Affix to gas and charcoal grills
Roll grills 10 feet with lights attached
Open and close grill lids with lights attached
Measure brightness in center of grill in a dark room
Measure brightness on sides of grill in a dark room
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.We grilled in the dark using a standard LED headlamp to compare the effectiveness of a movable light source against the clip-on design of the grill lights.
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.)To test the versatility of the grill lights, we tried each model on six different gas and charcoal grills, making note of the clamp design and how easy it was to maneuver the light into position.
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.