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The Rise of the Backyard Kitchen

Outdoor cooking appliances are gaining popularity. Are they worth it?


spinner image a man cooking pizza in a pizza oven in his backyard
Alamy

Who doesn’t love dining alfresco in warm weather?

There are a number of products on the market that can transform your outdoor space into a second kitchen of sorts. The question is, can the average gas or charcoal grill achieve the same results? We asked a couple of experts for their opinions on outdoor kitchen appliances, including these:

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Flat-Top Griddle

The sales pitch: Essentially a grill with a smooth, flat top rather than grates, it lets you cook an entire meal at once, using multiple “cooking zones” that can be set to different temperatures.

Worth it? Maybe, says Shane McBride, chef with Pig Beach BBQ in New York. You’d be able to cook meat, potatoes, veggies and even fruit for dessert, simultaneously. Or whip up bacon, eggs and pancakes for breakfast. Flat-top griddles are also great for items that would slip through grill grates, such as asparagus or the currently popular smash burgers. But for around $50, you can buy a flat-top griddle accessory for your regular grill. It won’t have multiple cooking zones, though.

Smokeless Firepit

The sales pitch: This double-wall firepit, designed to produce as little smoke as possible, can be used to cook food on a stick, such as s’mores and hot dogs. Some models can even accommodate meats and vegetables by using add-on sear plates or grilling kits.

Worth it? Probably not for real cooking, says McBride, as it’s limited in scope and much messier than a grill for cooking meats. But for hanging out with friends, sure: Gather round the fire.

Pellet Smoker

The sales pitch: This electric smoker, which cooks low and slow by burning pellets made from wood, achieves smoky flavor in foods without a wood or charcoal fire.

Worth it? Yes, if you’re into barbecue. “The pellet smoker is a great way to learn and understand the cadence of this cooking process while experimenting with a variety of smoke flavors,” McBride says. “While smoking meat on an open flame takes hours of tending a fire, here you can essentially set it and forget it.” Although you can get some smoky flavor from a charcoal grill or a smoke tube lit in a gas grill, you won’t get the depth of flavor that a pellet smoker provides. If you prefer to sear foods, stick with a regular gas grill; smokers won’t get hot enough.

Pizza Oven

The sales pitch: It evenly cooks Neapolitan-style pizza in minutes at high temperatures (750 to 950 degrees), resulting in a crispy crust and perfectly melted cheese.

Worth it? If you’re a pizza fanatic or frequently entertain guests, maybe, says Shawn Hill, founder of The Grilling Dad site. There’s a steep learning curve to cooking with high heat (you’ll probably burn a lot of pizza). Also, a pizza oven isn’t good for much else. You’d be better off trying a pizza stone on a grill at high heat.

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