Go fourth and celebrate Independence Day

Consumer Reports News: June 22, 2011 11:47 AM

Fourth of July picnics shouldn’t require you to labor from the dawn's early light to the twilight's last gleaming. Consumer Reports found an ample grill that can accommodate food for a crowd and an iPod-enabled meat thermometer that lets you mingle without burning the burgers. Three blenders from our tests were excellent at crushing ice for those summer drinks. And our food tasters have suggestions for appetizers and condiments. Making that American pie, however, is up to you.

A grill that’s big enough to cook for a crowd
You’ll have to clear the deck for this beast—it’s well over six feet long. Not only is the Jenn-Air 720-0709 (Sam's Club) our top-scoring large grill but it has more cooking area than any we tested—585 square inches and 1,040 square inches of shelf space. It also sports five burners, a side burner, rotisserie, warming drawer and lighted cooking area. But best of all, the Jenn-Air was excellent at high-temperature evenness and very good at both indirect cooking and low temperature performance. So bring on the burgers.
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Geek cooking cred with an iPod-enabled meat thermometer
Now it won’t seem impolite to check your iPad or iPhone in front of guests. The iGrill sends temperature readings to your wireless device as you chat with your guests. (It can also be used as a standalone.) Equipped with a 48-inch cable it can be placed near the grill in three configurations (laying down, standing up or hanging). The large LED temperature reading on the device can be seen from a distance. And in our tests our iPhone was able to register a temperature reading from 300 feet away—100 feet farther than claimed by the manufacturer.

Cutting edge blades that let you leave the pricier ones inside
The top-scoring Henckels and Wusthof knife sets in our kitchen knives Ratings range in price from $260 to $500 but for $100 or less you can get knives that’ll more than cut it at an outdoor feast. The Tramontina Professional L-400/03 and Ginsu Chikara deliver very good overall performance. The handle balance on the Ginsu Chikara wasn’t perfect but it was excellent at cutting and the set includes a santoku knife, a cross between a chef's knife and a cleaver. The Tramontina, on the other hand, was more comfortable to use but not quite as good at cutting performance.
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Blenders that put ice in its place—your glass
At $450, the Vita-Mix 5200 is an expensive bar mate, even if it did ace our ice crushing tests. Two Ninja machines—the Ninja Master Prep Professional QB1004 ($60) and the Ninja Professional NJ600 ($100)—also cracked the ice crushing code and cost a lot less. Of the three, the Ninja Master Prep was the most quiet. That model also doubles as a food chopper so give it a spin if you’re making salsa or gazpacho.
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A tasty appetizer that’s healthy too
Our trained tasters tried 10 traditional types of hummus—a mix of cooked mashed chickpeas, tahini (a sesame paste), oil, lemon juice, salt, and garlic—and four rose to the fore. Cedar’s Naturally Delicious (it has no preservatives) and Simply Delicious are best overall. If you’re really hot for hummus, consider buying Hannah Classic from Costco, which comes in a 32-ounce tub and is the cheapest of all at 19 cents a serving.

You don’t have to be crunchy to like these chips
In the test kitchen, our panelists tried eight types of multigrain tortilla chips, and found a clear winner. Tostitos Multigrain, the only excellent chips in our tests, are crispy yet tender, with lots of sweet corn flavor. They’re tasty enough to eat without dip. But try them with the hummus or fresh salsa anyway.

BBQ sauce for all types and tastes
Without getting into regional differences, our tasters tried 10 barbecue sauces three ways: straight up, on chicken tenders coated in sauce and broiled, and on chicken thighs cooked with sauce in a slow cooker for at least four hours. Five were judged very good but each tasted a little different so pick one according to your preferences. Stubb’s Original was tangy and spicy with a touch of smoke while Emeril’s Original Bam! had cumin and celery-seed flavors and was just a bit sweet.

The best mustards for snobs and hot dog lovers
Whether you like your mustard an un-mellow yellow or prefer a pale Dijon, there’s a condiment for you. Our tasters tested five yellows and judged two well-known brands to be very good—Gulden’s and French’s’ Classic. Of the six Dijons, only Emeril’s missed the mark and was a bit bitter. Better to slather your brauts with one of the two pleasingly pungent selections from Trader Joe’s or, yes, Grey Poupon.

Mary H.J. Farrell

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