Few summer pleasures are as much fun as a cookout. The smell of grilling food is mouth-watering, everything tastes great and it's hard not to have a good time - that is, unless you're the harried host running back and forth between the grill and the kitchen for the chicken and steak, forks and knives, beer and wine, and ketchup and mustard. And when everybody's done, all the leftovers must be lugged back inside.
An outdoor kitchen can help you slow down and spend more time with family and friends by putting all the ingredients for outdoor dining close at hand. It can be as simple as a storage cabinet for cooking gear or as ambitious as a full kitchen with grill, refrigerator, sink and eating area. Either way, your yard will gain an outside "room" that's a natural gathering spot.
What to Include
Outdoor kitchens cost from about $3,000 for one with a good-quality grill, a 6-ft.-long counter and a patio to $15,000 and up for higher-end versions with an assortment of appliances. Although it's tempting to compare outdoor kitchens to the one indoors, there are some key differences.
For example, while a grill and counter space for preparing food are essential, a refrigerator and sink aren't. But including them can boost the value of your home by helping your outdoor kitchen qualify as a second kitchen. "The increase may equal the cost of the project," says Pam Young, a Sacramento, California-based designer and founder of Patio Kitchens, which makes outdoor cabinetry. And though indoor-kitchen design includes a raft of rules and caveats, outdoor-kitchen designs are much more casual.
How elaborate should yours be? That depends on what you and your family need. For example, if you barbecue only once a week or so, a grill and a counter-high storage cabinet covered with tile or stucco should do it. The cabinet will protect supplies from the weather and the countertop will provide work space when you get down to cooking.
Like to eat outside as much as possible? Then you'll want storage space and a counter or table for dining, along with a sink and refrigerator.
For Viewing Pleasure
This property in Southern California gave breathtaking views of the surrounding area. Unfortunately, the family had to walk to the back property line to take in the sites. That and the fact that there was really no place for the family to cook and dine together led to a fully equipped outdoor kitchen near the rear of the yard.
Landscape architect Jeff Garton, of Paradise Designs, believes the most important step in designing such a space is to find the ideal location for the grill. With this kitchen, that meant placing the cooker so the smoke from it wouldn't blow into the faces of family and friends sitting around the counter or table. The location also had to be near the edge of the shade structure so that smoke could escape and not become trapped by the roof of the structure.
Garton was then able to put the countertops, the sink and a refrigerator within easy reach of the cook. The color scheme on the structure matches that on the house. And the tiles and brick pavers in the area look like those that surround the pool.
This kitchen contains a gas grill, as well as a refrigerator and lights that require electricity. Running power from the house ordinarily would disrupt the yard and boost the cost of the project, but Garton minimized both by digging one 24-in.-deep trench for electric, gas and phone lines. This cut excavation costs and allowed him to separate the gas and electric lines by the 12 in. required by local codes.
Planning Your Space
An existing backyard patio is a great foundation for an outdoor kitchen. You can add a grill, counters and other elements without having to make structural modifications. Decks, on the other hand, require additional support for all but the simplest of outdoor kitchens.
Whichever route you choose, an outdoor kitchen should be near the house to save you steps when you need to go inside for supplies. But that doesn't mean it has to be visible from the house. "You don't want to be inside and look at a stack of dirty dishes," says kitchen designer John Herbst. Undercounter shelves that keep dishes out of sight until cleanup time are one way around that problem.
Also be sure the spot you choose will accommodate everything you want the kitchen to hold. Here are some typical space requirements for each component:
Grills. You'll find grills with cooking areas from 24 to about 48 in. wide and 15 to 26 in. deep. You can also add a side burner or shelf, each of which can add another foot or so to the width. Whichever grill you choose, place it so smoke blows away from people eating.
Eating areas. Tables typically range from 42x42-in. models that can seat four to rectangular tables up to 96 in. long for six to eight people. Allow at least 36 in. and preferably 42 in. between the edge of the table and a wall, deck railing or other fixed object so there's room to walk behind those seated. And, for safety's sake, place tables at least 60 in. from stairs, even if the eating area is just one level up.
For eating counters with high stools, provide at least 24 in. of counter width for each stool. Also plan on 15 in. of undercounter leg room.
Counter space. You'll need plenty of open countertop space to prepare food and serve as a holding area for a variety of items, so don't skimp. As with indoor kitchens, plan on 36 in. of counter on each side of the grill if possible. And to make food prep and cleanup easier, allow 18 to 24 in. of open space on both sides of a sink.
Layout. Because the grill is the heart of any cookout, build your outdoor kitchen around it. Then arrange the items in the kitchen so they're easy to reach when you're cooking. Don't forget hooks for hanging tongs, spatulas, forks and other grilling utensils. If you include a sink, refrigerator and storage cabinet, they should all be close to each other. But they don't have to be arranged in the indoor-kitchen work triangle that ties the stove, refrigerator and sink together.
One functional layout to consider: Place a counter opposite the grill, creating a mini-galley or U-shaped kitchen similar to the Waltz kitchen. This setup is not only efficient, but it also keeps kids and other traffic out of the work area. Barriers that keep children away from the grill are a plus.
One Thing Led to Another
This Portland, Oregon, dining area grew out of a simple need to replace some rotted decking near the pool. When landscape designer John Herbst, of John Herbst Jr. and Associates, was surveying the damage, the owner brought up the idea of a built-in cooking area.
