5 Tips for Better Outdoor Kitchen Designs

TIP #1: Shed some light.

Lighting design is a crucial element of any outdoor kitchen. You want enough lighting to be able to see what you’re doing without spoiling the ambiance. To give your outdoor kitchen the feel of an indoor kitchen, think pendants. Low-voltage hardscape lighting attached to masonry walls will add delicate textural light. Lighting inside of cabinets and near cooking surfaces will help with functionality. String lights can add a festive touch and can be put on a circuit that’s controlled by a switch. Commercial grade string lights are often dimmable, so keep that in mind. Rule of thumb: plan all lighting before installing your kitchen so you can run all of the wiring, outlets and switches on the front end instead of having to retrofit. It’s always a good idea to include some overhead outlets in your plan, just in case you want to add string lights seasonally.

TIP #2: Think long-term.

The primary thing to remember about an outdoor kitchen is that everything is exposed to the elements. Be sure to choose durable building materials and outdoor-rated products that are designed to take the abuse. Yes, sometimes that means spending a little extra money on the front end, but the money will go further in the long run when everything lasts longer. It’s also wise to protect your investment by sealing porous surfaces and purchasing covers for exposed appliances.

TIP #3: Sometimes bigger is better, but read the fine print.

Think about how you plan to use the space and plan accordingly. Bar-sized sinks save counter space and will do the trick for washing your hands or rinsing a glass. But if you plan to actually rinse a platter or fill a pitcher, you’d do better to install a standard kitchen sink. When purchasing appliances like grills, refrigerators and ice-makers, read the specs carefully. The dimensions don’t always equate to cubic feet of usable space. Also, you’ll often go through ice quickly, so make sure the unit you buy can keep up with your production needs. If you plan to entertain often, roll-top beverage coolers hold significantly more cans and bottles than a standard counter-height refrigerator. That’s exactly why restaurants and bars use them.

TIP #4: You’ll want more space than you think.

At the the end of the day, you’ll likely wish you had more prep space, more outdoor seating space, more storage space or more cooking space. It’s often hard to conceptualize the finished space in the planning phase. However, if you’re working with a Belgard Authorized Contractor, you can get free virtual reality designs. When you put on the VR goggles, you can immerse yourself in the design and look up, down and all around to make sure you will have all the space you need.

TIP #5: Plan ahead.

First of all, you can never have enough outlets. Someone always wants to plug in something — a blender, a lamp, a charger, a laptop, a streaming device. Some of those outlets should include usb ports, too. Also think about what you might want to add to your kitchen down the line. Even if you don’t plan to use any gas now, it’s not a bad idea to plumb a natural gas line, even if you just cap it for now. You never know when you might want to add a fire feature, outdoor heater or a high intensity burner. Constantly changing out butane tanks is a pain, and retrofitting for natural gas later can be a costly endeavor.

For inspiration and kitchen design ideas, visit the Belgard Outdoor Kitchen Pinterest Board.

Heartwarming Fireside Memories and Mouthwatering S’mores Recipes

Fire Pit S'mores Recipes

Last month, we reached out to our readers for submissions of their favorite fireside memories and s’mores recipes during our annual National S’mores Day Fire Pit Giveaway. We were thrilled to receive over 5,800 submissions! As part of our celebration, a random name was chosen to receive a Belgard fire pit for making treasured fireside memories and yummy s’mores in their own backyard. Congratulations to this year’s winner:

TAMRA C. – Fresno, CA

We enjoyed reading through the wonderful stories and recipes that were submitted. Here are a few of our favorites for you to enjoy.

Everything’s Better Around the Fire

Recently we were flooded from our home and were homeless. We went up to my parent’s place back in the country and to cheer my kids up, my grandmother had sent s’mores makings to my mom’s house. We all sat around a fire and had s’mores and had a great time helping to forget the bad things happening to us that night. — B. Bluey / Latrobe, PA

Whenever daddy was deployed and the kids were so sad, I broke out the s’mores stuff. It was amazing. They perked up, and we were able to laugh and talk, and for a moment, even if it was only for that moment, the kids were happy. — K. Backowski / Olathe, KS

Under the towering pines of Colorado, we sat outside around the fire pit…my children’s faces lit up with joy, and starlight…downing s’mores. They each called out how they wanted their own marshmallows …either gooey or crunchy-crusted. We sang and told stories while the fire died down. Chocolate still on their cheeks, they nodded off, grinning, and had to be carried in to bed. — D. Patton / Dallas, TX

