The craze for outdoor kitchens is one of the country’s fastest-growing trends, and every year more and more home owners are realizing they too want a piece of this cool lifestyle. Outdoor kitchens are not new — people in the warmer states have been enjoying them for a while. Now people in other parts of the country are deciding there’s no reason why they too can’t join in the fun.
Of course, eating outdoors isn’t a new idea — it’s a long-standing tradition to have a barbecue in the summer months. But it has always meant that at least one person has to keep trooping in and out, collecting the food, the eating utensils, the mustard and ketchup, the drinks from the refrigerator, the bottle openers, and anything else that has been forgotten, and missing half the fun — then of course having to take it all back indoors afterwards. Outdoor kitchens provide a more relaxed and gracious mode of eating and entertaining, where the hosts can share in the enjoyment at the same time as dispensing the food.
What Exactly Is an Outdoor Kitchen?
Outdoor kitchens originated as places where cooking as well as eating could be done outside, and at their most basic they can simply consist of a barbecue with a preparation area and some storage space. However, people soon started to want more than simple outdoor bbq kitchens, and outdoor kitchens have evolved to incorporate everything that you have in your indoor kitchen, and often more. Most experts agree that for a place to be called an outdoor kitchen, it should at a minimum have a cooking appliance, a sink, some counter space and a refrigerator.
Why Would I Want One?
Enthusiasts for outdoor kitchens maintain that everyone should have one. This may not be possible as yet, but there are certainly plenty of good reasons why so many people want them, the most obvious one of course being how much easier outdoor entertaining becomes. Apart from anything else, it increases the enjoyment and reduces the stress for the hosts, and enables them to enjoy their own parties.
Part of the stress arises because it’s such a nightmare having to cook inside on a hot summer evening. You have to keep the air conditioning going at full blast just to survive, then you get even more hot and bothered running in and out with all the different bits and pieces. Even if you are actually cooking on an outdoor barbecue grill, the running in and out is still necessary.
It’s also of course much nicer for the guests with an outdoor kitchen. There’s a lot more space, and you can entertain a lot more people in comfort outside than you can indoors. Everyone relaxes much more quickly, and the atmosphere of the party is greatly enhanced. Even when it’s not a party, just a family night, family meals too are so much more enjoyable.
On a more practical note, outdoor kitchens add a lot of value to your home. In fact, with outdoor kitchens being such a fast-growing trend, they yield a higher return on investment — anything from 100% to 200% — than any other outdoor home improvement. The value added is greater if they have a refrigerator and sink, as they then count as a second kitchen. In addition, an outdoor kitchen will save a lot of money through less use of your air conditioner, and an outdoor grill is much more economical to operate than an indoor kitchen stove.
Outdoor Kitchen Options
For anyone interested in outdoor kitchens, the options available are virtually limitless. To begin with, outdoor kitchens can be either permanent structures, or portable. Portable outdoor kitchens are an excellent choice for those who like to cook in style when camping or at the beach, and they are easy to install and maintain, as well as to transport. The easiest option is to look for a kitchen island on casters and wheels — this gives you more counter space. Alternatively you can look for standalone pieces, including a grill and a serving and prep cart.
A built-in permanent kitchen can be located on an existing deck or patio, or it can be constructed as a free-standing structure away from the house. There are modular outdoor kitchens where you can buy the components piece by piece, or custom outdoor kitchens which you can have designed to suit your requirements. Or of course the kitchens can be built using outdoor kitchens kits.
One popular alternative is a prefabricated outdoor kitchen island. This is a pre-built structure with counter space, and places for installing a grill and other appliances as desired, such as a refrigerator. These islands have the advantage of being fully customizable, so no construction is required — you can just order your island and plug in your gas and water lines. A simple island can cost around $700, but you can have them as elaborate as you like.
There’s no need to think you have to be a millionaire, or have a huge home, to have an outdoor kitchen. With the evolution of modular outdoor kitchens, you can enjoy outdoor cuisine even if you only have the budget and space for a small outdoor dining area. What’s more, with modular outdoor kitchens you can start small, with just one or two appliances, and build your kitchen over time.
If you are purchasing all your units at once, you can buy your kitchen with pre-built appliances and cabinets, which is cheaper, or you can choose to have it custom designed and built to your exact specifications. Custom outdoor kitchens do not come cheap, but can incorporate any cooking functionality or amenity you desire. For instance you can include a fireplace, a pizza oven, a roasting spit, a smoker and a wet bar, and anything else you fancy.
Planning Your Outdoor Kitchen
When designing outdoor kitchens, obviously the first consideration has to be the location. It’s a good idea to locate a kitchen near the house, to save your legs when you need to go back and forth to collect things. If you already have an existing patio, this makes an excellent foundation for your outdoor kitchen, though a deck will require additional support before anything substantial can be placed on it.
Some people prefer their outdoor kitchens to be further away from the house, for instance to be near the pool or to capture a beautiful view. These kitchens will probably need to be more elaborate, including larger refrigerators, sinks and plenty of storage. This way you can be more self-sufficient.
Wherever you have your cooking area, you need to make sure there are no combustible surfaces close by. This doesn’t just mean wood. It’s a surprisingly common mistake to place a grill next to a vinyl siding. This may not cause a fire, but it will melt the siding, which will be an expensive repair.
Once you’ve chosen your location, and before you start shopping for your appliances, you need to plan your layout carefully. The best outdoor kitchens designs use a kitchen triangle layout — that is, the cooker or grill, sink and refrigerator form three corners of a triangle, with no side measuring more than 10 feet, and with no obstructions. This is easier to achieve in a smaller kitchen, which most outdoor kitchens will be.
However small your kitchen, the one thing you should not skimp on with outdoor kitchens designs is counter space. You need as much on both sides of the grill or cooker as in an indoor kitchen, that is, 36 inches. In addition, allow 18-24 inches on either side of the sink, to maximize ease of preparation and clear-up.
Other outdoor kitchens ideas include different types of lighting. For cooking at night, you need bright task lighting, located over the cooking areas, in order to see what you’re doing — otherwise results may not be as intended. If your kitchen includes a dining area, there should be ornamental and ambient lighting as well. Make sure all lighting is adjustable and dimmable.
If you have kids around, consider placing a counter opposite the grill, creating a U-shaped kitchen. This mimics most indoor kitchens, is efficient, and creates a safety barrier between kids and cooker. Then it’s a nice finishing touch to plant herbs in pots and have them scattered round your kitchen. This gives you easy access to herbs when cooking, and also adds fragrance and extra ambiance.
It’s quite possible to have outdoor kitchens built by professionals, but it’s not necessary. It’s not hard for you to do much of the work yourself, using outdoor kitchens kits, or prefabricated units. You can have complete outdoor kitchens kits shipped to you and delivered directly into your yard space by forklift, so all you have to do is plug them in. Alternatively you can have kits for metal cabinets shipped in boxes, for you to assemble yourself.
The average cost of outdoor kitchens kits is $150-$175 per linear foot, not including countertop surfaces or appliances. Installed outdoor kitchens cost anything from $3,000, with a grill and a 6-foot counter, up to $15,000 and upwards for higher-end ones with several appliances. Really high-end ones can cost a lot more — you can pay $27,000 for a pizza oven alone.
It has been said that home entertaining is the new dining out, especially since the recession. This means that maximizing the use of outdoor space is becoming increasingly important for a lot of people. Installing outdoor kitchens will clearly benefit a family’s social life, as well as enabling all members to have a lot of fun and fresh air, and maybe a healthier life into the bargain.
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