Wednesday, September 20, 2017  

Outdoor Kitchens
More than just a Charcoal Grill!  

As the economy woes begin to be felt instead of just heard about, vacations are beginning to take on a whole new feel. You may decide instead of taking the family to Florida or Hawaii now may be the perfect time to try out a stay-cation and enjoy the comforts of your own backyard. Instead of packing up your children and heading on a cruise that may cost at least $4,000 consider spending just a fraction of that to create a relaxing environment in your own backyard that your family and friends can enjoy for summers to come, without the hassle of packing. Say you have always wanted to go to Tuscany, why not create Tuscany in your own back yard?

In our area the backyard is almost like a sanctuary. It’s a great location to unwind after work and let the kids burn off some extra steam before night falls and they must go inside. Imagine this: the neighbors are over sitting on the deck while all the children are amusing themselves on the swing set or playing a game of tag. Everything is great until someone gets hungry. Then it’s time to head inside and fix dinner. This begins a ripple effect. First the chef leaves to prepare the meal, and then the family comes inside to eat, while the neighbors pack up their belongings and head home. The fun of the evening is over. Well, we have a quick, easy, and affordable alternative to this scenario: an outdoor kitchen.

Outdoor kitchens have become so much more than just your father’s old charcoal grill. Some say that what makes an outdoor kitchen is having a place to prepare food; such as your father’s old grill. But what makes an outdoor kitchen spectacular is having a place to prepare food with the ease of your kitchen indoors. With the old charcoal grill someone still has to head inside to prepare everything to be grilled. Then there are countless trips back and forth: to get the ketchup for the hotdogs, to get another drink, don’t forget extra paper towels…

There are so many products available to ease the outdoor-cooking experience. The secret to having an outdoor kitchen is that there must be storage and everything must be waterproof; besides that, anything goes. Your outdoor kitchen can easily be as well-equipped as the one you have inside, if not more so.

The basics in a well-equipped outdoor kitchen include: a place to cook food, a water source, and refrigeration. I guess you could say that if you have a grill, a water hose, and a cooler you have an outdoor kitchen. Technically, those three objects do meet the criteria, but cooking in that manner doesn’t quite sing “easy living.”

The options available for outdoor kitchens are virtually endless. You can buy the modular components and piece them together, have an architect create a custom-designed kitchen, or do it all yourself. The first step is to determine the location of your outdoor kitchen. It is often preferable to keep your outdoor kitchen and your indoor kitchen close in proximity to make it easier to go back and forth if you need to.

Another important aspect to take into consideration is how your outdoor kitchen will add to the beauty of your home and landscape. If your home is made of brick or stone, consider incorporating those materials into your kitchen to add continuity. Remember that this space will be an extension of your home and should flow naturally.

When designing your outdoor kitchen, it is usually easiest to begin the process with your flooring and work your way up. Stone is typically used for outdoor kitchens because it is easy to clean, resists wear and tear, and is flame retardant. Other options include using gravel or decking material. Before installing the flooring be sure to install your gas, electric, and water lines. This will ensure that they are out of sight and add to the beauty of your outdoor kitchen.
When laying out the components of your kitchen, think of how you cook and what the logical progression will be. It is important to have prep areas close to cooking areas. Counter space is key. By incorporating a counter between your grill and sink you can wash vegetables, cut and put them on skewers for kabobs, and place them on the grill without having to walk across the patio. Storage under the counters will help keep you from running inside for platters or knives.

The next step is to determine which appliances you will need in your outdoor kitchen. Will you need simply a gas grill to cook your food, or would an open flame, brick oven also be suitable for your cooking style? Determining how you will prepare your meals outdoors will help you determine which appliances are best for you. Most people will be well suited with a large gas grill, sink and refrigerator.

One of the key elements of this space will be the appliance used for cooking your meals: the grill. As stated before, outdoor kitchens are so much more than just your father’s old charcoal grill. While many outdoor kitchens still incorporate charcoal grills for the wonderful flavors they add to food, the primary mode of cooking is the gas grill. Gas grills allow you to have better control over the cooking temperature of your foods.

The type of gas grills available range from basic to gourmet. Before purchasing a grill, figure out if you will just be using the grill on top, or if you will also need burners and an oven. Ask yourself, do you just want to make burgers and kabobs, or do you want to be able to make pasta alfredo topped with grilled chicken and fresh baked bread outdoors? Again, your cooking style will determine what type of grill you will need.

You must also ask yourself how many people you intend to cook for. If you are primarily cooking for your family you will not need as large of a cooking surface as if you are cooking for the entire neighborhood. Once all of these decisions have been made use them to pick the perfect grill. Remember that many grills will come with a lifetime warranty so it is appropriate to spend a little extra on them.

Another key appliance will be your sink. Do you want a sink primarily to wash your hands and rinse vegetables, or do you need something suitable for doing dishes and a bar? The size of your sink will depend largely upon its purpose.
The size of your refrigerator will also depend largely upon its purpose. If you only need it to hold food for the evening it doesn’t need to be as large as a refrigerator that is used in a fully stocked bar.

Don’t forget about the outdoor climate when you select appliances. In this area, which is highly seasonal, it is important to select products that can withstand severe weather. Stainless steel is a great option, as it will resist weathering if it is properly cleaned and covered when not in use.
Other Design Elements
To add more time to use your outdoor kitchen you may want to consider adding a fireplace or fire pit. These come in both gas and wood burning varieties and many different designs. Fireplaces can be added in materials matching your counters. Gas fireplaces or fire pits can have logs or crushed glass for a more contemporary look. Plus, the height of their chimneys will add layers to your design. In the spring and fall, or on cooler summer nights, these areas can quickly become a gathering point as the temperature drops.

With everything you need outdoors to prepare food it is also ideal to have a dining area. This can be as simple as adding bar stools to a higher countertop or as lavish is a full-fledge dining area. There are many options available in outdoor furnishings that are as beautiful as your indoor pieces, yet durable enough to stand up against the elements.
Defining the space from other outdoor areas can easily be done with a type of covering such as a pergola or canopy. If installing a canopy, it is important to remember not to cover the grill or cooking area as smoke can quickly fill the space if it does not have proper ventilation. A solid overhead covering can provide shelter for your guests if the weather should take a turn for the worse in the middle of your meal.

Lighting your outdoor space is also very important. Having light sources above the appliances and countertops will drastically ease your food preparation as the sun begins to set. It is also important to include a light source in the dining area. There are many options available that can blend in with your outdoor kitchen or become another decorating point. For outdoor kitchens, lighting really is the icing on the cake. It can set the mood, make the kitchen usable longer, and turn the space from good to great.

As a finishing touch, you can plant herbs in pots and scatter them throughout your outdoor kitchen. This gives you herbs close at hand while you are cooking, yet also adds fragrance and natural beauty to your outdoor space.
There are so many products available on the market that almost any outdoor cooking need can be met. If designed well and to fit into your landscape, outdoor kitchens can be great places to relax with friends and share a meal. Plus, they can even add value to your home!