by Janice Henshaw – A Tidman Construction project. Photo by Vince Klassen –
There’s nothing quite like the smell of barbecued food wafting along on a warm summer breeze. How about adding potluck salads and roast veggies, refreshing drinks, chocolate for dipping strawberries, comfortable chairs and good company – doesn’t that make you want to host a barbecue this weekend?
When it comes to the barbecue itself, small charcoal briquette-burning hibachis and kettle-style barbecues have largely disappeared, making way for an incredible choice of gas barbecue grill carts. There are also flat top grills which feature a large cooking surface that can be used to cook pancakes in the morning, boil water for coffee, and grill steaks in the evening. Add in a pizza oven with a do-it-yourself brick kit, and you are ready to invite your whole neighbourhood over for dinner.
So, what is needed to create an out-of-the-ordinary outdoor kitchen? Well, one way is to purchase a modular kitchen set. The basic set includes a liquid propane gas grill with a pull-out tank drawer, rotisserie burner, integrated halogen lights and a countertop. Other units can include a modular sink with side burners and cabinetry for storing supplies, and a fridge with granite, stone or tile countertops. The beauty of this is that you can buy the set complete with the traditional grill tools and accessories in the morning and be barbecuing that night – or at least that’s a possibility. Being mechanically minded and having helpful friends with a pickup truck might make the install a lot easier, and definitely more fun!
Today’s outdoor kitchens most often use liquid propane or natural gas for fuel. Propane is more portable but it can run out at the most inconvenient cooking moment if you forget to check the gas level. With natural gas, you won’t have that problem, but it can be expensive to add a gas connection to your deck if there isn’t one already there. A portable grill barbecue is another option; it has collapsible scissor legs and works just as well in your backyard or at a campsite. If you need a second element on which to simmer corn on the cob or other vegetable dishes you can add a compact dual fuel camp stove that runs on butane or propane; it is easy to transport.
However, as in all things you buy, do take the time to consider the quality of the elements that make up your purchase. Low-quality burners and heat deflectors can rust through and trying to obtain replacement parts for them could be an issue that will spoil your summer fun.
Who wants to take those rusty pieces and add them to the landfill?
Building an outdoor kitchen yourself is a worthwhile idea if you are handy with tools and have an abundance of free time. Paving stones, concrete, bricks or a deck will reduce your lawn mowing duties. You can add gas, water and electrical outlets for cooking, lighting and entertainment systems. A grill mat will protect your deck or patio from food and grease stains. Another idea to consider is whether you need a roof over the cooking and seating area – it will allow you to stay dry while enjoying a summer downpour – like camping under a tarp, only better!
Don’t forget the lighting. How many times have you been cooking a delicious piece of fish or a mouth-watering steak on the barbecue and had to bring it inside to check if it’s done? The options include string lights, patio lights, stake lights, solar chandeliers, outdoor wall lanterns, LED light pendants, and Micro LED fairy lights. In other words, there is a multitude of lights to choose from. Just make sure they aren’t too bright. You want a cozy atmosphere, not lights that are big enough to light up a baseball stadium! Your neighbours will appreciate your consideration and thank you for not obliterating their view of the stars.
If you don’t want to balance corn on the cob and a salad on one knee and your drink in the other hand, then outdoor furniture is a good idea. Tables, chairs, and umbrellas range from budget conscious, “sure to rust and break” by the end of the summer to some of the most deluxe and beautiful pieces of furniture that you can imagine. But is it comfortable? Check it out by sitting for a while before you buy. Choose a table and chairs that are stylish, comfy, sturdy, water repellant and colourfast. They must be able to withstand dabs of mustard, splashes of red wine, and the outdoor elements – certainly for longer than one or two seasons!
Add a patio heater and you will be able to eat outside on chilly nights throughout the year. Hardware stores stock a three-outlet distribution port that allows you to operate up to three propane appliances simultaneously. An attractive steel tank box can be added, which will contribute an element of design and at the same time will protect and keep your propane tank out of sight.
Another great heating option is a fire table, fire bowl or fire pit.
Once you have all the basics covered, you can enjoy shopping for the little touches that will make your outdoor kitchen a unique space. Muffet & Louisa have Chilewich woven vinyl placemats in summer colours and French cotton tablecloths that are coated with a wash of acrylic that makes them easy to clean and protects their patterns from bright sunshine. To help with the messy clean-up of the barbecue, they have a bristle-free barbeque brush. “It’s made of dishwasher safe stainless steel wire loops,” says Muffet, “so there’s no chance of bristles being left on the barbeque.”
In the end, it doesn’t really matter if your outdoor cooking space is minimalistic or spacious and complex, the whole idea is to relax and enjoy cooking and eating outdoors while the weather is so awesome. And as for the menu choices, simple and easy wins out every time ‒your family will remember how much fun they had, not what was on the menu.