As the weather warms up, that itch to spend your time outdoors may only be scratched until it's time to head in and make supper—unless, of course, your outdoor kitchen features the latest modern upgrades. Area experts discuss how backyard kitchens these days can handle a lot more than hot dogs.
"Outdoor kitchens now have become as elaborate as indoor ones," says CJ Knapp of Savvy Surrounding Style. "You can get wine coolers, rotisserie grills, and you can put your stove outside—you can do virtually all of your cooking outside. You just have to make sure—when you're working with your contractor—that things are insulated correctly."
On a similar note, Bob Graeler of Chesterfield Valley Nursery recommends trying to integrate the entire kitchen concept into your outdoor kitchen. This includes not just a grill, but an integrated refrigerator, storage space, a side-burner, power outlets and more.
Wendy Kuhn of Karr Bick Kitchen & Bath echoes similar ideas. "In the past, maybe you had a built-in grill—but now, you've got warming drawers, outdoor dishwashers, sinks, beverage centers, ice machines..."
If your current outdoor kitchen isn't up to your standards, Kuhn says that retrofitting is sometimes possible, but not always simple. "It depends on what the set-up is, because outdoor kitchens are usually made out of rock," explains Kuhn. "If you wanted to get a bigger grill, in some circumstances, you could make the opening bigger; but, a lot of these are probably easier just to start over." Building something new? To stand up against the elements, Kuhn suggests using the better-grade stainless steel for its rust-resistant properties. "You don’t really want to use wood cabinetry; but, there are certain woods that are more adaptable to being out in the weather, like teak."
When it comes to new builds, Knapp recommends homeowners not just think about the appliances, but the practicality of the space. A built-in area for the propane tank keeps it out of sight; additionally, plan for prep and serving space to keep things comfortable.
To maintain your outdoor kitchen, Graeler recommends using a stone enhancer. "You want to maintain the stone surface with some stone enhancers—to a certain degree sealing them—to keep the oils and grease out. You can use a lot of the citrus-based cleaning products to help remove those [oils], and then you come back in with a stone enhancer to treat it and keep up on that—usually about two to three times a year." Additionally, covers can be used to protect appliances from the elements.
Graeler also explains that homeowners should keep an eye on the space to avoid missing problems in the early stages. "Usually, by a brief inspection, you can see the start of some problems by possible mortar pitting or cracking," Graeler says. "It's at that point in time you want to have someone look at it before it gets too far."