Outdoor Kitchen Trends
Check out the latest in backyard barbecuing and outdoor cooking.
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.
The fact that more Americans are cooking outdoors is impressive, but the real phenomenon is how they’re doing it. Two words: big time. The entire outdoor “leisure lifestyle” industry now nets $6.2 billion annually — up 5.4 percent compared to 2002.
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
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.
Throw in a rotisserie, multiple fuel capability (gas, charcoal, infrared and wood), a 48-inch-wide cabinet with under-counter storage, 12-gauge stainless steel construction, and a little brand-name caché, and you’ll pay more than $5,000. Nevertheless, today’s market has something for everyone, and it’s possible to find quality products across a spectrum of prices. Weber, for example, has grills that range from $29 to just over $3,000.
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. All-black grills have moved into second place, and a stainless finish has slipped to third.
Everything and the kitchen sink
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.
“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.
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
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 2 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.
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. “Sales were up 20 percent last year, and that’s despite the economy. More people are simply staying at home and entertaining in a relaxed atmosphere.”
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 wood-fired Aztec Allure Pizza Oven from Deeco. Although the faux brick exterior is actually cast metal, the pizza is real, and the price of admission is only $375.
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:
“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.”