First time I ever had a s’more, I didn’t realize it was ok to blacken the marshmallow, so I kept throwing them away. Next thing I knew I used up the entire bag trying to make the perfect s’more. We had to run to the nearest store to buy more marshmallows so everyone else could have a s’more. — O. Chansombat / Oklahoma City, OK

Roasting marshmallows for my s’more at age 11, it caught fire. I shook it instead of blowing it to put it out. It flung off the stick across the fire and landed all melty on my aunt’s lip. Good times. — T. Locke / Jasper, AL

I remember as a teen, my sisters and I would write our wishes on slips of paper. We would toss them into the fire thinking as they burned, our wishes went to our guardian angels. — M. Scott / Joplin, MO

Some of my favorite fireside memories are of fixing lemonade and watching the grandchildren play and run with water guns and bubbles. Just listening to their screams of excitement as they played. We laughed because they did! — J. Burney / Kennesaw, GA

The first time I ever had s’mores was at Girl Scout Camp with my lifelong best friend, Lisa. A few months later, my family and I moved 2,000 miles away. Every summer for the next 4 years I came back and we had s’mores at the lake. We grew up, got married, had kids, lost touch. 20 years later, I made a visit back “home” with my family and showed up at Lisa’s door with a bag of marshmallows, a box of graham crackers and some chocolate bars. It was like we’d never been away from each other. — Anon / Denton, TX

New Versions of Everyone’s Favorite Fireside Treat

We got lots of submission that suggested switching out the standard milk chocolate bar for a favorite candy bar. Some yummy suggestions included using an Almond Joy, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup or Ghirardelli Squares. Those ideas all sound pretty darn awesome! Here are some other intriguing recipes submitted by our readers:

Graham crackers, pumpkin flavored marshmallows, Hersey bars and a smear of peanut butter. — R. Walker Conrad / Kingbury, TX

Drizzle caramel sauce over toasted marshmallows before putting chocolate on and sandwich between peanut butter cookies. — Anon / Reno, NV

Adult S’mores: Strain the juice out of a jar of cherries and soak the cherries in rum overnight. Push the cherry into the center of the melty marshmallow before assembling the s’more. — Anon / Eeau Claire, WI

Graham crackers, Nutella, chocolate squares, sliced fruit. Always went to campgrounds every weekend with my whole family. My grandparents always made them like this. We still all get together and have camping nights with s’mores. — C. Black / Marion, OH

Mexican S’mores: Tortilla, chocolate, and marshmallow — deep fried and covered in cinnamon and sugar. — Anon / Gomez, CA

I live for sliced strawberries in between my s’mores. I also recently fell in love with chocolate and toasted marshmallow in between an open Oreo cookie. The more burnt, the better! — A. Church / Rockledge, FL

Key Lime Pie S’mores: Honey graham crackers, key lime marshmallows and white chocolate. We topped them with a little bit of lime zest and voila! The perfect tropical s’more. — R. Dutton / Ashville, NC

Vanilla wafers and starbursts. Soften the starbursts over a fire, then place on top of a vanilla wafer. — M. Fullmer / Logan, UT

Hosting the Ultimate Backyard Tailgate Party

For many people across the nation, the season of Fall is synonymous with football season. And although we don’t always agree on which team to cheer for, we can typically agree that gathering with friends and family is one of the best aspects of the football-watching experience. Whether your next backyard tailgating party is in preparation for a family high school game, or whether it’s a viewing party for your local college or pro team, take your tailgating game to the next level with these backyard tailgating tips.

Setting the Scene

To efficiently host gatherings throughout football season, some upfront planning and organization will go a long way. Set aside a “party box” where you can keep all of your tailgating supplies in one place. That way, you’re not recreating the wheel each week. And since you’ll be getting a lot of use out of everything, splurge on higher quality decorations and color-coordinated serving bowls, trays and utensils. You’ll end up saving money in the long run versus buying throw-away items for each event. Also, go ahead and string festive lighting around the yard that will work just as well for holiday gatherings as it will for tailgating, and you’ll be ahead of the game come December.

Feeding the Masses

Tailgate parties have a tendency to grow…after all, the more the merrier. The best meal plan is one that incorporates a lot of small bites that go a long way. Light the pit, and prepare to keep it going. Brats, of course, are always a good choice. You can also grill a variety of sausages and serve them sliced on a platter with an assortment of dipping sauces. Gilled pizza and sliders are also typical tailgating hits. Consider setting up a  make-your-own slider bar, which can add to the festive atmosphere. To feed large groups, racks of BBQ ribs or smoked brisket work really well and can be partially cooked ahead of time to shorten game-day grill time. (Design tip: 5 Fiery Ideas for Building Your Outdoor Cooking Station.)

