At most dinner parties, guests tend to gather in the kitchen. Indoors, it can be a challenge for the host to work in a crowded space. Outdoors, the dynamics are different, allowing the cooking area to become the hub of social activity, where participation is part of the fun. “Unlike cooking in our homes’ main kitchens, outdoor kitchens allow you to have many cooks, each preparing a portion of the meal all at the same time,” says Darlene Poynter, vice president of Fieldstone Center, Inc., (www.fieldstonecenter.com) in Covington.
Sound like a recipe for disaster? A well-planned space is important for group cooking. Consider an open-concept, multipurpose floor plan to keep everyone entertained with an array of bars, seating, cooking areas and fireplaces and/or fire pits to gather around.
Other considerations include:
Built-in vs. freestanding
The term “outdoor kitchen” typically implies that the equipment is built-in. Built-in options create a more custom look that’s inviting to guests and reflects your personal style. Built-in options also allow for the addition of kitchen features that are found indoors such as appliances, countertops and sinks.
Freestanding elements can be used effectively to expand the capabilities and flexibility of an outdoor kitchen. A counter-height outdoor kitchen cart, for example, does not permanently expand the footprint of the space, and it can serve a variety of purposes—extra prep area, mobile serving, dirty dish collection and more.
Covered vs. uncovered
When budget allows, covering an outdoor kitchen has its benefits. “I like to see these designed with an open feeling that embraces the outdoors, but having a roof means a kitchen can be used rain or shine,” says Russ Faulk, vice president of product development for Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet (www.kalamazoogourmet.com). “Homeowners get more enjoyment from their investment when they can use it more days of the year. You can also take advantage of the roof for mounting task lighting for after-dark cooking. A hood vent, however, will usually be required above the grill.”
A partial covering can also be useful. “We often incorporate pergolas for shade in an uncovered area,” says Thomas Boyce, president of Boyce Design & Contracting (www.BoyceDesign.com). “A pergola can be a good way to make a kitchen more enjoyable, and it also provides some additional architectural detail.”
Features and finishes
When it comes to features and finishes, the sky is the limit, with more and more custom solutions being offered. “Overall, we see multiple cooking devices from different manufacturers (in search of “Best in Class”) being installed in single kitchens as the No. 1 phenomenon,” says Mitchell Slater, president of Danver (www.danver.com). “Also, for us, our powder-coated finishes over stainless steel are a hot trend. Regarding customization with products other than grills, we are being asked to provide outdoor bioethanol fireplaces, pergolas, perimeter insect control systems, patio heaters in several styles, additional bartending center options, ice makers and other refrigerator products.”
“Today’s customers are selecting everything from pizza ovens, kegerators, warming drawers, side burners, smokers and large high-end grills for entertaining on,” says Chris Anderson, president of Cabana Kitchens. “Many of our clients add additional elements such as fireplaces, fire pits and putting greens to enhance their outdoor experience.”
“Two things I think are great additions for any outdoor kitchen are built-in ice coolers to keep your beverages ice cold and The Big Green Egg,” says Jason Phillips, managing partner of Surrounding Landscapes, Inc. (www.surroundinglandscapes.com). “The ice coolers have a stainless steel finish and set into the countertop. The Big Green Egg is a versatile grill. It allows you to smoke ribs, cook meats, vegetables, and with an added cooking stone, it can be used as a pizza oven.”
Care and maintenance
Eventually the party has to end, and cold weather will return. This is when it is important to give outdoor kitchens a little TLC. “We always recommend that at least once a year our clients disassemble the appliances in their outdoor kitchen and give them a good cleaning,” says Anderson.
Leaves and other debris can find their way under the cabinetry, so the toe kicks can be removed and the debris cleaned out,” says Slater. “The appliances all have their own maintenance requirements as defined by the manufacturers. Refrigerators can be unplugged, but they don’t have to be.”
For detailed instructions on winterizing your outdoor kitchen, visit http://kalamazoogourmet.com/lifestyle/resources/grill-care/outdoor-kitchen-winterization.
Tips from the Experts
• “It is important to think about what appliances and features are important to you, what aesthetic you are going for and what size of group you are trying to accommodate in the space.” —Thomas Boyce, president, Boyce Design & Contracting
• “When our clients delve into the options that are available, they re-look at their space and configure it as an outdoor living and entertaining room, of which the outdoor kitchen is one component.” —Mitchell Slater, president, Danver
• “Lighting is very important, as it sets the mood for evening entertaining. Make sure you plan on adding electrical outlets—You will thank yourself later!” —Jason Phillips, managing partner, Surrounding Landscapes, Inc.
• “You will want to make sure you know where your prevailing wind comes from so that smoke and fumes do not flow into your space, but out of it.” —Kate Wright, owner, Bloom’n Gardens Landscape (www.bloomngardens.com)