Build an Outdoor Cooking Area

Make an outdoor cooking area the focal point of all your get-togethers.

| July/August 2014

  • Simple log-and-plank benches give this stone fire pit a nice look.
    Photo by Jerry Pavia
  • If it’s going to last, going all out for an outdoor fireplace is a worthwhile investment.
    Photo by David Liebman
  • A well-fabricated fireplace and rustic chairs combine to make the perfect focal point in the rural backyard. Using brick adds a nice touch.
    Photo by Jean M. Fogle
  • A below-ground fire pit is ideal for slow cooking in cast-iron Dutch ovens.
    Photo by Maynard Stanley Jr.
  • Simple tripod fabrication transforms a nice campfire into an outdoor kitchen.
    Photo by iStockphoto/Prill
  • Even sturdier, welded platforms and grates turn out excellent food and atmosphere.
    Photo by iStockphoto/monap
  • A simple fireproof metal ring placed on the earth will get the job done. These are the go-to campfire option for most campgrounds.
    Photo by iStockphoto/Sieto
  • Gritty serenades Gritta around the campfire. What a gent!
    Illustration by Brad Anderson

Maybe it appeals to your primal instinct, or you simply enjoy being outdoors. Maybe it’s even that you get better results for a variety of reasons, plus cleanup is easy. Whatever the case may be, everyone seems to love cooking outdoors. It seldom gets any better than firing up the grill and tossing on a couple of quality burgers or steaks and maybe roasting up some fresh veggies from the garden. Whatever your culinary passion, savory smoke and fresh air just seem to make food taste better. Many of us dream of adding to the tradition of charcoal or gas grill on the back patio, and taking it a step further by building an outdoor space — where family and friends can gather, laugh, cook, eat and share. It may be as simple as a sturdy backyard fire pit for cooking hotdogs and s’mores and for warming the gathered bodies on cool fall evenings. Or you might be looking for the full accompaniment of grill, fireplace or pizza oven and outdoor dining area. Luckily you’re only limited by your imagination and willingness to do a little research and hard work.


Any of these projects can be built to just about any size and shape desired, and out of any sturdy fireproof materials. That’s the easy part. Deciding which to use and where to place it may be more difficult. From my experience of moving a fire pit because it just wasn’t working where it was, I learned that the first and foremost thing to do in getting started, with any of these projects, is to determine where you’d like to locate it on your property.

Most cities have ordinances regarding minimum setbacks from yours and your neighbors’ homes and structures, so make sure to talk to your local ordinance officer or fire department before digging in. You also may be required to submit a diagram for approval before building.

It helps my wife and I to do a little brainstorming whenever we try to determine where we want to locate a new structure or feature item in our yard, considering all the ways we intend to use our property in the future. Do you want a getaway fire pit that’s away from the house and, figuratively, away from all concerns of the world, or are you looking for a social gathering place right off the main entertaining area? Is your space limited, or do you have young children who still want to be able to kick a soccer ball around the yard? Perhaps you need the pit offset, or covered so as to make as much yard available as possible.

Walk the property and imagine you’re entertaining friends and family. Now try to imagine the flow around your proposed installation. It also helps when you try to imagine any future structures you may have in mind, such as a pergola or a deck. You may not plan for them in the next few years, but if they are an option, keep them in mind at least.

As I mentioned earlier, these projects can be built from nearly any fireproof material. From stone to clay to steel or brick, the options for materials that can be used to build your outdoor fire pit, fireplace or oven are never-ending. Most commonly you will find rings made of steel, rock or prefabricated concrete pavers of some sort, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative. Maybe you have access to recycled concrete or urbanite (broken pieces of unwanted concrete) from a driveway that was torn out, which makes perfect building material. Another quick fire pit can be made from the cutoffs from large 2- to 3-foot-diameter concrete piping, and construction companies are usually very generous with this waste material.

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