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Liking It Hot

It’s hard to pin down exactly when it happened, but at some point in the past dozen years the concept of the outdoor kitchen took off – so much so that these features have moved from “relatively unusual” to “must-have” status on very nearly every upscale residential project.

That’s certainly been the case in my practice, and I hear the same thing from most other watershapers and landscape professionals I’ve talked with in recent times.

I’ve already covered some books intended to help us design these spaces and select among the variety of available components and options (“Book Notes,” June 2007). This time, I’ll take a different tack by discussing three books that are all about the art and joy of outdoor cooking. They are, in no particular order: How to Grill by Steven Raichlin (Workman Publishing Co., 2001), Serious Barbecue by Adam Perry Lang (Hyperion, 2009) and Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book by Chris Lilly (Clarkson Potter, 2009).

Let me start by saying that these are all outstanding resources that cover a broad spectrum of recipes, equipment and cooking methods and techniques – and each one is loaded with useful tips. So rather than breaking down the structure and content of each (as is my habit), instead I’ll use my remaining space to discuss why I think books of this sort are so valuable to us as watershapers.

Their utility begins with helping us understand and appreciate the cultural role of barbecuing and other forms of outdoor cooking and dining. Frankly, I was surprised to learn that “grilling” is an honest-to-goodness (and relatively recent) national obsession that has literally exploded across the country in tandem, not so surprisingly, with the increase in demand for outdoor cooking and dining facilities.

Long gone are the days when outdoor grilling was mostly pursued by people hunched over hibachis or Weber kettles: Nowadays there are multiple grill types including elaborate gas-powered units (both stand-alone and installed) as well as such exotica as indirect ceramic cookers, smokers and wood-burning grills. Barbecue contests now take place nationwide, scores of grilling gurus have become national figures and countless businesses (ours included) stage grilling events to attract clients.

Watershapers and landscape professionals are in the business of providing exterior environments that enhance clients’ lifestyles, so it behooves us to be up to speed on this “sizzling” trend and the culinary traditions behind it. I’d also argue that, just as it’s important for us to know about art and architectural history in evaluating sites and incorporating clients’ tastes in our work, we should be just as informed about what’s up with outdoor cooking and dining.

I look at it this way: When my clients are willing to spend tens of thousands of dollars on these facilities, it only makes sense for me to know all I can about how these spaces are to be used. Knowing a thing or three about barbecuing will advance my conversations with them on these topics and give my clients a sense of confidence that I understand their needs and will deliver, big time.

It also bears mentioning that the three books listed above carry recipes that are flat-out delicious. Even though I reached adulthood knowing very little about outdoor cooking, I’ve now made it my business to turn up the heat on the topic, and I must say that the rewards, both professional and at home, are well worth savoring.

Mike Farley is a landscape architect with more than 20 years of experience and is currently a designer/project manager for Claffey Pools in Southlake, Texas. A graduate of Genesis 3’s Level I Design School, he holds a degree in landscape architecture from Texas Tech University and has worked as a watershaper in both California and Texas.

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