Game-Day Drinks

Let’s face it, beer is the standard beverage of choice in most tailgating scenarios but to take your tailgating up a notch, have a little fun with your selections. For example, have everyone bring their favorite six-pack of micro-brewed beer and setup a tasting table. And since game day is all about competition, get a contest going that allows everyone to vote on their favorite. For the non-beer drinkers, Southern Living offers some fun game-day cocktail recipes in quantities that will keep your guests sipping through all four quarters.

Pre-Game Activities

The best tailgate parties include lots of entertaining backyard activities like cornhole and washer pitching games, giant jenga, or a good old-fashioned game of horseshoes. If you have an outdoor fireplace or a fire pit, set up a s’mores bar where everyone can roast marshmallows and make fun and interesting s’mores with ingredients like cookies, ginger snaps, Nutella, peanut butter cups and, of course, graham crackers and chocolate.

Seating Arrangements

 It’s always a great idea to have multiple conversation zones for the pre-game time period. For larger parties, when it comes time for viewing, you may want to consider investing in an outdoor projection screen. Or, you can setup up multiple viewing areas with the help of multiple TVs and a cable splitter or portable streaming device like a Roku stick.  One way to create more viewing space around a single TV or screen is to arrange stadium-style seating by placing chairs in rows according to chair height, with bar stools in the rear row. An additional row can be created in the front by placing pillows on the ground for the kids.

CONTRACTOR’S CORNER: Hardscape Installation Labor Saving Ideas

Across the nation, labor shortages are affecting the hardscape contractor industry, making it more important than ever to make efficient use of crew time. Even if the labor shortage isn’t impacting your market, crew efficiencies are a crucial part of profitability. These tips can help contractors turn jobs faster, reduce the length of disruption for homeowners and maximize business potential.

Take advantage of wall construction innovations.

Often, extensive cutting is involved when building a freestanding wall, especially when needing to create curves or include channels for utilities. By using a wall product that offers a back-to-back installation platform, like Belair Wall® 2.0 or Diamond® 9D 2.0, significant time can be saved on installation. Belgard also offers the innovative U Start Base Block, which allows the base course to be installed 63% faster than with standard wall construction techniques.

2.0 wall installation compared side-by-side with a traditional wall system.
Get a head start on wall construction with U Start Base Blocks.

Invest in paver-placing tools.

Hardscape Paver Installation Labor Saving Ideas
AIRLIFT® tool by PaveTech®

Clamps, vacs, cups and other lifting equipment options have exploded in recent years. Not only will they save labor, they will also increase efficiency and reduce the chance for injury or fatigue. With larger format pavers continuing to grow in popularity, these tools will become essential to every hardscape crew. Companies like Probst®, Mquip® and PaveTech® offer a variety of paver placing equipment that can save valuable hours on the jobsite. For a special Belgard discount offer on paver-placing tools, click here.

Install modular outdoor living units instead of custom builds.

The Belgard Elements™ line includes three different series of modular outdoor living units that are not only beautiful, but engineered in a controlled setting, have a warranty, are shipped in pre-built sections and can be installed on a gravel base or slab within hours versus days or weeks. Typically, when an Elements product is sold, they are part of a larger outdoor living installation. Elements are a great way to add incremental value, increase the size of your projects and flip projects much more quickly.

Install a fireplace with 8 man-hours versus 80.

Save installation time on fire features by using prepackaged kits.

Hardscape Paver Installation Tips
Weston Stone® Linear Fire Pit Kit

Unlike the Elements products, fire pit and fireplace kits are completely constructed on the jobsite. The benefit is that they come prepackaged with all the blocks and hardware needed for the installation. This simplifies ordering, minimizes waste and cuts, and speeds installation by eliminating the guesswork. Kits that can be installed within hours include the Belgard Weston Stone® line of fireplaces and fire pits and the Eagle Bay® Dublin™ Traditional Fireplace Kit. Belgard also offers smaller hardscape fire pit kits through Lowe’s, like the Ashland Fire Pit Kit.

Consider machine-laid pavers for larger jobs.

Hardscape Paver Installation Tips Ideas
Lay multiple pavers at a time.

