Home & Design July 30, 2008

Outdoor Kitchens

Cooking Outdoors Doesn't Mean a Grill and an Awning Anymore

For some, living well outdoors is second nature. And in a place where summer sunshine is usually as plentiful as air, there’s no greater summer pleasure than cooking outdoors. That’s why creating an outdoor kitchen is now a popular “to do” item among many homeowners. True, our area isn’t always that climatically blessed. But during the warm season, this sort of room simply makes sense: If your outdoor kitchen is well-designed and thoughtfully furnished—with places to prepare, cook, serve, store, and sit—it will provide an added living and entertainment area for you and your family, and may even boost the value of your home.

Recognizing its value, we’ve gathered the following helpful tips to assist you in creating an outdoor room not only suited for cooking and dining, but also made for entertaining for the way in which you live. Because cooking outside doesn’t mean you have to rough it. Comfort is key. And with a little forethought, you can create an outdoor kitchen that is stylish and blissfully functional-—like fine camping, if you will.


Selecting a locale
One of the first questions to ask yourself is will your outdoor kitchen be the focal point of your backyard or simply an accessory off your deck or existing patio? That’s because all well-designed outdoor kitchens begin with a good location. Take, for instance, an open space alongside a wall of your home. Considered by many homeowners as the ideal location for an outdoor kitchen, this space typically requires scant commitment or expense. A basic grill, storage for utensils, and a simple awning to block out the summer sun are all that may be needed. Low cost aside, this location is also considered ideal simply as a matter of convenience. Because no matter how efficient and organized you are, there will always be trips back to the house. And locating your outdoor kitchen close to your indoor kitchen can save you the back and forth trek. One drawback, however, can be a wooden deck. Most wooden decks will be able to handle only the simplest of kitchen essentials, so if this is your location of choice, be sure to get an expert’s opinion on how much weight and what type of appliances this area can handle.

Another sought-after location for an outdoor kitchen is an existing structure, such as a pool area, an atrium or backyard patio. Not only are these locations desired because they customarily already contain a solid concrete foundation (which can withstand the splatters and spills of outdoor cooking), they are typically large enough to accommodate a grill, counters, and other elements without having to make substantial structural modifications. These sites are also preferred by homeowners who are enticed by the thought of a distant “room” that they and their guests actually must stroll to. Once there, they find themselves surrounded by wildflowers, looking back at their home rather than out from it.

Of course, moving your outdoor kitchen away from your home takes considerably more planning and is, by and large, not as convenient, especially if you are serving drinks and your kitchen does not have a bar or refrigerator. For that, you must plan ahead or outfit your kitchen to include necessities for such offerings: a portable fridge for cold drinks and appetizers, a sink that can be drained and even perhaps a roll-out beverage cart.

And if you desire a freestanding structure, but need to build one from scratch, remember that it will take up backyard space, which for some homeowners is a priceless commodity. And, as Mark Fisher, owner of Fisher Appliances, reminds us, here in the mountain desert we are subject to some of nature’s more challenging elements. So be sure to consider what barriers, if any, the space provides that will protect you and your guests from too much sun, prevailing winds, and even curious neighbors.

Considering what utilities, such as plumbing, gas and electricity, are accessible at or near the desired area is also a factor. Remember that a sink will require a water supply with proper drainage, and electricity is often needed for outdoor appliances and lighting. And if your grill uses natural gas, it will require a built-in line. Each can be moved or installed, but the ease of availability of one or the other might determine your choice. If this is where your planning takes you, it’s wise to hire a contractor who can help you avoid costly mistakes and acquire the necessary permits you will need to bring electricity, gas, or water to your outdoor kitchen.

And perhaps one of the most important things to consider regarding your kitchen’s location is what you want to be able to do in it. Greg Ferris, of Sun Valley Kitchen and Bath, recommends thinking about “how often you entertain and for how many people.” Does it only need to handle meals for intimate gatherings with friends, or must it be one that can accommodate a substantial crowd? Take the time to understand your needs and desires before you select your site so you can be sure that it will accommodate all of your needs. >>>




Once you know what you want to do in your kitchen, you can begin to think about your cooking apparatus. Today there is a dizzying assortment of grills available that, depending on the features you select, can make cooking on them as dependable as any indoor range. Translation: You can spend anywhere from a hundred dollars for a decent charcoal grill, to several thousand for a high-end, Rolls-Royce gas grill model that has all the bells and whistles, says Fisher.

To help make a selection, set a budget. Do a bit of browsing beforehand to get a feel for how much grills cost, and determine how much you can spend. Once you’ve figured out your range, Fisher recommends taking the time to consider “what you’re going to do with it.” This sort of information will provide you with valuable clues as to which parts of a grill are musts and which you can live without. A family of four, for instance, may not need a 48-inch rotisserie grill with multi-zoned burners and a large wok. However, a grill with a more modest grilling surface, say 30 inches, a top warming shelf, and one side burner may suit their needs just fine.

It’s also helpful to consider whether or not you would like your grill to be a permanent fixture or composed of portable units that can be moved around during summer and positioned closer to the house for winter. Your decision may depend upon what your space will allow, and what installations may be necessary in order to use your grill in your desired location. Even in partially enclosed spaces, a hood or ventilation system is necessary to remove smoke and odors. And if a grill is stored under flammable trellises or near trees or bushes, it may need to be moved to a safer location during its use. Your budget can also determine your choice. Consulting with a designer or appliance salesperson who understands your constraints and needs can help you choose the best way to spend the money you have. Keep in mind, however, that if you go to an appliance store, the store’s suggestions will be limited to their own stock and the lines they carry. So be prepared to do some comparison shopping.


Thinking ahead for the cold is essential for those who want to utilize their outdoor kitchens year-round. It’s wise to think about the little extras that will help extend their use. Peter Dembergh of Dembergh Construction recently worked on a kitchen that contained two fireplaces, radiant-heat floors, and portable heaters. “So even if the temperatures dip to 10 degrees, you’ll still be comfortable eating outside.”

Patio lights enhance nighttime grilling, and can also change the overall look and feel of your backyard. Plus, they also extend the amount of time you can spend outside. Lit candles can also have the same effect.

“For such a new subject,” says Dembergh, “people are really taking interest in this type of room, and are experimenting with all sorts of combinations.” Built-in seating, chaise lounges with comfortable cushions, and customized tiles are just some of the elements that can be added. Cabinets and undercounter shelving are useful additions that can store necessary objects such as linens, utensils, candles and bug repellent, and will also hide unslightly objects (i.e., used dishes) until cleanup.

And if entertainment is high on your list, some outdoor kitchen installations come equipped with flat-screen TVs, stereo systems, and even mood lighting—all of which can add to the enjoyment of your outdoor kitchen space. Others, says Dembergh, are being installed alongside exotic elements such as outdoor spas.

Clearly, there are as many varieties of outdoor kitchens as there are of traditional indoor cooking areas—and the trend is moving so quickly that what’s considered adventurous today may be seen as de rigueur tomorrow. So when choosing your kitchen’s ingredients, be honest and trust your instincts. The better you understand your needs and desires, the more satisfying the experience will be.

This article appears in the Spring 2007 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.