Designing an Outdoor Kitchen

Dave Hunter's backyard has a brand new outdoor kitchen fully equipped with a grill, sink, refrigerator, storage compartment and stereo system.


Craig Murray cooks steaks in the brick barbecue island in his backyard.



Craig Murray cooks steaks in the brick barbecue island in his backyard.

If one pulls up to Dave Hunter's home in Sacramento, Calif., at the right time — and that's at least a couple of evenings during the week and on weekends — the aroma of grilling food will be in the air. It won't be coming from your standard barbecue grill, though, but from his beautiful new outdoor kitchen.

What's an outdoor kitchen? Essentially, it's a patio with an attitude. A very pleasant attitude.

Riding a wave of popularity throughout the West, outdoor kitchens allow backyard chefs to mingle with guests while cooking. They make trips to the home kitchen for supplies virtually unnecessary.

A grill, of course, is part of the equation. But only a part. Outdoor kitchens frequently include many features--the number depending on the owners' budget and enjoyment of dining al fresco.

Outdoor kitchens range in cost from about $3,000 to more than $30,000 and can include stovetop-style burners, griddles, roasting spits, sinks, refrigerators, storage space for dishes and cooking gear, low counters for prep work, bar-height counters for guests, stereo systems and more.

Hunter and his wife, Leslie, have been improving the backyard of their house since moving into it three years ago.

Two years ago, they added a swimming pool and surrounded it with a stylized concrete deck. Last year, right next to the pool, Hunter built the outdoor kitchen with the help of friends.

The Hunters' V-shaped, 14-foot outdoor kitchen is built above a paver stone deck next to the pool.

The star component is a $1,300 Australian-made grill. An island housing a sink, refrigerator, storage compartment and stereo system completes their outdoor setup.

The Hunters estimate the outdoor kitchen cost them $8,000, but "it probably would have been twice that if we had had to pay for labor," says Leslie Hunter, an accountant.

"I priced a premade island setup that I sort of liked, and it was over $10,000," Dave Hunter says. "That wouldn't have included the deck, and it wouldn't have been nearly as nice."

It isn't necessary to invest as much money or labor into an outdoor kitchen as the Hunters did.

John Wakefield was unhappy with the grilling setup at his recently purchased Elk Grove, Calif., house that he, his wife and one child share with his wife's parents. He went to Sacramento Patio for a pre-assembled kitchen.

An L-shaped unit was installed. It has a steel frame that's covered with stucco and includes a 32-inch grill, two burners, a sink, a utensil drawer and a bar. Wakefield spent $3,600, which included pressure washing and color staining an existing concrete patio. Later, a patio cover was added for $1,400.

Randy Cutler, owner of Sacramento Patio, calls the Wakefield's setup "about mid-range in size and price" among the models it makes.

Cutler said that preparation of a unit, which is done in the factory, can take two to three weeks depending on the complexity of the buyer's specifications, "but once it's ready, we can install it in about an hour."

One can take a simpler, more modest route than the Wakefields, as Julie and Dan Simoni of Fair Oaks, Calif., did. After extending a wooden deck to fill a shady area on the east side of their house, they decided to make it into an outdoor kitchen.

They bought a stainless-steel Turbo grill with an electric spit for $1,550 on which they cook turkeys, lamb, steaks, ribs" and just about any type of meat you can think of," Julie Simoni says.

They also added a custom-made rack to hold dishes and glasses, and a small Admiral refrigerator. Total cost, including a patio table and chairs, was about $2,500.

Perhaps Craig and Jody Murray had the best idea of all for an outdoor kitchen. They bought a house that already had one.

According to Craig Murray, the backyard kitchen is what really made him want to buy their Land Park house five years ago.

"It's not new," says Murray. "It was put in before the previous owner had the place, probably 30 or 40 years ago. But it's beautiful and was the major selling point of the house for me. I've always loved to grill. When I saw this setup, I knew I had to have it."

Approximately 20 feet long, the brick kitchen has a tile countertop, a grill, a smoker, a sink, a refrigerator and a fireplace. Its covered by a redwood roof.

"The fireplace and roof make it usable year-round," Murray says. "It's really a wonderful spot. We use it almost every day. And it's great for parties. We can accommodate 40 or 50 people. I can't wait to start grilling every night."

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