Topic: Outdoor Kitchens

Date Posted: Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Posted by: Tanya Zanfa (Master Admin)

Outdoor kitchens: 10 things you need to make yours fabulous

Outdoor kitchens: 10 things you need to make yours fabulous

At my house, I cook pretty much for one reason: I get hungry.

If I didn't need to eat, and didn't actually like to eat, I would turn my kitchen into something more interesting, like an ice rink or a skydiving arena or a petting zoo, which would all be way more fun than a place to make a meal.

Apparently, I'm a minority of one. Across America, kitchens are the spaces where home improvers get the most carried away. So much so that having one fabulous kitchen indoors isn't enough anymore. People are creating serious — I mean, restaurant-quality-serious — kitchens outside. They have everything built in but waiters.

Some of you may recall that I've had homes in my past that had fancy outdoor cooking areas, with men who could use them. But in my current single-living situation, it's just me and my George Foreman Grill.

George and I get along pretty well, as couples go, although, he can move a little faster than I like, and he only has two temperatures: on or off. But he's at home indoors and out, and is highly portable, remarkably reliable, low-maintenance and he cleans up well.

I am grateful for George. I am also grateful for my friends who like to cook. I mean, seriously cook, as in, make bacon from scratch. They like to share their mad cooking skills, and when they do, I salivate so much I put the dogs to shame. (And they still invite me back, maybe out of pity. I mean, they know about me and George.)

These friends also have amazing outdoor kitchens and eating areas, which just keep getting better, I've noticed.

They're sprouting pizza ovens.

To find out what was up with that, I called Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, partly because the name is just so fun to say, but also because the Chicago-based company has been designing, equipping and building outdoor kitchens all over the country for decades.

I get Russ Faulk, vice president of design, on the phone. He confirms that the trend toward building or expanding outdoor kitchens is not just my imagination.

Two factors are behind it, he says: Americans are bumbling their way out of the Great Recession and splurging a little again, and TV cooks have turned former hot-dog and hamburger grillers into tandoor-oven chefs. (Let's pause here to give two seconds of thanks to Rachael Ray, Emeril and Bobby Flay).

Faulk's company normally does the bulk of its business between April and June, he says, and this season is already strong.

If you, too, want to get your outdoor cooking and dining space warm-weather ready, consider these tips from Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet's Russ Faulk.

1. Fire it up! At a minimum, an outdoor kitchen has a grill and a working counter area. Among households that have grills, 69 percent have gas, 47 percent have charcoal, and 7 percent have electric (like George), says the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association. Trending up are hybrid grills, which offer home chefs the option of cooking with gas or charcoal, says Faulk.

2. Complete the kitchen. Fancier kitchens add a sink and a small refrigerator. After that, the popular add-ons include pizza ovens, dedicated smokers, tandoor ovens, and lobster boilers. (Lobster boilers? I mean, for the once every few years you cook lobster, can't you do it inside?)

3. Put a roof on it. Sheltered kitchens are on the rise, as more chefs want to cook outdoors, rain or shine.

4. Get enough work space. The biggest mistake Faulk sees in outdoor kitchens is not enough counter space. You need free space on both sides of the grill and the sink. He recommends three feet — two feet on one side, and one foot on the other. Don't set the sink next to grill, and don't put either at the end of a counter.

5. Shed light on the subject. The second most common outdoor-kitchen mistake is not enough lighting. As someone who has spent more hours of her life than I would have cared to holding a flashlight over the barbecue, I can vouch for this feature's importance.

6. Maximize convenience. No matter how well organized and equipped the outdoor space is, you will be running inside. Faulk likes to locate the outdoor kitchen as close to the indoor kitchen as possible.

7. Stay in style. I mean architectural style. Whether rustic, traditional or modern, the best-designed outdoor kitchens look like extensions of the home, and often use similar building materials.

8. Give weather the eye. Most yards have a prevailing wind direction. Know yours, and try to put seating areas where smoke from the grill won't blow. If that's not possible, manage smoke with a vent hood.

9. Put it all away. You'll want built-in, designated storage for the tongs, grill brushes, hot mitts and wood chips — all of the grill props that are not coming inside.

10. Get a leg to stand on. Outdoor cooking is messy and hard on floor surfaces. Plus, the mix of grease and rain can be hazardous. To keep your outdoor kitchen safe and clean, choose flooring that is grease, fire and stain resistant. Faulk likes unglazed porcelain tile.

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of "House of Havoc" and "The House Always Wins" (Da Capo Press). Contact her through

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