Outdoor Kitchen Trends

Check out the latest in backyard barbecuing and outdoor cooking.

By: John Riha
Outdoor Kitchen

Outdoor Kitchen

Image courtesy of Danver.

If your idea of the great outdoors is to cuddle up with a chilled beer while the briquettes come up to speed, you’re certainly in good company. According to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA), more than 75 percent of all U.S. households include an outdoor grill or smoker.

While that stat is impressive, it’s only part of the story. Today, more Americans than ever are taking advantage of backyard outdoor living, bringing their culinary skills — and just about everything else — with them.

“The kitchen has always been the heart of the home,” says Mitch Slater, owner of Danver Stainless Steel Cabinetry in Wallingford, Conn. “But that idea has started to take hold outdoors. More people want outdoor living areas, with fully functional kitchens as opposed to just the rolling barbecue cart.”

Although outdoor living has been trendy ever since the Weber kettle-style grill first appeared more than half a century ago, the alfresco movement has reached epic proportions in the last several years. In fact, Weber’s Grill Watch Survey, an annual third-party study of outdoor home cooking, notes that spending on outdoor appliances is up more than 8 percent this year over last season, a remarkable figure given the recent state of the economy.

Makers of grilling products are definitely riding the wave, says Leslie Wheeler, communications director for the HPBA. “The overriding trend now is flexibility,” notes Wheeler. “People want options, and manufacturers are responding with a wide range of accessories and add-ons at all prices.”

The thrill of that do-everything grill

Stone Outdoor Kitchen With Fume Hood

Stone Outdoor Kitchen With Fume Hood

Image courtesy of Danver.

In the springtime, walk into any Lowes or Home Depot and you’ll likely be greeted by a phalanx of gleaming grilling units. The front-and-center position of these do-it-all outdoor appliances are one indication how important the world of the outdoor kitchen has become in American culture, and how outdoor cooking continues to evolve.

Only a few years ago a top-of-the-line, 30-inch-wide gas grill featured a couple of 12,000 BTU burners and side extension shelves for holding condiments. Prices ranged to $2,000.

These days, consumers demand flexibility and quality construction. Options and add-on features abound, and today’s gas-powered flamethrowers may sport as many as 12 stainless-steel, 42,000 BTU burners with variable temperature control, side burners for boiling water and heating sauces, electronic ignition, a warming rack, and a built-in infrared searing grill made especially for giving steaks that restaurant-style touch of exterior char, all for under $1,600.

Can’t decide whether you want charcoal or gas? You don’t have to decide, there are a variety of hybrid grills that allow you to switch between the two.  At the high-end, Kalamazoo’s Hybrid Fire Grilling System starts around $11,000. The system offers more than dual fuel, it also has infrared burners that work in conjunction with its heavy-duty motorized rotisserie. The unit includes a fire grilling drawer, warming rack and a grilling surface that measures 33” x 22”. If $11,000 is out of your price range, both Char-Broil and Sears carry duel-fuel models starting at around $229. 

Style is important to consumers, too. For the first time, Weber’s Grill Watch Survey reports that most current grill owners will select a colored finish for their next grill. Over 50 percent of all grill owners are looking for a splash of color to accent their grills with black taking the top spot, followed by red/brick red and blue. The desire for color is even greater among grillers under 35, with 61 percent saying they'd like their next grill to have color.  

Everything and the kitchen sink

Outdoor Kitchen With Pizza Oven

Outdoor Kitchen With Pizza Oven

Image courtesy of Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet.

The cooking power of grill units is only part of the story, however. The overriding trend is bringing the entire kitchen experience outside — along with a good measure of dining and family room accouterment. Weatherproof cabinets, lighting, furniture, storage, fireplaces, space heating, refrigerators and music systems are all migrating to the wilds of the backyard, substantially extending living space.

It used to be that only high-end homes had built-in outdoor grills, but today, permanent cooking structures are becoming more attainable. According to Kalamazoo Gourmet, "these days at least 75% of sales of high-end grills are built-in models, versus cart versions. And that percentage has steadily increased over the last 10 years.”

“Outdoor living is becoming a focal point of the home,” says Matt Chadwick of Chadwick Outdoor Kitchens in Naples, Fla. “And the outdoor appliance category is simply exploding.” He should know. A professional architect, Chadwick two years ago began to focus exclusively on the growing demand for outdoor kitchens.

“There’s so much innovation going on right now,” he says. “It’s more than simply cooking; it’s all about entertaining and being comfortable outside.”

A typical Chadwick customer may ask for an entire bank of stainless-steel cabinets topped with granite countertops and housed in an open-air structure featuring tile floors, ceiling fans, adjustable lighting and a food prep center.

From there, it’s possible to add sinks, refrigerators, wine coolers, warming drawers, deep fryers and icemakers — all UL-listed specifically for outdoor use. Chadwick estimates that a typical 10-foot-long run of one of his outdoor kitchens costs about twice that of an indoor kitchen, or $15,000 to $20,000.

