Yearning to spend more time outdoors and less time at the stove as the weather warms up? It's easy to create an outdoor kitchen to suit just about any space and budget.
When considering the size and scope of an outdoor kitchen, first determine how frequently it will be used. "If you cook outside five to seven nights a week, it may be worth the investment to add counters, appliances, tables, furniture," says Matthew Wright, sales associate at Larson's Home Furnishings in Medford. "But for once every three weeks, maybe not."
An outdoor kitchen doesn't have to mean bringing an entire kitchen outside.
"It can be as simple as a new charcoal grill," says Matthew Wright of Larson's Home Furnishings. "That's an affordable way to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors."
For about $1,000, a homeowner could purchase a freestanding outdoor kitchen counter and a rolling grill. Some people fudge and mount an inexpensive mini-fridge on casters and roll it into the house or garage after dinner.
If you're frugal, you may have enough left for a basic resin patio table and chairs and a few cute accessories. Look for colorful plastic glasses, pitchers, plates, platters and festive table linens at big box and discount stores.
A mid-range outdoor kitchen would cost $3,000 to $6,000. A good grill, a six-foot counter plus stylish, comfortable patio furniture would round things out nicely. Although a sink and refrigerator are tempting additions, they can be sacrificed in order to meet a budget. That said, a UL-approved refrigerator starts in the neighborhood of $1500.
"You're talking $30,000, $40,000, even up to $80,000 for high-end kitchens," says Wright. "It basically looks like a whole kitchen has been transplanted outside for elegant dining."
Return on the investment can be substantial and the more effort and money you put into an outdoor kitchen, the more value you put into your home.
"But the biggest return you get," says Wright, "is the family satisfaction—that you're doing something with those you love."
Next, look hard at what space you have available and how it would accommodate what you want. Keep in mind that a patio slab is the ideal surface for an outdoor kitchen. If you've got decking, you'll have to add support before building any sort of a substantial kitchen. For a small space with big plans, pouring a cement slab extension may be a good solution.
Now choose what's important for your outdoor kitchen, based on space, budget and materials. Freestanding, or modular, components can add luxury without committing to a lot of construction or plumbing. Look for grills with stainless steel carts, counters on casters, maybe a counter that has a sink but no drain that can hold iced beverages.
When budget is not an issue—or the kitchen is being built to add value to the home—the sky's the limit. "Then you need to look at space needs for putting in an outdoor barbecue area and maybe an outdoor bar," says Wright. "You can go as far as an outdoor fireplace as well." Homeowners often opt for a fully built-in kitchen or kitchen island. Appliances and accessories fit into the masonry frame, creating what looks like a standard, high-end kitchen—with the moon as its chandelier!
In all cases, design around the most important element: the grill. This is where the action happens, so make sure it's centrally located yet not a hazard to people and pets. You may also want to consider the view from inside when planning your outdoor kitchen—perhaps placing the counter on that side of the grill will help keep a stack of dirty dishes out of the sightline when you're standing at a window.
And never start building without a permit, especially if you're going to be plumbing gas lines and water pipes. Speaking of permits and building regulations, outdoor appliances must be UL (Underwriters Laboratory)-approved.
"They are tested to be resistant to humidity and to very, very low and very, very high temperatures," says Dana Fish, co-owner with husband Richard, of Appliance Depot in Medford. "The refrigerators in our homes like to live in the same temperature we like to live in and they're not good for use outside."
It's also wise to stay away from wood in an outdoor kitchen, as it will weather and rot over time. Look for stainless steel or stone surfaces that fit around appliances. These maximize counter and prep space while adding a visual flow to the kitchen design.
To keep the chill off cool Southern Oregon nights and to extend the season of your outdoor kitchen, there are always portable fire pits and built-in or freestanding patio heaters.
Now that you're warmed up, it's time to set the picnic table and flip those burgers!