Families, friends enjoy summer days and nights with simple outdoor kitchens
Alex Gonzalez watched in April as workers finished placing new granite countertops in his outdoor kitchen at his Kempner Park Neighborhood home.
“I’m upgrading,” said Gonzalez, as his crew took away the old Santa Cecilia granite pieces. The new Black Explosion granite features bold long, dark swatches and a light peppering of sparkling quartz.
Gonzalez, a contractor who owns Creative Combinations, and his family moved into the island home 18 years ago. He added a pool. A subcontractor he knew was getting rid of some Santa Cecilia granite. And that’s how his outdoor kitchen began, he said.
The space includes plenty of storage for bulky pots and extra chairs, all hidden by a long wall of hanging doors. The outdoor kitchen includes a large burner grill, a flame burner to sauté, a hand-washing sink and a small refrigerator. Behind the hanging doors is a second, larger sink for cleaning.
Because family and guests often are outside at night, he added lighting under the granite countertops and lanterns for the pool area.
Gonzalez experiments with different cuisines and cooking styles. He creates Jamaican jerk dishes, shrimp creole, crawfish, crab and shrimp boils. He cooks steak, pork and chicken. He lines chafing dishes on the counter to keep food warm.
His advice for planning an outdoor kitchen is basic.
“First, who’s doing the cooking?” he said. “What type of equipment do you need? It’s important to have a working sink, so you don’t have to run in the house for anything.”
Other considerations should be building materials, Gonzalez said.
“Use materials that last,” he said. His own outdoor kitchen started with a frame of treated lumber covered with concrete board, then finished with granite.
“You need something that can outlast some of this weather — heat or freeze,” he said.
FOOD AND LAUGHTER
The effortless flow of Mel and Susan Bousley’s outdoor kitchen keeps their Lago Mar neighbors in Texas City coming back for leisurely visits.
“They text me and ask, ‘Are you all in the pool?’” Susan said.
When neighbors visit, it’s a potluck affair complementing the meat Mel grills and smokes in his black Lyfe Tyme barbecue pit, a birthday present he got 17 years ago.
He took the pit to the new home he and Susan moved to more than a year ago. They planned a housewarming party for March 2020, but COVID restrictions postponed that celebration. Now, the couple entertains most weekends in their backyard.
The wide counterspace in the outdoor kitchen gives guests room to enjoy a meal and a drink. The long prep counter gives Mel plenty of space to work while visiting and watching a nearby TV screen.
“The guys hang out here to watch the game,” Susan said. The women congregate in the hot tub and watch another television, she said. Small groups can be far enough away to have conversations, yet still be close to the food and the laughter.
Pulled pork, smoked turkey, boudin sausage, brisket, chicken and crab are just some of the meats Mel offers his guests. He also has cooked many bacon-and-egg breakfasts on the Blackstone griddle.
Once, he cooked a whole pig in his pit. Susan came home one day to find the dead hog on the counter staring at her, she said.
Mel experiments with different spices for his barbecue rubs.
“While you are chewing, it might start out sweet then you feel a little heat in the back,” he said. “I don’t use the same recipe twice. Each time, I tweak it a little bit different.”
SERENE AND SIMPLE SUMMERS
Charlie and Elise Ott Worthen, who live a couple of blocks from the beach in Galveston, planned their outdoor kitchen around a Big Green Egg.
“It was a gift to Charlie from his mom, Susan Worthen, and me,” Elise said.
Charlie uses the ceramic kamado-style charcoal grill and smoker year-round.
The Worthens bought their home in the summer of 2017 and began backyard construction in February 2018. They wanted a private space to enjoy with their daughters, Erin, who is now 10, and Paige, now 6.
First, they had contractors build a pool. Then, the same Houston-area contractor built the outdoor kitchen with the Big Green Egg as an anchor. Charlie also cooks on a Char-Broil Grill under the kitchen’s pergola. Granite countertops resist weathering and work well with hot pots and are easy to clean, Charlie said.
“We stay out here all summer,” Charlie said. “I’ll smoke or grill meat and stay with the family.”
Charlie cooks outside almost every week, he said. Hot dogs, burgers and fajitas are regular fare. For the Super Bowl, Charlie smoked a pork shoulder for pulled-pork sandwiches. Occasionally, he’ll make French-grilled oysters. He made a rib roast for Elise’s father, he said.
Between the outdoor kitchen and the pool area is a lawn of puppy grass for Shelby, a 4-year-old lemon beagle. The artificial turf keeps life simple.
“We got rid of the lawn mower,” Charlie said.
The couple, who work at different banks on the island, met in 2006 at a Yaga’s Children’s Fund Wild Game BBQ Cook-off.
From their fenced-in backyard haven, they can hear the summer traffic and loud music from the seawall as their girls splash and swim.
“We can experience summer on the island without the hustle and bustle,” Elise said.