You might think a decked-out backyard kitchen in Pennsylvania defies logic, but thanks to new technological advancements, year-round patio dinner parties are now well within reach — no matter the climate where you live.
“It used to be just the purview of the Sun Belt, but it has spread because of the improvement of materials and design of the components,” says Russ Faulk, chief designer and head of product for Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, an outdoor kitchen equipment manufacturer based in Chicago and Galesburg, Mich. “In a very high-end home, you might have radiant heating under the bathroom floor, and people will do that for their countertop. Flip a switch, melt the snow and use the outdoor kitchen.”
Of course, someone willing to install a counter-warming snow-buster would be on the “pointy end of the budget stick,” as Faulk puts it. The reality is that not everyone can afford all the bells and whistles, such as a cocktail station, a countertop fire feature, custom granite or a grill burner for cooking sauces.
Go for the grill
David Bond, president of Florida-based U.S. Brick & Block Systems, which installs pavers, pools, outdoor kitchens and more, says the grill is the cornerstone for your budget. To stay within your price range, you might have to pass on luxuries, such as a sear zone, a griddle or infrared rotisserie. “That can bring the cost down,” he says, adding that size is less important than quality. “It’s always best to get a good grill brand than to have a big grill that’s not going to last.”
Faulk, who also authored the recently released cookbook Food + Fire: Cooking Outside with Kalamazoo Outdoor Grillmaster Russ Faulk, agrees that the grill is the most important feature of any outdoor ooking space.
“Where I tell people not to scrimp is the grill, especially if it’s being built into masonry,” he says. “If you hate your grill, you’re probably not going to love your outdoor kitchen. And they’re tough to swap out because they don’t come in standardized sizes.”
Faulk adds that opting for movable components like tables and countertops rather than large stone kitchens with built-in grills is an increasing trend, somewhat driven by budget-minded homeowners who like the idea of growing their outdoor kitchens gradually.
“Instead of making your design decisions permanent and literally set in stone, there are a lot of other options to change and evolve your kitchen over time.”
When it comes to design, the next thing to consider with built-in kitchen spaces is what type of accent materials you’re interested in for countertops and cabinets, which often feature some type of masonry. “Typically, the thing with the most impact is the type of stone used on the cabinet,” says Bond. “Most everything else is just stainless steel appliances, so your stone and countertop will make the most difference.”
Despite efforts to rein in the spending, the urge to splurge on alfresco cooking and dining isn’t going anywhere.
“People are using the outdoor of their homes more than ever,” says Bond. “There are certainly instances of people spending more time and money on their outdoor kitchens than they are on their indoor kitchen.”
For those who really want to go all out, popular add-ons include entertainment zones like bars, dedicated cleanup areas and specialty refrigeration like wine coolers, freezers and under-counter refrigerator drawers to keep meat and produce separate. Faulk says smokers and wood-fired grills are especially hot right now, following the cooking trends popping up in restaurants across the country.
“What’s great about the outdoor kitchen, especially how it relates to the enthusiast, is it’s really difficult to implement this specialty equipment in an inside kitchen,” he says of restaurant trends influencing home trends.
He points to the rise in home pizza ovens after chefs across America fell in love with Neapolitan pies.
“You have to be cooking those pizzas at 800 degrees, and that was really hard to implement in your home, so it went outdoors, naturally,” says Faulk, who adds that he expects Argentinian-style grills, which are equipped with an adjustable height and a sloped V-shaped grate surface to allow more precise temperature control and uniform cooking, to gain in popularity this year.
Perhaps the best splurges, however, are those that make your outdoor kitchen available whenever the mood strikes, such as weather-proof cabinetry so you can keep everything you need stocked and handy — or maybe even that fancy countertop warmer.
“If you feel like you have to spend three to four hours to get your outdoor kitchen ready just to use it, you’re not going to be excited about using it,” says Faulk. “It should be always ready to go, always easy.”