Dining al fresco made easy with outdoor kitchens
Paul Coplen says his wife is a great cook, but he likes to do the grilling. So when they moved into their home seven years ago, they knew they wanted something more than the roll-around grill he had used before.
At their house, near Anderson Mill Road, they added an outdoor kitchen – with a sink, storage, 36-inch grill and plenty of countertop space – all great for entertaining, having their kids’ friends over and enjoying the view.
“We’ve always been outdoor people,” said Coplen, 52. “We knew when we looked at the house that we wanted to do that.”
They added a roof out back of their house, which helps protect the cooking area, and had the kitchen components built into roughly an L-shape counter, 8 feet at its longest.
The Coplens are not the only ones who have pushed aside the old standalone grill for something more elaborate. A “Hot Housing Trend” article on the National Association of Home Builders web site says outdoor kitchens extend the living area and can help resale value.
Chris Smith, owner of FLO Grills, which sells outdoor kitchen products as well as offers design and installation services, said the market for outdoor kitchens started heating up around 2005, cooling off somewhat during the economic downturn.
Nowadays, Smith said, he has seen a rebound.
“It’s expected now in high-end homes,” he said. “It’s getting pretty standard.”
Clients’ options run the gamut, he said, from simple grill islands to more elaborate “outdoor living” setups, with amenities such as refrigerators, ice makers, even pizza ovens, smokers and other accessories.
“They can go out there and stay,” he said. “You’re not going in and out.”
The outdoor kitchen, he said, is usually laid out in zones: the hot zone, the prep zone and the cool zone.
“You don’t want heat and smoke flowing where people are sitting,” he said.
At Coplen’s home, the outdoor cooking area is right outside of the indoor kitchen, which makes it convenient, he said. They can pass items through the kitchen window overlooking the grill, and trips inside for other items aren’t such a trek.
The grill cost about $2,000, Coplen recalls, the hardscape was about $2,000, and other components roughly another $2,000.
“It’s been well worth the investment,” he said.
In general, said Smith said his customers pay on average $1,000 per linear foot, which includes everything - though prices vary depending on the job. His company has been hired for some unusual kitchen projects, such as a celebrity who wanted an outdoor freezer. The longest kitchen his company did in Texas was a 47-foot U-shape at a winery in Comfort.
“It’s got everything,” he said.
Still, a popular item is simply a drawer with a paper towel holder, because clients don’t want paper products blowing away.
“That’s the No. 1 component,” he said.
Though the largest grill he sells is 42 inches long, the most popular is the 34-inch grill, he said.
Smith said he tries to educate clients about safety and quality issues. His company has been called in numerous times to replace shoddy or unsafe work, he said, such as a cracked granite countertop or fire damage at another kitchen.
“We usually have to tear them all down,” he said. “The most important part of an outdoor kitchen construction is the framing and ventilation.”
In addition, it is crucial to take into account the prevailing winds around the cooking area – again a fire hazard, he said; as well, construction-permit issues differ in various places.
Coplen said cooking outside helps to keep from heating up the house in the high-temperature months. With four electrical outlets on the backsplash, Coplen can plug in a small deep fryer to make fried okra or other dishes.
The outdoor kitchen also has a small sink, at their contractor’s recommendation. Since then, Coplen has found that running water is handy, especially for cleanup.
Opting against an outside refrigerator, they use a rolling ice chest for drinks. Storage under the grill houses the stereo system – great for hosting gatherings. Coplen said they use the outdoor kitchen at least twice a week, often eating casual meals at the bar, where a flat-screen TV is in viewing distance, though they also have a dining table and chairs outside. Ceiling fans help keep it cool.
The outdoor kitchen feels welcoming like a Texas hacienda, with rustic wood barstools situated along the split-level countertop. For his family, cooking and eating outside is just as typical as using the kitchen inside.
“We use it year-round,” he said. “It’s not an ornament by any means.”