Outdoor Living (Part 1): Cooking

As more and more people move out of urban areas due to lifestyle changes brought on by COVID-19, houses with outdoor space are in hot demand. Not everyone is privileged enough to have a backyard of their own–we fully acknowledge this. However, many of these activities can be done in public parks or playgrounds. Our family spent all winter outside in 2020/2021–it was our only way to socialize. We learned a LOT about how to keep our kids entertained and occupied, even in the freezing weather. In this three-part series, we’ll share our favorite ways to get the whole family outside–no matter the weather! (Please note, these are mostly affiliate links. If you purchase something we’ve suggested, you get a great item, and your purchase benefits our blog. Thank you!)

When we transferred our social gatherings outside because of COVID, we also transferred cooking outdoors–even in the dead of winter. Honestly, we didn’t miss our kitchen at all! Here are our must-have items along with a few tips and tricks for cooking outside.

There’s nothing like a griddle…

Our #1 must-have item is a Blackstone griddle. This is our favorite cooking tool–and we didn’t think we could ever love anything more than our Weber grill. This griddle is super versatile and easy to use–you can cook almost anything on it. Some versions even have built in lids so they can be used more like an oven. For those without a back yard, the portable models are amazing–take your Blackstone camping with you or to your local park (where grilling is allowed, of course!). When you buy one of these griddles, it’s totally worth investing in the griddle tools. They will make cooking easier.

Our absolute favorite thing to make on the Blackstone is breakfast. Plus, breakfast is easy and inexpensive for a crowd. Also, to be clear, we make breakfast any time of day! We throw 1 or 2 packages of bacon on the griddle first (you can never have enough bacon). Then we cook home fries with peppers and onions. When those two things are done, we use our sourdough discard (because of course we made our own starter during quarantine…) to make a King Arthur Baking Company’s sourdough pancakes and waffles. The griddle is also great for breakfast sandwiches. Butter up a bagel, toast it on the griddle, and add bacon, cheese, and an egg. You can even get these awesome egg rings so your eggs come out looking professional. Corn muffins (or any muffins, really) are phenomenal when you put a little butter on them and brown them up on the griddle. We also love burgers, fajitas, quesadillas, arepas, and grilled cheese on the Blackstone. There are so many possibilities!

Weber grills are great, too…

Our Weber grill gives the Blackstone griddle a run for its money when it comes to ease of cooking outdoors. We highly recommend the Weber brand. While they don’t come cheap, these grills can last over 20 years if properly maintained and protected from the elements. We learned this the hard way: Before saving up and investing in the Weber, we replaced our cheap grills every other year! The Weber is also a dream to cook with. Food is easy to cook because of the even heat. We love burgers, steak, and chicken on the grill, and one of our goals for this summer is to use it to make South Shore bar pies as well as Neopolitan-style pizza.

We’d love to try an Ooni pizza oven…

Speaking of pizza, we are smitten with the Ooni pizza oven. We haven’t splurged on one yet, but we are tempted. There are three things holding us back from buying one. First, the price. It is expensive, especially since it only serves one purpose, unlike a regular oven or grill which can be used to cook countless things. Second, there is a learning curve; most people say they burn their first few pizzas before getting the hang of it. Lastly, we love our bar pizzas more than any other kind of pie, and these ovens simply aren’t good for those. So, for the time being, we’ll just use our grill! But if you love your Ooni (or don’t!), please tell us all the reasons why in the comments below!

Make yourself comfortable…

Another thing that we couldn’t entertain without is an outdoor bar and waterproof storage bins for things that remain outside; this way things like napkins, plates, utensils, and cups can be left outdoors and don’t have to be carted in and out every time. Having everything on-hand and easily accessible in the bar is a huge time saver. Also, despite the fact that we have tables and chairs on our screened-in porch, people always seem to congregate around the bar. 😉 And it’s a great place to serve not only drinks, but also food.

If you don’t have a screened-in porch, a screened-in gazebo is a great way to go. If you live in Southeastern Mass, odds are you are in EEE and West Nile territory. Better safe (and comfortable!) than sorry! Leave your outdoor bar and storage bins in the gazebo to protect them from the elements.

A folding table for food prep and food serving (also for board and card games) is another life saver. We have a picnic table to eat at, but having one of these lightweight, portable tables to put near the griddle or grill is amazingly helpful. When we’re done using it for food prep, it’s another surface to serve from or eat at. Then, when we’re done, it folds up and tucks away in a corner of the porch.

Finish strong!

No outdoor meal is complete without s’mores. We buy long wooden skewers at Market Basket, but a stick will do in a pinch! We like to get creative with the combinations. Pinterest has some great ideas, but even swapping out just one of the typical ingredients is a simple way to shake things up from time-to-time. For example: try mint grasshopper cookies, white chocolate, or chocolate-stuffed marshmallows instead of using all three typical ingredients.

What are your must-have outdoor cooking items? Your best tips and tricks? Please share!

Next in the series: Outdoor Living (Part 2): Get Comfortable Outside

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