Cooking on the grill is a great way to entertain company or just feed the family without heating up the kitchen. But scurrying back and forth from the kitchen to the patio can get old. Make grilling easier and more pleasant by putting together an outdoor kitchen.
Outdoor Kitchen Considerations
In the beginning, charcoal was king. As gas grills gained popularity, convenience and flexibility became key to outdoor grilling. Today's most advanced grills have side burners, storage space and work areas too.
Consider installing an outdoor kitchen if:
You grill often (or large amounts) and are looking for ways to streamline the process.
You frequently host cookouts where everyone ends up huddled around you on the patio, socializing while they watch you cook.
You have a little-used deck or patio that you'd like to incorporate into daily life.
You'd like to move past burgers and steaks, and cook more elaborate dishes on the grill.
Cooking in the summertime heats up your house so much that the air conditioning can't keep up.
Planning What You Need for Your Outdoor Kitchen
Use these as thinking points when you're deciding what will go in your outdoor kitchen.
What kind of cooking will I do outdoors? How often will I grill out?
What kind of entertaining do I do? Large groups or small? Will we eat outdoors or bring the food back inside?
What furniture do I / will I have for the space?
What times of the year will I be able to use the space?
Will I need to move the kitchen components, or can they be permanently installed?
Designing the Outdoor Kitchen
The outdoor kitchen can be as simple or as elaborate as you want (and can afford).Choose a Grill
Start with the centerpiece of it all: the grill.
If you want an outdoor kitchen that can be rearranged, moved around and taken with you to a future home, choose a grill with wheels. These are common and come in a wide variety of sizes, features and prices.
If you plan to make the kitchen a permanent part of your patio or deck, select a built-in grill that will drop into a space on a cabinet with countertops or another base unit that's built on site. The base unit also can provide storage and work space, just like your indoor kitchen cabinets. If there's a chance that you might move to a different house, think carefully about spending money on features you can't take with you.
Covers are available to keep most grills safe from the elements. Any other parts of your outdoor kitchen should be made of materials that are weatherproof. Some good examples are teak, stainless steel, slate, stone, tile and stucco.
Provide a cover for the cook and the cooking area so a little rainfall won't ruin the meal. Leave enough ventilation so smoke from the grill can blow away. If your grill is in an enclosed area, consider adding an exhaust hood.
Be sure that the area directly underneath the grill can withstand high heat and any sparks or embers that might fall, and that it can support the weight of the equipment that rests on it. Most patios should work fine, but decks might need additional structural support.Choose Outdoor Kitchen Basics
After you've chosen a grill, think about the other basic components of your kitchen:
Choose Other Components for Your Outdoor Kitchen
Grill accessories include a griddle, baskets for grilling fish and vegetables, different levels of cooking space for varying heat requirements, a reliable meat thermometer and tongs that won't pierce the meat when you turn it over.
Side burners are included in most grills sold today. A camping stove could serve in a pinch.
Work space should be adjacent to the grill and burners. Make sure you can sanitize it for food preparation.
Lighting comes in all varieties. Direct light is best for the work area, and clip-on lights are available that shine directly onto the grill so you can check the progress of the meat. Softer light sets a nicer mood for the eating area, and candles are almost always appropriate for an evening meal.
Patio heaters are a must-have if you plan to use the space during the chilly months.
Insect control is another requirement in most places if you're going to serve meals outdoors.
After you have the basics, add some (or all) of the extras:
An exhaust hood to keep smoke out of the eyes of diners
Electrical outlets for using small appliances, stereos and more (Outdoor outlets should be of the ground fault circuit interpreter (GFCI) type. Make sure your electrical wiring meets local code.)
A refrigerator for keeping food cold until it's time to cook
A sink, either fed with a hose or connected to the house's water supply (Unless you plan to wash dishes outside, you need only a cold-water connection.)
Warming drawers so nothing arrives at the table cold
An ice machine so no one has to drag around a heavy cooler
Wine storage so you won't have to go back inside unless you forget the corkscrew
A wood-burning oven for roasting meats and vegetables and making authentic pizzas
Using Space Wisely
As with an indoor kitchen, proper design of the space will make cooking more comfortable and convenient. You don't have to adopt the traditional work-triangle design, but think carefully about the way you and your guests use the outdoor space. Consider the location of other outdoor features, such as pools, playgrounds, gardens and trees.
There should be plenty of space for people to watch you as you cook, and there should be room for foot traffic to flow around the food preparation area. Leave an area for people to sit and socialize without being involved with the cooking. Make sure children won't be playing near the grill.
Follow these guidelines for an efficient design:
Put 36 inches of work space on either side of the grill and burners.
Keep 18 inches to 24 inches of open space on either side of the sink.
Allow 36 inches to 42 inches between the edge of the dining table and whatever is around it, so people can walk behind the chairs. Place the table well away from any stairs.
If you're including an eating counter, allow 24 inches of width per stool and 15 inches of leg room.