Beyond the Backyard Barbecue: Create Your Own Outdoor Kitchen

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California Wine Country residents have enjoyed outdoor kitchens for years, and now this once considered luxurious trend is riding a wave of popularity in warm weather states across the nation. As gasoline prices soar, more homeowners are investing in amenities for enjoying good food and friends at home, including high quality grills, outdoor furniture, outdoor fireplaces, and outdoor lighting. Creating an outdoor kitchen in your own backyard also adds to your home's value, though you probably won't want to part with your custom kitchen alfresco and may even find yourself out there grilling on weeknights too.

Today's outdoor kitchens come complete with built in grills that include stovetop style burners, roasting spits, and griddles; bar and service centers with sinks and refrigerators; storage space for cooking gear and dishes; counters for prep work; even built in lighting and stereo systems. Patio umbrellas, custom designed awnings or arbors protect cooking and food prep areas. Outdoor carpets and special rubber chef's mats cover the "floor" for standing comfortably while cooking. Outdoor fireplaces, patio heaters, and fire pits provide warmth on cool days and evenings. "Exterior decorating" includes wall art and sculpture, and weather resistant outdoor dining sets, couches, and ottomans complete the comfy indoor feel.

What you include in your outdoor kitchen will depend on your budget and how much you enjoy grilling and outdoor dining. Cost ranges from about $2,500 for the basics: a high quality free standing grill and patio dining set, to well over $25,000 for a top of the line built in grill, bar, sink, service center, and more. More elaborate outdoor kitchens include automatic dishwashers and special wine refrigerators. Outdoor "cabinetry" is stocked with top quality grilling accessories, grilling spices, and wine tools, and all indoor cooking necessities are included, right down to the paper towel holder.

The heart of the outdoor kitchen is the grill, and experts recommend purchasing the best you can afford. Top of the line outdoor grills made of high grade stainless steel, such as Lynx grills and Twin Eagles grills, come with lifetime warranties and provide professional grade heat output, restaurant style searing marks, and special amenities, including griddles and side burners for whipping up breakfast alfresco on the weekends. These upscale grills are fueled by gas or propane. Budget conscious homeowners will find fueling with bottled propane the least expensive choice with no need for running costly gas lines from the house to the outdoor cooking area.

Efficient layout is just as important when building an outdoor kitchen as it is with indoor kitchen design. Grilling with ease makes the outdoor cooking experience all the more enjoyable. Design experts suggest that the grill and sink flank the food prep area, and that an outdoor refrigerator or food cooler be available to keep ingredients fresh as you assemble your meal. Providing for even the smallest storage space will cut down on trips inside to retrieve barbecuing accessories, cooking gear, and serving dishes. However, a short and easy path to your indoor kitchen may be an important consideration, especially if you often entertain large groups, requiring use of both cooking areas. Making the most of a pleasant view and providing shaded seating may also be important considerations.

To create an outdoor kitchen on a tight budget or enjoy the outdoor cooking experience in a less permanent way before installing built in appliances, outdoor kitchen designers recommend opting for a freestanding grill with rollers, side trays, and storage. Pair with a comfy outdoor dining set, and you'll have the basics in portable form while considering the kitchen and dining layout best for you. You'll also enjoy amazing grilled meals while planning your ultimate outdoor kitchen
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