By Kristi Willis
Photography (above) Courtesy of Southern Outdoor Appeal
Extending the entertainment space of a home with an outdoor kitchen is a more affordable option for many than adding a room to the house. Alfresco kitchens give homeowners a space to cook without heating up the house, and they incorporate the grill and smoker into the home decor rather than cast them off to the side of the lawn.
When combined with a dining or living area, the outdoor kitchen becomes part of a backyard oasis.
Austinite Cris DiRuggiero and his family recently added an outdoor kitchen and living room to their home. “After nine years in the house,” DiRuggiero says, “we decided it was time to build a covered patio and space we could use for entertaining. On Labor Day, instead of going to Galveston or the beach, we had a ‘staycation’ in our backyard.”
Having a place to easily entertain a group of 25 to 30 people motivated local artist and builder Peter Struble and his wife to add an outdoor kitchen. “It works well if there are a lot of people milling around,” he says. “And we can have multiple people cooking at the same time.”
Dorsey Barger and Susan Hausmann of HausBar Farms planned the space for their new outdoor entertainment area as part of the construction on their new dream house. Initially thought of as a space to house fund-raising dinners for the nonprofits they support, the kitchen has transitioned into an educational space used to demonstrate how the farm works and connects people to their food. “We can show guests the garden,” Barger explains, “where the chicken is raised, how it is slaughtered and then how it is cooked. The importance of the kitchen became greater and greater.”
Outdoor kitchens vary significantly in price depending on the size, appliances and amenities. A smaller kitchen might include a smoker, power burner, small grill and counter space for prep work, while more elaborate spaces might also include a backsplash with outlets, wood-burning oven, refrigerator, ice maker, dishwasher and bar where people can sit.
Each appliance presents a range of options for the homeowner. In addition to traditional gas grills, Southern Outdoor Appeal—a Texas company that builds outdoor entertainment spaces—has been installing a number of BeefEater grills from Australia that have convertible tops that can be taken off for open-faced grilling or replaced with a pizza-oven attachment.
The smoker options range from the popular Big Green Egg to a large smoker on a trailer. “It’s really about customizing it to your needs and your lifestyle,” says Matt Channel of Southern Outdoor Appeal. “We have customers with big smokers that have been in the family for generations and we build the kitchen around the smoker—making it removable if they want to take it out to the tailgate or family reunion.”
A wood-burning oven—while requiring an up-front investment of at least $10,000—can cook a wide range of foods outdoors. Dave Eberhardt of Texas Oven Company explains that while a traditional oven limits the temperature to 500 degrees, a wood-burning oven can reach 700 to 800 degrees. The radiant heat cooks the food from all angles—caramelizing the outside of meats, for example, while leaving the inside juicy and moist.
Initially interested in cooking pizzas, Barger and Hausmann were sold on the wood-burning oven after they learned that they could cook for several days off of a single fire—picking dishes based on the intensity of the heat: pizzas on the first day, meats and vegetables as the temperature drops down in the 400-degree range and then fish or other foods requiring lower temperatures on the final day.
When planning an outdoor kitchen, there are a number of variables to contemplate. Channel suggests researching the details of your existing home before finalizing the wish list. “Know where your gas line is or whether you are willing to pay to run the gas line where you want. Also, cover is important. You don’t want to be standing out in the rain to grill. If you don’t have cover now, you’ll want to add that to the budget.”
If planning for a wood-burning oven, Eberhardt suggests that you have a 6- by 6-foot space to accommodate the standard 40-inch oven, which holds the fire and three to four 10- to 12-inch pizzas. “Too often customers have already planned the space without understanding how much room they need for the oven,” Eberhardt adds.
Making room for storage is another key consideration. Southern Outdoor Appeal offers a cabinet with plenty of room for grilling and cooking equipment. Struble used their vertical hanging racks directly above the cooking area, with hooks for pots, pans, flippers and tongs.
Many homeowners initially plan to include a sink, refrigerator, ice maker or dishwasher without realizing the substantial costs involved in obtaining the proper permits and running water and electricity to the area. Extending lines while the house is under construction is much easier than doing so on an existing home.
Channel suggests building the outdoor kitchen near the existing kitchen, instead, to provide easy access to water and wastewater. A built-in ice chest or cooler box is a less expensive alternative for keeping beverages and prep items cool.
Certain conveniences might be worth the cost to preserve privacy in the main house. Barger notes, “We added a dishwasher, sink and a refrigerator because we want to use our kitchen as an entertaining space. For our own use, we can walk back into the house, but if we are having outside guests we want that space to be self-contained for them.”
And like the house, the outdoor area should be an extension of your style. Channel encourages clients to express themselves through their kitchen design whether they prefer contemporary or rustic decor. “Some people want to match the granite from the inside of the house, while others want a more casual option outdoors.”
The Strubles installed art in their side yard as part of the entertainment area, while the DiRuggieros invested in landscaping to transform their space. “We spent more on landscaping than we anticipated, and it was worth it,” DiRuggerio says. “If you don’t have the landscaping, it can look a little flat.”
Regardless of the amenities, the outdoor kitchen serves as an enticing place to bring friends and family. Eberhardt shares that one client was so excited to include his neighbors in the new space that he was getting a flag to put in the front yard so they would know when he was firing up the oven and could come join him.
DiRuggiero says their new outdoor room has become the favored space for their 15-year-old son to bring his friends without feeling like Mom and Dad are hovering nearby. “It’s nice to have your kids close to home, particularly when they become teenagers,” says DiRuggiero.
Building an outdoor kitchen not only offers more options for how to prepare meals, but also affords more opportunities to share them with family and friends—an investment well worth the time, effort and money.