Outdoor BBQ grills make for the perfect accent to a weekend spent in the backyard, away from the stress and hectic action of the work week. Outdoor grilling is ideal for entertaining family and friends or simply for giving yourself a clean, Zen-like ritual space in which to work your flame-based culinary magic all by your lonesome.
When you go to purchase your first grill, however, you might be caught offguard by the complexity involved in what seems like a fairly simple task. Really, though, when you cut through the jargon, it’s not all that tough. There are three basic types of BBQ grills for your backyard: gas, electric, and charcoal. Of the three, you want a gas grill.
Electric grills are easy to use and offer precise temperature control. But seriously, it’s just like cooking on your stovetop except you’re outside when you do it. That’s not what a grill is for.
Charcoal grills offer up the most authentic ‘grilling’ taste, but they’re a royal pain in the butt. Lighter fluid. Light. Sit and wait. Grill. Clean the grilling surface. Wait for the ash to cool. Clean up the ash. It’s a huge process that will make you less likely to take advantage of your opportunity to grill.
No, gas grills are the way to go. Gas grills can be propane or natural gas — you want natural gas. Propane gas is meant for portable camper’s grills; that’s not you. You’re going to be a backyard Grill Master, and that means using natural gas. It’s cheaper, it burns cleaner, and each tank will last you a hell of a lot longer. `
Then, you get to choose between the various materials of natural gas grill. There’s stainless steel, cast aluminum, and enamel-covered steel as standard options, and of them, you want stainless steel. Aluminum spreads the heat around, making it harder to control the cooking than steel, and it’s hard to clean because it scratches easily; enamel is easy to clean, but also easy to accidentally crack or shatter. Steel will handle a grill brush without damage and it cooks easily besides.
And there you have it: the perfect outdoor BBQ grill. Enjoy!
Here’s something that almost never seems to go out of style: a well-crafted wicker patio set. Year after year, this beautiful and lightweight material brings elegance and class to our patios and backyards. But what makes wicker so popular in the first place?
Wicker patio furniture isn’t actually made from a specific substance — it can be made of willow, rattan, bamboo, reeds, or even, in this modern day, resin. All of these are light, strong fibers that resist water and yet, when soaked, are easily tightly woven. The woven nature of the furniture allows them to present a strikingly strong form once dried, as weight is distributed evenly across the body of the furniture by the nature of the weaving. This allows wicker to support even heavier people’s more abusive moves without risk of breaking the way that a metal or hardscaped piece of furniture might.
On top of all of that, their light weight makes them easily portable — much moreso than a metal or stone chair — which means your patio is more flexible and can be more easily put to a variety of uses. Of course, if you live in an area of very strong winds, being too light can be a bit of a disadvantage, but not many of use want to enjoy a backyard when it’s that windy regardless.
The other side to wicker that makes it so attractive to homeowners is the price. Wicker might be a bit more expensive than cheesy plastic patio sets, but actually in the long run will last much longer, so it’s a better investment. Certainly it’s more affordable than metal or hardscaped furniture. There are certain weaves, patterns, coatings, and other elements that make some wicker significantly more expensive than other wicker, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a wicker chair that isn’t less expensive than a hard chair of similar quality.
One final reason to choose wicker: it looks natural. Unlike any cement or metallic furniture, a wicker patio set looks like it belongs in the yard with the grass, garden, and trees.
While it’s not popular enough to even be in the common lexicon just yet, it’s very nearly provable fact that the best material to put on your back porch is a cast aluminum patio set. Some so-called experts might disagree and whinge about teak, or that funky new plastic-resin pseudo-wicker, but to be blunt, that’s because most of them are living in the past when it comes to aluminum.
See, when aluminum furniture came out in the early 1960s, it was basically crap. Super lightweight tubing with webbing between, the only place that still loves this kind of cheap patio furniture sets is, perhaps ironically, Palm Springs. The ‘experts’ disdain aluminum furniture like those old chairs — but then, that’s not what modern aluminum patio sets are really all about anymore.
Today’s aluminum is cast aluminum — just like cast iron, only lighter, less inclined to rust, and a bit shinier on top of it. It has all of the flexibility of cast iron, which means it comes in shapes both classical and modern. It’s easy to clean, easy to maintain, and doesn’t require sanding and refinishing like wood, coating with UV-protectant like wicker, coasting with rust-protectant like iron, or replacing like plastic.
Literally, the basic method of maintaining a cast aluminum patio set is to spray it down with your garden hose and, if it’s not hot out, toweling it dry. Keep that up on a semi-regular basis, and cast aluminum will easily outlast you, if not your home in toto.
