The Heart of the Yard

Now that winter is finally a memory, it’s time to start planning for the warmer months ahead. Freshening up the yard is a good start, but why stop there? An outdoor kitchen turns any yard into an entertainment magnet and makes the space more functional.

Similar to an indoor kitchen, the outdoor version becomes a focal point—homeowners can prepare the food and still be part of the party. An outdoor kitchen equipped with a refrigerator and plenty of counter space provides a great staging area for serving meals and snacks without having to run inside. Include a seating bar and guests will congregate around it. Even if it is just the family on a Tuesday night enjoying a cool evening while cooking dinner and sharing a bottle of wine.

Start with a plan
The budget, available yard space and lifestyle will determine the makeup of the outdoor kitchen. But to go beyond the basic grill, experts suggest adding a refrigerator, a sink, at least one cabinet for storage and, on a more mundane but important note, a place for a garbage can. This type of setup costs between $2,000 and $10,000; the more extras added, the higher the cost.

To make the kitchen functional and efficient, provide 18 to 24 inches of counter space around the sink and grill for food preparation. Make sure there are plenty of electrical outlets for countertop appliances. Adding an eating bar requires about 24 inches of counter space per person—a 10-foot counter will accommodate a family of 5 comfortably.

An existing patio is the place to start when deciding on a location. “I advise clients to place the kitchen as close to the house as possible,” said Robert Mindlin, owner of Great Outdoors Design in Massapequa. “For large parties, there is rarely enough storage or refrigeration available in outdoor kitchens.”

Homeowners should also consider prevailing winds when locating the grill. “You can place the grill so that most of the time the smoke is blowing away from you and not into your eyes or into the house,” said Ken Kelly of Kitchen Designs by Ken Kelly in Sag Harbor and Williston Park. “Before settling on a location, I recommend that people cook with a portable grill a few times to see if the location they want will cause smoke problems.”

This is also the time to consider how the space will keep cool during the dog days of summer. “Some people build an outdoor kitchen and leave themselves out in the blazing sun,” said Kelly. “They need to add some sort of shade structure like an awning or canopy, a pergola or even umbrellas.”

Putting It Together
Many outdoor kitchens are built from scratch, but prefabrication options speed construction and help keep costs in line. There are a number available for typical masonry patios, most consisting of a minimum 4-inch concrete slab supporting the footprint. Some companies, like Eldorado Stone, produce a variety of glass-fiber reinforced concrete boxes that are assembled on site. Similar to kitchen cabinets, once the boxes are connected, access doors and appliances like grills and side burners are added. The exposed surfaces get a stone veneer covering.

Cambridge Pavers offers a number of prefab kitchens made of retaining wall block, some that include a pergola. “Everything is measured and cut and we put the blocks together,” said Mindlin. “The counter is already precut. We set in the appliances and we are done. That process can be completed in about four days.”

For a custom look, many homeowners opt for stainless-steel cabinets. “They are a good option because they go with everything, including the appliances,” said Kelly. However, despite the cabinets being rated for outdoor use, most are not entirely waterproof. Homeowners will need to clean material stored in cabinets after a rain storm. Many designers add a low wall to hide the backs of the cabinets if they will be in view. The finish on the wall can be stone that complements the patio or a material that ties in with the house, such as brick, stone or wood shingles.

Granite is the hands-down favorite for outdoor countertops because most other materials cannot withstand the extremes of temperature or the sun’s harsh UV rays, which can cause fading. But even granite may dull over time. Concrete counters and those made of lava stone with a porcelain finish are the high-end of the market and have a distinct look. Kelly is particularly excited about a new product called Dekton, which comes in a matte finish. Released last fall, the super-tough surface resists UV rays, heat, cold and abrasions.

Finishing Touches
The heart of any outdoor kitchen is the grill. For a true kitchen look, choose a built-in model rather than a stand alone. Heavy duty porcelain-coated cast iron or stainless-steel grates and multiple burners are just the beginning. Today’s high-end grills contain rotisseries, infrared heating elements and built-in lighting. Some are even equipped to switch between gas, charcoal and wood. Accessorize the main cooking surface with side burners and warming drawers to make accompaniments outside.

A true kitchen needs a refrigerator. Be sure to distinguish between those for food and those for beverages. A cooler will chill the soda and beer, but it won’t keep raw chicken safe for an entire summer day. A pizza oven is a splurge, but Kelly and Mindlin both said they are popular among their clients. Kelly said he uses his personal oven 25 to 30 times over the course of the season. Another popular extra is a fire pit. It adds a place for people to gather and provides some warmth. These can also be prefabricated or custom made. “About 90 percent of the outdoor kitchens I build include a fire pit,” said Mindlin.

At the end of the season, stow away anything that is movable, such as stools and portable shade devices. Counters, cabinets and appliances are designed to stand up to the weather, but plastic covers—some of which may have to be custom made—add another level of protection. Water lines need to be shut off and drained, but can usually be part of any sprinkler system’s winterization.