Design & Style
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Two Paths to a Great Outdoor Kitchen

No matter your budget, you can build your own personal oasis

By Lisa Readie Mayer
Published: January 31, 2010

An outdoor kitchen is today’s coolest place to cook. Way more than just a grill, it has everything you need to prep and serve a fabulous alfresco meal. And, because cooking outdoors is as much about socializing as cooking, it’s great for kicking back and relaxing too.

You can create an outdoor kitchen on a budget by adding appliances and accessories individually over time. Or you can go all-out, all-at-once. Either way, it will increase the value of your cabin and provide a whole lot of fun, too.

And, like an indoor kitchen, one thing is certain: It’s where everyone will gather.

outdoor_kitchen_2
An outdoor kitchen can be as simple as a grill, a two-tiered table for food preparation and serving, a firepit, comfortable seating and a pergola. And you can piece together your outdoor kitchen over time.
Photo by Outdoor Greatroom Company

Kitchen Simple, Built in Stages

It may be small, but this outdoor kitchen perfectly suits the needs and budget of this family. It was assembled over the course of a few years, anchored by the deck and grill and then supplemented with other pieces. The family loves to cook so they splurged on a high-quality gas grill with a sideburner and programmable cook-by-numbers technology. They chose a freestanding cart model that is more compact and less expensive than a built-in grill island, while still offering storage in the base.

An overhead pergola, purchased as a pre-finished, easy-to-assemble kit, defines the boundaries of the outdoor room and ties everything together. All-weather, fade-resistant, fabric curtain panels soften the look and add indoor-inspired decorative flair.

Because the pergola provides only minimal protection from the elements, and there is no outdoor storage, cushioned furniture would be impractical on this deck. Swivel rocker sling chairs are a comfy yet no-maintenance alternative. A two-tiered table functions as a buffet counter for plates, utensils and serving platters, or it can stand in as a beverage station – depending on the occasion.

The family can light up the night with two gas-powered lanterns, or opt for the soft glow of outdoor string lights hung from the pergola’s beams. A gas firepit table adds to the ambiance and does double-duty, providing warmth as well as a spot to rest drinks and snacks. The fire always draws everyone around, but the on-off convenience means they can simply shut off the gas when it’s time to go to bed.

One lesson to take away: While this was a multiyear project, the homeowners had the end result in mind from the beginning. They thought through exactly which features they would enjoy most and where they would be positioned, and dedicated the appropriate amount of deck space to their outdoor room. Good planning saves money and eliminates hassle because you won’t need to make changes in later phases of your project.

outdoor_kitchen
While many outdoor kitchens feature islands made of stucco, stainless steel or other contemporary finishes, the rustic materials of this outdoor kitchen blend perfectly with a cabin home.
Photo by Tennessee Log and Timber Homes

Big Kahuna Outdoor Kitchen

If you want it all, want it now, and don’t mind paying for it all at once, you can create an instant personal backyard resort.

A project like this generally requires help from an outdoor kitchen professional, such as a landscape architect or specialty barbeque retailer. These homeowners chose a seasoned pro to create a cohesive design plan to suit their needs, complement their home and integrate into their surroundings. And because this large-scale outdoor kitchen required electric, gas, plumbing and drainage utilities, the family felt better entrusting those systems to experts who knew the codes and requirements and ensured it was done right the first time.

This outdoor living space combines two distinct areas, one for cooking and the other for dining, entertaining and relaxing. It was built over an existing 16x40-foot concrete patio and features a post-and-beam structure with a solid roof overhead and a pergola entryway.

The cabin owners wanted it all to blend into their environment so it was important to them to incorporate natural materials into their outdoor kitchen. So it features cedar, iron, stone, reclaimed wormy chestnut wood and bark for cabinets and a rustic-hued patchwork of tile for the counters.

Though this outdoor kitchen may have a rustic flair, it’s actually state-of-the-art. A 36-inch, commercial-quality stainless steel grill with infrared sear burner and rotisserie is built into an island cabinet with an outdoor refrigerator and icemaker. The built-in kitchen prep area has a sink, ice cooler, condiment holders and cutting board, plus plenty of storage in the island cabinets.

All the comforts of home? Yes, outdoor-rated ceiling fans cool down the room and the wood-burning fireplace heats it up to suit the season. And with cozy rugs underfoot and deep-cushioned furniture to sink into, there’s no roughing it here.

While everything looks custom, the pergola and post-and- beam structure are actually kits that just needed to be finished on-site. Even the island cabinet bases were preassembled with cutouts for the appliances; only the exterior finish and countertop needed to be completed upon delivery. These shortcuts save time and money versus having a contractor custom-build everything from scratch.

Big or small, low-budget or no budget, over time or all at once – no matter how you get there, your outdoor kitchen will become the favorite room at your cabin.

Lisa Readie Mayer’s outdoor kitchen is simple, but the enjoyment it provides: enormous!  

And in the Frostbelt?

While outdoor kitchens originated in warm weather states, many frostbelt dwellers enjoy them too. If you live in snow country, a heat element, such as a patio heater, is essential to extend the season and maximize your investment. Island and counter materials must be weatherproof and able to withstand freeze-thaw conditions. And the sink, refrigerator and other appliances that use water will have to be drained and winterized. If it's in the budget, an overhead shelter makes your outdoor room usable on drizzly days.
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5 stars
RICK WILKINSON said:
Great ideal I am considering an out door kitchen on my covered deck off the rumpass room.Should be great for intertaining especialy with the house kitchen being upstairs. look forward to seeing more kitchen ideals and coments. Thanks
3 stars
BROOK LARSEN from WISCONSIN said:

Any kind of fire pit, wood or gas, would not be allowed by most fire codes on a wood deck with wood pergola overhead. Check local fire codes beforehand.

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