You pull your juicy, flame-kissed burgers off the grill, struggle through your patio door, and let your meat rest on the kitchen counter. You head back outside. You put your buttered buns on the grill and do a 180 to give your coleslaw a final mix in the kitchen. You head back outside. You take your buns off the heat, stumble through the door again, and assemble your platters for that just-so presentation. It’s time to eat—and what better way on this sunny day than al fresco. You head back outside.
Stop the madness. With a fully functioning outdoor kitchen, you can prep, cook, plate and enjoy all in the same space.
“Outdoor kitchens haven’t exploded in this area yet, but if you go south, everybody is doing them. It’s the thing to do right now,” said Blake Hunter, an installer for local fireplace, chimney and grill specialist Wooden Sun. “Eventually things are going to change, and Charlottesville is going to follow along.”
Putting in an outdoor kitchen can be a daunting task. But take it step-by-step, and you’ll be a fresh air culinaire in no time.
Step 1: Set goals
Outdoor kitchens can be utilitarian—a nice grill, some counter space and a burner or two are all you really need. But they can also be buddy to any number of outdoor amenities. Think pools, water features, fire pits, dedicated dining areas.
“People that want an outdoor kitchen these days are turning it into an outdoor living area,” says Wooden Sun’s Josh Thornhill. “People are moving more to outdoor, natural spaces. They’re thinking, ‘This is what I have, how can I tie this outdoor kitchen dream into that existing space?’”
The dream might be grilling, roasting, grating and poaching while gazing out at your gorgeous view. Or it might be having friends over to take in the view themselves while you prepare that gourmet spread. “Even if you’re just going to do the kitchen first, if you are considering putting that patio or water feature in, you have to have those plans underway,” Hunter says.
Step 2: Divide the labor
Building your own outdoor dream kitchen could cut costs in half, according to some estimates, but you better know your way around a jobsite if you’re gonna take on that kind of project.
If you do plan to turn your backyard into a bistro yourself, Thornhill and Hunter point out you may want to seek help in any one of a couple areas—design, plumbing, electrical, masonry.
Step 3: Scout your spot
How close to your house do you want your outdoor kitchen? Where’s the natural shade? Do you have pre-plumbed gas and/or water lines? How much do you like your neighbors?
These are all questions you’ll need to answer before you break ground. If you don’t have access to gas, you’ll have to dig or opt for a tank-driven system; if you have no natural shade, you’ll have to install an umbrella or awning; if you like your neighbors, you’ll want to think about how much your smoke and noise is going to bother them.
Plus, you’ll need to consider venting and moisture issues. And, you’ll want to build out of weather resistant materials and in such a way as to limit moisture buildup and mold growth.
Step 4: Select your hardware
You can throw a lot of stuff in an outdoor kitchen, but the one thing almost every expert agrees on is anchoring it with a quality grill. Sure, any grill salesman is going to tell you a big investment up front will pay for itself in low maintenance, warranty, blah, blah, blah. But for a permanent kitchen, the concern is that building a counter around an el cheapo barrel grill will create an oddball cutout that you won’t be able to work with down the road.
Once you have your grill picked out, according to Hunter and Thornhill, your next purchase should be a pizza oven.
“Pizza ovens are happening on a new level, because they’re much more modular,” Hunter says.
Step 5: Enjoy
You don’t need experts to tell you how to do this one. Call your friends, grab a glass of wine and get cooking.