THRILL OF THE GRILL
Outdoor Kitchens Make Dining Al Fresco a Delight
By Marsha Canright
The sky is clear, the weather is mild and every grill-minded chef is ready to reap the delicious flavors that only outdoor cooking can infuse.
“Whether you’re grilling baskets of shrimp and veggies, a thick rib-eye steak or the perfect burger, nothing makes it easier to cook out under the stars than a well-equipped outdoor kitchen,” says Mike Logan, owner of Texas Pit Crafters, a Houston company that builds outdoor kitchens and manufacturers stainless steel grills.
Logan’s personal backyard kitchen, which is out in the open and under the stars, has two islands, one with a grill and a refrigerator and the other with a smoker and a sink.
“I can grill even when it rains. I’ve also got a giant umbrella,” he says.
TODAY’S OUTDOOR KITCHENS
Cooking outside is a Texas tradition, whether you're barbecuing, grilling or cooking Dutch oven-style over a campfire. Today's outdoor kitchens come in every imaginable style from the simple to the sublime. Some are extensions of an existing kitchen; others are stand-alones complete with all the conveniences — refrigerator, dishwasher, icemaker, sink and, of course, the holy grail of assorted grills.
“We added our outdoor kitchen after the fact, but it has made a huge difference in how we entertain,” says Jill Peveto, recently retired from Exxon-Mobile.
She and her husband, Robert, built an outdoor fireplace with antique brick and expanded their plan to create circular seating, counter space, a beverage refrigerator, a stainless steel grill and a crawfish cooker.
“We use it all the time, when our married children are visiting or even if it’s just the two of us,” she says. “In the evening, it’s a pleasure to sit outside, have a glass of wine and relax.”
“Building an outdoor kitchen is a major investment in your home,” says Brent Gary of RH Peterson Products, a company that sells outdoor kitchen appliances, grills and components. “If it’s done well, it will add hours of pleasure to your home now and greater dollar value when you’re ready to sell.”
FIRST THINGS FIRST
After you decide, “Hey, let’s build an outdoor kitchen,” how do you get from the big blank back yard to an awesome family retreat — and how much does it cost? Here's what Houston experts, seasoned in the art of building and outfitting outdoor kitchens, recommend to homeowners who are thinking of adding or expanding their backyard amenities.
To begin, do the research and have a good idea of what kind of kitchen you want. Next, choose a reputable, well-referenced contractor to help you create a detailed plan. Depending on the complexity of the site and the kitchen, expect three weeks to three months of onsite construction.
“Not all people have the money to do everything they want to do all at once, so we suggest having a master plan,” says Wayne Franks of Outdoor Homescapes of Houston. “You might want to build an outdoor kitchen now and later a patio extension, additional landscaping or a pool. It’s helpful to map out how that might work together with pathways left open and underground pipes and wires not running where a pool might go.”
As for the price tag, costs vary significantly depending on what you want. An outdoor kitchen can be as simple as an island, brick cabinet and a grill or it can be quite elaborate.
Logan, who builds and outfits dozens of outdoor kitchens every year, says the range at Texas Pit Crafters is between about $3,500 for a single grill to about $60,000 for an high-end outdoor kitchen with a built-in pizza oven and a smoker grill.
Finally, what about the all-important grill? How do you choose the key component for your outdoor kitchen?
“There is a huge variety of grills on the market. There are lots of bells and whistles. It boils down to what you want, how often you cook and what you are cooking,” Gary says. “I have a Fire Magic grill with a high BTU that I’ve had for 10 years. Its igniters still work perfectly and it looks good. Now that’s a good investment.”
He recommends the infrared attachment, which allows him to grill a restaurant-quality steak.
Logan prefers his own brand.
“We manufacture our own high-end, high-quality grills, along with smokers, burners, drawers and storage,” he says. “This makes us different from 99 percent of our competitors who buy from other manufacturers.”
