Update, April 2021
The design of our favorite barbecue basting brush, the OXO Good Grips Grilling Basting Brush., has changed slightly, but we like the new brush just as much as the original. For more details, see the chart.
Measure each handle
Measure and count bristles
Calculate how much sauce each brush can hold
Paint barbecue sauce on parchment paper
Evaluate heat resistance
Brush barbecue sauce on chicken
Brush olive oil on bread
Long-handled barbecue basting brushes allow you to safely apply oil or sauce to food on the grill without burning your fingers. The winning brush from our last testing, the Elizabeth Karmel Super Silicone Angled BBQ Brush ($9.16), has silicone bristles, which we found work better and are more durable than nylon or boar’s hair. Manufacturers seem to agree, as there are now many more models featuring silicone bristles on the market. So we went back to take another look, testing our old winner against five new silicone brushes priced between $8.49 and $14.95.
To get a sense of how much barbecue sauce the brushes could hold, we weighed them dry, plunged them into a bowl of barbecue sauce, and then weighed them again; we did this three times with each brush and averaged the results. We gauged the brushes’ dexterity by painting both lines and circles of barbecue sauce on parchment paper. We evaluated the heat resistance of both the bristles and the handles and tested how durable and how prone to staining and odor retention the brushes were. Then we put them to work painting barbecue sauce onto chicken legs for grilling.
All of the brushes got the job done eventually, but some were easier than others to use. Handle length was important; we found that 12 inches was just about perfect. Any shorter and our hands got too close to the heat; any longer and we sacrificed control. Handle material also mattered. The silicone bristles were heat-resistant between 480 and 600 degrees (even the low end was sufficient), but the handles were not; we subtracted points for plastic handles that melted after more than a minute of contact with the grill and metal handles that got uncomfortably hot.
In general, the more bristles a brush had, the better its capacity to retain and distribute sauce and oil. Brushes that had fewer than 50 bristles were usually narrower, too, and thus less capable of covering foods quickly. That said, the brush with the most bristles was, if anything, a bit too wide, forfeiting the ability to detail corners or irregular surfaces as a result. And the bristles themselves had to be at least an inch and a half long—shorter bristles limited coverage and were less dexterous, making it more difficult to negotiate curves and corners.
In the end, we still preferred our old winner, the Elizabeth Karmel Super Silicone Angled BBQ Brush, which offered the perfect balance of control and fast coverage. It was light, agile, and precise, and the slight angle of the brush head made for safe, effortless maneuvering over the hot fire, allowing us to paint all the nooks and crannies of the chicken legs without decorating the grill as well.