An Insider's Guide to Outdoor Kitchens

Today, the world of outdoor kitchen design has reached new heights of sophistication, comfort, and convenience so that eating alfresco is an effortless luxury enjoyed by the entire family all year round.

Once upon a time, outdoor dining mainly consisted of dad manning the charcoal grill while the kids take countless trips back and forth between the main house and patio carefully negotiating plates of raw hamburger meat. 

Not anymore. Today, the world of outdoor kitchen design has reached new heights of sophistication, comfort, and convenience so that eating alfresco is an effortless luxury enjoyed by the entire family all year round.

In fact, according an April 14 USA Today article, outdoor kitchens are on the short list of coveted features that attract buyers, and homes with them “sold 25% above expected value” over the last two years.

Here’s how to design an impeccable outdoor kitchen:

Concept

Decide whether you want your outdoor kitchen to be open-air, fully-enclosed, or partially enclosed. Two simple open-air concepts are building the kitchen assembly onto an already existing patio or deck, or configuring a courtyard within the backyard as an elaborate atrium with all-weather screen dividers, a Downton Abbey extra-long picnic table of reclaimed wood, and a central exposed area for stargazing and socializing.

For enclosed or partially enclosed options, consider a screened-in patio, deck-top pavilion, and garage or shed-turned-casita. Each building structure should have wide, open views via arbor archways, large-scale windows, skylights, retractable awnings, or shade valances to ensure those inside can fully experience the beauty of the outside.

Pergolas are the most popular structure for outdoor kitchens. They resemble the wall-less, skeleton frame of a house, the sides typically made of wood beams while the rooftop is whatever suits your style and budget, from canvas canopy, exposed bamboo beams, latticed teak, and even tin. A timeless romantic option is to cover a thatched pergola roof with shade-bearing flora like vibrant bougainvillea, leafy wisteria, and climbing roses, and to add diaphanous, tie-back curtains to the sides.

Layout

L-shaped, U-shaped, or floating, the layout of your outdoor kitchen will depend on the most structurally sound configuration for power outlets, ventilation systems, and drains. First consult with a contractor about where to place plumbing units and electrical/gas lines, and then contour around those amenities.

Design

The question of your kitchen design comes down to two options: prefabricated or customized. Today, the market for beautifully rendered, craftsman-style, off-the-rack kitchen assemblies makes the line between the two nearly imperceptible. Homeowners can take their pick from all-inclusive food preparation stations that exceed standards of both function and style. These deliverable units come with stainless steel appliances laid into a base of stucco, stacked stone, or brick, covered with countertops made of stone, tile, faux-leather quartzite, or the immensely popular painted concrete, cooking islands, and powder-coated stainless-steel Louver door cabinetry made to look like wood that feature seamless rain gutters surrounding every door and drawer to keep contents safe and dry.

The major difference with a custom-built kitchen is the ability to choose sustainable, local materials, and to have a truly unique design made of salvaged timbers and stones.

Features

The list of amenities available for outdoor kitchens is never-ending. Ultimately, what you choose depends on how elaborate or minimalist, cutting edge or homespun you want your kitchen to be. Options include Michelin-worthy chef stations with fully-automated appliances, hybrid grills that cook with wood, charcoal, and gas so that you can slow cook an entire brisket overnight or sear a dozen steaks in under 10 minutes at 800 degrees, warming drawers, griddles, backsplashes, dishwashers, wire racks, ice chests, wine coolers, and pizza ovens.

Or, you could go with a Prairie-style kitchen with terracotta pizza pie ovens and in-ground fire pits.

Your outdoor kitchen could be a fully connected digital entertainment station with flat-screen televisions tuned to ESPN, and bluetooth surround sound stereo systems. Opposite of that, create a tranquil space that unplugs from the virtual world, with a wood-burning fireplace, cozy couches with throw pillows and cushions, a built-in bookcase, and fragrant votives.

You could incorporate a water feature into your kitchen, such as a coy pond, tulip fountain, Japanese rain catchers, water flumes; or, go all the way with a hot tub.

No matter what your style, all outdoor kitchens must have comfortable seating and ambient lights. Fortunately, there are countless options in the way of outdoor furniture with all-weather, mildew resistant fabrics that are elegant, vibrant, and worldly. In the lighting department, choose from no wire antique sconces which eliminate the need for wall busting electrical work, hanging candle chandeliers, outdoor votives, rope lights, and rust proof resin floor lamps.

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