KITCHEN WISDOM: HOT TIPS FROM THOSE WHO KNOW
Before you plan your own backyard bonanza, check out advice
from these Houston experts.
• DO THE RESEARCH. “Talk to people who have built outdoor kitchens. Find out what they like and what they don’t like. Visit showrooms. Get ideas on line. Think about how you entertain and what you really want.” — Brent Gary, RH Peterson Products
• HIRE A PROFESSIONAL. “If you’re using a contractor to build your outdoor kitchen, and most people do, select a local company that’s been in a business for a number of years and one that carries high-quality equipment. We’re lucky to have a number of those companies in Houston. Get references and call the references. Remember, the contractor will be pouring concrete, running electricity and gas, and it’s going to cost a nice sum of money, so be sure that the person who is doing the work is still going to be in business and will stand behind their work. If something goes wrong and they can’t be found, it’s going to be more expensive in the long run.”
— Brent Gary, RH Peterson Products
• CREATE A PLAN. “Your contractor will assess the site and working with you and a designer, plan the utilities, determine how the area will function and decide what equipment you will need. This is the time to speak frankly about what you want and don’t want. There may be specifications from your homeowners association, and the city may require certain permits.” — Mike Logan, Texas Pit Crafters
• MAKE A BLUEPRINT. “Have a clear design blueprint or layout before you start. Many times, people don’t have enough power or electricity to the site because fridges and icemakers can take up a dedicated circuit. The wiring and utilities have to be decided upon and put in place before the rest of the construction.” — Wayne Franks, Outdoor Homescapes of Houston
• MAKE QUALITY AND DURABILITY A PRIORITY. “Durable materials are very important. We won’t install a grill in a wooden cabinet because we believe customers should invest in longevity and safety. Over the long term, people appreciate quality and durability. Outdoor kitchens should be built with noncombustible materials. I can’t tell you the number of outdoor kitchens that we have been called in to redo because the original builder didn’t use the right materials. We rebuilt one recently near New Orleans that was an elaborate construction but it didn’t have a steel frame and it didn’t last.” — Mike Logan, Texas Pit Crafters
• KNOW WHAT YOU WANT. “Your outdoor kitchen designer should ask in-depth questions about how you cook and entertain. For instance, we design and build for clients from a wide variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Some of them don’t eat beef and this affects what cooking appliances they need and how they’re used. It’s also important to know if the homeowner wants to use the outdoor kitchen as an intimate space for family or friends or to entertain large groups. This will affect seating and traffic flow.”
— Lisa Hutchurson Lynch, Outdoor Homescapes of Houston
• LIVE WITHIN A BUDGET. “Have an idea of what you want and how much you can spend — that’s the place to start. A good contractor can help direct you. But don't scrimp on the grill. Spend the extra money for high-quality stainless steel. You pay more initially, but you won’t have to replace the grill in two or three years when it starts to rust. High-quality stainless steel holds up in the high humidity and high heat of a Houston summer.” — Brent Gary,
RH Peterson Products
• DON’T FORGET COUNTER SPACE AND OUTLETS. “The two things you always need more of are counter space and electrical outlets. At the time, you may think you have enough, but you may want to plug in a margarita machine or a CD player. It’s more expensive to add outlets later, so do it upfront.” — Brent Gary, RH Peterson Products
• KEEP COOL. “Keeping cool outdoors in the Houston summer is a challenge, but many of our customers are keeping cool with super-sized, industrial or commercial-grade fans. A popular brand name is Big Ass Fans.” — Lisha Maxey, Outdoor Homescapes of Houston
BIG ASS FANS
Haiku Home & Big Ass Solutions Showroom,
as well as multiple dealers
1224 N. Post Oak Road Suite 120
FIRE MAGIC GRILLS
HOME EXTERIOR SYSTEMS
OUTDOOR HOMESCAPES OF HOUSTON
12802 Highland Hills Drive Cypress
RH PETERSON PRODUCTS
TEXAS PIT CRAFTERS
31909 Decker Industrial Circle, Pinehurst