Outdoor Kitchen With Stainless Steel Grill

Outdoor Kitchen With Stainless Steel Grill

Powder-coated metal cabinets made to look like wood grain. Image courtesy of Danver.

Stainless-steel cabinets

A fast-rising star of the outdoor kitchen is the stainless steel cabinet. Impervious to weather, rot, and insects, stainless cabinets are available with nearly as many options as custom indoor varieties. You can choose multiple door-and-drawer combinations, sink units, pullout trash bins and lockable storage.

Many manufacturers, such as Viking, make cabinets that are proprietary to their product lines. Some, such as Danver, make cabinets that are sized to work with a variety of grilling units and outdoor appliances.

Danver also offers cabinets that have special coatings for coastal regions. In addition, the company has recently introduced a powder-coated finish that closely approximates wood grain, adding an entirely new dimension to the design of the outdoor kitchen.

The Urban Griller

The Urban Griller

Photo by: Weber Grills

Weber Grills

Image courtesy of Weber.

The urban griller

While a fully functional outdoor kitchen may fit nicely in a suburban setting, that doesn’t mean the outdoor living movement is confined to those with quarter-acre lots. Urban outdoor living is definitely on the rise as well, enabled by smaller grill units made specifically for balconies and shared patios.

Note that municipalities usually have ordinances that strictly govern the use of grills and cookers in open spaces. New York City, for example, forbids the use of a propane-fueled grill on a balcony. Check your local building authority.

With folding side shelves and a cabinet just under two-feet wide, Char-Broil’s RED Urban Infrared Grill fits neatly on a small patio or balcony. Despite its name it isn’t a true infrared burner, but rather relies on propane and radiant heat for its cooking power. Nevertheless, its under-$300 price tag makes it a popular choice.

Only 26-inches tall and weighing in at a mere 35 pounds, Weber’s portable Q 200 gas grill sports 280 square inches of grilling surface — big enough to cook 24 brats. For about $150, this little tiger of a grill will please the most demanding urban gourmet. As a bonus, the Q 200 is a willing companion for those fall tailgate parties.

Outdoor Pizza Oven

Outdoor Pizza Oven

Image courtesy of Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet.

It’s not delivery — it’s my backyard pizza oven

Today’s hottest outdoor appliance is the pizza oven. If you’re looking for that perfectly baked pizza, with slightly charred cheese bubbles and cracker-crisp crust — and, let’s be frank, who isn’t? — then an outdoor pizza oven may be the appliance of your dreams.

Increasingly popular among those who can afford them and the envy of those who can’t, one of the stainless steel, stone-lined, arch-top beauties from Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet could make indoor living obsolete all by itself. Although the price can be eye-popping — the open-flame Artisan Fire Pizza Oven checks in north of six grand — the results are sublime.

“Pizza ovens are definitely one of the hottest items for outdoor kitchens right now,” says Chris Mordi, vice president of communications at Kalamazoo. If wood-fired pizzas are more to your taste, the Vesuvio Grande from Chicago Brick Ovens is a stationary, all-brick model that will set you back some $12,000 — or about what you’d pay for 2,000 medium two-topping pizzas to be delivered to your door from Domino’s.

Too much? Opt for the KettlePizza Basic Pizza Oven Kit. The kit fits onto a standard charcoal kettle grill turning it into a pizza oven, and the price of admission is only $140.

Accessories

Bendable Skewers

Bendable Skewers

Image courtesy of Fire Wire.

While big-ticket items such as luxury grills and pizza ovens may be the bragging-right centerpieces of the outdoor suite, most manufacturers are redoubling efforts to capture market share with smaller, utilitarian items designed specifically for outdoor use. Some of the more intriguing include:

  • The Fire Wire is a flexible skewer made of stainless steel cable that enables a chef to prepare kabobs, fold them neatly into a marinating bag and, when ready, unfurl them and place them directly onto the grill. About $25 for a set of six.

  • The $20 Grill Daddy is a grill cleaning brush that features a built-in reservoir that sprinkles water onto hot grilling grates. As the water turns to steam, the Grill Daddy’s long stainless steel bristles make short work of grease and carbonized build-up.

  • Zippo’s Flexible Neck Utility Lighter, $20, sports a windproof flame that makes short work of lighting charcoal briquettes, gas burners, candles and tiki torches.

  • The Maverick GL-01 stainless steel fluorescent light is designed to clip onto the side tray of an outdoor grill. Its flexible gooseneck design twists into any position to allow this battery-powered light to illuminate up to 3 hours of continual nighttime cooking.

    “Today’s outdoor kitchen isn’t necessarily just about the wow factor,” says the HPBA’s Wheeler. “The market is huge, with appliances, options and accessories to fit every budget.”

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