Add an outdoor kitchen to your backyard
Relax and entertain with all your cooking essentials at your fingertips
There are few things as enjoyable as inviting friends over for a backyard barbecue; warm breezes peppered with whiffs of smoke, cold drinks, a cottage atmosphere–what’s not to like, other than the bland setup most of us have: a basic grill with no preparation space. And then there’s the running back and forth for supplies, the lack of basic amenities such as a sink, icemaker, fridge or prep area. Actually, outdoor cooking is a bit of a pain. Maybe that’s why beer is needed.
But wait, things have changed. Like every other “room” in your house, the backyard is ripe for remodelling, and a single grill no longer cuts the mustard. After all, house parties always end up in the kitchen, so why not make your outdoor kitchen a destination “designed and equipped as well as the rest of your house?” suggests Rick Bloye, president of Aurora, Ont.-based Outdoor Luxury, who’s been designing and building outdoor kitchens for seven years.
Once the domain of warmer climates, such as California and Florida, outdoor kitchens are gaining in popularity across North America, especially as fuel prices climb and cottages, the traditional summertime retreat, grow out of reach for many of us. “They’ve really become popular over the last five years,” says Steve Barkhouse, president of Amsted Construction Ltd., in Ottawa. “Cottages are expensive to buy and maintain; then there’s the time of driving up for the weekend and maintaining the property. Whereas on a Wednesday evening, I get home from a tough day at work, step into my backyard and I’m ‘at the cottage.’” When Bloye began, “outdoor kitchen” meant “a 6′ to 8′ unit with a built-in barbecue, but now things are much more elaborate. How so? One of Bloye’s current projects includes a 42″ barbecue with interior and exterior lights; a breakfast club, which is a restaurant-style griddle with a double side-burner; a prep area with a 2″-thick maple butcher’s block top; a “margarita centre” for mixing drinks; and a bar caddy with its own sink and running water. And then there’s the finishes, including brick and stainless steel, a built-in fireplace and furniture worthy of Jimmy Buffet.
The kitchen will also include outdoor appliances such as a fridge and icemaker. Virtually every kitchen appliance comes in an outdoor version these days, some of which can survive Canadian winters. “Some of them come with button-up covers for protection,” says Boyle.
Depending on how elaborate you go, prices range from a few thousand to $30,000, largely determined by the equipment you install, says Boyle, who recommends visiting an outdoor kitchen showroom (such as his own shop), “and then go home and take a look at your space; where does the sun set, which way does the wind blow, do you want a permanent setup or one you can move around?”
Once you narrow down these types of decisions, you can start planning the space effectively, choosing equipment, deciding on layout and finishes, just like any other room in your house. After all, it’s no use investing in an outdoor kitchen if it doesn’t suit your space. “You don’t want it to look like an 800-lb gorilla beside Barbie furniture,” says Bloye.