There once was a time when grilling was all you did outside. Nowadays, you can chill your drinks, make ice, bake pizza and even stay cool during a hot evening thanks to the many new options in outdoor appliances.
Consumer demand is driving the outdoor kitchen movement. In fact, according to an April 2008, Better Homes and Garden magazine study, 40 percent of people now consider their outdoor living areas just as important as the indoor ones.
“I found families who do not even cook indoors anymore, or who do so rarely,” says Lee Anne White, author of Outdoor Kitchen Ideas that Work. “There were some that cooked three meals a day out there. It is just so much more relaxing.”
The outdoor kitchen gives you the feel of having a vacation at home, especially in the summertime. Plus, there’s less mess to clean up, you don’t heat up the kitchen and there are no food odors. And appliance advancements mean you can truly do everything outside, ending the days of running back and forth into the house. However, with all these changes, one thing remains the same: The center of it all is still the grill.
Cooking It Up
First, decide whether you want a stand-alone or built-in grill. Stand-alones are the grills that you can place anywhere on your patio or deck. Built-in units are permanent structures often flanked by countertops and other appliances.
Once you choose your style, think about the bells and whistles. Side burners can be great for clambakes or cooking sauces. A rotisserie allows you to roast a chicken or prime rib. If your outdoor cooking habit spreads to the winter months, the Viking Outdoor E-Series Gas Grill comes with LED lighting so you can grill even when the days are short.
Heat source is another factor to consider. Infrared burners are very popular now, says Gary Passaglia, partner at Simply Outdoorz in Coventry, R.I., which specializes in pre-engineered outdoor kitchen spaces. “One of the problems
with lower-quality grills is that they do not get hot enough,” he says. “The infrared burners get tremendously hotter then the other types of burners. So, for putting a crust on meat, they are incredible. It is a big trend that we are seeing.”
TEC Infra-Red Grills pioneered this flare-proof way of cooking. Their 100 percent infrared grills reduce moisture loss and food shrinkage and can do everything from slow-cook a roast to sear a steak.
But burgers on the grill aren’t the only kind of cooking you can do outside. Pizza ovens are also popular, says White. “You can cook all sorts of things in a pizza oven,” she says. “You can do breads, casseroles, some really wonderful things.”
Pizza ovens can be large, stand-alone brick designs or smaller and made to fit into your designed outdoor kitchen. Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet in Kalamazoo, Mich., offers a countertop Outdoor Artisan Pizza Oven. Radiant heat is reflected down to perfectly cook the toppings, and a built-in pizza stone delivers a crispy crust.
Keeping It Cool
Being outside isn’t all about the food—it’s also about the beverages. Outdoor refrigerators, ice makers, wine cellars and beer dispensers can turn your outdoor kitchen into party central.
Most outdoor refrigerators are available as 24-inch-wide undercounter models. Viking uses drawers to make sure their fridge doesn’t remind you of your college dorm room. The full-extension drawers allow you to easily store wine bottles or 2-liter soda bottles. The stainless-steel interior provides protection from the elements, and an LED-digital temperature readout allows for perfect climate control no matter how hot it is outside.
If always having a perfectly chilled draft beer on hand is your priority, Marvel Industries in Richmond, Ind., offers a Deluxe Half-Keg Beer Dispenser. The unit comes complete with a draft tower, hoses, CO2 tank and regulator and a programmable thermostat.
Outdoor icemakers are the ultimate in outdoor luxury, Passaglia says. They require both an electric hookup and water line. Marvel’s outdoor ice machine makes up to 35 pounds of ice per day. But the units are not incredibly popular, Passaglia says. “Customers cannot justify the cost of making the ice outside versus just going to buy a couple of bags of ice,” he says.
Keeping It Comfortable
If bugs and the heat are making outdoors unbearable, then what’s the point to cooking or eating outside? Thankfully, there are a host of outdoor appliances made to help beat the heat and keep the bugs at bay.
For bug control, consider a device such as Woodstream Corp. of Lititz, Pa.’s Mosquito Magnet. The unit works by emitting a pesticide that either mimics the smell of human breath or human sweat. The Liberty Plus model will capture all mosquitoes over a one-acre radius. And because it features a rechargeable battery fueled by a standard propane tank, you can put your Mosquito Magnet anywhere on your property.
Fans are another way to fight bugs and fight off the heat. Because bugs hate a breeze, Hunter Fan Co. offers both outdoor ceiling and stand fans. Their motors are completely sealed and impervious to moisture, the components won’t corrode in salt air and UV-testing ensures that sunlight won’t damage the finish.
Heat and bugs aren’t the only deterrents to being outside. To combat a chilly summer night, consider an outdoor fireplace or heater. “The whole outdoor hearth is one of the fastest growing categories in terms of outdoor environment,” White says. “It expands the season so we are not just grilling out in the summer, we are grilling out and living outdoors year-round.”
Bringing your kitchen outside is a great way to relax after a long day of working, commuting or chasing after the kids. It provides the opportunity to reconnect with nature and, hopefully, with your family as well.
“So many people have said, ‘I would much rather have my outdoor kitchen than my indoor kitchen because I am spending more time with my family and more time with my friends and I am relaxing again,’ ” says White. “It is essentially a more casual, relaxed environment and it is a great place to unwind at the end of the day.”
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Credit: Renovate with Tommy Mac