By Erik J. Martin, CTW Features
They say if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Why not take that one step further and bring your warm passion for culinary expression and tasty meals beyond the back door by creating an outdoor cooking area? It’s a surefire way to make al fresco entertaining more convenient and add an eye-catching focal point to your yard, the experts concur.
“Outdoor living areas with cooking spaces are one of the top in-demand home improvement projects right now,” Heather Mastangeli, founder/principal interior designer with Innovatus Design in Downers Grove, Illinois, explains. “And it’s not that surprising because, even though the COVID pandemic has calmed down, many of us are still focusing on spending time with family and friends at home. Having outdoor living space with the capacity to cook there as well is a must-have for entertaining during the warmer weather.”
Ben McInerney, the founder of Home Garden Guides, says homeowners who frequently host guests and live in areas with temperate climates often find the addition of an outdoor kitchen or exterior cooking area to be extremely beneficial.
“The ideal home for an outdoor cooking area is usually spacious, with ample exterior space like a large patio or garden,” he says. “One of my clients has such a home; he loves hosting weekend barbecues for his friends and family but was constantly frustrated by the disconnect between his indoor kitchen and the outdoor gathering. By adding an outdoor cooking area, he revolutionized his get-togethers, turning his patio into the heart of his entertainment space.”
But you don’t necessarily need a bountiful yard, patio, deck or ample exterior real estate to accommodate an outdoor cooking area.
“Everyone from those with large lawns to those with tiny patios can enjoy this style,” says Joshua Bartlett, owner and editor-in-chief of I’ll Just Fix It Myself. “Whether you have a sizable backyard, a small balcony or a rooftop terrace, you can find a way to set up an outside kitchen that works for you.”
The best spot to position an exterior kitchen/cooking area is near your home under a covered area, preferably located close to a back door to make it more convenient for preparing and transporting edibles. However, grills and barbecues should be situated away from low-lying trees, bushes and trash bins to prevent fires.
To determine the right size and properly equipped outdoor cooking area for your needs, it’s smart to think ahead.
“If you don’t plan on spending that much time outdoors during the summer, it may not be worth investing big money in a large outside cooking area. Instead, a few outdoor furniture items and a freestanding barbecue or grill will be sufficient, which will likely cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000,” advises Mastangeli.
A more upscale zone could include various outdoor appliances, such as a more deluxe grill with ventilation, a refrigerator, outdoor cabinets, a sink area, an outdoor-compliant countertop and a television. Supplement this area with finer furnishings like an outdoor dining set and sectional or lounge chairs and you could end up spending $20,000 or more, per Mastrangeli.
One option is to build out a grill island, providing extra counter space for meal prep and presentation. Adding storage underneath can supply a handy place to keep all your utensils.
“Think about adding a paver patio and a fire pit to maximize the atmosphere, too,” suggests Joe Raboine, vice president of design for Belgard in Atlanta, who strongly recommends working with a professional contractor to design an appropriate outdoor kitchen if you opt for a higher-end project.
Don’t forget about illumination, as well, which is crucial for nighttime gatherings.
“Lighting and outdoor cooking areas shouldn’t be overlooked. Task lighting and general lighting should be incorporated in the design so that cooking during dusk or the evening is safe,” adds Mastrangeli.