There's nothing quite like cooking outside. It's a real joy to tend to the fire and socialize with friends and family in the fresh air. And though the old free-standing grill is still the king of outdoor cooking, your options are much broader than charcoal or propane. A barbecue pit or outdoor pizza oven can turn a simple meal into a social event. And no matter who you are, there's a style that's just right for you.
For the adventurous do-it-yourselfers, there's nothing stopping you from building your own BBQ pit or pizza oven. Both work on very simple principles. All it takes is some time, energy and the right materials. Some of us might not be quite so handy. Fortunately, many companies sell and will even build or install a pit or oven in your yard.
Placement is important for barbecue pits and smokers. You shouldn't need to go on a hike from the kitchen to the BBQ whenever you want to cook a meal outdoors. But building it too close to your home can also be a problem -- you won't want your house to smell like smoke. And if you live in a windy region, you'll want to pick a spot that's at least somewhat protected from the elements.
You'll also want to pick a level spot in the yard, preferably on a patio. But there's no need to panic if the perfect spot for your BBQ isn't on the patio -- you can build a concrete foundation for the pit wherever you decide it should be.
Pits come in all sizes. The size you pick should depend upon the type of cooking and entertaining you plan on doing. If you're the type who wants to host large gatherings, a big pit might be in order. But for the average person there's little need to go quite so extravagant. When you're ready to build, bricks are great building materials for BBQ pits and the design can even accentuate your outdoor living space.
There's nothing quite like the taste of a wood-fired pizza. But there's no need to limit yourself to the occasional visit to the local pizzeria to get your crispy crust fix. You can buy or build your own pizza oven at home with the right materials.
Pizza ovens work by absorbing the heat from a fire and reflecting it back into the center of the oven. The temperature inside a pizza oven is incredibly hot -- a pizza inside a properly-built oven will be fully cooked within two minutes or less! And because the oven will hold onto heat for a long time, you can cook pizzas all day long with just a few coals burning in the oven.
Like BBQ pits, you can either buy pre-built pizza ovens from vendors or tackle one as a do-it-yourself project. Pizza ovens look like a small domed structure, typically built on top of a brick foundation. Many pizza ovens have chimneys to allow smoke to escape. You build the fire inside the oven itself, then use a special brush to push the coals to one side of the oven before you start cooking. The temperature in pizza ovens can be staggering, so it's a good idea to buy a non-contact laser thermometer to check the oven's temperature before starting -- too hot and your pizza will burn to a crisp.
You'll need some special equipment to cook pizzas, too. Most important is the peel. The peel looks like an oversized spatula on a long pole. It lets you slide a pizza into an oven without getting burned. You may also want a turning peel so that you can rotate the pizza in the oven once the bottom sets. This will let you get a crispy crust all the way around.
Both pizzas ovens and BBQ pits can be attractive centerpieces in an outdoor kitchen. People naturally gather around them. Put one in your back yard and soon you'll have your own group gathering around, telling stories by the fire.