The Evolution of Outdoor Kitchens

by Kacey Larsen

The saying goes that a kitchen is the heart of the home, which could then, in turn, make an outdoor kitchen the heart of an outdoor living space. Outdoor kitchens have expanded from simply being a grill perhaps surrounded by counter space to outdoor spaces with a grill, refrigerator, warming drawer, retractable trash bin, cabinetry, countertops, sink and more depending on homeowner wants and needs. Eric Kent, president and owner of Archadeck of Charlotte in Charlotte, N.C., says he has really noticed the expansion and popularity of outdoor kitchen spaces within the last 10 years in his area.

“Moving from the indoors out, it really becomes a quality of life issue because people feel like they’re vacationing while they’re at home; they’re escaping. It’s great entertaining for friends and family,” Kent says.

Location of the space plays a big role and is the first decision. “As a professional, I always recommend that we keep it in proximity to the existing kitchen because even though you’re building an outdoor kitchen and it might seem redundant, in most cases its not a fully-equipped outdoor kitchen,” Kent says. “You’re still going to be bringing stuff from your own spice rack and your own refrigerator and freezer outdoors to it, so rather than having to schlep this stuff 100 yards, we think about where can we build it that’s going to be in proximity to your existing kitchen.”

Kent states he has seen clients also seeking to incorporate an outdoor kitchen into a pool cabana, which creates more of an “inclusive outdoor space.” Conversations with clients during the design phase really need to focus around how they see themselves using the space.

Neil Parsons, CEO of Design Build Pros in Red Bank, N.J., explains his company starts with a “project profile” to determine how a homeowner plans to use a space for themselves and then for entertaining. “With a computer designed layout, we maximize the space for function and style customized for the needs and desires of the individual family. Like a traditional indoor kitchen design, the working triangle and landing zones are considered and plotted,” he says. “The position of an outdoor kitchen is more likely to be placed as an extension of a family room for an extended indoor/outdoor entertaining space. This is different than the placement of a lone BBQ grill on a deck or patio, which acts as an additional kitchen appliance and a transition to an entertaining area.”

Appliance Selection

Once the location of the outdoor space has been determined, Kent recommends next turning to the selection of appliance because those choices may affect the layout of the space. “The way we design the outdoor kitchen starts with appliances because that determines how much space you need. The more appliances a kitchen has causes it to grow larger and larger,” he says. “Part of the consideration is how much countertop space are you going to want because a grill, a burner and/or a sink obviously chew into the counter space, so the cabinets end up becoming much larger because you want some work spaces. Everything is driven by the amount of appliances and where they’re placed to come up with a design, and there’s everything from a straight line and a bit more common now you’re seeing L-shaped and half-circle kitchens.

The appliances homeowners want included in their outdoor kitchens has evolved over time and now, Kent says, includes some specialty items. Smokers, specifically the Green Egg, are a big trend in the Charlotte area as are grills with infrared searing options. He recommends including a retractable garbage can for the functionality of not having to carry anything that could be dripping through the space into the house.

Parsons reports similarities in the appliances homeowners seek for their outdoor kitchens. “Obviously, the grill is the featured appliance in an outdoor kitchen, but many homeowners also want a refrigerator, sink, ice maker and kegerator. As a grill upgraded feature, a rotisserie is often requested,” he explains. “The project can grow greatly in scope and investment with add-ons associated with a full outdoor living space. These may include an extended patio or deck, pergola or solid portico overhang; fireplace or firepit; stone walls and accents; and lighting.”

More appliances mean more power sources that must be available. Both Kent and Parsons remind that utility lines for gas, electric, water and waste may need to be run to an outdoor kitchen, depending on included appliances. Parsons points out that “special care, like pipe insulation and/or low-voltage heating wrap, needs to be given for any water lines to prevent freezing and cracking.”

Another consideration would be whether the homeowner wants to include a shade element — Kent says pergolas are very popular in his area — for over the outdoor kitchen. If the homeowner wants a solid roof over the space to allow it to be used in rain or any other inclement weather, then he points out that certain building codes may come into play for those spaces and situations in terms of including ventilation.

Beyond a consideration for possible ventilation needs, Kent suggests making sure any design includes enough space to include any furniture homeowners may want included within the outdoor kitchen area. “It’s very important when you’re laying out an outdoor kitchen that if they’re planning on having a dining table you design it so there’s enough space on the patio or deck for everything to fit,” he says. “There’s nothing more frustrating for a consumer to have spent all this money on an outdoor kitchen and now their table doesn’t fit and/or the chairs can’t be pulled back. It’s a big mistake for most remodelers is they’re only worried about selling them something and not designing to their lifestyle and their preexisting conditions.”

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