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A Summer Story
By Tracy Dickinson | Photography by Tim Abramowitz
KITCHENS & BATHS June/July 2018
home :: home & garden :: kitchen & bath

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Outdoor kitchens give “grilling out” new meaning.

Outdoor kitchens give “grilling out” new meaning.

Nothing creates the classic summer scene like cooking out on the grill. But that setting can quickly become a tale of disaster: the endless treks back and forth from the kitchen, the tray of food balanced precariously in one hand and drink and utensils in the other, the long afternoons hovering over a hot grill in 90-degree heat while everyone else watches from the air-conditioned house.

It may be June, but it’s not too late to change the ending to that story. An outdoor kitchen could be just the plot twist you need and deserve.

The Setting

“Location is one of the most important parts of figuring out an outdoor kitchen,” says Jason Cox of Fireplace Stone & Patio.

“Our starting point is always functionality,” Archadeck’s Harold Cross says. “What level of project does the client want? Will it be just a kitchen, or do they want seating and dining space as well?”

For example, how close will your outdoor kitchen be to an indoor kitchen? “If your outdoor space is just outside the kitchen, you may not need to include features like a sink or appliances. That can simplify the design quite a bit,” explains Jeremy Speck of Speck Concrete.

An outdoor kitchen can be as simple as an island or counter surrounding the grill. But it can be as elaborate as built-in cooking and work surfaces, multiple appliances, seating areas, a fireplace, even the kitchen sink—all under a fully covered structure.

“Our first discussion with a homeowner starts with function. We want to design a space that will work for the way they’re going to use it so they can use it easily,” says Ted Lare from Ted Lare Design & Build. “Do you need it protected? Does that mean a full roof design or will a pergola work? Will it be on an existing patio or deck or will the surface need to be prepared?”

With today’s gas grills, an outdoor kitchen can be located on a deck, even if it’s a more elaborate design. Thanks to new options in lightweight cabinetry, it’s possible to design a comfortable space on existing structures without additional structural support.

“Just a few years ago, we started using a line of stainless, powder-coated cabinetry that has adjustable feet to level them at installation,” says Speck. “They’re lightweight enough to use on a deck without requiring new footings.”

The Storyline

With setting determined, the details of the design come into the story. “How you’re going to use it will determine every other decision,” Kaufman Construction’s Devan Kaufman says.

If your goal is simply to create a more efficient workspace, you can accomplish that fairly easily, says Cross. “If you don’t plan to replace your grill, you can just design an adjacent countertop space or a work area where the grill slides into a designated space with countertop surrounding it.”

The same can be accomplished with a built-in grill connected to the home’s gas line. And even a basic outdoor kitchen can include some convenience features. “The most common accessories include ice chests, trash cans, slide-out drawers, and propane tank holders,” says Cox.

Kaufman says, “Part of the fun of a project like this is that it can be so many different possibilities. It can be a nice prep space with a small fridge, or it can be an outdoor living space with cooking area, gathering space, even a fireplace.”

The Players

Choosing the featured players in your outdoor space depends in part on how you plan to use it. But functionality doesn’t mean utilitarian either.

“We’ve done outdoor kitchens with everything from high-end grills with multiple cooking surfaces and warming drawers to full living spaces with infrared heating so the space can be used well into the fall,” says Cross.

Speck says, “Personalizing the space for the homeowner is where it gets really fun. The first concrete countertops with built-in lighting were for outdoor projects like this. That’s how we got started with incorporating LED lights in our counters. We wanted to add sparkle so it looked like starlight.”

Whether or not you choose personalized products, these professionals all recommend making sure the materials are chosen specifically for your needs.

“With countertops, for example, you can go with stainless steel, granite, poured concrete, a landscape stone,” explains Kaufman. “Each of these comes with varying degrees of maintenance or care so you need to determine how much you want to do. This can affect how you use it. Will it stain? If the kitchen isn’t covered, how dirty will it get? Will it be easy to clean?”

“Galvanized metal and stainless steel are lightweight and suited to outdoor applications,” says Lare. “But they get really hot if the kitchen area isn’t going to be protected from the sun. I always say you can’t go wrong with polished granite. Natural stone is an outdoor product.”

Archadeck’s Cross says, “As long as it’s an outdoor material, it’s an option. We’ve seen outdoor islands faced with siding, stucco, decking material. But stone and stone veneer are most common. We recommend granite for counters since it can be installed fairly seamlessly, making it easier to clean and maintain for an outdoor application.”

The Big Finish

Beyond the basic work area, it’s the finishing touches that complete a great outdoor kitchen. “Don’t forget the lighting,” says Cross. “If your space is covered, overhead lighting is important. But lighting on the nearby walls of the house will make an uncovered space more functional, and strip lighting under countertops adds a nice effect, too.”

Designing a space for family and friends to gather nearby can also make your outdoor kitchen more enjoyable. “We designed a covered outdoor space with multiple seating areas and a fireplace because the homeowners wanted to be able to entertain while they were cooking,” Kaufman says. “They even included bar seating that faces the grill so guests could sit there and the homeowner could work and visit at the same time.”

Cox says, “Fire features can be incorporated pretty easily. Fireplaces need more space, but a fire feature could even be incorporated into a grill island.”

Yes, the summer is nearly half over. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late to create your own outdoor kitchen. And with all the options available—from fireplaces to infrared heating, outdoor televisions to custom lighting, you could be enjoying your new living space during the World Series or well into the football season.

That sounds like a happy ending.


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