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Outdoor Café

Your guide to outfitting the ultimate backyard kitchen

By Patti Plummer

The Ultimate Backyard KitchenEating al fresco is one of life’s little pleasures. People love picnics, backyard barbecues, and curbside dining. There is something about fresh air that whets the appetite for good food and good times with family and friends—which would explain why outdoor kitchens are becoming more and more popular.

From simple units that include a grill and some space for prep work to fully-equipped kitchens that could easily fit into an indoor professional space, outdoor kitchens allow homeowners to prepare a delicious feast, from appetizers to dessert—while rarely (if ever) stepping into the house. 

The First Step

Planning is key before beginning an outdoor kitchen. Take stock of your wish list, and then consider your budget. Obviously, the more state-of-the-art appliances you add to the list the more your costs will increase. Additionally, think about what you want your outdoor kitchen to do: will you grill a burger or two once in awhile or are you a foodie who throws over-the-top gourmet celebrations on a regular basis? There are many options for both ends of the spectrum—and everything in between.

If you have the skills and the know-how, you can definitely build your own outdoor kitchen. However, since most homeowners don’t have that ability, turning to a landscape architect or professional outdoor kitchen designer is the best solution. Landscape architects will take into consideration the entire space that you want built. Creating a harmony between the outdoor venue, the house’s architecture, and the homeowner’s personal style is what the best architects do. When you interview several architects for your project, be sure to view a gallery of their finished work and make sure it matches how you envision your kitchen. The same goes for choosing a professional kitchen designer. And don’t be afraid to ask questions and for references.

What Are the Options?

What do you want in your outdoor kitchen? That can be a hard question, especially when you think about the many choices that are available. Here are a few of the standard options.

Grills

The most common outdoor cooking appliance is the traditional grill or barbecue. Over the years, the grill has gone high-tech and most are now made of stainless steel and can either stand alone or be built into a base. These powerful grills usually run on gas or propane, but many cooks prefer products that are fueled by charcoal or different types of wood in order to achieve a smoky flavor. In fact, a few manufacturers feature hybrid units that combine fuels so cooks can have the best of all worlds.

Stovetops and Other Warming Devices

Sometimes the cook will want to create a delicate sauce for the fish that is smoking on the grill. There are a variety of stovetops that can accommodate this request—and more! From a single burner to a full professional range top with multiple burners, outdoor stoves can do it all—from keeping dinner warm in a special compartment to roasting a turkey in an extra large oven.

Pizza Ovens

Is there anything better than a pizza baked in a charcoal or wood-fired oven? Why wait for delivery when you can add a unit that would make most pizza chefs salivate with envy? Many of these ovens are made of stainless steel, but some are custom-crafted of brick or refractory clay for traditional cooking style and flavor.

Chilling Appliances

While an outdoor refrigerator is not vital, having one is definitely worth the luxury. Its added convenience makes outdoor cooking, dining, and entertaining much easier. The same can be said of every outdoor chilling appliance. It’s all about maintaining the right temperature: wine and other beverages are best enjoyed at certain temperatures, and meat must be kept in the fridge while it marinates. An outdoor refrigerator and/or wine chiller saves multiple steps back and forth to the main house.

Countertops/Cabinetry/Flooring

If you want to take your outdoor kitchen to the top level of sophistication, then granite countertops and elegant wood cabinetry are in order. Of course, the sleek beauty of stainless steel is a viable choice because it helps keep surfaces sanitary in the outdoors. For safe, non-slippery flooring, consider unglazed stone tile. But remember to test building materials before agreeing to them; this ensures you’ll be happy with the end result.

Bars

Every party needs a hub, and the kitchen is usually where everyone congregates. An outdoor bar moves people away from the prep area, giving the chef some breathing room. Most outdoor establishments mimic resort-style tiki bars or casual pubs. With comfortable seating, ample serving space, room for a TV showing the big game, and a state-of-the-art sound system playing your favorite tunes, the chef may have to ring the bell twice to get guests’ attention!

Where Do I Put My Kitchen?

Where you choose to build your kitchen is a very important consideration. Where is the sun during the hottest part of the day? Will the venue be sheltered by trees? Where will the kitchen be in relation to the rest of the space? Will guests get a tantalizing whiff of cooking aromas? And, will your friends be able to watch the TV without the setting sun creating a glare?

One way to answer all of your questions in the positive is to build a shelter or cover. Certainly, it will add to the overall cost, but it is the best way to keep appliances and countertops protected from the elements; plus, the luxurious ambiance it creates is worth the extra effort and money.

A well-outfitted kitchen needs good bones to function efficiently. Professional plumbers can run the proper piping for both water and gas. This is one area that, unless you are a pro, you should leave it to those who are. 


Aquatech, a National Society of Pool-Building & Retailing Professionals; Photo courtesy of Cimarron Circle Construction Co.; Designed by Prideux Design; Photography by Balfour Walker