Not long ago that the phrase “outdoor kitchen” meant having a big barbecue and a great table, and that was good enough for us!
Now those days seem quaint and underachieving, as one can obtain culinary awesomeness in the great outdoors. With today’s mix of old traditions and new technology, outdoor kitchens boggle the mind with possibility.
For most of us, there’s nothing better than entertaining outdoors in the summer, and the idea of being able to cook entire feasts surrounded by your guests, while enjoying the sun with a beverage in hand, is a whole ‘nother level of awesome.
When it comes to potential costs, the sky’s the limit on outdoor kitchens. They’re the hottest thing going, and in places like California, outdoor kitchens are now included in total living space calculations on real estate listings. And why not?
But every dream needs to start somewhere, and unless you’ve got thousands to plunk down on all the fixins for an outdoor kitchen, you might be tackling this in phases. As time goes on, add a new piece or combination to make your summer season packed with flavor and fun.
Even if you’re piecing it together over a couple of years, the considerations are the same. You need to think about location, planning, local weather, wildlife, and wear.
Location, Location, Location
Finding a place for your cooking space is tricky. First, it needs to be an area you can level off, so things don’t roll off counters or grills. Then, it has to be where you won’t have excessive smoke wafting into your residence, or blackening your home’s exterior, and that includes on windy days too.
You don’t want my recent experience of staying with a friend, enjoying great dinners, and wobbling off after excess wine for a great sleep, only to find my guest room full of barbecue smoke two hours later, since the barbecue was almost directly under my window. Not optimal, and not something you’ll want to have 20/20 hindsight once you’re done with all those sweaty afternoons bringing your cooking area to life.
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Okay, so, you don’t want a kitchen next to your house, but you also don’t want to be hiking across a yard every time you need an ingredient. Proximity is key in backyard cooking.
Where to Start? Imagining.
A gradual installation of an outdoor kitchen requires room to grow the space, and a big imagination to cook up the dream for what it’ll one day be. After all, there’s a whole lot more to outdoor cooking than the barbecue, these days.
There’s obviously the big-as-heck gas grill you’ll be wanting. Maybe you’ll be picking up a smoker, too. What about an old-school charcoal grill, for roasting up peppers, getting a rustic burger cooked, and more?
And then there’s outdoor appliances, like gas stovetops, refrigerators, ovens, and more. A good sink for access to water, that couldn’t hurt. Then, the holy grail of backyard cooking: The outdoor wood-fire oven, because fire and smoke make everything more tasty.
Room to Grow: Dream a Big Dream
So, it’s important you think out a plan. Be realistic but dream big, because this isn’t money that will go to waste if you do this properly. It’s a fantastic homeowner’s investment.
Questions you should be asking yourself as you plan your building stages are, how much time will you really have for cooking outdoors? Is your local weather conducive to making this more of a lifestyle than just a seasonal hobby? If so, what kind of shelter (and ground surface) might you need to make it an investment that really pays off? When you think of outdoor cooking, what are the foods you most want to be making, and what installations will best help you get there?
Plan for everything today, and it won’t look weird in a year or two when you finish your epic undertaking.
For me, I long for a monster grill, an accommodating work surface, and a big stone fire oven, like the one Jamie Oliver has in his country home in Britain. I dream of making bread and calzones in a fire oven, or stuffing meat and fish full of herbs and aromatics, and roasting ‘em off in the fire-filled pit. Of course, I’ll need a yard first.
Maybe you want a gleaming cooking area filled with state-of-the-art stainless steel appliances for a full-on cooking experience that just happens to be outside. This, too, I can dream of. Who couldn’t dream this dream? People who hate food and fun, that’s who.
Don’t Cheap Out: Do it Right
Here’s one area where the cheap way out is a deep hole you’ll dig yourself. Invest in quality, because nothing exposes shoddy quality faster than a winter spent outdoors, and taking everything in for the off-season defeats the purpose. Look for stainless, stone, concrete, and other durable products that can stand up to your region’s not-so-summer months.
Speaking of different regions, some places have real concerns over wildlife, and any outdoor kitchen should be easy-to-clean with secure food storage areas. There are stainless steel food drawers and lockers, and even outdoor fridges, one can use to keep coyotes, bears, and other critters at bay. It’s not just about keeping food secure, it’s about sealing in odors so nature’s furry friends don’t know you’ve got lunch available in the yard when you’re off at Aunt Martha’s for an overnight trip.
It’s Worth It, Do It
So, a few points really worth remembering: However you plan to build your kitchen, create as large an area as you can, because it can always become a gathering and eating area if you don’t fill it with cooking-related goodies — or, say, a hot tub. Focus on quality add-ins, not the quantity. Get built-ins that come with great warranties and long-term outdoor life, because an outdoor kitchen is a huge resale asset and value-adding feature on your property.
Do it right, and you (and your loved ones) will have years of flavorful fun ahead of you.