How to Upgrade Your Outdoor Grill to an Outdoor Kitchen

By Mary Lanaux

Friends and families are gathering in backyards across the region to celebrate the start of a favorite time of year – grilling season. But when once the host stood off to the side to man the grill alone, the evolution of outdoor living has ushered in the era of the outdoor kitchen where everyone sips, snacks and serves together. Whether your next move is a call to an outdoor kitchen designer, or a trip to the home improvement store, consider these three pieces of advice to keep everyone outside and out of the (indoor) kitchen.   

Create zones for different cooking functions

In creating different areas in your outdoor grilling – now outdoor kitchen – space, you are giving yourself plenty of room to prepare a full meal as if you were inside. Start with the grill, thinking of it as the all-in-one cooking appliance. Grill masters today are preparing full meals without having to step foot back inside to prepare a side dish or even dessert.  Strategically place weather-proof tables alongside your grill to serve as prep areas for chopping or slicing, cooking zones to rest dishes and utensils, and finishing areas for plating and serving.

Make sure there is a zone for family and guests to get involved in the meal prep without getting in your way. A bistro table with stools nearby mean that they can jump into action when help is needed or keep you company while you cook. When it’s time to move to the outdoor dining table, the bistro is easily repurposed as the buffet.

Upgrade storage to keep necessities nearby

Whether you’re hosting a weekend party or just preparing a weeknight dinner, fewer trips back and forth into the house will always make the grilling process easier. Store charcoal, lighters or starters, utensils, cast-iron pans, even a favorite apron within reaching distance of your grill to make this area act like a real kitchen.  Outdoor-rated shelving or cabinet units that keep your grilling necessities nearby is an upgrade with options to fit any budget. Just make sure the material is durable or consult a local outdoor designer for their recommendations. Stainless steel is preferred, according to the National Kitchen & Bath Association. Teak or cypress woods are alternative materials with good outdoor durability.  

Outdoor cabinet units are upgraded even further with the addition of a countertop to create more cooking zones. Add a few counter-height stools and you suddenly have an outdoor kitchen island with bar seating.

Consider the location, location, location

The most important question when setting up an outdoor kitchen area: where is the sun? Know where the afternoon sun sets in your backyard so not to position the grill or any nearby seating where it will be in anyone’s eyes. And be careful not to have the gathering space for friends and family in the smoke draft. Finally, if the grill is under cover, be it a pergola, awning or porch celling, make sure the material above isn’t combustible.

In 2021, the NKBA reported that 76% of homeowners planning an outdoor improvement project were zeroed-in on an outdoor kitchen. The demand speaks for itself. Kitchen designers and builders “now treat exterior kitchens and living areas with as much attention to detail, materials, color, and appliances as the indoors, and have the added consideration of bracing against all sorts of weather,” the industry association recently shared.  With temperatures – and home values – rising, an outdoor kitchen is a worthwhile upgrade to any home.

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