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Outdoor Kitchens: Everything You Need To Entertain Like A Pro This Summer

It’s starting to get warm out, even in parts of the country where spring comes fashionably late.  It’s not quite springy enough for grilling here in the frozen north, but the orange construction cones are in bloom and I’ve got outdoor design on my mind. If you’re planning a big back yard project, now is the time to get started: the weather is decent to work in, and if you play your cards right, you’ll be done in time to enjoy the finished project this season. Not sure where to start? One of my favorite new trends is the addition of outdoor kitchens.

What Is An Outdoor Kitchen?

Southwestern Style Outdoor Kitchen (by Tiffany Farha Design)
Southwestern Style Outdoor Kitchen (by Tiffany Farha Design)

Plenty of people have a grill or fire pit in their backyards – even really nice ones, often accompanied by some pretty nice patio furniture. Outdoor kitchens are the next step beyond that: with built in grills, plumbing, electricity, appliances, and even old fashioned brick ovens. For a big-time entertainer, this is a dream come true: there’s no running in and out, passing of plates or piling up of dishes. All the work, from refrigerator to grill to plate to belly, can be done outside. Outdoor kitchens make a great extension for your home and work especially well to enhance a pool area, deck, or patio, and in warmer climates they can be used year-round to keep your kitchen cool or just give you a greater variety of cooking options.

The Grills

Outdoor Kitchen With Grill And Woodfire Pizza Oven (by Frankel Building Group, photo by Michael Hart)
Outdoor Kitchen With Grill And Woodfire Pizza Oven (by Frankel Building Group, photo by Michael Hart)

The grill is the heart and soul of all outdoor cooking, whether you use charcoal or gas or even wood. But in outdoor kitchens, grills come built in, with cabinetry and counter tops like those you’d find indoors. Built more like a cooktop than a kettle grill, outdoor kitchens frequently come equipped with a range hood as well, designed to suck away smoke and minimize eye-burning odors and heat from cooking. Wood burning ovens make a great, functional alternative to fire pits (and can even be used to make pizzas!), but you’ll need to build them from scratch. Both built-in outdoor grills and outdoor ovens are more arduous and expensive to install than simply rolling in a grill you got at your local mega mart, but the payout is truly impressive.

Refrigeration

Outdoor Refrigerator From Summit Appliances
Outdoor Refrigerator From Summit Appliances

If you do any amount of grilling at all, you know what a pain it can be to try to keep all your ingredients cold in warm weather. This is especially important for meat, which attracts bacteria if let for too long at outdoor temperatures. But avoiding leaving food sitting out means a lot of shuffling in and out of doors for burgers, dogs, steaks, veggies, and whatever else you plan to throw on the grill. Installing an outdoor refrigerator into the counter top where you install your grill is a near perfect solution. Even small, under-counter refrigerators allow you to keep everything you’re planning on cooking cold until you’re ready to cook or serve, from marinating chicken to crisp lettuce to a spare set of condiments.

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Prep Sink

Allegany Bar Trough Sink From Sierra Copper
Allegany Bar Trough Sink From Sierra Copper

Now, even with a fully functioning outdoor kitchen, you probably aren’t going to start doing your dishes outside. But installing even a small prep sink with just a cold water hookup (to save on expense, some can even be connected to a hose instead of your main water line) allows you to wash hands and rinse utensils without having to tromp back inside and to your main kitchen.  Not only does this make managing small messes easier, but washing your hands and grill tools can also help prevent cross contamination. Larger, trough style sinks can even be used as an alternative to a traditional cooler: just fill with ice and canned or bottled drinks, and the melt off will drain all by itself.

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Drink Dispensing

Outdoor Beer Dispenser From Summit Appliances {via}
Outdoor Beer Dispenser From Summit Appliances {via}

For an extra impressive outdoor kitchen, big-time entertainers will want to consider adding a few more appliances. While really the grill alone will do, if you’re the type to host poolside parties every weekend, or eat outdoors with your family most nights during the summer months, it can be wise to keep the drinks on hand. From built in kegerators that serve a pony keg of your favorite beer on tap to wine coolers that keep your best (or cheapest!) vintages at perfect serving temperature, oft-used outdoor kitchens are a great place for novelty appliances, including most of the equipment you’d want for a home bar. Mini fridges do well to replace a traditional cooler, holding several cans at a time, but there’s not much that can beat the style factor of pulling the perfect pour from your very own tap.

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Ice Is Nice

Outdoor Kitchen With Ice Maker (by Lorraine G Vale, Allied ASID)
Outdoor Kitchen With Ice Maker (by Lorraine G Vale, Allied ASID)

Perhaps one of the most underrated appliances indoors, ice makers are fantastic for outdoor kitchens. These look like narrow mini-fridges and can be built into your outdoor cabinetry. This one can hold up to 10 pounds of ice, though other models can make upwards of 44 pounds a day – plenty to fill a cooler or two with ice to spare for a round or two of margaritas. Because they don’t take up much space, ice makers can be installed even in smaller outdoor kitchens. Refrigeration might be more important, but if you know you go through a lot of ice in your back yard parties, it might be worth sticking with an ice maker and using it to fill a cooler, rather than shelling out for big bags of ice every time you entertain.

My favorite thing about outdoor kitchens is that they’re a type of project that can easily be scaled to your entertaining habits. Whether it’s adding a little work space to a small patio or building a fully equipped second kitchen, the scope of the project is up to you. What sort of outdoor kitchen are you interested in building?