Sebastian Clovis on building the perfect outdoor grill

sebastian-clovis Sebastian Clovis

If you watch TV at all, chances are you’ll recognize Sebastian Clovis and his reno expertise from HGTV shows like Save My Reno and Home to Win, or from his regular appearances on The Marilyn Denis Show. And if you’re too busy prepping for barbecue season to tune into the boob tube, never fear: former CFL player Clovis has some great advice on planning the ultimate outdoor cooking space, just for dedicated grill warriors who would rather wield a pair of tongs than ride the remote.

Choose durability over looks

“Don’t forget: in an outdoor kitchen, you have the wear and tear of a regular kitchen plus the wear and tear from the elements,” says Clovis. “If you don’t choose the right materials, you’ll see your investment go up in smoke.”

That means picking materials for counters, cabinets and appliances that are designed to withstand water, sunlight, snow, ice, rain and everything in between. They may be a little more expensive up front but they’ll pay for themselves in longevity.

Think about countertops

The shelves on the side of your barbecue won’t cut it if you want to make your outdoor cooking space as efficient as possible, Clovis says. Installing countertops will enable you to do a lot of prep outside — think mixing sauces, shucking corn, spicing meat and prepping dessert. At minimum, plan for 36 inches of counter space, but triple that if you want your outdoor grilling space to feel like a proper kitchen.

Also, think about the material you’ll use. While stainless steel is an obvious choice, it’s durable and will likely match your grill, giving you a unified aesthetic, Clovis points out that stainless can get hot in the summer sun, making it tough to work on. A better option? Consider soapstone. “Soapstone is great because it’s heat, stain and bacteria resistant,” explains Clovis. “Plus, it’s non-porous, so it doesn’t need sealing, which is important when you’re working with acidic ingredients like lemon, tomato, vinegar or barbecue sauce.”  

Plan for cabinets

You won’t want to leave your outdoor utensils and dishes out in the elements, but you may not want them taking up room in your indoor kitchen, either. If you’re putting in countertops, add cabinets underneath for some super convenient storage. Again, stainless steel is a possibility, but if you’re looking for something with more visual interest, Clovis suggests using cabinets crafted from marine-grade polymer plastic, they’re specifically made to withstand being outdoors, and they’re available in a wide range of funky colours.

Of course, you can also go with traditional wood cabinets, just make sure you’re using a durable wood. “If I was building the ultimate outdoor grill, I wouldn’t say no to a cool horizontal cedar treatment,” says Clovis. “All woods will break down eventually, but bamboo, teak and cyprus are solid hardwoods that will stand up well to being outside.”

Invest in separate burners

Yes, your grill probably comes with side burners, but if you’re serious about cooking outside, those won’t have the power you need, especially if you’re trying to boil water for an enormous pot of corn. Separate gas or electric burners outside will allow you to cook an entire meal without having to run and check things cooking on the stove inside.

Plumbing is important

“As any parent knows, there’s always something to wash off,” laughs Clovis. An outdoor sink, which you can hook up to your indoor water line or run off your garden hose, makes prepping veggies for salad, rinsing raw meat juice off cutting boards and washing up dishes that much easier. If you’re going to include a sink in your ultimate outdoor cooking space, make sure there’s an indoor shut-off valve to prevent the pipes from cracking when winter hits.

Keep it cool

“A kitchen is not a kitchen if it doesn’t have a fridge,” says Clovis. “Getting an outdoor mini fridge is a great idea, you can keep everything cool without running in and out of the house.” Wiring your outdoor fridge on a separate circuit that can be shut off when you shut up your outdoor kitchen for the season is a smart, energy efficient choice.

Take shelter

If you’re going to be working outside — especially if you’re a diehard griller who works in all kinds of weather — you’re going to need some shelter from the elements. If it’s just sun you’re worried about, Clovis says a pergola can be a “funky” addition to a deck. “I also like the idea of using fabric sails,” he says. “The sun will cast the colour of the fabric onto your space, which creates a nice, homey feeling.” Keeping your eating space bug-free is something else to think about. Consider a tent, gazebo or something with netting to create a barrier between you and the bugs. After all, Clovis says, if you’re eating outside, you shouldn’t end up being food for bugs.

Think about furniture

Finally, you’re going to need something to eat on. Wood, for Clovis, is really the only option. “It has the best feel and is the most homey,” he explains. Look for durable woods like bamboo or teak, or, if you’re feeling ambitious, consider building an elegant, rustic table out of barn board and sanded barn beams. “If you sand the top, protect it with a coat of urethane and condition it once a year, it should be a really beautiful addition to your outdoor eating space.”

So with all those tips, what’s the most important thing you should do for the ultimate outdoor grill, according to Sebastian Clovis?

“Invite me to dinner!”

Want to learn more from Sebastian Clovis? If you’re in the Toronto area on June 16 (noon to 4 p.m.) check out Sebastian and Food Network chef Lynn Crawford at Thrill of the Grill, a community event organized by the Danforth Business Improvement Area to raise money for kidney cancer research. Now in its ninth year, TotG features local chefs from Danforth BIA restaurants, De La Mer fish market and The Meat Department butcher shop in a showcase of great barbecue dishes celebrating dads and father figures. Tickets will be on sale at

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