Machine-laid pavers have typically been reserved for commercial projects. However, with the labor shortage, they are something that should be considering for medium and large-scale residential projects as well. It doesn’t take long to recoup the cost of a paver-laying machine when you consider the average costs of a laborer, complete with Workman’s Comp, health insurance, vacation time, gear and other costs.

Use larger format and modular pavers.

Hardscape Paver Installation
Lafitt® Rustic Slab

Modular design and the use of large-format pavers are two outdoor living design trends that continue to grow in popularity. Due to fewer cuts and easier laying patterns, both trends present an opportunity to install large outdoor living spaces with a fraction of the labor that a classic small-format paver or curvilinear design would take. 

Overlay concrete instead of removing it.

Paver overlays present a tremendous opportunity to provide an updated look without all the expense of a complete renovation. It’s critical, however, to make sure the concrete is in good shape prior – as the quality of the base will impact the final product. Techniseal® DriBond™ is a great product to use for overlays and can be used for 30, 60 or 80mm pavers. Once the base is cleaned, simply screed a thin layer (3/8”) of DriBond, place and cut the pavers, and then flood them with water to activate the mudset. Typical driveways, for example, can be overlaid in a day or two with almost no mess or disposal. 

Installs like sand, sets like concrete.

Choose pavers and wall products with false joints over natural stone.

Homeowners still love the look of natural stone. However, natural stone can be time-consuming to work with. Many Belgard paver and wall products offer the look of natural stone with natural textures and false joints that mimic multiple pieces within a single piece. These systems can be installed in a fraction of the time with less expensive labor rates as compared to masonry. Products that offer false joints include Mega-Arbel® pavers, Diamond® 9D Virtual Joint wall and the Tandem® Wall System.  

Get the contractor’s point-of-view on installing the new Tandem Modular Block system.

Belgard Enhances ‘Smart Homes’ for Catastrophically Disabled Veterans

  • Belgard Enhances 'Smart Homes' for Catastrophically Disabled Veterans
  • Cavalier 'Smart Homes' for Disabled Veterans

When Belgard’s parent company Oldcastle APG, a CRH company, learned of the Tunnel to Towers Smart Home Program, the company’s senior leadership knew that an outdoor living partnership with the philanthropic program was a must.

“Outdoor living has become a large part of American culture over the last several decades. Each Smart Home recipient was catastrophically disabled while protecting the American way of life. Belgard is incredibly honored to lend our backyard living expertise so they can fully enjoy their new homes,” said Wade Ficklin, President of Oldcastle APG West and APG’s Tunnel to Towers project coordinator.

'Smart Homes' for Catastrophically Disabled Veterans

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation was created in memory of New York firefighter Stephen Siller who raced on foot from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the Twin Towers in full bunker gear during the 9/11 attacks, losing his life that day in the act of saving others.

The Smart Home Program was developed by T2T as a way to help catastrophically disabled veterans returning from conflicts in the Persian Gulf, an ongoing struggle that began as a result of the events of 9/11. The first surviving quadruple amputee from the Gulf War (Sgt. Brendan Marrocco, U.S. Army) came from a community near Siller’s former home on Staten Island. Due to the local connection, the foundation board felt compelled to do something for Sgt. Morracco, and thus the first Smart Home was built in 2011.

“From there, our Smart Home program was born,” said Charlie Percia, Smart Home Program Construction Manager. “Due to an outpouring of support from companies like Oldcastle APG, we have now committed to building 200 homes. We continue to get more sponsors and larger sponsors every year, which has allowed the program to continue to grow.”

Since beginning its partnership with T2T in 2017, Belgard has donated products for and helped install nearly a dozen outdoor living spaces to date, with several more in progress and a continued partnership commitment moving forward. Recipients choose the location of their Smart Homes, and the foundation builds across the country. Oldcastle APG donates the materials, while Belgard team members and local hardscape contractors donate their time to construct each outdoor living project.

“The original agreement was to build 12′ x 12′ patios, but in the course of building some of the houses, Oldcastle has stepped up to help with needs that have arisen like retaining walls,” Percia said. “Some of the installers have built fire pits—whatever they personally want to do. Each project is unique.”

The foundation is pleased with the partnership with Belgard to provide attractive outdoor living spaces for so many of the Smart Homes.

“Pavers are a lot nicer than concrete and brighten up the landscape for the recipients,” Percia said. “With Oldcastle donating the products and coordinating the installation, it alleviates us having to raise funding for that part of the house. It’s an awesome thing. Quite frankly, we couldn’t complete projects this nice without the support.”

