Garden & Landscape: Realizing Your Patio’s Potential Outdoor kitchens are the new in thing for entertaining

Published on Wed, 06/18/2014 - 9:07am

This time of year, families are spending more time outside and one of the key areas for outdoor living is the patio—this is the space that has been set aside for summertime outdoor living. So let’s take a look at a really nice, well-equipped patio, starting from the ground up.

Pattern-stamped, stained concrete is all the rage. A pergola across the top will shade you from summer sun. A bubbling water feature—or fountain—can be relaxing, while a fire feature will give your family and guests a place to cluster around on cool evenings.

Now you’re cooking
What would an outdoor entertaining space be without something to grill on? Sure, you can run to the nearest big box store this time of year and find a nice propane grill—they start at around $200 and go up from there.

If you’re a fan of real smoke and fire, charcoal grills also start at a similar price range for the ubiquitous kettle-shaped unit—with most ranging between $300 to $500. Like to be different? Then figure on around $600 for the kamado-style ceramic cookers, which can also double as smokers.

But to really establish your grilling expertise, you need an outdoor kitchen. Viking ranges moved chef-level equipment from the restaurant to the kitchen, and Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet is following suit with the outdoor experience.

 

Who wouldn’t like this?
What a custom-made Tom Morgan fly-fishing rod does for anglers or a Bugatti Veyron does for auto enthusiasts, Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet does for cooks, chefs, and barbecue-istas. Notable television chefs Wolfgang Puck and Rick Bayless cook on Kalamazoo equipment.

The quality, price, and general unattainability will take your breath away and set the pulse racing. Think “the best of the best.” If you enjoy the look of stainless steel, Kalamazoo will make you giddy. Consider:

• Outdoor grills that produce as many BTUs for cooking as your furnace
• Custom, laser-cut grill grates formed from quarter-inch stainless steel
• A hybrid grill that lets you cook with gas, wood, or charcoal
• Outdoor refrigerators designed to stand up to temperature extremes, yet still keep beverages cold
• Weather-tight outdoor cabinets for non-perishable foods and tableware
• Cooktops and even a unique pizza oven will test your creativity and open up new culinary horizons

Perish the thought of schlepping tableware back to the kitchen for cleanup—they offer an outdoor dishwasher, too.

Kalamazoo is up front about the cost: Their smallest hybrid grill is more than $10,000, while larger models tip the scale at almost $22,000. A full pizza station will set you back around $12,000. That aforementioned dishwasher with cabinet? $6000. At this lofty level, you have to begin believing “it’s not what it costs, it’s what it’s worth.”

Does anyone need to spend $50,000 or more on a complete outdoor kitchen? To entertain in style, it certainly can’t hurt.

 

Four Overlooked Design Tips 
When designing your outdoor kitchen


Building an outdoor kitchen can add value to your recreation time, but keep in mind that it’s not just about the equipment you buy. The right layout make the difference between fully-functional and flop. Russ Faulk, VP of Design at Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet and legitimate grillmeister in his own right, encourages architects to consider the entire space through the following tips.
Be counter intuitive – Don’t be dazzled by all the available equipment, and instead remember that there’s a lot of chefing that doesn’t take place on a grill. “You need an ample amount of counter space to work, and you need to think about prepping, cooking, serving, and clean-up activities when you’re planning that outdoor kitchen,” Russ tells us.  Without a “landing space” you’re left holding your steaks in mid-air.
Be light on your feet – And in your workspace, with task lighting. Early sunsets in the off season can put a damper on outdoor grilling. You have to see what you cook. “Especially in the winter months, the sun goes down pretty early and you can’t see what you’re doing,” says Russ.
Cleanliness is next to using-it-more – Choose materials that clean up quickly. “Ideally, you just take ingredients to your outdoor kitchen and you’re good to go,” Russ says. “If you feel like you have to clean up the outdoor kitchen for three hours before you cook in it, then you’re just not going to cook in it as often.”
What’s your orientation? – If possible, take into consideration the prevailing winds so you don’t carry grill smoke into the house or dining area.  Also, consider the summertime sun’s heat so the cook and dining guests won’t broil while dinner’s cooking.

 

It was a bright summer day in suburban Sydney, and we men were shooed outside to set up for the planned dinner—grilled steaks and potatoes. John’s house had a small concrete patio that opened to the wooded back yard with some scrub brush up against the neighbor’s fence. There was no gas grill, no built-in barbecue, nothing but yard. How would we grill the steaks?

“No worries, mate! Just help me pull together some rocks,” John enthused. After scouring the fence line for a short time, we had enough big rocks for fire ring about three feet across.

Still, no big bag of charcoal was evident: What would we use as fuel? Again: “No worries, mate—help me pick up some deadfall.” So we set about collecting leaves, pine needles, and twigs for kindling, and then larger sticks and branches for the proper fire. 

Awhile after lighting and tending our fire, it had subsided to suitable flaming embers. Potatoes wrapped in foil lined the fire ring, benefitting from frequent turns with sticks. But how to cook the steaks?

John went into his garage and came out carrying a large metal sheet, mentioning it was a “leftover” from an old roofing project. After a brief hand-brushing, the still-lightly rusty sheet went over the coals and was soon glowing faintly from the heat.

Before long, steaks were sizzling away on the hot metal, filling the back yard with their delectable aroma. Wine glasses in hand, the hosts determined that the evening was far too glorious to dine inside, although no picnic table—or, for that matter, any other dining surface—was apparent.

Ever resourceful, John and his wife scurried into the house and returned, manhandling their wooden dining room table through the open doorway, with everyone following their cue and helping move the straggling chairs and table settings. A cooler full of ice kept soft drinks, beer, and white wine chilled all evening.

In the end, the meal was as glorious as the weather. John’s steaks had an oddly-pleasant taste  from the combination of oily, flammable woodsmoke with the hint of rust from the cooking surface. Hot, freshly baked potatoes and a little salad—containing dandelions from the front yard—made for a memorable al fresco meal.

After an evening of great companionship, good food, and probably a little too much rough Australian wine, I suggested that I should go to my hotel.

“No worries, mate. You can stay here tonight—just help me move some furniture!”

 

Grill cleanup tip Run your grill hot for at least 10 minutes after every cooking session. Residue turns to carbon, making scraping and wire-brushing easier and more effective.