5 high-tech gadgets to upgrade your next cookout

From a next-level cooler to an essential Bluetooth speaker, these devices will up the ante on any outdoor gathering.

People have been throwing outdoor celebrations for hundreds of years without technology—all you need is some fire, some friends, and some good food. But you can up the ante on your next party with some high-tech gadgets that will take your food, drinks, entertainment, and bug prevention (yes, bug prevention) to the next level.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Are you crazy? Summer’s over.” But the weather is finally cooling down to a manageable 80 degrees on the East Coast, and in my opinion, there’s no better time to have a picnic, outdoor cookout, or tailgating party. Sure, Fourth of July BBQs are fun, but I prefer to savor the last days of summer and celebrate the first weeks of fall outside with these conversation starters.

Coolest Cooler

You may remember this behemoth from its record-breaking Kickstarter campaign, which raised more than $13 million back in 2014. Now you can actually get your hands on this thing, and it’s as cool—pun intended—as it looked in its promo videos. The cooler comes with a built-in ice-crushing blender, two a Bluetooth speakers, LED lighting, a divider that can be used as a cutting board, a bottle opener and corkscrew, a knife, four plates, and a USB charging port for keeping your phone battery afloat. This cooler has everything you could possibly need to jumpstart your party, and trust me, people will flock to you (OK, to the cooler, not you) to check it out up close.

Coolest Cooler Michael Brown

The Coolest Cooler is pretty heavy, clocking in at 39 pounds without food, drinks, or ice, but it’s also pretty rugged, so you can wheel it around with few issues. (I didn’t bring it on the subway to the beach with me, though, because I don’t want to be that person.) My favorite part about the cooler is definitely the blender. Being able to whip up watermelon agua frescas (or cocktails, if you prefer) for my friends is the ultimate party trick.

Coolest Cooler speaker Michael Brown

GoSun Sport Solar Stove

Set up this solar grill anywhere close to other campers or partiers and you’ll find yourself answering tons of questions. What is it? How does it work? What does it cook? The list is endless. But that’s the price you pay for taking a badass gadget to a cookout. The GoSun Sport’s actual price is a little steep, but the solar stove requires no fuel to heat up hot dogs, roast veggies, or bake fish.

Just cut up your ingredients so they’ll fit in the stainless steel tube, then position the stove so it’s perpendicular to the sun’s rays and let them heat your food up to 550 degrees. Your cook times will vary, but I had some sizzling hot dogs in minutes. Another editor cooked frozen meatballs in just 20 minutes in full sun. (Pro tip: Line the tube with aluminum foil for easier clean-up.)

Go Sun Sport solar stove Michael Brown

You’ll need to use the stove in direct sunlight for best results. Overcast skies won't impact it too much, but shady spots aren’t ideal—believe me, I tried. But for outdoor entertaining in the midday sun, few devices are as cool as the GoSun Sport.

Goal Zero Nomad 20 Solar Panel

I’m usually the one playing DJ at our outdoor parties, thanks to Apple Music and an unlimited data plan. But that means my phone’s battery dwindles pretty quickly, and even if I remember to bring a charger, I have nowhere to plug it in outside. Goal Zero’s Nomad 20 solar panel isn’t as compact or convenient as a Mophie battery park, but it uses the sun to quickly charge your USB device, like an iPhone, iPod, GPS, or a rechargeable battery pack (Goal Zero’s rugged Sherpa 100 recharger is pictured with the Nomad 20 below).

Goal Zero solar panels with battery Michael Brown

You could get a smaller solar panel like the Nomad 7 if you need something smaller and more lightweight (and, more importantly, cheaper). While you might not need a solar panel to charge up at a BBQ, it could be a lifesaver in the wilderness.

Thermacell Trailblazer Camp Lantern

Mosquitoes eat me alive during humid East Coast summers, no matter how much repellent I spray on myself. Sometimes they bite me through my clothes. I don’t want to waste a warm day indoors, but I also don’t want to risk getting Zika virus.

Thermacell Trailblazer mosquito-repelling lantern Michael Brown

To take my mosquito-repelling strategy up a notch, I’m using Thermacell’s Trailblazer Camp Lantern, which creates a 15-by-15-foot radius of mosquito-repelling protection with a non-toxic repellent mat and butane cartridge. The 300-lumen light is perfect for parties that last past dusk, and even flashes SOS in Morse code if you’re trying to catch the eye of a misdirected guest trying to find their way back to the campsite.

Another editor took the lantern camping and quickly discovered that it won't ward off some other flying pests; specifically, yellow jackets. Thermacell’s smaller and less-expensive Scout model isn’t quite as bright at 220 lumens, but this lantern protects you with the same 15-by–15-foot mosquito-repelling zone.

JBL Xtreme

I usually bring my Jambox mini on outdoor treks, but the JBL Xtreme convinced me that it’s time to retire the mini. The barrel-shaped Xtreme is a beast: It clocks in at 5 pounds, but thankfully comes with a shoulder strap, which makes it perfect for toting to any party.

JBL Xtreme Michael Brown

It’s also splashproof, and it has rubber feet on the bottom to raise it above the elements. The zippered cover that protects the speaker’s two USB ports, power connector, micro-USB port, and auxiliary-in is a smart move that prevents water or sand from seeping in. And the Xtreme’s bass-heavy sound, which can sound a little unbalanced indoors, provides a powerful soundtrack for outdoor events.

Correction: The Coolest Cooler comes with one Bluetooth speaker. The second speaker can be purchased separately for stereo sound (the manufacturer sent the second speaker so we could evaluate that feature).

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