The quest for a cool outdoor kitchen is heating up

Ask the Expert Style
A hybrid fire gas grill, refrigerated drawers, and 24-inch double cooktop cabinet in an outdoor space at a home in Chicago. Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet via Associated Press

Since the basic backyard barbecue began evolving into the outdoor kitchen, the trend has only grown. Some of today’s outdoor cooking areas can seem almost like full kitchens, with more appliances and food prep space. Even walls, ceilings, and TVs.

‘‘It’s not just where you prepare the food; it’s where people gather,’’ said HGTV’s Vern Yip. ‘‘Just as the kitchens inside of our homes are kind of the center of energy at a party or gathering, the outdoor kitchen really has become that as well.’’

This trend ‘‘used to be limited to the upper end of the market,’’ Yip said, but today ‘‘even the middle portion of the market is embracing it.’’

Josu Gaubeka, founder and design director at Miami-based La Cuisine Appliances, agrees: At all price ranges, he sees homeowners doing more outdoor cooking throughout the year.

One goal is better health — you’re not frying with oil if you’re outside grilling, or even using an outdoor oven, Gaubeka noted.

We’ve asked Yip, Gaubeka and New York-based designer Brett Beldock for advice on what’s trending in outdoor kitchens and how you can create one even on a relatively modest budget.

Prep space with sink and storage

Many homeowners begin by installing ‘‘a small island made of concrete or synthetic material,’’ Gaubeka said. These are usually built around a grill and offer counter space for food prep, plus the option of adding other conveniences.

Among the most popular: a small outdoor sink that’s hooked up to the outdoor water system by hose and a small refrigerator. Having these basics outside cuts down on trips into the house during cooking and entertaining.

Prices vary widely: ‘‘You can buy all those elements for $1,200 if you’d like,’’ Gaubeka said, or you could spend $1,200 or more on the grill alone.

For those considering a larger investment, Yip points out that a built-in outdoor kitchen adds monetary value to a home.

A hybrid (charcoal, wood and gas) professional grill and Arcadia series cabinetry at a home in Grand Beach, Mich. —Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet via Associated Press

Cooking beyond the grill

Another trend Gaubeka sees at a range of costs: adding a brick pizza oven or gas-fired pizza oven that can be used for much more than pizzas.

‘‘You can bake outside or you can actually sear a thick piece of meat,’’ he said. While indoor ovens generally reach 550 degrees Fahrenheit, outdoor pizza ovens can reach 700 or 800.

Beldock said a fire pit can also be a fun place to cook ‘‘anything from s’mores to hamburgers.’’

A gas-fired pizza oven at a home in Napa, Calif. Along with a good gas-fired grill, many homeowners are adding a pizza oven to their outdoor cooking area. —Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet via Associated Press

Walls and ceiling

To make a backyard cooking area feel even more like a kitchen, Yip recommends covering it with something more permanent than a canopy.

‘‘A permanent roof structure is a much better way to go because it allows you to use that room during more times of the year,’’ he said. ‘‘It also helps protect your investment.’’

Beldock suggests adding a tile backsplash along the exterior wall when installing a built-in cooking area. Use materials that can withstand the weather. Choose tiles that have either a fire-glazed or a cement finish, she said.

Beldock has also done outdoor wallpaper that’s printed on ‘‘the film that you put on cars or buses,’’ she said. It’s weather-resistant and great for the wall behind an outdoor sink.

Growing your groceries

Many people already grow herbs on an indoor windowsill. An outdoor kitchen is a great place to expand on that, Beldock said.

Add planters or pots for basics like parsley, fennel, basil, and tomatoes, she said. Plant thyme to use in recipes, and enjoy the beauty of the purple flowers that sprout on top.

Going further?

Wall-mounted televisions are also popular for outdoor entertaining areas, though they must be outdoor-rated and protected from the elements. Many people also install ice makers, and on the luxury end, Beldock sees clients adding dishwashers and even trash compactors.

‘‘Everyone loves the idea of being able to hang out outside,’’ Yip said. ‘‘We’ve really moved toward a grilling, outdoor entertaining, casual culture.’’

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