Deborah Krasner, an award-winning food writer and kitchen designer, thinks it's time for outdoor kitchens and dining areas to "match our homes in quality, style, performance, and attractiveness". But she also believes that if you're willing to be creative, you can create a culinary oasis without spending a fortune. We asked the author of The New Outdoor Kitchen (Tauton Press), who recently built her own outdoor kitchen, to share some of her practical ideas.
Have a certain sum in mind by deciding what's most important: Do you want the bulk of your money to go into the setting—patio, pavilion, deck—or into equipment? If you're planning to stay in your house for a long time, put your money into the setting and start with modest equipment that can be upgraded over time. If you think you may move, buy the equipment of your dreams in portable form so you can take it with you. Build it in or buy versions on wheels. These days you can even get a portable pizza oven.
Recognizing a Good Location
Consider choosing the spot that's neglected and needs the most work: a side yard where the garbage cans are, the place the dog uses most. Areas that need a lot of attention frequently turn out to be the best location. Of course, it should also be on level ground, not too far from existing utilities, big enough for entertaining, offer privacy and a good exposure. Rather than the center of the yard, go off to one side or pick an area that's tucked away, because if the kitchen becomes the focal point, you won't have something to look at when you're there.
Audition The Area
Use a portable grill, table, and chairs, even set up torches, and create a temporary space where you can see what it's like to cook and eat. Note your path to the site, and mark it with powdered lime or a garden hose. See how it feels to transport things there and generally assess the site for its ease and enjoyment. Repeat until you find the best spot.
Plan The Layout
Even the simplest kitchen needs a place to cook and set food down going on and off the grill, a place to eat and socialize, and some storage. I recommend setting up five zones: hot, cold, wet, dry, and a spot for friends. Each zone should have space on either side and storage, if possible. Even if your "sink" is just a hose, you still need some kind of counter on either side for, say, a colander to rinse off fruits and veggies and maybe soap, and a sponge for washing.The dry zone is the most important because this is where you'll do food prep. Even if you do most of it inside, you'll still need a place to set platters, with food and without, down. The dry zone should also have a place for friends to perch and be comfortable. You might just start with a table and an umbrella; when you can spend more, you can do something more elaborate. Bottom line: Even if you only have a grill station, have dedicated prep and serve areas—tables will do.
Choosing Equipment and Cabinetry
Manufacturers of high-end interior appliances now also sell outdoor equipment, and many, including Kitchen Aid, Viking, and DCS, produce integrated lines for outdoor use. If you're planning a complete outdoor kitchen, the advantage of buying an integrated line is everything is scaled and designed to go together. You may be able to get a price break from a dealer on a package of appliances.
Also consider buying a "complete" outdoor kitchen that may include the additional equipment you think most important. These ready-made units are a way to avoid decisions about cabinetry and appliances. While not necessarily less expensive, they make life easier if you don't want to sweat every detail of making sure equipment such as grills, side burners, sinks, fridges, and beverage centers fits perfectly into or around cabinets and stone work.
Another option: stainless steel frames, purchased via contractors and hearth dealers, that accomodate grills and fridges. Then you get a mason to stucco and/or tile around it.
Restaurant supply houses, especially those that sell used equipment, are an economical source for stuff. Pieces to be on the lookout for:
Check local quarries, stone fabricators, and even monument makers (you can get shelves for the cost of cutting them to size) who often have short runs of stone left over from jobs that they'll sell at a substantial discount. Also consider using scrap stone with raw, wavy edges, which have a sculptural quality. These are not kid-friendly.
Check with your insurer to see if your kitchen will be covered. Generally, if it's connected to the back or side of a house on a deck or patio, you're more likely to be covered than if the kitchen is off a deck—even five feet away from the house.
Trash and Maintenance
Be prepared to deal with the inevitability of nature—everything from pollen on counters to spider webs in burners and wildlife visits. In addition to sponging down pre-cooking and scrupulous clean-ups post-meal, you need to take care of trash. Opt for a pull-out can as part of your cabinetry, a free-standing unit, or mount one inside a cabinet door. I recommend mounting one on a round piece of plywood sized to fit just inside the underside of the can). Screw the plywood to the can, add casters to the wood, and you've got a mobile unit.
From The New Outdoor Kitchen (Taunton Press).