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Planning a functional outdoor kitchen
By Jennifer McInnis, Staff Writer
Updated 2:01 pm, Monday, April 8, 2013
Spring has arrived and so have magazines filled with beautifully designed outdoor kitchens to dream about. The dream can become a reality with a practical plan in place.
He says the first question to ask yourself is, “What do I cook?”
Before meeting with clients, Johnson assigns homework, asking them to list all the ways they plan to use the kitchen and the typical crowd size. That will determine layout and which appliances to include.
The average outdoor kitchen costs about $10,000 without appliances, Johnson estimates. Depending on size and grade of appliances, it can cost more than $40,000.
Geography and lot size partially dictate the layout of an outdoor space. In South Texas, shelter from the sun is important.
“A shade arbor or something to diffuse the sunlight is imperative,” Johnson says.
The space should be oriented to take advantage of the prevailing breeze.
“Get a view of where the sun is setting, where the prevailing winds are coming from to make sure that you’re getting it situated properly,” says Dale Ponder, owner of Cozy Outdoor Escapes in San Antonio.
He says two design elements that are paramount to customer satisfaction, “having enough prep space that you can lay things out and serve things if you want to, as well as making sure that you have a good storage area to put everything away at the end of your dinner.”
Many people want granite countertops, but Johnson and Ponder steer clients to concrete. Not only can it be formed and poured in place, it’s easier to clean and maintain.
“It’s much more rustic. It will last forever. You can cast in place and do it seamless,” Ponder says of concrete.
Johnson says other surfaces just don’t live up to concrete.
John Hackett, owner of Dynamic Environments in Boerne, uses concrete blocks for the cabinet structure and installs granite for the countertops, which allows for undermount sinks.
“That way you don’t have a lip that catches pollen and organic trash like a self-rimming surface-mount sink,” Hackett says.
It’s best to seal the granite during installation so that it will last.
“Masonry is the best way to go outside,” Hackett says, and that goes for cabinets, too. He recommends concrete block, stone or stucco rather than wood.
“Moisture is the biggest enemy of a wood-masonry combo,” he says. “When water gets inside there, which inevitably it will, it starts this never-ending process of shrink, swell.”
Concrete or stone over concrete is best for floors, so they can be hosed down. The floor should be sloped for drainage, and a three-sided, or U-shaped, design will need a drain.
Choosing a grill is one of the most important decisions. That and again, it depends on what it will be used for.
Johnson recommends installing a gas grill for quick cooking and having a charcoal grill that could easily be moved. Whether the space will feature one or both, it’s best to purchase a good-quality grill that will last more than a few seasons.
“If you stay on upper end of the quality, they are guaranteed for a lifetime,” Ponder says.
Another grill feature to consider is a rotisserie. “It’s an extremely inexpensive option that once people get started using it, they start thinking of reasons to use it,” Johnson says.
Many people want a fireplace or pizza oven. For those, Hackett recommends using brick or other masonry.
If the outdoor space is close enough to the existing kitchen and it’s not a hassle to go in and out, Johnson and Ponder recommend using the indoor appliances.
“It lessens the footprint outside and lessens your expense outside,” Johnson says.
You could get away with an inexpensive dorm-size refrigerator that could be easily replaced, Johnson says.
However, many people want a self-sufficient kitchen complete with grills, a refrigerator, a kegerator, a turkey fryer and even a warming drawer. Hackett recommends appliances made for outdoors because they are built to withstand temperature extremes, humidity, wind and rain.
There are weatherproof TVs, or a good cover should be purchased to protect it.
As with interior spaces, the outdoor kitchen needs comfortable furnishings for dining and lounging. Whether you choose a higher bistro table to seat four or a dining table to accommodate a larger group — or both — will again depend on how you plan to use the space. Perhaps it’s like inside, where flexibility makes it work for groups small and large.