Anyone with a backyard or balcony can buy a grill, set up a table and chairs, and cook and dine outdoors. "Outdoor kitchen," however, brings to mind an actual outdoor room. And that requires construction, design and planning. Before blowing the entire budget on the biggest gas grill in the store, read these tips to get started.
1. Cover the outdoor kitchen basics. In addition to a built-in grill, designer Ann Porter, of Kitchens Studio of Naples in Florida, recommends a sink, a UL-rated outdoor refrigerator, and weatherproof cabinetry. Dawn Whyte, of Designs by Dawn in Petoskey, Mich., agrees with the refrigerator and grill (not necessarily built in), and also suggests some seating and a counter surface for food prep. Of course, all of this needs to sit atop a patio, deck or other flat surface.
2. Use durable, low-maintenance and weather-resistant materials. Snow, rain, hot sun, extreme cold, grease and errant softballs all will take their toll. Stone, concrete, stainless steel and solid surface or acrylic-based materials all work well for patios, counters, appliances and cabinetry.
A small outdoor kitchen can fit on a back porch.
3. Choose the location of the outdoor kitchen carefully. Just outside the indoor kitchen-near the primary sink and appliances, as well as dishes and cookware-may seem the obvious choice. Not necessarily. Whyte checks the wind direction first to avoid placing the grill where it will blow smoke into the house. Also, consider how the kitchen will relate to dining and lounging areas, a pool, a garden, a playset or other outdoor features.
4. Plan for utilities. As in interior remodeling, adding or changing electrical, gas and water lines to an outdoor kitchen adds significant costs to the price tag. Option 1: Avoid those costs by choosing a propane or charcoal grill and skipping other appliances and a sink. Option 2: Go for it, but be safe and have the existing utility lines marked before digging. (To find out how, visit the Common Ground Alliance.)
Courtesy of Kichler
Pendants look lovely over an outdoor table.
5. Make the days — and the season — last. Outdoor lighting allows grilling and socializing to extend past dusk. (See the American Lighting Association for ideas.) For safety's sake, use task lighting at the grill and walkways. A fireplace or propane heater makes outdoor living comfortable even on cool spring and fall nights. And an eave, awning or roofed structure keeps rain at bay.
6. Consider the "living" potential of the outdoor space. Outdoor living encompasses much more than cooking and dining. Many outdoor living rooms include lounges or sofas, televisions and/or sound systems, fireplaces or firepits, and a pool or game area. Even if budget doesn't allow for these features now, proper planning can make them easier to add later.
7. Put together the right team. Putting together an outdoor living space combines the design and technical skills of a kitchen designer, landscape architect, general contractor, electrician and plumber, if not several more professionals. Building permits will almost certainly be required. Not only is an outdoor kitchen not an easy do-it-yourself project, it's not easy for pros who don't have experience working outside.
8. Save those pennies. "Outdoor kitchens, for their size, are fairly expensive," cautions Porter. "Quality materials designed to withstand the elements are more expensive." Whyte estimates $15,000 as a starting point for an outdoor kitchen in her region.
For more tips on grilling and outdoor living, try the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association.