The requirements were relatively straightforward. The area had to include a grill that was close to the house but not directly visible from inside. And the layout had to be kept simple, yet include a shelter overhead to keep the cook out of the weather.
First, Herbst removed a 17x11-ft. area of decking and replaced it with exposed aggregate concrete with brick expansion joints. This gave the owners a surface tough enough to stand up to the spills and splatters associated with outdoor cooking. The brick also ties the patio to the built-in cooking area. A screening fence erected on both sides of the built-in shields the cooking/dining area from the rest of the yard.
The pergola consists of 4x10s trimmed down by an inch, with a top made of 2x3s spaced 6 in. apart. A sheet of 1/8-in.-thick clear plastic is nailed to the top to let sunlight through but keep out the rain.
Choosing a Grill
The main grill types are charcoal and gas (natural gas or liquid propane). Charcoal units range from $80 to $500. Those at the high end, like Weber's Performer series, include work shelves, charcoal-storage areas and autoignition systems.
Gas units offer more advantages. Many can be built into an incombustible surround for a more permanent appearance. They also provide greater control over cooking temperatures.
Good-quality gas grills start at about $200 and top out in the $4,000 range. That's a big spread, but you can narrow it once you determine what you need. Remember, the price of a grill rises as the size of the cooking surface, BTU output and extras increase.
Even for $200, expect 350 sq. in. of cooking surface and 22,000 Btu of cooking power. That compares with 10,000 to 12,000 Btu for the typical indoor range or cooktop. Grills in this price category come in an aluminum housing attached to a portable cart. Some companies to check out include Char-Broil, Sunbeam and Thermos.
What do you get for $4,000? A built-in unit that pumps out 60,000 Btu, has more than 800 sq. in. of cooking surface and such conveniences as side burners and a built-in rotisserie. Also expect a stronger, more durable stainless-steel housing.
If you like the built-in look, smaller versions of premium units are available. Traditional grill companies, such as DCS, Ducane, Lynx, Napoleon and Weber, offer stainless-steel or porcelain-enamel units that are suitable for built-in installations. These produce 40,000 to 50,000 Btu, have 400-plus sq. in. of cooking surface and start at around $1,600. And because indoor-range companies, like Viking and GE, now market outdoor grills, prices should drop in this category.
For built-in grills, you'll also need a surround. If you choose one made of combustible material, make sure the grill is designed for zero-clearance installations where it can touch the surround safely. Or, include a stainless-steel sleeve (about $500) in your plans. Sleeves are available from grill manufacturers.
Whichever grill you choose, you'll get the best deals by shopping for one at the very end of the outdoor-cooking season or just before it starts. Another way to stretch your budget is to make sure the grill you buy can be detached from its storage cart. Use it this year and then buy the surround next summer.
A Short Run
The side of the house can be an ideal location for an outdoor kitchen. There's no need to excavate trenches for gas and electricity lines, and the house itself provides some shelter for the appliances. And when yard space is at a premium, an open space along the wall of the house might be the only spot available for a permanent kitchen.
The owners of this California kitchen opted for an "inside" look so the area can be closed off during inclement weather. Though most outdoor grills don't require a vent hood, one is needed here to keep the space from getting smoke-filled. The folding louver doors keep postmeal messes out of sight and allow the owner to button up the area during the winter months.
Going All the Way
If you routinely entertain large groups, consider these elements when creating an elaborate outdoor kitchen now or adding components along the way:
Storage cabinets. Many custom cabinet bases are made of masonry block and then finished with stucco or ceramic tile. Cabinets like these are rock-solid and weatherproof and fit in nicely with other landscape elements. The downside is cost. Modular lightweight-concrete cabinet systems are a lower-cost alternative. Patio Kitchens offers cabinet bases in dozens of sizes, and they can be built with cutouts for grills and other appliances - all for about 40 percent less then masonry construction.
Sinks. Stainless-steel sinks are preferable here because they won't corrode. They start at about $100. Unless you plan on washing dishes outside, you'll only need a cold-water supply line. And in cold-weather areas, install a shutoff valve inside the house so you can drain the line for winter.
Refrigerators. Undercounter units are popular for outdoor kitchens. They're out of sight, protected by the counter and handy for storage. U-Line makes models that include automatic ice makers and frost-free features. They range from $500 to $1,200. In colder areas, disconnect the refrigerator and store it inside during the winter.
Cold-weather cooking. Even in frigid northern climates, you can extend the cooking season with a gas patio heater. Marketed by DCS and GE, these heaters look like 8-ft.-high light fixtures and produce a 20-ft. circle of heated air around the grill. Either portable or set in concrete, they include a number of settings. A 20-lb. liquid-propane tank, hidden in the heater base, can provide up to 10 hours of heat on the high setting. There are also models that can be hooked up to a natural-gas line. Both styles come in stainless steel, white, green or black, and start at $675.
Power requirements. Electric, water and natural-gas lines usually are brought to the outdoor kitchen from the service in the house. Besides providing power for the kitchen lights and refrigerator, electric outlets should be included in plans for the cooking and dining areas. (Outdoor outlets require ground-fault circuit interrupters.) Check local codes for regulations on burying electric cable and gas lines. In many areas, the two must be buried in separate trenches, though some areas require only that the two be separated. Ask your building inspector to explain what's needed.
Where To Find It:
5551 McFadden Ave.
Huntington Beach, CA 92649