Outdoor Kitchens: A Town Topics Column

by Lasley Brahaney Architects

QWe've always wanted an outdoor kitchen and with summer coming, we're ready to begin planning. Can you give us some suggestions?

AAdding an outdoor kitchen is one of the (forgive me) hottest trends in home improvement today. I often dream about how great it would be to entertain guests outside without having to dart back and forth from my indoor kitchen to my outdoor grill. Whether it's fond memories of childhood camping trips or watching the Flintstones, there's something about cooking and eating outdoors that appeals to our most primitive selves.

When considering an outdoor kitchen for your yard, give careful thought to the use and feel of the space you are creating. Situate the kitchen for easy access to your house. It helps to think of an outdoor kitchen as another room of your house that just happens to be outdoors. Maintain a connection not only to the indoor kitchen, but to key outdoor elements such as the outdoor eating area, garden beds, water feature, or outdoor play space. The cook will not want to be cut-off from the fun when making a meal; since most guests usually end up gathering around the grill, it makes sense to put your outdoor kitchen in an easily accessible spot. As with indoor kitchens, make sure that the cook has ample workspace (at least 36" of countertop on either side of the grill) and that non-cooks have enough room to socialize with each other and the cook during meal prep.

As for the basic components, obviously you'll start with the grill — gas, charcoal, and/or wood — and maybe also side gas burners. Some people incorporate an outdoor fireplace or a fire pit in the overall scheme to use for cooking (s'mores anyone?) and as a place to gather and keep warm. You might want to include storage cabinets, a wet bar fed with a hose or connected to the house's water supply, warming drawers or even a pizza oven.

Even though you might choose low level, ambient lighting or candlelight for the dining area, you really need good task lighting where you're cooking and prepping. There's nothing more frustrating than burning your steak because you couldn't see it turning black. And of course, don't forget to include outdoor electric outlets.

A structure such as a pergola or gazebo can achieve a dual purpose — it provides some shelter from the elements and is an attractive way to define the space and make it feel like an outdoor room. Be careful when planning a structure near or above the cooking area as you must provide good ventilation and avoid trapping smoke under a cover.

As for materials, choose finishes that can be exposed to the elements, are natural, and compliment the style of the house. Materials often used in outdoor kitchens are slate, stone, brick, tile, stucco, stainless steel, teak and redwood. Be mindful of the area directly beneath and adjacent to the grill as you'll want to make sure it can withstand the heat or flying sparks.

It's no wonder that outdoor kitchens have become hugely popular. A well-designed, thoughtfully sited and efficiently laid-out outdoor kitchen will give many years of satisfaction. Regardless of the size and scope of your outdoor kitchen, you're already ahead of the gameā€¦ after all, who doesn't love a cookout?