Ever since I've built my outdoor kitchen I've found that my barbecuing skills are getting better and better. I'm not sure what to attribute it to but it's probably a combination of the following.

First, I'm barbecuing more. Since I spent all that money on the outdoor kitchen I'm certainly not going to let it go to waste. I find myself thinking up reasons to barbecue something or smoke something or just plain COOK something outside. Because of this my barbecuing skills are getting better just through the practice.

Second, I'm paying more attention to learning more about barbecuing. You can find so much information on the internet on any topic you can think of and barbecuing is no exception. I read articles and watch videos about barbecuing and get all kinds of recipe ideas from all kinds of sites. Just Google "barbecue recipes" and you'll see what I mean. You'll find tons of great stuff and I particularly like the videos because they show you exactly what to do. You can even find barbecuing videos on the New York Times website, of all places. So having the outdoor kitchen has definitely spurred m to learn more.

Third, now that I have the outdoor kitchen I can have much bigger parties. This means that a lot more people are here and that, in turn, means a couple of things. First, you can't invite a bunch of people over to your house and then not know what you're doing. These people are going to be hungry and are going to expect be fed and not just a bunch of slop so this puts the pressure on you to deliver the goods. Second, because of this pressure, you don't want to mess up because the embarrassment factor would be even greater. It's one thing to mess up cooking a few hamburgers when the next door neighbors are over but it's another kettle of fish, so to speak, when you have 20 people expecting great barbecued ribs.

You see what I mean? Everyone's expectations are higher and so you have to deliver. Also, when people come in for the first time and see this really nice outdoor kitchen with the grills and rotisserie and the smokers and refrigerators and everything else they're really impressed. It also tends to raise their expectation levels. When they see a kitchen this impressive they just naturally figure that the chef is going to be as good as the equipment looks, or something like that.

So this whole experience has had a very positive effect on my cooking skills. Fortunately for me, I haven't had any major mishaps yet but I've come close a couple of times. Like when the roast took a lot longer than I thought it was supposed to. Thank god we had plenty of beer and no one had to drive far. But other than that, things have been pretty smooth. I haven't tried to overreach myself too, which is important. So the moral of the story is: if you want to improve your cooking skills, get an outdoor kitchen.

Tom Aikins is a Bangkok-based consultant specializing in search engine optimization and internet marketing at www.seonorthamerica.com. He regularly presents seminars on these subjects and also writes about the outdoor kitchen industry for the website www.newoutdoorkitchens.com [http://www.newoutdoorkitchens.com]