Though a few designers place kitchens some distance from the
house, doing so could be quite inconvenient, because the cook will
likely have to make numerous trips to and from the main kitchen.
Next to the house is a better location.
Time was when the only requirement for a cookout was a grill, a
good set of tongs, and a Styrofoam cooler to ice down the beer.
Today, the grill might be built in, and it may be accompanied by a
rotisserie, a refrigerator, a sink, a beer tap, warming drawers,
and a pizza oven.
In fact, many high-end builders now offer well-designed outdoor
kitchens to their customers, and some find that these spaces
provide the stimulus for remodeling the entire backyard.
“It’s one area where husband and wife agree that
it’s a good place to invest money.
It’s a focal point for outdoor entertaining,” explains
Scott Cohen, garden artisan for Green Scene, a Los Angeles-based
landscape design and construction firm.
But builders on the hot, humid Gulf Coast who want to offer outdoor
kitchens face the added challenges of high winds, tidal surges,
extreme heat, and humid, salt-laden air. Anything outdoors needs to
be able to withstand a beating. Crafting a great space and
specifying durable materials are essential.
Home buyers in places like South Florida, Louisiana, or Texas
naturally want to spend time outdoors, so the outdoor kitchen needs
to be more than a place to cook. As an architectural element of the
home, it should be “part of the whole outdoor living
experience,” says Louis Nequette, principal of Dungan
Nequette Architects in Birmingham, Ala. “People make a lot of
their living and purchasing decisions based on their ability to
connect with the outdoors. It’s a strong
One reason this amenity has grown so popular is the growing list of
options available for outdoor kitchens. “We have built-in
beverage centers, captain’s tables, warming drawers, outdoor
stereo equipment centers — almost none of which was available
five years ago,” says Cohen. “Plus, outdoor furnishings
have changed. We’re not dealing with strappy lounge chairs
Cohen considers four primary design elements when designing an
Proximity to the house. Some clients want the outdoor
kitchen as far away from the house as possible, but he recommends
against it because “you always end up making multiple trips
inside. Placing the outdoor kitchen next to the indoor one is more
practical. If you want to make the best use of the back corner of
the yard, have it be a dining area or a fire pit.”
View. The view from the house and the outdoor kitchen
needs to be taken into account. Simply put, make sure it’s
Prevailing winds. One caveat when locating an outdoor
kitchen next to the house is that you don't want to place the grill
where smoke can be blown inside. This is more of an issue for homes
directly on the beach, where winds tend to be stronger.
Countertops. The shape, size, and configuration of
countertops are as important outdoors as they are inside the
Coastal designers report that outdoor kitchens are a hit with
residents. Marieanne Khoury-Vogt, town architect for Alys Beach, a
sustainable, Gulf-front community in the Florida Panhandle, has
designed an outdoor kitchen for the second-floor terrace of one of
its compounds as an amenity for residents. “It’s been
used a tremendous amount,” Khoury-Vogt says. “Having
the ability to cook and dine outside is a wonderful part of
Built against a 42-inch-high wall, the kitchen features a stainless
steel stove, a sink that's deep enough to handle large platters, an
ice maker, a dishwasher built into a masonry enclosure, and ample
counter and storage space. A 1-inch-thick shellstone countertop
coordinates with the shellstone pavers on the floor.
With some advance planning, construction was fairly simple,
Khoury-Vogt reports. When the house was built, the terrace was
stubbed for water and gas
and wired for lights and outdoor speakers. “All construction
had to do was build the frame. The appliances went in and that was
it,” she says. “We mounted a couple of vapor lights on
top of the wall.”
The core piece of any outdoor kitchen is, of course, the grill, and
one of the most important issues to be aware of when choosing and
locating a grill is heat. Most gas grills are built so that heat
exits from the back of the unit, according to Michael Cartwright, a
20-year veteran of Gulf Coast landscaping who now owns Outdoor
Polymer Systems in Houston, which builds heat-insulating grill
islands. He advises against installing grills against the house. He
says that some high-end manufacturers like Viking and Fisher &
Paykel build enough insulation into their grills that, even when
fully heated, they are just warm to the touch on the outside. But
most grills need to be installed so that they are well ventilated
on the sides and back and do not contact combustible
On the Gulf shore where Cartwright works, the big issue for
anything made of metal is corrosion. More than anything else, you
need to know your steel, he notes. “All products are not
created equal,” he explains, but adds that high-quality
grills with good stainless steel can last a long time. “I
have seen DCS grills installed on the Florida coast that were still
performing well after several years.” His minimum
specification for outdoors is 304 stainless steel.
Cartwright says to beware of powder-coating — it may be
covering a lower-grade steel that won’t hold up in salt air.
