard pitmaster skills. Even if you’re a beginner, Traeger’s line of WiFi-connected pellet grills can guide you through the entire cooking process. The company’s app, which allows you to control and monitor its grills remotely, is also packed with recipes and step-by-step guidance.
Personally, I like the Ironwood series, which comes in two sizes with 650 and 885 square inches of grilling space. They sit in the middle of Traeger’s lineup, and offer the best bang for your buck. Low and slow smoking? Yep. Hot and fast searing? They do that too. And with the company’s pellet sensor, you don’t have to worry about running out of fuel halfway through a 10-hour brisket sesh.
Weber Genesis II EX-315
Weber is best known for its charcoal kettle grills, but its gas models aren’t too far behind. Following up on the smart grilling tech it built into its SmokeFire pellet grills in 2020, the company brought the Weber Connect system to its gas lineup earlier this year. There are a number of options here, but the Genesis II EX-315 is a great mid-range choice. Thanks to the Connect tech, you get real-time food doneness updates, estimated completion times and fuel level monitoring.
Weber Connect also offers step-by-step guidance based on the food you're cooking and the LED display on the grill shows both meat and ambient temperatures. Of course, the grill is WiFi-enabled, so all of this info can be sent to your phone. And if you get caught in the dark, a handle-mounted light and backlit control knobs are there to help.
Thermoworks Thermapen One
The Thermapen is the grilling tool I use most often. It’s handy for making sure I’m not serving undercooked chicken or overcooking a pricey steak I’ve had in the sous vide for hours. It’s also great to have in the kitchen to instantly check temps of things like bread. Thermoworks unveiled the successor to its wildly popular Thermapen Mk4 earlier this year with the Thermapen One. The device is super fast, giving you a reading in one second. It’s also more accurate and has a brighter display than the previous model. The screen automatically rotates depending on how you hold it, plus an auto-wake and sleep feature and IP67 rating keep things running smoothly.
Meater Plus probe thermometer
I’ll admit it: when I first saw Meater’s wireless food probes I was skeptical that they would work well. The Meater Plus has all of the convenience of the company’s original wireless probe, but with extended Bluetooth range. Each one has two sensors, so it can monitor both internal food temperature and the ambient temp of your grill. All of the info is sent to the company’s app where you can set target temperature, get estimated completion times and follow step-by-step directions if you need them. What’s more, you don’t have to worry about routing wires since the Meater Plus is completely wireless and stays out of your way. Not having to fight food probe cords is a grilling innovation I’m sure a lot of people can get behind.
Last year, the Thermacell Patio Shield kept us mosquito-free for socially distanced outdoor activities. For 2021, the company is back with the E-55 that offers a 20-foot coverage area and is fully rechargeable. This slightly larger unit runs on a Li-Ion battery instead of burning fuel to keep the biting bugs at bay for up to 12 hours. If you need more protection for you and the fam, you can buy refills for up to 40 hours of use. Also, like other Thermacell products, the E-55 doesn’t give off any odor, so you’ll barely notice it’s there.
As the temperatures drop, a fire pit is a cozy place to spend your time. However, most of the cheap options you’ll find at your local big box store aren’t really designed to channel smoke away from you or to maximize airflow. Solo Stove’s stainless steel fire pits do both, creating a roaring fire that won’t smoke you out. Each of the three models, ranging from $269 to $599, are portable(ish) and burn whatever variety of wood you happen to have. I’ve been testing the Ranger, the smallest and most portable option. While you can certainly set these right on the ground or concrete patio, I highly recommend splurging for a stand and a weather-proof cover which cost around $80 for the Ranger and Bonfire models.
TP-Link Kasa outdoor smart plug and dimmer
I tested the Kasa Outdoor Smart Plug for our first backyard guide and I was immediately hooked. TP-Link recently announced a new model of the smart plug in addition to a dimmable single-outlet version. Both are waterproof and plug into your existing outside outlet to give you one or two spots for lights and other gear. With the two-plug option, you can control each one independently. The Kasa app allows you to set a schedule, timer, runtime and more for each plug, so you can automate when those string lights over the deck turn on. Additionally, they work with Alexa and Google Assistant, so you don’t even need to pick up your phone most of the time. Plus, 300 feet of WiFi range means you shouldn’t have trouble connecting these to your home network for use.
When you need tunes outside, whether that’s at home or on the go, Sony’s tiny XB13 speaker is a great option. Its small size makes it insanely portable, but it still manages big sound thanks to Sony's Extra Bass feature and Sound Diffusion Processor. It’s rated IP67 for dust- and water-proofing so taking it outside shouldn’t incite anxiety. What’s more, it has a UV coating for protection from the sun. You can use the XB13 for hands-free calls and employ two of them at once for a stereo pair. It lasts up to 16 hours on a charge and will only set you back $60.
Brumate Toddy and Toddy XL
I’ve been a big fan of Brumate’s beverageware since I bought myself a Hopsulator Trio for a beach vacation a few years ago. I still use it all the time, during both warm and cool months. However, when the temperatures begin to dip, I tend to reach for hot beverages more often, so Brumate’s Toddy insulated mug is a better option. The cup works well to keep drinks hot or cold and the trademark feature is the spill-proof lid. That thing has saved me from massive cleanup more times than I can count. The regular Toddy can hold 16 ounces while the Toddy XL doubles the capacity to 32 ounces.