Outdoor Living: Cooking Up the Kitchen
authors Kyle Clapham
More than 80 percent of remodelers say they completed at least one outdoor living project in the previous year, according to a survey from Qualified Remodeler’s 2018 Outdoor Planning Guide. Thirty-six percent of the respondents cited an outdoor kitchen (grill, countertop, appliances and cabinetry) as a most- requested element, just behind shading structures and fire pits/fireplaces.
If homeowners ask for an outdoor living space, they typically want to include an outdoor kitchen because of the added convenience. They have a desire to spend more time outside, so shuttling between the house and their newfound living area would defeat that purpose. The ability to carry out tasks they could only execute in the main kitchen saves valuable time and increases the return on their investment.
Product manufacturers also offer a wider variety of options for customers who pursue an outdoor kitchen now versus several years ago. Kamado grills, pizza ovens and undercounter refrigerators represent only a few of the specialty items available to homeowners when they list their priorities for a project. The features they deem indispensable will likely determine the cost of their outdoor kitchen.
What to consider
“We’re in Austin, Texas, so the climate here lends itself to people spending time outside—more than up north where you get snow and cold weather in the winter,” says Sara Hadden, a designer for CG&S Construction. “If a client comes to us asking for an outdoor living area, they [usually] want to include a kitchen because they want to [stay] outside, and not have to run back and forth between the [main] kitchen when they’re entertaining or when their kids are playing in the pool.”
Early in the design process, homeowners must answer specific questions about their intentions so Hadden truly understands their needs for the space. Most clients who bring up an outdoor kitchen have already made the lifestyle decision to be outside as much as possible, she notes. They might go back and forth on individual components, but typically customers remain set on their wishlist.
“Are they looking to just be able to grill some burgers while they’re entertaining and the kids are in the pool? Or do they really want to spend time out there and be able to cook and hang out and not have to go into the house at all?” Hadden asks. “There’s a whole laundry list of stuff that we go through. The most important thing is to understand how the clients envision using that space.”
Homeowners may not know exactly what they want, however, and the thoughtful discussion can help illuminate and develop ideas. They might need to make some tough choices about materials that will be used for the project or the combination of products installed in their outdoor kitchen. Another consideration involves the amount of maintenance that customers would be able to bear.
“When we do an outdoor project like that, they don’t always say, ‘Yeah, I definitely want this,’” explains Devan Kaufman, president and founder of Kaufman Construction in West Des Moines, Iowa. “But if it’s a pretty big project, and we’re talking about doing screens or leaving it open and adjacent patios, there might be quite a few things that are in play there as the plan develops.”
Kaufman begins by asking his clients which appliances they seek in the outdoor kitchen and uses that information to piece the project together. Many homeowners decide not to incorporate a sink because the local climate increases upkeep during the winter, or when the area cannot be utilized. “You’ve got to get drain lines outside there—and worry about it freezing in the winter,” he notes.
How to budget
“What’s happened recently is that all the manufacturers have caught up with the trend,” says Tim Burch, owner and vice president of BOWA for its office in Middleburg, Virginia. “Now there are some great products that people can install for outdoor kitchens—whether it’s covered or [in the] open. There are a lot of options that we can offer our clients who want to do an outdoor kitchen.”
Burch initially asks his customers to list the top five features they desire in their outdoor kitchen, which helps put the project in context. “A lot of people, in their minds, think they need a gigantic grill outside,” he explains. “But if you go down to a 36-inch grill, you can get in other things that you may use more, like a pizza oven or an undercounter fridge. They would probably use that more than the grill—they just don’t know it. You have to pick and choose and work [their] priorities.”
The company used to install a number of grills set in stone with little else around them, but often they would sit there underutilized. Now homeowners want the ability to walk out of their family room into an outdoor living space, and the areas increasingly incorporate a secondary kitchen. Clients must be willing to invest tens of thousands, though, to create the ideal setup, Burch notes.
“It’s not your Weber grill type of pricing,” he says. “There are little things. If you have a covered grill area outside, you still have to ventilate it. You need an exhaust hood and all of the stuff that you have for a kitchen inside the house. It has to be applied to the exterior cooking area as well.”
BOWA recently completed a whole-house renovation that included a master suite, indoor kitchen and a covered outdoor pavilion. The home has a pool where the family spends most of their time in the summer and the owner enjoys grilling, so the remodeler built practically an entire kitchen outside. In fact, the client has hosted parties where the caterers have set up completely outdoors.
“When you cover the area, it adds an element of cost because you have to do the ventilation and things that you would do in a normal kitchen,” Burch explains. “It comes down to if the client is someone who’s going to use it a lot, [as far as] whether I would guide them to do that versus just a grill and some stone outside that looks nice, but is only used a certain amount of time per year.”
Because he rarely constructs a full kitchen outside in Iowa, Kaufman has to consider positioning the outdoor area “where it’s close enough and protected, but not having it where there’s going to be a ventilation problem. Also, with the lack of a sink, having it adjacent to the kitchen or sink available inside, so they don’t have to walk across the whole porch or through the entire house,” he notes.
Where to cook
In Texas, the primary question becomes what kind of grill that homeowners fancy once they opt for an outdoor kitchen, Hadden says. “What kind of special things can it do? Is it a rotisserie? Is there a smoking option? Do you want a separate Big Green Egg or some other brand of smoker? People are very interested in that sort of appliance,” she notes. “A lot of grill manufacturers have also started supplying cabinetry and accessories that go along with the grill.”
Most of her clients gravitate toward brands that have been around for a long time, such as Wolf grills. But the Lynx product line, which features grills as well as cabinetry and other accessories, appeals to customers because the offerings can integrate with almost any appliance they pick out.
“Typically, we do specify stainless steel finishes,” Hadden explains. “We don’t like to do wood cabinetry outside, just because of the weather factor. We [prefer] using pre-manufactured units rather than doing custom stuff on-site. In terms of plumbing, we typically specify a stainless steel sink, and then we do have to be careful about the finishes that we specify for plumbing fixtures.”
Burch also noted that appliance manufacturers have expanded into outdoor kitchen accessories to complement their main products. The company utilizes items such as undercounter refrigerators, garbage bins and storage drawers, which tend to be stainless steel so that they match appliances.
“There’s a lot of stuff out there, and some of it is not as good as others,” says Burch, who installs Lynx grills and Perlick products for almost every job. “You really need to make sure you research what product you’re getting, and that it’s going to work [outdoors]. Those [brands] are true and tested, and they’re specifically designed for outdoor applications. They just work. You spend a little bit more on a product that’s going to work, in the long run you’re going to be a lot happier.
“[You still need to] make sure that these outdoor kitchens are set in the right area on your site. I think that’s important,” he continues. “It’s great to have these kitchens, but if they’re 300 yards away from the house, you’re not going to use it. It [comes] down to being smart and making sure that when you do these projects that they’re set up in an area where [the homeowner] will use it.” QR