How to Build Your Own Outdoor Kitchen

Now more than ever, Americans are headed outdoors — and firing up the grill. Here are a few ideas to bring the cooking outside



Outdoor dining space created by TMS Architects of Portsmouth
Photo by Rob Karosis

More than 75 percent of all US households include an outdoor grill or smoker, according to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA). But the grill is only the beginning. With multiple options like weather-resistant cabinetry and furniture, outdoor refrigerators, sinks and more, homeowners are extending their living and cooking spaces into the back yard. It’s a trend that’s exploded in the last 20 years. “You don’t see many decks or patios on the back of homes originally built in the 1950s, ’60s or ’70s,” says Rob Carty, partner at TMS Architects in Portsmouth. “People are spending a lot more time outdoors now, particularly during short summer months here in New England.”   

Here are some points to consider if your home improvement plans include an outdoor kitchen expansion:

How will the space be used?

As entertainment space for family? Friends? For large gatherings or intimate get-togethers? How much space do you need? It’s helpful to know how often the space will be used and its proximity to the kitchen, where most cooking prep is done. In New Hampshire, where cold and snow are a factor, Carty suggests a screened porch, a three-season room or extending your existing home’s roof to protect equipment from the elements.

Identify a site that ‘extends the season,’ allowing you to enjoy sunshine in the spring and fall as well as summer.”

Budget

Setting a budget beforehand is key because “outdoor kitchens can get expensive pretty quickly,” says Jennifer DiNovo, principal landscape architect at Design Works in Hudson.  An outdoor cooking area can be as simple as a grill surrounded with potted plants or as elaborate as a complete outdoor kitchen with grill, storage, refrigeration, a sink and counter tops.  Adding utilities — electric, water or gas — for appliances is another cost.

Photo courtesy of Gilberte Interiors

Gilberte Interiors of Hanover carries a number of outdoor appliances and furnishings to take your space to the next level.

“You can produce a beautiful outdoor kitchen in an interesting way and not spend lots of money,” says Robbi Woodburn, principal of Woodburn & Company Landscape Architects in Newmarket. “As soon as you get into adding things like refrigeration, it gets more expensive.”

Layout

Any outdoor living space should take advantage of sun and shade. The closer the space is to your home, the more sheltered it is from the elements (it’s also easier to extend an awning, roof overhang or other structure for protection). “Think about how the space connects to your indoor kitchen,” Woodburn says. If your outdoor cooking area is close to the house, installing utility lines is also less expensive. Woodburn suggests identifying a site that “extends the seasons,” allowing you to enjoy sunshine in the spring and fall as well as summer.

To prevent grilling smells from wafting into your home, consider the cooking area’s proximity to doors, windows and its positioning under cover. A fully outfitted space farther away from your home means added storage to keep essential cooking tools nearby.

Another consideration is how the cooking area integrates with your yard and landscaping. A landscape design plan can address questions about maximizing sunlight and identify appropriate plants that can tolerate the weather and complement a home’s architecture. Adding a whole garden isn’t necessary, says Woodburn. “We use lots of potted plants with herbs to provide interest in outdoor spaces,” she notes.

Options

A shiny new grill from your local home improvement store is just one choice for an outdoor kitchen. There are many enticing add-ons, including side burners, a warming rack, a searing grill, even a rotisserie. Creating counter space on either side of the cooktop is a simple option. More complex kitchens can include a sink, pizza oven, storage area, even a high-top bar with seating.  Retailers that carry outdoor kitchen appliances and furnishings are good resources to discover what’s available, including Gilberte Interiors in Hanover (gilberteinteriors.com), Baron’s Major Brands (several NH locations, baronsmajorbrands.com) and State Street Discount in Portsmouth (statestreetdiscount.com). Online options include Danver Stainless Outdoor Kitchens (danver.com), which feature stainless steel, enamel-finish kitchens that don’t require masonry for installation; Werever Outdoor Kitchen Cabinets (werever.com) are made of recycled plastic, making them another good choice for outdoor use.

With planning and resourcefulness, you can transform an ordinary outdoor space into an open-air cooking area that adds comfort and value year-round to your home as well as enjoyment for years to come.

Photo courtesy of Design Works
This area includes seating around a firepit plus a covered space for the outdoor kitchen and dining area. Designed and created by Design Works of Hudson.

 

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