Perfectly Provisioning Your Outdoor Kitchen
Do it yourself, or turn to professionals for customizing.
A smart backyard transformed into a gourmet’s dream kitchen—complete with beer keg cooler.
Photo by Treve Johnson
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When you’re ready to move the party—and the cooking—outdoors, why not take the kitchen sink with you? From spartan and multi-station outdoor galleys to kitchens complete with wood smokers and beers on tap, outdoor kitchens span the gamut from simple and ingenious to downright bodacious. Here are several chef-worthy options sure to pique your interest and imagination.
The Profusely Provisioned Outdoor Kitchen
If you prefer the “click, click, whoosh” of a gas grill igniting over stoking a wood-burning fire all day, it’s OK; you can still carry your foodie card. For the gourmet with a bigger budget or ambitions, a custom outdoor kitchen elevates the utilitarian gas grill to a professional chef’s galley.
After living in their cramped Lake Merritt-area Craftsman for close to a quarter of a century, homeowners Louise Sefton and Arlyn Johns embarked upon a home remodel to add space, enhance their lifestyle, and capitalize on Oakland’s near-perfect, year-round weather.
“Before we started, all that was missing from our backyard was a car up on blocks,” laughed Sefton. “My husband is an award-winning brew master and a fantastic cook. We love to entertain, and knew we needed lots of room for friends and family. Our desire was to create a convivial outdoor space with a kitchen worthy of my husband’s cooking skills.”
The remodel project reconfigured the back of their house into a covered veranda, providing much needed square footage to a small home and lots of room for outdoor entertainment. A few rustic steps beyond, the newly designed space (or rather, spaces) is more like a plaza, with purposeful, visually defined areas for enjoyment and conversation.
“I’m originally from Australia,” said Sefton. “Homes there are built with wrap-around verandas as part of their usable living space. We wanted to create a similar feeling, and unify the architectural style of our home to the new exterior in a very purposeful way.
“The veranda carries over to the outdoor kitchen, complementing our home’s Craftsman style. When it rains, it sounds just like home,” added Sefton. “It all works really well together.”
The outdoor kitchen is undoubtedly the focal point of the newly envisioned backyard. With its sweeping hardwood roof, shingled with tin, and dark stone countertops accented by eye-catching red tiles, the well-appointed kitchen provides Johns with plenty of counter space to cook, converse, and, with two homemade brews on tap, indulge in some beer tasting—or “research.”
Fully plumbed and wired, the kitchen’s stainless appliances include a restaurant-grade covered gas grill—large enough to accommodate a suckling pig—and inset sink with running water, “invaluable” according to Sefton. A refrigerator, storage space, and warming oven keep the cook from making the inevitable trips to and fro.
“The outdoor kitchen is nicer than the one inside our house.”
Construction: Wolfe, Inc., Wolfe-inc.com, 510-268-4000; landscape architecture: Sue Oda Landscape Architect, SueOda.com, 510-684-8789; appliances: 36-inch grill and refrigerator by FireMagic, Perlick 2-tap “Kegorator,” and built-in trash and warming drawers by Diablo Grills; cost: $80,000.
Fire, Fire, Fire
Ceramic artist Eric VanderMolen and partner chef Melissa Fernandez's world revolves around fire, from blasting handmade stoneware creations to putting the perfect char on a dish.
The couple’s West Oakland home gives “farm to table” a whole new meaning. What was once a blighted concrete lot has been transformed into a working farm with raised beds, chickens, and an ingenious, multi-station outdoor kitchen complete with meat smoker.
Photo by Ramona d'Viola
Eric VanderMolen and Melissa Fernandez’s outdoor kitchen features multiple “hot” stations, so there can never be too many cooks in the kitchen.
Putting his artistic and woodworking skills to good use, VanderMolen also built his own pizza oven, using 99 percent recycled materials and years of know-how. The only thing VanderMolen purchased for his project was the refractory brick for the oven’s floor.
“If you have time, and some patience, you can find, or scavenge, a lot of your materials,” said VanderMolen. “But the firebrick is essential to the heat equation, so it’s worth the investment, about $50 to $60, depending on the size of your oven.”
Besides the pizza oven, the brick structure provides additional “hot” stations, like a Tuscan grill and wood-fired griddle. For Fernandez, a freelance chef, having these additional “burners” is invaluable. She heats these areas as needed by simply taking hot wood from the oven.
A rustic, reclaimed wood prep table (another of VanderMolen’s “free” creations) provides much needed counter space adjacent to the oven, and plenty of work room for multiple cooks.
“We love to entertain in our backyard, and for me, that means lots of cooking,” said Fernandez. “Our outdoor kitchen lets me prepare a variety of dishes and courses, without having to make multiple trips inside.”