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Essential Tips for Building the Grilling Station of Your Dreams

Beautiful backyard with barbeque area and dining table

Summer is the season for outdoor entertaining, which means it’s time to fire up the grill and dust off the patio furniture. But is your yard the grilling paradise you want it to be, or is it more of a fixer-upper? Here are a few tips to get your backyard in prime shape for the searing, savoring, and relaxing to come.

What’s your vision?

Before diving into the details, let’s start with the vision question: What kind of grilling station do you want? Are you aiming for a cozy spot to share meals with friends and family? Or are you looking to transform your yard into the ultimate grilling paradise? Setting clear goals will guide your preparations and upgrades.

Basic grilling setup

If your goal is a simple, functional space where a few friends can share a meal, focus on the essentials:

Choose a less-trafficked location:

Even a small grill station will take up significant space, not to mention the crowd it may attract. With that in mind, avoid situating it in areas of high foot traffic, such as near the stairs of your deck or along a main walking path. Be sure to provide ample room between the barbecue and your backyard seating.

Pick the grill for you:

If you’re looking to buy a new grill, consider your tastes and needs. Do you love imparting a rich, smoky flavor to your grillables? Charcoal may be your jam. If you prefer speed, convenience, and temperature control, gas is the likely choice. Keep in mind that simple charcoal grills are often more convenient for small yards, as you can easily move them aside when you’re done grilling. Most standalone gas grills come on wheels, but their bulk and weight make them less mobile in comparison. Growing in popularity, electric grills may be the safest and most convenient option—you’re always stocked with fuel—but purists may balk at grilling over anything but an open flame. Plus, repairs can be costly.

Create a prep area:

Your grilling area will be greatly enhanced with a prep and serving station. It doesn’t need to be elaborate—even a small table or cart can do the job. Ideally, it’ll have room for your grilled foods, condiments, and utensils. Even better if it can hold items like a cutting board, plates, and serving platters.

Make your guests comfy:

The right combo of seating will add the social touch to your BBQ setup. Bench seating is a popular option for grilling on the deck, while chairs on the grass impart more of a picnic feel. Choose enough seating for your typical group size, with a mix of chairs and perhaps a small table or two. A picnic table is a popular choice if you have the space. Also consider an umbrella or canopy for shade and weather protection.

Build some ambience:

Installing a fire pit will create a fun social space once the sun goes down. Plenty of styles are available, including simple tabletop models, fire pit bowls, metal standalones, and rustic chimineas. In making your choice, consider factors like cost, style, size, and how the fire pit matches your yard’s design. Adding String lights, lanterns, and/or tiki torches can also make your yard more inviting.

Mixed gender and diverse ethnic group of friends gathering by the pool, with string lights and barbecue, enjoying an informal evening party outdoors.

Mixed gender and diverse ethnic group of friends gathering by the pool, with string lights and barbecue, enjoying an informal evening party outdoors.

Ultimate grilling Shangri-La

If you’re dreaming of a more elaborate outdoor kitchen and entertainment area, start planning for these features:

Add a high-end grill and smoker:

Some backyard chefs take grilling seriously. If your smoked brisket and grilled stuffed peppers are already a point of pride, consider upgrading to a smoker or high-end grill. Smokers cook at lower temperatures over a longer period, which infuses meats with deep, smoky flavors and results in incredibly tender and juicy textures. High-end gas grills have a host of features that set them apart from basic grills, including more cooking space, better heat distribution, and built-in thermometers for precision cooking. Many also offer innovative side burners for cooking up veggies or boiling water.

Install outdoor countertops:

The most memorable outdoor kitchens mimic indoor kitchens, complete with ample counterspace, underside storage, and often a built-in dishwasher, sink, and/or fridge. Installation can be complicated, especially if you add plumbing or electrical, but the final product can transform your outdoor living space into a culinary haven. Select a durable material that suits the style of your home and your cooking style. Natural stone, concrete, or tile are good choices. Make sure to include plenty of built-in storage for grilling tools, utensils, and outdoor dining essentials.

Create a comprehensive seating area:

Outdoor living is a different mindset than backyard grilling, so look for ways to integrate multiple seating areas, including a dining table, lounge chairs, an outdoor sectional, and possibly a bar area (bonus points if it blends seamlessly with your countertops). Not only can you host bigger gatherings, but you can move your party from one area to another as the evening progresses (very sophisticated). You can get more mileage out of your space by adding a pergola or retractable awning for all-weather entertaining.

Enhance your lighting:

Built-in lighting can improve both your space’s functionality and its ambiance. At the minimum, install task lighting for areas where you’ll be doing most of the cooking and prep work and ambient lighting such as string lights or wall-mounted sconces around the seating areas. Consider accent lighting to showcase some of your area’s most elegant features, such as architectural details, plants, or pathways.

Upgrade your sound:

A myriad of sound systems are available to set the mood, from basic weather-resistant speakers that connect to your phone via Bluetooth to integrated sound systems that communicate with your home’s existing audio setup. More advanced setups have different audio zones for different areas, such as louder music near the grill and softer music near the dining or lounging spaces.

By starting with a clear vision and breaking down the process into manageable steps, you can create the ideal grilling station for your wants and needs. And remember, you can always start simple and build toward your dream outdoor kitchen in the future. Happy grilling!