At the same time, cast aluminum can take on such a dizzying variety of forms that no matter what your aesthetic is (so long as it’s not “all-wood” or “wrought iron”), you’ll be able to find a cast aluminum patio set that fits your vision of the perfect backyard paradise. Even if your goal is a throwback 80s kind of concept, there’s enough cast aluminum left over from 30 years ago that you can pull that off as well.
Altogether, between the classical and/or modern stylings and the incredible ease of ownership inherent in a cast aluminum patio set, it’s easy to see why aluminum is the patio material of the future.
It’s hard not to dream about the ultimate backyard paradise, but if you’re actually trying to put it together for your family, it’s just as hard to actually get into the nitty gritty details like patio dining sets and BBQ island grills. Putting together a perfect setting for family and friends to feel welcome and relaxes isn’t easy, but here’s a few tips that will help.
Before you go out and start looking at the physical sets (or the digital represenations thereof if you’re an online shopper), you need to know why you’re turning your backyard into a paradise of entertainment. If your goal is to bring a series of ladies home until you find the right one to share your home with for the next several decades, the look will be quite different than if your goal is to give the adults a place to relax while the half-dozen kids play in the pool and on the playset.
If you plan to do a lot of dinner parties, you’ll want a huge table, or maybe a couple of merely large tables. If you plan to have smaller, more intimate groups over, it might be preferable to put up a conversation set rather than a traditional table and chairs. (A conversation set is essentially an outdoor living room with a low table, relaxing chairs and/or loveseats, and more cushions.)
What, in this case, refers to what material your patio dining set will be made from. Options include cast iron, wrought iron, stainless steel, wicker, wood, cast aluminum, and more. Each has it’s own advantages and disadvantages, of course — wicker tends to be more accepting of the human derriere but doesn’t last as long; wrought iron is beautiful but vulnerable to rusting if not properly maintained, and so on. Ask your local expert about how the various materials interact with local weather conditions.
One of the things that many people miss out on when they design a patio is the fact that someday, their wants and needs might evolve. A truly forward-thinking DIY designer will ponder now just how they’ll use their new patio dining set for today’s needs, but also how they’ll be able to modify and re-apply those same pieces for future purposes.
Today’s market is quite saturated with such a wide variety of BBQ gas grills that sorting through them all to find the one that’s right for your backyard can be quite a fuss. To find the best BBQ grill for you, of course, you can always ask your friends and family about the ones that they’re using, or check the Internet for reviews and ratings. But none of that will help you if you don’t already have a good idea of what your goals and what the basic traits of the various outdoor BBQ grills actually are.
The first thing to note is that you should already have made up your mind to go with a gas grill. Charcoal grills, pellet grills, and even wood grills are available and functional, but gas grills — and specifically natural gas grills — are America’s main kind of backyard grill for several good reasons. They’re inexpensive to operate, easy to use, and doesn’t leave the same kind of taste on your food that propane does.
Assuming you’ve already (correctly) chosen a gas grill for your backyard, it’s time to look at the variations within that category. You can get a good grill in stainless steel, copper, cast iron, cast aluminum, and enamel-coated steel — the first three are more expensive, but last longer; the enamel can be easier to clean but also breaks more easily, and the cast aluminum has the advantages of being non-stick without being fragile like the enamel as well as being less expensive overall — it just has the minor setback of being easier to dent than iron or steel.
There’s also a split between traditional fire-based gas grills and the more technologically advanced infrared gas grills. It’s a tough choice — fire-based grills give you that ‘really grilled’ flavor, whereas infrared grills cook much hotter and are easier to get a good sear with, and some who favor them claim that the food’s flavor is ‘purer’ because there’s no flavor from the gas-fed fire left over on the food. Either way, infrared grills are clearly more expensive.
Finally, you have to look at features. There are grills out there with one burner, two, four, or even sixteen. Some have heat reflectors, large counters, pans to capture drippings from the food, built-in spice racks, or wood-smoking equipment already in place and ready to go. These elements are, by and large, less important in the end than the material and type of your grill, but of course, when you’re buying something that’s going to last your family for decades, you’d better get the details right the first time.
With the myriad of options in patio furniture sets available to the modern shopper, how do you know which ones are the right ones for you? Well, the truth is that it all depends on the goal you have for your patio. If you intend to have big, happy parties in your backyard, you probably want a traditional table-and-chairs arrangement, but if you want your backyard to be a more personal retreat, whether for your family to enjoy or just for you and any potential dates you might bring home, patio conversation sets are the way to go.
A Different Kind of Back Yard
A patio conversation set instantly achieves a look and feel that no traditional table and chairs can bring to a backyard. Much like a living room versus a dining room, a patio conversation set generally means a low table and some fairly modern-looking but comfortable patio chairs that tend to avoid the whole ‘seat, back, and four legs’ motif that is typical of traditional patio seating.
