You Have a Grill, What’s Next?

Chris Loves Julia | Outdoor kitchen with built-in grill

Outdoor Kitchen Sources

Chris here. As you probably know by now, I love cooking outside. It’s my happy place. Like most people I started with a grill — which is kind of the baseline outdoor cooking tool for any homeowner or renter. A grill is a great investment for its versatility and ease of use. (If you don’t already have one, my ultimate grill guide is a great resource for deciding which grill is right for you.) But if you’re feeling like you want to take your game up a bit, I’ve got a few ideas for you or the outdoor cook in your life.


Chris Loves Julia | DIY outdoor kitchen with built-in grill
Our DIY Built-in Outdoor Kitchen | Rexburg, Idaho Home, 2018

The most natural next step from a grill is a smoker. If your grill happens to be a pellet grill then it’s likely you’ve done a bit of both on the one machine, but the truth is that pellet grills tend to be good at grilling and smoking, but not great at either. It’s a small compromise in the end result, in exchange for versatility and convenience. 

There are a few ways you can go with a smoker. First, electric. My first smoker was a Masterbuilt 30-in Electric Vertical Smoker, and I’m actually a big fan of this machine. It’ll smoke a good 90-120 minutes on a single load of soaked wood chips, and it reloads from the side without having to open the door and lose all your smoke. The “downside” a lot of smoker aficionados will balk at is that an electric smoker will not generate that coveted pink smoke ring. Some claim there’s a flavor difference as well but even if that’s true it’s not a difference of “good flavor” and “bad flavor.” To this day the best ribs I’ve ever made were on my Masterbuilt. Wood chips are also a lot cheaper to buy than wood pellets so if you’re looking for a convenient, and less-expensive way to get into the smoking game, this is a great choice. 

The least expensive way to smoke is with a simple kettle grill, adding soaked wood chips to coal embers and setting the meat on indirect heat. But next to that is an Offset smoker, where you create the fire in a box attached to the side of the cooking chamber, and smoke feeds into the chamber and moves around the meat and out a chimney on the opposite side. You can dive into these tools for less than $150 with a Royal Gourmet, and if you decide it’s something you want to really get serious about, Oklahoma Joe makes a great offset smoker. 

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Pizza Oven

If long-cooking large cuts of meat isn’t your thing, the next most popular expansion to your outdoor cooking setup is a pizza oven. Ooni makes the most residentially popular pizza oven, and they’re loved for good reason. Many models are multi-fuel, meaning they can be used with wood or gas. As with any outdoor cooking, gas wins for convenience but wood always wins on flavor, so it’s nice to have the option for both. 

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Flat Top Griddle

Chris Loves Julia | Outdoor kitchen with flat-top grill
Chris Loves Julia | Outdoor kitchen with flat-top grill and smash burgers on top
Shop Flat Top Griddles

The third most common option to add once you’ve mastered the grill is a flat top. Whether you go Blackstone griddle or really lean into it with an Evo, these cookers are surprisingly fun and versatile for anything you want to cook. They make amazing steaks, smash burgers, vegetables, fish, and even desserts. Having the option of a flat top may seem like bringing the indoor cooking experience outside, but it’s more than that. The cooking area and temperature control make these units a great addition to any outdoor cooking set up. 

Have you added anything to your outdoor cooking collection? Share any game-changers with me in the comments!

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