He also avoids grills with electronic gadgets, because the
electrical connections tend to corrode after a short time in his
environment. “If it has LED lights on it, I say no thank you.
It’s not going to last when exposed to salt air.”
To avoid pitting from saltwater, the minimum specification for
stainless steel on the beach is 304 stainless. Homeowners should be
cautioned to clean and cover grills immediately after
This also goes for outdoor receptacles. Many customers want plug-in
accessories, such as rotisseries, which require a plug near the
grill. For this, Cartwright recommends an outdoor receptacle inside
the grill box, or an extension cord run to the garage.
“I’ve never seen an outdoor ground fault plug that
survived more than six months on this coast,” he says.
Grill igniters also are “a huge issue,” Cartwright
notes. Most homes on the coast will have LP gas. “Anytime you
have LP gas connected to a gas appliance, if you don’t get
instant ignition, gas collects in the bottom of the box. It’s
an explosion issue. It’s the same kind of condition as on a
boat. It needs to be incredibly cross-ventilated.” Also, he
advises, make sure you have a gas connect shutoff right by the
A drop-in cooler is a good alternative to a refrigerator.
It’s a simple, insulated box that’s built into the
counter and filled with ice and drinks.
Finally, you need to educate the homeowner about the need for
cleaning and lubricating. “Even stainless will get surface
rust,” he says, adding that a stainless grill should be wiped
down after each use, and it should be washed and lubricated at
least twice a season. He also reports that while there are plenty
of products on the market for cleaning and lubricating stainless,
he gets the best results by washing the grill with soap and water,
then rubbing it down with good old WD-40. “In my experience,
WD-40 works great for keeping rust off in salt
Once people start cooking outdoors, they’re inclined to want
a sink for food preparation and cleanup as well as a refrigerator
to keep beverages cold.
Both can be problematic.
Adding an outdoor sink to a home built on piers or pilings is no
simple matter. Many municipalities don’t allow utility
construction on the ground floor, although some homeowners install
kitchens there after they have moved in. Even where ground-level
kitchens are permitted, the potential for tidal swells means that
the supply lines should descend down from the house, not up from
Drains can be an even bigger challenge. Local code requirements
drains can make ground-level sinks not worth the cost. Check the
local building code. Some contractors have reported costs of over
$3,000 for sewer connections. That’s an expensive sink.
It’s a lot cheaper just to put a hose spigot into the
While refrigerators might work well for outdoor kitchens in much of
the country, they’re not necessarily a good idea at the Gulf,
according to Cartwright. The problem is the extreme summer heat.
“These products are not made to operate in 110-degree
weather,” he says. As an alternative, Cartwright and Cohen
both recommend a beverage well. Also called a drop-in cooler, this
is not a sink but an insulated box that’s built into the
countertop and filled with ice and drinks. “The homeowners
don’t have to plug it in, and if it’s a seasonal home
they won’t have to worry about whether it will still be
working when they return next season,” says Cartwright.
When clients insist on outdoor refrigeration, Cartwright advises an
inexpensive minifridge that’s just big enough to chill the
beer and keep the condiments from spoiling. “We get more
callbacks on high-end refrigeration units than we do for the $99
units we buy at Home Depot.”
A refrigeration unit is a handy addition to an outdoor kitchen.
It’s best to specify a small refrigerator made for outdoor
use. Standard refrigerators are made to operate in relatively mild
indoor temperatures, not the extremes of heat and cold found
Some builders of high-end coastal homes prefer to use marine-grade
materials outdoors for everything from flooring to hinges, despite
the high cost. One of these is Daytona Beach, Fla.-based ICI Homes,
which offers buyers summer kitchens placed under cover on lanais,
says Steve Reeger, ICI’s building science specialist.
Reeger specifies stainless steel, UL-rated appliances that sit on
cabinets constructed of marine-grade plywood covered with laminate,
and countertops made of marine-grade plywood covered with ceramic
tile. Another good cabinetry option, he says, would be concrete
block covered with stucco, and stainless steel, cypress, or cedar
doors. Ipe and teak also are excellent wood choices for flooring,
cabinetry, and seating areas.
ICI Homes offers its Florida buyers a combination of inside and
out with “summer kitchens” placed in screened-in lanai
“There are a number of products that won’t last two
years,” he says. “You need to use materials that will
be durable and withstand harsh salinity.”
That includes cabinet hinges. Cartwright recommends hinges built
for sailboat hatches, available in marine stores. Barring that,
“buy the highest-grade European-style hinges and grease them
up. Bottom line: don’t be afraid of lubricating to make sure
things stay in good condition.”
Pat Curry is an Atlanta-area writer who specializes in building