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BBQ/Picnic Supplies

Let the Summer Cookouts Begin

Once that familiar San Francisco fog rolls in, you can't help but think that Bay Area Indian summers are just around the corner. And then the visions of backyard, rooftop, and beachside cookouts come to mind. The timing couldn't be better to get into gear and shop for those wonderful gadgets and accessories for dining al fresco. Large chain stores like Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn are practically giving away outdoor-themed merchandise in order to make room for the fall back-to-school season. Bay Area residents are just beginning to dust off those beach chairs and picnic blankets, and hunt down new cookout paraphernalia in anticipation of summer days ahead.

The first line of business when shopping for cookout equipment is the all-important grill. At the Standard Ace 5 &10, you'll find the whole family of Weber grills to suit your pyro-needs ranging from the functional, tote-able round Smoky Joe ($34.99) to the top of the line Genesis Gold stainless steel model ($549) that boasts 3 burners, a dual-purpose thermometer, and stainless steel lid, cooking grates, and flavorizer bars. If you're going whole hog, you might as well toss in the matching stainless steel tool set that includes shiny tongs, spatula and long grill fork ($32.99). To add extra smoky flavor to those ribs, toss in a bag of Western hickory or mesquite wood chips and chunks ($4.49 for a 2lb. bag).

Visit Soko Hardware in Japantown for the hibachi take on the grill. Very reasonably priced, portable, and compact, Soko's small selection of cast-iron hibachis range in price from $9.50 to $73.99. Hickory and mesquite chips can also be found here, along with apple wood chips. Try the lava rock ($3.49 for a 7lb. bag) instead of charcoal, which brings out more natural flavor and reduces fire flare-ups while cooking.

Typically, ready-made edibles are brought along for outdoor festivities. Toting the food, flatware and plateware is where a little style comes in, along with the functionality. Nothing says picnic like a nice picnic basket. We loved the Fresh-Catch Picnic Hamper ($39) from Smith & Hawken. Made from natural willow, the hamper has a vintage fishing basket feel with adjustable leather shoulder strap and gingham lining. You can also find lovely and stylish bamboo picnic plates (set of 12: $15/set of 9inch plates, $24/set of 13-inch plates). Very lightweight yet sturdy and environmentally friendly, these plates are a great alternative to paper and plastic.

Sur La Table, on the other hand, offers the basket, cutlery and plateware all-in-one set. Their very refined Picnic Basket from Picnic at Ascot ($229.95) includes Italian ceramic plates, stainless steel cutlery, and wine glasses with many more amenities including a coffee set, picnic blanket, food containers, insulated wine holder, cheese knife and board. The more practical Quartet Picnic Backpack ($89.95) include settings for 4, wine glasses, small cutting board, a knife, corkscrew, and salt and pepper shakers.

A favorite accessory found was the byobag available at Wine Impressions and Sur La Table. The byobag (ranging from $16.99 for a single bottle to $22.99 for two bottles), from Built NY, is a hi-tech wine cooler bag made from neoprene (as in the material used for scuba diving wetsuits). Built for protection and ultimate insulation, these bags will keep your white and red picnic wines crisp and chilled until the cork is popped. A side pocket even holds an added corkscrew.

These are just a few favorite outdoor entertaining buys, however, you can find plenty more at your neighborhood markets, hardware stores, and even a few pharmacies. So get the flip-flops and the "Kiss the Cook" aprons out. Very soon, it will be time to grill.