Whether your goal is to keep the house fresh and free of cooking aromas or to have fun with friends while holding the spatula and tongs, taking your meal prep outside is a great solution. While cooking over an open fire (or grill) is a favorite pastime for many, there are a number of other ways to cook meals outdoors. Indeed, some of these alternative methods can also be useful if you find yourself without electricity for a few days.
For those considering taking their cooking skills from the kitchen to the great outdoors, it’s worth weighing the pros and cons of each method before deciding which one best suits your needs. From today’s backyard grilling machines to methods as old as time, these outdoor food prep methods are sizzling hot.
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Whether your fuel of choice is propane, natural gas or charcoal, flipping burgers on the backyard grill is many people’s favorite way to cook outdoors. Steaks, chicken, vegetables, hot dogs and a host of other food flavors can really come alive when seasoned and cooked on a carefully composed grill setup. Also, don’t forget the side burner for pots and pans.
For those who love charcoal, check out this model from Kamado Joe, a favorite in our researched guide to the best grills of the year.
Smoked meats are a favorite of many backyard chefs. Whether it’s whole chickens, fish, ribs, sausages, or vegetables, cooking these foods at low temperatures for long periods of time in a smoker gives them a bold, smoky flavor that’s hard to replicate in a kitchen.
With gas, charcoal and pellet smokers available, outdoor cooks have plenty of options. Just check out this model from Cuisinart, the top pick in our best propane smokers guide.
3. Pizza oven
There are many reasons to own an outdoor pizza oven, the most compelling of which is that baking a pizza in an indoor oven takes about 15-16 minutes, but in an outdoor pizza oven it only takes 3 or 4 minutes. The wonderful flavor of wood-fired pizza and the fact that baking pizza in the oven requires very little cleanup can’t be ignored either. A pizza oven can also bake breads, calzones, stromboli and a whole host of other delicious dishes – and, let’s face it, who wants to get their indoor oven up to 500 degrees in the middle of summer?
There are plenty of reasons to own a pizza oven, but this outdoor cooking method is often a hit in the backyard. Not sure which pizza oven might be right for you? BakerStone’s portable gas pizza oven was found to offer the best value in our guide to the best outdoor pizza ovens.
4. Campfire Grills
Cooking outside doesn’t always mean standing on the deck or patio and watching the kids in the pool. For off-the-grid adventures or camping outings, consider placing a barbecue grill over the campfire or fire pit. Grilling meats this way is a “scraped” way to cook outdoors while minimizing cleanup.
Pro tip: To prevent your food from burning, let the fire turn to hot coals before cooking.
5. Solar oven
Believe it or not, there are devices that harness and concentrate solar energy so users can cook without fuel or flame. Solar ovens like this GOSUN model feature reflective surfaces that channel the sun’s rays into a portable oven, allowing them to slowly cook foods like chicken, stews, fish, and squash. These ovens often reach temperatures of 250 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough for most applications, although cooking can take longer than traditional methods.
6. Rocket Stove
A rocket stove is another outdoor cooking solution that produces lots of cooking heat without using a lot of fuel. Rocket stoves like this one from StarBlue are usually J- or L-shaped, with openings at both ends. The user builds the fire at the lower end, while the upper end creates a strong draft. So ! The ideal conditions for cooking on a grill.
Rocket stoves are often made at home, and DIYers can make them from bricks, concrete blocks, metal cans, and a host of other recycled materials.
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7. Tripod Pot
Outdoor cooking is more than just grilling meats over an open fire. Stews, soups and pastas are also possibilities if you first assemble a pot tripod. These tripods stand over a fire, with each of the three legs positioned outside the flames. There is a hook in the center on which the pan can be hung, allowing the fire below to heat up delicious sauces, soups, stews and sides. This Stansport pot tripod has an adjustable chain and weighs 13 pounds.
Skewers are among the oldest tools for cooking food over open fires. This method isn’t just for roasting marshmallows either – hot dogs, sausages, potatoes and many other delicious outdoor specialties are eligible for skewering. By placing vegetables or meat on a long-handled stick or fork, outdoor cooks can bring their food closer to the fire until it is sufficiently heated.
Rotisserie and spit-roasted dishes are both delicious and age-old traditions. Hanging meat over a fire and carefully turning and timing it for even cooking is an art. While installing a rotisserie spit large enough for a pork roast requires heavy-duty equipment, spits large enough for roast chicken, like this one from Grizzly, are affordable and easy to use.
10. Dutch Oven
Preparing a fireside stew or side dish for the main course can be a breeze with a Dutch oven. These cast iron pans are designed for high heat situations, making them ideal for placing over a bed of hot coals for outdoor cooking. Be careful when using a dutch oven as they can be heavy and get extremely hot.
A favorite in our sought-after guide to the best dutch ovens, this 8-quart model from Lodge is quite heavy, but the lifting handle should make it safe to retrieve with a stick or poker.
11. Outdoor oven
The outdoor oven is probably the oldest method on this list, and there are several ways to build an oven hot enough for outdoor cooking using natural materials: some favorite methods include earth ovens which are built above above ground with straw, dry grass and mud, and pit ovens which require digging a hole in the ground to contain the heat from the fire or charcoal. Both of these methods are effective and proven, but are not intended for the occasional camper. It takes a lot of hard work and patience to build an outdoor oven.
12. Camping Stove
Don’t overlook the humble camping stove for cooking outdoors. These compact gas cookers are easy to install and can produce enough energy to replace (at least temporarily) that of the kitchen. This makes it a great choice for making breakfast on a griddle or stewing in a pot.
Camping stoves tend to be fuel-hungry compared to kitchen stoves, but they can be worth the cost when needed. This Coleman camp stove is a great choice for outdoor cooking, featuring two burners and weighing only 5 pounds.
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