Outdoor Kitchens

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Not Just a Place to Cook, but an Experience to Enjoy

Story by Ann Butenas    |    Photo by Matt Kocourek

While once viewed as a luxury for extremely high-end custom homes, the outdoor kitchen area is becoming increasingly popular in the mainstream. While the indoor kitchen may simply be seen as just another room in the home, an outdoor kitchen tends to provide more of an experience for the homeowner. It’s a place to gather, relax and unwind, surrounded by the ambiance of the great outdoors. However, homeowners also want design continuity with the rest of the home. It is a highly-functional living space that can enjoy added seating, built-in appliances, pergolas, roofs, canopies, and a variety of extras that simply add to the fun. Some of the most popular features installed in an outdoor kitchen area include a grill, a sink with running water, a fire place or fire pit, a bar, accent lighting, storage, refrigeration, televisions and more. The options are vast and wide and typically reflect the way the homeowner wants to use and enjoy the space.

Hoyt Banks, co-owner of Kansas City swimming pool builder Banks Blue Valley Pool and Spa, has worked with numerous homeowners across the metro area in designing and installing the outdoor kitchens of their dreams. Whether simple in design and style or outfitted with a variety of higher-end features, the ultimate goal is to create an atmosphere that truly makes one feel at home, just grilling and chilling any day of the week.

KCH&S: What does every outdoor kitchen need?

BANKS: A grill is the number one choice, as the point of the outdoor kitchen is to have a cooking surface. Many homeowners still opt for the old school, classic backyard barbeque style of grill. Smokers and pellet grills (which create that smoky flavor in food and are easy for newbies to use) are also popular. Extra storage and trash bins are also popular items.

KCH&S: Are there any features homeowners appreciate the most?

BANKS: Interestingly, many customers say they have gotten the most utility out of warming drawers. I’d say we get requests for these in one of out of 10 projects. Sinks are also popular, but there are different ways to go about a sink. If you want drinkable to on-demand water, then you have to get a water heater to make the water potable. This will increase the cost as it needs to be inspected and it must drain to the sewer. Many homeowners, therefore, go for unheated potable water through the use of a garden utility sink which can be connected to a nearby water spigot.

KCH&S: Where is the best place to put an outdoor kitchen with respect to the backyard surroundings and the home?

BANKS: The trend is to create an outdoor room without obstruction of any views. After designating an area, it can become a different floor or created as a step up that is separate from the rest of the environment. Most homeowners like the outdoor kitchen close to the house and near a primary access point with a dining table nearby.

KCH&S: What time of countertop is best for outdoors?

BANKS: Granite is by far the most popular, and I love the look of high-end granite. Our suggestion is to use a color that complements your yard and the vertical surfaces. However, unless you run a neutral tone, it does get hot, especially if in direct sunlight. Be sure it is professionally installed and properly sealed. Due to the porous nature of granite, severe weather can cause pooling on top as the water penetrates and removes the polished surface from the granite.  

KCH&S: What is the best stone for an outdoor kitchen?

BANKS: We prefer to use natural stone because it is more substantial and flows with the surrounding environment. However, we also like to incorporate what the homeowner has for vertical surfaces on the front of the home to extend to the back of the home so it looks as if it was all built at the same time.  Not only do the front and back of the home complement each other this way, it also gives one a preview of what’s to come in the backyard as they come into the home.

KCH&S: How long does it take to build an outdoor kitchen?

BANKS: That depends. If it’s a straightforward U-shape, L-shape or rectangular shaped space with just one layer and minimal trim-outs for appliances, it can be done fairly quickly. A truly custom high-end outdoor kitchen can take about two weeks to build out.

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