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As summer approaches, it’s time to head outdoors. That means dad will be obsessively monitoring the grill, trying to keep the family safe from bug bites and perhaps enjoying a cold beverage. We’ve compiled a list of the best backyard gifts for dad that will make him the envy of all the other fathers on the block.
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.
Buy Thermacell E-55 at Amazon - $40
ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4
As we enter grilling season, it’s important to recalibrate your backyard cooking skills. Part of the process should be investing in a reliable instant-read thermometer to help you make sure everything is cooked to perfection. I’ve been using the Thermapen for over a year, and it’s the best instant thermometer I've tried. The Mk4’s backlit display rotates based on how you hold it and motion sensing activation automatically turns it on when you pick it up. An IP67 waterproof rating means you won’t have to worry about getting it wet either. Trust me, everyone will be impressed by your perfectly medium-rare steaks and juicy chicken.
Buy Thermapen Mk4 at ThermoWorks - $99
Brumate Hopsulator Trio
Brumate’s Hopsulator Trio has been keeping my beers cold for a long time. It’s a great insulated holder for 16-ounce cans and the freezable puck keeps 12-ounce cans cold for even longer. The company now has a version for 12-ounce cans without the reusable chiller, and there are other options for slim cans if hard seltzer or a low-carb beer is more your thing. Brumate says it keeps cans 20 times colder than “standard” can coolers, and while I haven’t done lab tests, I will tell you they stay chilled a lot longer than a neoprene koozie. Plus, they prevent condensation on the outside, so a wet can straight out of the cooler won’t lead to a messy situation.
Buy Brumate Hopsulator Trio at Amazon - $25
TP-Link Kasa outdoor smart plug
I tested the Kasa Outdoor Smart Plug for our first backyard guide and I was immediately hooked. The waterproof gadget plugs into your existing outside outlet and gives you two spots for lights and other gear that you can control 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, it works with Google Assistant, so you don’t even need to pick up your phone most of the time.
Buy Kasa outdoor smart plug at Amazon - $25
Traeger Ironwood 650
Traeger’s mid-range smart pellet grills have everything you need to cook up a wood-fired feast without having to splurge for a top-of-the-line model. The Ironwood series has the same design as the pricer Timberline grills with only modest compromises. You still get WiFi connectivity so you can control the grill from your couch. What’s more, the app is loaded with recipes and step-by-step guidance, so there’s something for aspiring pitmasters of all skill levels. The Ironwood series now ships with a pellet sensor that keeps tabs on your fuel supply — a component that used to be reserved for the Timberline grills, unless you paid extra and installed it yourself.
Buy Traeger Ironwood starting at $1,200
Weber Genesis II EX-315
When Weber debuted its Weber Connect smart grilling platform, we should’ve known it wasn’t stopping at pellet grills and the standalone Smart Grilling Hub. For 2021, the company debuted a line of WiFi-connected gas grills, catering to its customers who prefer propane or natural gas. There are options in the arsenal with more features, but the Genesis II EX-315 is a well equipped mid-range model. Weber Connect smart cooking tech is built into one of the side shelves, giving you real-time grill and food temperatures for up to two probes. Step-by-step guidance helps you through the process and estimated readiness countdowns will keep you on schedule with the side dishes. These grills also keep tabs on fuel, so you won’t have to worry about running out of gas before the burgers are done.
Buy Genesis II EX-315 at Weber - $1,030
Nathan Ingraham / Engadget
It’s important to have tunes for your backyard hangout sessions, and I don’t blame you for not wanting to invest in a permanent setup. Sonos’ first portable speaker was both pricey and bulky, but the Roam is neither. It’s $170 and small enough to tuck into a bag or snatch off the counter before you head outside. It has all the benefits of the company’s larger speakers and great sound quality for a device of its size. Things only get better if you add a second unit for a stereo pair. Plus it’s durable and waterproof, so taking the Roam in the backyard won’t be an issue.
Buy Roam at Sonos - $170
RTIC Soft Pack Cooler
Extremely insulated hard coolers from the likes of Yeti and Otterbox have their uses, but sometimes you need something more portable with less capacity than the full-size options. RTIC is an option to consider when improving your cooler game, with options from insulated cups up to 145 quarts. The prices are also much more attractive than some of the more well-known names. The company’s Soft Pack Cooler comes in 8-, 20-, 30- and 40-can sizes with two inches of foam insulation to keep whatever is inside cold for days. The cooler’s antimicrobial liner is mildew resistant while a waterproof zipper and durable nylon shell are ready for adventures beyond the backyard.
Buy RTIC cooler at Amazon - $70
Ooni pizza ovens
While it’s true you can cook good pizza in your kitchen, you might want to consider another investment to help you make excellent pizza. Ooni’s pizza ovens are all the rage these days, and for good reason. They offer the high-heat cooking typically reserved for professional ovens at your local artisanal pizza joint. The company makes both gas-powered and wood-burning (pellets) options that can either complement your fuel of choice for your grill or offer a greater degree of portability. Did I mention these things cook amazing pizza in about a minute? Yeah, they do that too.
Shop Ooni pizza ovens starting at $299
Blink Outdoor security camera
Your dad spent a lot of time and effort getting his backyard just how he likes it, so he probably wants it to stay that way for as long as possible. The Blink Outdoor cameras can help with that by giving him a way to keep an eye on what’s going on outside his home. These palm-sized, weather-resistant cameras run on AA batteries so there are no pesky wires to fiddle with. Your dad can set them on his outdoor furniture or mount them in other spots to give him a better view. They shoot up to 1080p video and dad will get alerts delivered to his smartphone whenever the cameras catch something moving outside. He can also check out the camera’s feed in the app at any time, or use the two-way audio feature to speak to visitors without getting off the couch.
Buy Blink Outdoor cameras (3-pack) at Amazon - $250