To date, the Tunnel to Towers Foundation has delivered, started construction, or is in the design stage of 85 Smart Homes.

. . .

For more on Belgard’s involvement with the Tunnel to Towers Foundation and its Smart Home Program, read our blog: Belgard Team Members Build, Walk, Run & Climb for America’s Bravest.

TREND WATCH: Porcelain Paver Project Ideas

Since coming onto the scene just a few short years ago, outdoor porcelain pavers are quickly becoming the hottest new thing in outdoor living design. Homeowners are falling in love with the contemporary style, durability, stain-resistance and ability to mirror indoor design trends to create indoor-outdoor flow. Used on their own or as part of a mixed materials design, porcelain pavers can be used in a variety of ways. Check out the slideshows below for some inspiration on incorporating the new porcelain trend in your outdoor spaces.

Instagramable Patios and Outdoor Living Rooms

Porcelain pavers offer an excellent medium for creating sleek monochromatic looks. And with endless interpretations of stone and wood, you can also create a design with the aesthetic of natural stone or wooden planks without the fading, chipping or splintering.

  • Quartziti Pavers and Wall Veneer
  • NaMe Patio Porch Pavers
  • Noon Patio Pavers
  • Quartzi Pavers and Bordeaux™ Fireplace
  • Rail Patio Pavers
  • Stones Pavers and Bordeaux™ Fireplace
  • Stones Pavers Patio Porch
  • Verona™ Patio Pavers

Not Your Grandma’s Porch

Whether you call it creating curb envy or curb appeal, an elegant porch is a great way to set your home apart from the neighbors. For rear porches, porcelain has also proven to be a game-changer in creating seamless indoor/outdoor transitions. Porcelain pavers mirror indoor flooring design trends and often have coordinating indoor tiles and porcelain wall veneers to create a flawlessly coordinated look.

  • Noon Proch Pavers
  • Quartziti Porch Pavers
  • Stones Porch Pavers
  • Quartziti Porch Patio Pavers

Creative Transitions

Transitioning from one outdoor space to the next might involve some steps or walkways. Porcelain pavers are excellent for creating steps that accentuate a cohesive outdoor living design. You can also use them to create unique walkways, either alone or to add contrasting visual interest to a concrete paver design.

  • Noon Pavers (walkway) Mega-Arbel® pavers (patio)
  • Noon Paver Steps
  • Noon Pavers (walkway) Ardesie Pavers (stepping stones)
  • Quatziti Paver Steps PoolScape
  • Rail Pavers
  • Quartziti Step Pavers

The True Joy of Cooking Outside

Outdoor kitchens give a backyard that extra umph of livability. And this is where porcelain building materials really shine. Due to its composition and finish, porcelain pavers will not stain. Whether it is mud, oil, pizza sauce or even red wine, simply wipe it off and gone! Porcelain pavers also coordinate quite nicely with other building materials.  

  • Verona™ Outdoor Kitchen Pavers
  • Noon Outdoor Kitchen Pavers
  • Ardesie Kitchen Pavers
  • Quartziti Kitchen Pavers

Water and Fire Features that Sizzle

Fire and water make every outdoor design better. There’s just something about adding those natural elements that instantly make the space cozier. And with an extremely high compressive strength and an ultra-low water absorption rate, porcelain has a highly impenetrable surface. This includes mold and mildew, making it an excellent medium for creative water features. It can also take the heat. You couldn’t do an in-ground fire pit with a wooden deck. That would be crazy. But with wood-grain porcelain…you betcha.

  • Nau Pavers Fire Pit
  • Quartziti Pavers Water Feature
  • Noon Pavers Fire Pit Patio
  • Sundeck Pavers
  • Noon Built In Fire Pit Pavers
  • Quartziti Pavers

Spa-Worthy Poolscapes

Maintenance free and slip resistant, a porcelain poolscape is a modern take on the age-old favorite backyard addition. Porcelain pavers can be used to create sleek ultra-contemporary looks or be mixed with other materials for eye-catching inlaid designs. Porcelain is also an excellent medium for creating a stepping stone pool deck, which is a growing trend in pool deck and patio design.

  • Officine Pavers
  • Stones Pavers (accents) Lafitt® Rustic Slab (pool deck)
  • Quartziti Pavers
  • Rail Poolscape Pavers
  • Quartziti Pavers
  • Stones 2.0 Pavers
  • Quartziti Pavers

Check out how these ideas might look in your backyard with our Hardscape Project Visualizer! To find a contractor near you, visit our Contractor Locator tool.