Looking to add an outdoor kitchen to your backyard?
If so, one of the primary components of the outdoor kitchen is the grill or grilling system. This is also one of the most expensive components of an outdoor kitchen and choosing the wrong one can be a costly mistake. At Cross Points Landscaping we are building more and more outdoor kitchens every year, and I have been building them for close to three decades now. When we start a design for an outdoor kitchen we base the layout and flow of the entire area based on the type of grill or grilling systems the customer wants. We will walk through some processes we go through to come up with the best grilling option to center your outdoor kitchen around.
What are the different types of grilling options available?
There are many different grilling units and components to start considering to incorporate into an outdoor kitchen. Here are some of the different components available:
- Primary Grill. We will go into this in more detail down below, quite a few options available.
- Grilling Station. This really is a type of outdoor kitchen in itself. A grilling station is often a smaller counter section that is meant to be built up around an existing stand alone grill. A great simple solution if you currently own a pretty nice grill already. Other outdoor kitchen components such as refrigerators, sinks, or cabinets can be built in to the structure surrounding the grill.
- Side Burners/Griddle. These are similar burner units that are found on stand along grills. For an outdoor kitchen with all components that will be ‘built-in’, these burners can be bigger and sturdier than found on a stand alone unit. Great for preparing side dishes that cook at different temperatures and times than the primary item being grilled.
- Pizza Oven. Families love these and are a lot of fun for parties with a lot of children. These can either be stand alone units that are heated with wood or charcoal that are built out of masonry structures or some gas grills have a replaceable hood that lets you slide pizzas in and out. For wood and charcoal units chicken wings are amazing when cooked in these ovens with more of a smokey flavor that you can’t get many other ways.
Smokers or Egg Shaped Ceramic Cookers. Do you love making authentic slow cooked BBQ? Smokers and the new ceramic ‘Egg’ shaped cookers are the way to go. Are these the best way to quickly cook up some burgers or thin steaks and chops? Not really, but thicker cut chops, briskets, and ribs are absolutely amazing when using these slow cooking, low heat units. These are typically fueled with the use of charcoal and wood but gas units are also available. We have been using these units paired with a gas grill unit on most of our outdoor kitchens over the last few years. The gas grill gives you the option to cook a lot of food faster for large parties or when you don’t have as much time to grill. Then use the smoker or ‘Egg’ cooker when you have time for a deeper flavored BBQ meal.
- Warming Drawer. These are typically placed below a built in grill unit. They aren’t used that often but if you are preparing a large amount of food for a party or have a variety of foods that are cooked at different times, these are great to have.
- Rotisserie. Another grilling element that isn’t used that often, but when it is used for certain cuts of meat, vegetables, or chicken it can make a meal spectacular. Most grills still allow for dropping in a rotisserie, but some need to have the hoods special ordered to allow for one. We typically try to place an electrical outlet near the grill to allow for providing power to these units.
What are some consideration for choosing a primary grill?
There are quite a few factors that we look at with our customers when finding the right type and size of the primary grill. We look through most grills and pick a multi-burner unit that is about 25% bigger than what they may have used in the past. This allows for cooking a large amount of food for a party or event, but can also be scaled down to just cook up a couple burgers or a few steaks. Especially with a gas grill you can use as much or as little of the grill as you need. As a rule of thumb we don’t like to use anything under a 36″ grill, and we tend to go more often into the 50″+ range. Remember, you are putting in a nice outdoor kitchen so you can grill or entertain more often with more people. Outdoor kitchens are very similar to the baseball diamond in the movie ‘Field of Dreams’ – “If you build it, they will come”. Other considerations we look at for a primary grill:
- Gas or Charcoal. Some people are die-hard charcoal and wood cookers, and I love cooking with charcoal and wood. But a gas grill is really convenient and can be ready to grill on within minutes after a few pushes of the igniter. For built ins, these units work great and most of our primary grills are gas units. For cooking large amounts of food for parties gas units are tough to beat. There are some built-in grill units that use charcoal or can be used with both charcoal or gas. The units tend to be more pricey and are special order from almost all suppliers, they have a drawer unit along the bottom of the built ins that spent charcoal is emptied. We haven’t used one in a few years now as we have been building more outdoor kitchens with a primary gas grill along with an ‘Egg’ shaped cooker or smoker.
- Propane (LP) or Natural Gas. Whenever possible we try to use a natural gas line for our built in grill units. Again, this option is extremely convenient not having to keep filling up and switching out LP tanks. There is some additional upfront cost to run a gas line out from a home to the kitchen area, and care must be given to match the supply line to the size of the grill and the length of the gas line. But if done correctly, the grill will be easy to operate for a long time, and no more worries run low on LP in the middle of a cook out. LP sometimes may be the only option if there isn’t a natural gas supply available or if the location is too far away. When LP is the only source available, we try to allocate enough storage for two tanks to be connected at all times. LP can be difficult to manage and for large grill units working long periods for parties, can easily run through a complete tank.
Charcoal. I love cooking with charcoal. My father still cooks with charcoal. I loved my kettle Weber, and my first smoker was a charcoal/wood Weber unit that I learned how to deep smoke a brisket and short ribs on. But I don’t always have time to get a charcoal grill prepped up. I tended to have time on weekends for charcoal, but on weekdays I didn’t have as much time to ‘fire’ up the Weber. So, that being said I have a gas grill I use quite a bit during the week and on weekends I ‘fire’ up a charcoal smoker. For parties or a bigger get-together, I will put some nice cuts on the smoker ahead of time for the adults, and during the event I will cook up a bunch of burgers, hot dogs and brats on the gas grill for the kids. It works out great having both units available and we recommend the same set up all the time. If a charcoal or wood burning unit is part of your outdoor kitchen, make sure to allow for additional storage space to store the charcoal and wood in a dry, low moisture area that is easy to access.
- Infrared Burner. These grill units still need a gas source to run their burners, but then the heat from the flames are focused onto ceramic tiles. The ceramic has thousands of microscopic holes on it that convert the heat into infrared energy, this heat is much higher and more persistent than what a standard grill can produce. Infrared grills can generate even and consistent temperatures of over 700 degrees. These grills can cook extremely fast and perfectly char the outside of a thick cut steak while leaving the middle perfectly pink and juicy in a matter of minutes. It is similar to cooking indoors with a high temperature broiler. These units have dropped in price over the last decade or so, but are still a premium over higher end gas grills.
- Brands. As with any other product, a good brand name is important if it is also backed up with good performance and dependable service. In the Indianapolis market we try to utilize products that have a good supplier system to support them. On the few times we have had product issues, the products were able to be fixed in the field without have to send a unit back and wait for a replacement. Units bought from web based stores are time consuming and lack any usable technical support. Using a local supply source tends to be worth paying a little more over possibly trying to find support from an internet only company.
Our best advice when choosing a grill is to pull together the components that will meet your outdoor living needs plus can be utilized for entertainment events. And when choosing a grill don’t be worried about combining different components to give you a grilling system and not just a single unit that may struggle to meet all your needs.