Planning for the Perfect Outdoor Kitchen
There are some important factors to consider when planning your open-air cooking area
You want to cook outdoors, where, after all, everything tastes better. But where do you start in creating the perfect outdoor kitchen for your needs? The perfect outdoor kitchen for you is determined by these factors: Space available, the type of cooking and entertaining you want to do, and your budget.
We could think of the space available for an outdoor kitchen in terms of tiny, moderate, and huge.
A tiny spot for an outdoor kitchen may be on your condo balcony or just outside the patio door of your house, or on the back deck. The good news is that you will generally be right near the house, because an outdoor prep and cleanup area is not only not possible with the space available, but not needed. You can run in and out of the house as needed for supplies and cleanup. The main feature will be your grill. Choose from a modest gas grill with a refillable propane bottle, to an extensive multi-fuel, multi-function smoker grill with a rotisserie accessory and electric burners. Available space and your budget will be your guide. A nice grill can be had for less than $1,000.
A moderately sized space allows you to start with the grill and then add counter space and perhaps modular cabinets. If you add plumbing and an instant water dispenser, you can prep and clean up right on the spot. You might have space for appliances: an undercounter refrigerator, ice machine, and maybe even a drink cooler and warming drawer. All-in-one units make life simpler. You need a good-sized budget from $5,000 to $10,000 or more to fulfill these grilling goals.
A huge space allows you the grill, the cabinets and counter space, plumbing, and also a seating area for your guests. This is especially nice if you’re the type of cook who likes an audience to keep you company while you prep and grill. Think of a bar-height countertop where you serve drinks from the undercounter cooler, regale your guests with stories, and hand out samples from the grill. When it’s time to serve up your creations, just fill up the plates. To up the ante, add an outdoor fireplace and perhaps a big screen TV to cheer on your favorite team. An outdoor TV cover keeps it the screen safe from extreme weather conditions. If the your budget allows for $10,000 or more, go for all the bells and whistles.
Factors That Can Make or Break Your Outdoor Cooking Experience
Most outdoor kitchens start with the grill, then expand with a countertop, appliances, and sometimes seating. But consider these often-forgotten factors that could turn your outdoor kitchen from one that’s rarely used to one that’s almost always used:
Imagine it’s late fall or even winter and you want to grill a steak after work. Trouble is it’s pitch black out there so you stay inside and boil pasta. Solve that problem by adding lighting to your space. Options range from outdoor-rated floor lamps to a fully designed outdoor lighting scheme with path lights and overhead lights mounted on a pergola. In all cases, you’ll need electricity out there. After all, you cannot distinguish between rare and medium rare without good light.
Unless you live in the magical band of moderate coastal climate between San Diego and Santa Barbara, California, you will need to accommodate harsh sun, high winds, snow, rain, hail, and/or other challenging conditions. Increase the times you can use your outdoor space by planning ahead. For hot and sunny areas, add a shade sail. For rainy areas, consider a solid roof over the cooking and seating area so you can grill during a tropical rain. For colder areas, add outdoor patio heating and maybe even heated pavers to prevent ice. For prevailing winds, place the kitchen where the house or an existing wall or fence will block the worst of it.
Ladybugs are fine, but most of us would rather avoid mosquitos, no-see-ums, flies, gnats, wasps, bees, and other flying creatures. The most thorough solution is a screened-in outdoor cooking and eating area. A moderate solution is an overhead fan to keep the insects at a distance. In a covered area with minimal wind, Thermacell mosquito repellent products are legendary for creating a bug-free spot to cook and dine for a few hours.
With savvy planning and execution, you could end up with the perfect outdoor kitchen for your specific needs. Ideally when friends and family ask how you like your new outdoor kitchen, you respond: “We use it all the time.”