These days a backyard kitchen can mean way more than a rusty old Weber and a bag of briquettes. Two outdoor-kitchen gurus offer advice for firing up the grill this season.

The Experts: John Kenyon, Sundance Landscaping; Rich Nord, RGN Construction

Choose Your Element

Each barbecue style—gas, electric, wood, charcoal—has its upsides. Yet for the modestly interested cook, Kenyon and Nord suggest gas or electric: fast, easy, clean, and you can put wood chips in them to accentuate smoke flavors. Skip the standard oven, Kenyon says, but a countertop burner, for boiling things like crab or corn, can be useful. And for the zealous smoke whisperer, wood-fired pizza ovens are a big hit.

Customize

You can buy prebuilt outdoor kitchen models, Nord says, but it’s often more cost effective, if you plan to customize at all, to just build one. The options obviously are endless—Green Egg smokers, pancake griddles—but remember that elaborate kitchens don’t always get the most use. “You can throw the kitchen sink at it, literally,” says Kenyon.

Weather the Storms

Wood countertops look great, though Nord cautions that they don’t always wear well, especially in outdoor kitchens where cooks tend to be less cautious. Choose instead granite, stone, even stainless steel—something “stout, that can hold up to the weather, that can get abused.”

 Stay Warm

“To me, the most important thing is to get some source of heat,” says Kenyon. Whether that’s a lounging area with a fire pit, a gas or propane wall heater, or even a below-counter warmer to keep the feet toasty, a covered heated outdoor area creates an echo of your indoor living space. And the more it feels like an extension of your home, the more you’ll use it.

But Keep Cool

For Kenyon, refrigeration and sinks are worthy amenities. Store some beer or stash juice for kids; wash your hands of that chicken. “You can go anywhere from a little refrigerator for 100 bucks to a couple grand if you want to get fancy.” Just take the weather’s effects on plumbing into account, warns Nord. Winter can ice pipes, and summer heat can make refrigeration a struggle.

Cover Up

While the rain around here can kill a cookout, our temperate region can be a boon if you appoint your cooking space under a shelter. “You get another three months of use out of your kitchen,” says Kenyon, and provided you keep the walls open and maybe toss in a skylight, you might not have to worry about an expensive exhaust hood for your grill.

 

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