Used to be, cookouts meant burgers and dogs. Ketchup and mustard. It was a tradition about as summery and American as fresh-cut green lawns and baseball. Today, with the rise of the foodie, the millennial and the median household income, grilling is decidedly something more. “It’s a legitimate hobby,” said Elizabeth Karmel, owner of Carolina Cue To-Go and former executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market in the District and New York. “It’s probably the most talked-about indigenous American way of cooking.”

Household chefs are experimenting with the types of food they grill — watermelon, eggplant, even oysters and mussels. They’re developing spice rubs and buying more than one type of grill. Die-hards are even designing outdoor kitchens. For one Northern Virginia project, Charlene Kennerknecht and her partner, Arch Williams, created a “grotto,” a cabana-like structure over a kitchen, dining room and living room in one. Clients are even asking for outdoor TVs, bar seating and fire pits, as alfresco entertaining becomes the activity of summer.

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