The summer backyard barbeque, an American tradition, has developed into a year-round pastime that includes everything from the basic, traditional stand-alone grill to gourmet meals prepared in a full-scale outdoor kitchen. According to a new national poll released by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA,) seventy percent of Americans revealed that they prefer cooking out to eating out. “People love to cook outdoors because food tastes better, and it's an enjoyable way to entertain,” says Leslie Wheeler, HPBA Director of Communications. Add to that the popularity-and proliferation-of round-the-clock cooking shows, food magazines, cookbooks, specialty stores, and gourmet markets, and you can understand why even the occasional outdoor chef is looking to up their grilling game.
For manufacturers of outdoor grills and grilling equipment, the trend has been met with a full range of new products, options and features. Today's free-standing units-from well-known makers like Weber and Char-broil-are not only more sophisticated in terms of their cooking features, but better equipped to handle food prep, serving and storage with built-in cabinets and extended surface areas. And, for those looking to move from a stand-alone unit to a built-in-or create an outdoor kitchen that rivals the one they have indoors-there are plenty of options on that front too. “There's no denying,” says Wheeler, “that this interest in outdoor living has inspired manufacturers to create new innovative products like hybrid fire grills, pizza ovens, flat grills for stir frying and deep fryers that make cooking outdoors fun all year-round.”
If you are thinking of enhancing your outdoor grilling experience this summer, there are many things to take into consideration. First, how do you plan to use your outdoor space? If it is intended to be an extension of your existing kitchen, a built-in grill with some work surface and storage may be sufficient. A stand-alone grill island with sink and refrigerator could be the better solution if you are looking to make cooking outdoors a more self-sufficient endeavor. And, if you are looking to turn your backyard into the ultimate entertainment zone with a state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen, the sky-and your budget-are the only limits.
Designing Your Outdoor Kitchen
“Design your outdoor kitchen for easy living,” suggests Russ Faulk, VP of Product Development, Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet . “Make sure materials and equipment are low-maintenance so that cooking does not become a chore” he says. “Place grills and burners away from the seating area to discourage traffic from interrupting the cooking,” According to Faulk, some of the most common outdoor kitchen design mistakes to avoid are: A lack of task lighting-making it difficult to cook after dark. Not enough counter space, and porous work surfaces creating a laborious clean up situation.
It is important to choose materials that will stand up to all types of weather,” says Mark Allen, President/Designer, Outdoor Kitchens by Design, Inc. and Director of Marketing, National Outdoor Kitchen and Fireplace Association (NOKFA). Allen suggests choosing weather resistant materials designed specifically for outdoor use-like quality-grade stainless steel-rather than interiors. “Most companies today build the outdoor grill island out of durable galvanized steel framing wrapped in concrete hardi-back board. Counters can be made of a variety of materials such as Granite or Travertine stone, a popular choice because of its elegant look and cool to the touch surface,” says Allen.
“If you have a patio or deck already in place, and utilities are convenient and accessible, you can add an outdoor kitchen for as little as $5,000,” says Russ Faulk. “Kalamazoo's average order is in the range of $25,000,” he says. “Outdoor kitchens used to consist of a built-in grill and some storage space, but the definition has evolved to include refrigeration, a sink, prep area, storage and our latest introduction, the first outdoor dishwasher, specifically designed to withstand extreme outdoor conditions.”
A DIY Approach
Starting with a finished patio or ground level wood deck, you can also plan and install an outdoor kitchen yourself (provided you do not need to install complicated plumbing, electrical or gas lines). Eldorado Stone, a leading manufacturer of natural stone veneer products recently launched the Eldorado Outdoor™ line-a collection of strong yet lightweight building blocks that quickly assemble into custom barbeque islands, kitchen counters, bars and more-ready to be dressed with Eldorado Stone and Brick within hours. Eldorado Outdoor™ also has an online Design Tool, a proprietary 3‑D program that allows you to create a variety of design elements.
If you're looking to expand your grilling options without the need for a building permit, masonry contractor, plumber or electrician, you might want to consider the new Weber Summit Grill Center with Social Area. With the Summit 670 Grill as its main component, the all-stainless, modular unit includes right and left cabinets that feature covered rotisserie and dual-ring burner, a corner unit with built-in ice bin, and an L-shaped Social Area extension that provides a generous entertaining counter with additional cabinet storage. The unit measures 57.1' H x 112.75' W x 75.5' D, comes with adjustable legs for leveling on uneven grades, and can be assembled in less than one day. Best of all, you can have a high-end, outdoor kitchen for about $4,449.
You might also consider ordering your outdoor kitchen island online. The BBQ Grill Island, pictured above, from GrillsDirect.com, measures 102.25' W x 54.75'D x 36'H and features a Bull Angus grill, refrigerator, sink, side-burner and door/drawer combo. Constructed of a heavy-duty galvanized steel frame and outdoor-rated, non-flamable cement board base, the island comes complete with decorative stone facing, ceramic countertops, and ready for hook-up-via White Glove Delivery-for around $6,000.