Follow this advice to create a great outdoor space to feed your family and friends.
Understand your crowd
A family of four that rarely hosts parties will need far less firepower than a family of six with the whole soccer team on its way over. John Bonnell, chef-owner of Fort Worth restaurants Bonnell’s and Waters, says a 36-inch grill is fine if you normally host smaller gatherings, while you should get at least a 48-inch grill if you anticipate the need to feed larger groups.
Add a sink
“My first piece of advice is to add a working, fully plumbed sink,” says Bonnell. “Having access to water and a hand-washing station is a great way to be able to use an outdoor kitchen efficiently without constantly needing to run indoors.”
A sink is not only convenient, but easy access to hot water and a soap dispenser is a quick way to make sure that any surface that touched raw meat can be cleaned to avoid cross-contamination.
Think beyond the grill
Make sure you have a large workstation, as outdoor counters fill up quickly with drinks, appetizers, serving platters, and silverware. Bonnell also recommends that you think about ventilation. “If a grill is right under an eve, smoke can billow and make life unbearable for a grill master.” A simple exhaust fan that just pulls the smoke up can make a huge difference.
Landscape expert Dustin Hillman, owner of Panther City Arbor and Patio and Hillman Outdoor Designs, suggests you consider your guest list. “For smaller crowds, focus your kitchen and surrounding areas with shade in mind,” he notes. “The more, the better. If you’re expecting larger crowds, keep your ceilings and patio areas uncluttered by raising the height of your roofs.” Higher roofs will help people mingle outdoors without feeling cramped. Don’t forget the ceiling fans!
Also consider also how your outdoor kitchen flows from the interior of your house to your exterior space. “Your outdoor kitchen should be visible from the main living room and kitchen areas, blending the two spaces,” says Hillman. “The last thing you want is an outdoor kitchen off the master bedroom, sandwiching your personal space with the entertaining areas of home.”
On a budget? Plan for expansion
Design options for your outdoor kitchen aren’t limited to the rich and famous. “Keep your project simple at the beginning,” says Hillman. “Start with just a few bricks for a fire pit. If you have grand plans for a bigger design later, make sure to run conduit or sleeves now for future features such as natural gas, lighting, or plumbing.”
The biggest aspect that is forgotten during the primary stages of development is clear outdoor lighting. You should make sure the grill master can see the grill. After that, a few simple strands of string lights make for an inexpensive, easy addition to outdoor ambiance.
Bonnell says that in place of a backyard refrigerator, use a metal tub filled with ice. Just make sure you have electricity available if you want to add one later.
Whether you’re upgrading your backyard kitchen or just starting out, make sure that it fits your lifestyle and is equipped with gear that will help you cook an amazing meal. After all, the perfect backyard kitchen is one that you enjoy using over and over again.
Brian Johnston is a food enthusiast from Fort Worth who loves cooking at home for family and friends. He writes on grills and grilling for The Home Depot.