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What do you get when you combine a big pile of rocks, a Kubota tractor, and a mound of pea gravel left over from a landscaping project? Steve’s Grill and Martini Bar! This was one of those “simple” projects on my bucket list that I decided needed to get done sooner than later. So I scraped off the grass and soil, graded the base, installed landscape fabric, built the stone wall, and finally spread the pea stone. Admittedly, a huge amount of labor for, what? A place to put the barbie?

Nah, it’s more complicated than that. We have a summer camp on a Maine island. It started out as a shack, but I renovated it, and now it’s become a real gathering spot for all our friends. Now, thanks to Steve’s Grill Patio ad Martini Bar, the generally raucous behavior that takes place when boys get together (the, ahem, martini element) has moved out of the kitchen and into the yard, which certainly makes my wife happy. The bonus: cooking chores are now assigned to the boys, leaving her responsible for salad and maybe one of her famous fresh fruit tarts.

The kitchen is the natural gathering place for the home. But summer cooking, whether it’s lobsters in Maine or green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico, is much different than winter cooking. Good weather encourages informal gatherings with plenty of kids, grownups, dogs, celebratory beverages, and good times. And since it’s virtually impossible to get people out of the kitchen during fun gatherings, it makes sense to move the kitchen out of the house.

The Southwest is the perfect climate for an outdoor kitchen Generally dry and clement weather (and hardly any insects!) means you can design an outdoor kitchen as both an integral architectural feature and a part of your daily lifestyle, You could easily replicate the typical elements of an indoor kitchen outside, but if you’re considering an outdoor kitchen, this is your chance to really think outside the box.

I use the “GP&MB” to grill, of course; I also quick-cook lobsters (20 at a time) in a big Louisiana crawfish cooker that shoots flames a foot high. Can’t do that inside. Outside, however, you can indulge outdoor cooking fantasies with a wood-fired break oven, the mother of all Southern barbecue pits or a monster¬†grill for roasting your own chiles.

The taste of food and wine is as much about where it’s cooked and with whom we cook it as it is about the food itself. The ritual of cooking is part of the experience. I think back to some of the best meals I’ve had, and they’ve been prepared outside: roast chicken on a wood fire overlooking the countryside in southern France; spit-roasted Thanksgiving turkey on a snow-covered island near Boston; steaks grilled in a fire pit next to a running acequia in Santa Fe.

If you’re thinking of an outdoor kitchen, go for it. My next project? A stone oyster bar. Stay tuned!