Since the basic backyard barbecue began evolving into the outdoor kitchen, the trend has only grown. Some of today's outdoor cooking areas can seem almost like full kitchens, with more appliances and food prep space. Even walls, ceilings and TVs.
"It's not just where you prepare the food. It's where people gather," says HGTV's Vern Yip. "Just as the kitchens inside of our homes are kind of the center of energy at a party or gathering, the outdoor kitchen really has become that as well."
This trend "used to be limited to the upper end of the market," Yip says. But today "even the middle portion of the market is embracing it."
Josu Gaubeka, founder and design director at La Cuisine Appliances, based in Miami, agrees: At all price ranges, he sees homeowners doing more outdoor cooking throughout the year.
One goal is better health — you're not frying with oil if you're outside grilling, or even using an outdoor oven, Gaubeka notes.
We've asked Yip, Gaubeka and New York-based designer Brett Beldock for advice on what's trending in outdoor kitchens, and how you can create one even on a relatively modest budget.
PREP SPACE WITH SINK AND STORAGE
Many homeowners begin by installing "a small island made of concrete or synthetic material," says Gaubeka. These are usually built around a grill and offer counter space for food prep, plus the option of adding other conveniences.
Among the most popular: a small outdoor sink that's hooked up to the outdoor water system by hose, and a small refrigerator. Having these basics outside cuts down on trips into the house during cooking and entertaining.
Prices vary widely: "You can buy all those elements for $1,200 if you'd like," Gaubeka says. Or you could spend $1,200 or more on the grill alone.
For those considering a larger investment, Yip points out that a built-in outdoor kitchen adds monetary value to a home.
COOKING BEYOND THE GRILL
Another trend Gaubeka sees at a range of costs: adding a brick pizza oven or gas-fired pizza oven that can be used for much more than pizzas.
"You can bake outside or you can actually sear a thick piece of meat," he says. While indoor ovens generally reach 550 degrees Fahrenheit, outdoor pizza ovens can reach 700 or 800.
Beldock says a fire pit can also be a fun place to cook "anything from s'mores to hamburgers."
WALLS AND CEILING
To make a backyard cooking area feel even more like a kitchen, Yip recommends covering it with something more permanent than a canopy.
"A permanent roof structure is a much better way to go because it allows you to use that room during more times of the year," he says. "It also helps protect your investment."
Beldock suggests adding a tile backsplash along the exterior wall when installing a built-in cooking area. Use materials that can withstand the weather. Choose tiles that have either a fire-glazed or a cement finish, she says.
Beldock has also done outdoor wallpaper that's printed on "the film that you put on cars or buses," she says; it's weather-resistant and great for the wall behind an outdoor sink.
GROWING YOUR GROCERIES
Many people already grow some herbs on an indoor windowsill. An outdoor kitchen is a great place to expand on that, says Beldock.
Add planters or pots for basics like parsley, fennel, basil and tomatoes, she says. Plant some thyme to use in recipes and enjoy the beauty of purple flowers that sprout on top.
Wall-mounted televisions are also popular for outdoor entertaining areas, though they must be outdoor-rated and protected from the elements. Many people also install ice makers, and on the luxury end, Beldock sees some clients adding dishwashers and even trash compactors.
"Everyone loves the idea of being able to hang out outside," Yip says. "We've really moved toward a grilling, outdoor entertaining, casual culture."