A typical patio conversation set really does mimic a living room in many respects. Low tables for a start, but such sets are also graced by lounge chairs, loveseats, and other kinds of seating that are more apt to encourage long-term chats than a traditional hard iron patio chair would be. Available in wicker, cast aluminum, wood, and occasionally iron or stone, conversation pieces generally have very ample cushions — noticeably moreso than a traditional patio furniture set.
Not for kids
Patio conversation sets also go well in smaller or more garden-filled backyards that aren’t already graced by a swimming pool or a large playset. Generally if you need to look after kids, you probably want a more traditional high-sitting patio chair to enable you to get a clear view of the action. Similarly, a conversation set doesn’t give you a clearly defined place to put your plate and glass when you’re eating out back. That can be a problem for children under a certain age, making a more traditional patio table a better option.
Springtime is here — it’s time to start thinking about what you’re going to do with your backyard this year, and if you’ve decided you’ll use it for entertaining, you know that selecting between the many outdoor patio sets on the market is on your Springtime agenda. Here’s a quick primer on the most common types of outdoor furniture at your disposal.
Defining Patio Sets
A patio is a flat, hard space — usually concrete or wood — that begins at the edge of your home and extends some distance into your back or side yard. A ‘patio set’ is a pile of furniture designed to go on your patio and be used by people enjoying the outdoor environment. Patio sets are defined by their ability to withstand the outdoor elements without being damaged or disfigured. They come in several different materials, the most common of which are wicker, iron, and stone. (Plastic patio sets exist, of course, but they are tacky and not worthy of real consideration.)
Wicker is comfortable — many people say moreso than unforgiving iron or stone — and stylish. It can be left in it’s natural color, or painted. Wicker is eco-friendly as it’s a renewable resource, and it’s easy to find wicker pieces that range through a variety of different styles from classical to Southern to Oriental. The disadvantage of wicker is that, while it lasts for years, it doesn’t last as long as iron or stone, and it requires annual or bi-annual recoating to protect it from sun damage.
Iron is durable, but has the advantage of also being easy to shape into a variety of forms. Iron patio sets generally have a very classical or traditional look that will go with many a classical house — but it’s also possible to find some very modern-looking iron patio furniture. Iron forms an excellent middle ground between the short lifespan of wicker and the relative shapelessness of stone.
Stone patio sets generally outlast their owners without any real maintenance (unlike iron which will eventually corrode if not treated to prevent it.) They can be colored or shaped to fit in with almost any environment, though stone will never have the same level of artistic flourish available in iron or wicker. The primary drawback in using stone is that it must either be created on the spot by a professional hardscaper or brought in using an entire team of men — and once in place, it’s not going anywhere.
If you have the kind of family that includes a Master Griller — and if you do, you know what I’m talking about: he’s the guy with the Corona apron and a cookbook devoted entirely to marinades — you start to look, especially around the summertime holidays, for the best outdoor kitchen accessories on the market. There’s nothing like supporting the man who whips out deliciousness like coke-and-cayenne marinated steaks or really grilled cheese sandwiches by making his job easier and more fun.
Of course, you can always count on something small like a new flipper, a spice rack, or a grill brush for minor occasions. But when you want to really impress, you have to delve a little deeper.
What would he think, for example, if you had an outdoor refrigerator installed right next to his BBQ gas grill? By being able to keep certain key ingredients outside and ready to rock, you make the grill an even more inviting place for the Grillmaster to cook at. No more hassled running back and forth between the patio and the kitchen. Some such outdoor refrigerators are traditional front-opening minifridges, but if your setup demands it, you can also acquire top-opening coolers, pull-out drawer-style refrigerators, or even a Kegerator.
If you’ve already achieved that first step of outdoor grilling nirvana, the next step you ought to look into is the outdoor sink. It might require a bit of plumbing, but having a sink right next to the Grillmaster’s Station makes cleanup easier — but also helps with prep time, as veggies can be washed right next to where they’re cooked, again eliminating more of that constant trucking into and out of the house.
The next stage in creating the perfect patio environment for the Master Griller is to add beverages to his repertoire. Now that he has running water at his disposal, give him a couple of blenders, a beverage caddy, and of course, the proper fixin’s for a good set of mixed drinks to fill his outdoor fridge. He’ll need the sink to wash the blenders and the margarita glasses, but the party will thank you from top to bottom.
These aren’t minor additions to the classic outdoor grill, but if you make the investment, you’ll wonder by the end of grilling season how you ever did without them.