Outdoor Kitchens For 2012

Back in 2010 LTB published two articles on outdoor kitchens – here and here. In trying to revamp them for 2012 we were looking at them and decided to just write a new article. There was a bit of overlap in the two articles that didn’t need to be there and trying to rewrite them was turning into more of an irritant then was worth it. Although the concepts in them are still relatively sound, a few things have changed that need to be mentioned.

So what’s changed? Well, a lot has changed and also very little has changed. I hate to be wishy-washy about things and say that something is simultaneously fantastic and terrible, but unfortunately for outdoor kitchens, that is true. I’ll try to make a quick summary for those who are irritated by longer stories and examples. Essentially if you find yourself or your family A) spending more and more time cooking and grilling outside, B) getting more and more irritated by the constant back and forth between the grill and the kitchen and C) can either financially afford a decent outdoor kitchen or are willing to build one that matches your economic realities, then great, an outdoor kitchen is probably for you.

However, keep in mind the following don’ts:

–    Don’t build one that is far in excess of what you will realistically utilize.
–    Don’t build one because you think it will add value to your house – it probably won’t.
–    Don’t build one if you live in a house that you don’t plan to stay in for a long time.
–    Don’t build one thinking you can just take it with you to your next home. A rolling barbecue you can easily take with you. Outdoor kitchens, I don’t care how “modular” they may be billed as, will be a pain to bring to your new residence and probably won’t fit in with the design or space at your new place.

Really, in the current economic climate, building an outdoor kitchen will depend on you and your financial realities and goals as much as your desire to cook, eat and play outside. Here’s an unrelated but instructive example: my parents both worked (both now retired) and our financial situation was, in reality, in the low to middle range of the middle class. They could have purchased nicer cars than they did but they have been strictly Honda Accord/Toyota Camry buyers for the past 30 years. They could have spent more money every month and had a higher level of car, perhaps even a Mercedes or BMW that my dad so enjoyed looking at. But my parents made a choice to save more money for their future. To them, being able to save money in the present and not have to worry excessively about money when they retired was more important. Other friends of theirs made other choices. One of my dad’s friend’s always drove a BMW that was never more than 5 years old. He bought nice condition used ones that were a few years old and sold them when they hit 5 years old. That way he always had a newer BMW and it looked like he was doing well financially without actually having to do as well as it looked. For my father, that was too much hassle, work and money expended on something that, although cool and desirable, in his world view and scheme of things, wasn’t really important.

Long winded story, but I hope you get the point and how it relates to outdoor kitchens. Yes, the economy is continuing to do less than we hope it does. It would be great if things went back to how they were in the 90’s and early 2000’s. But they’re not. And that reality has set in and changed many people’s thinking dramatically and for good. 5000 dollars for an outdoor kitchen? 30,000 for a high-end outdoor kitchen? “You’re out of your mind!” is what some people may say to that.

Others would think it’s a great investment. Why? It all depends on an individual’s situation.

Example A: Family of four, been living in the same city since high school, husband runs a successful small business, wife either helps with the business, has her own small business or works at a good paying but not high paying job. Financially rather stable, jobs are not as subject to the whims of the economy and they don’t live an extravagant life. Kids are just starting or about to start their teenage years. They all love to eat and play outside. Family in the area, kids have lots of friends and even though they work hard at their jobs, mom and dad put a great importance on family time. Weather isn’t super fantastic but it doesn’t get super cold or have excessive rain either.

Example B: Husband and wife, no kids but love to entertain. High paying and high stress jobs that although financially rewarding are subject to economic dips and stressors – think real estate and finance. Weather is warm all year round, they just moved to the area 3-5 years ago and would like to stay there for a long time. Thinking about kids, but not sure yet. Don’t plan to retire in the area but will stay there for 10-15 years or so.

In both of these examples an outdoor kitchen might make great sense for them. Family A is going to live and die in their house. They are not building an outdoor kitchen to add value to their house but to add value to their family life. For them it wouldn’t be seen as an extravagant purchase but rather something natural and beneficial to their family. Unlikely that they would go the high end route, probably go the economical path of buying just what they need with room for expansion, buying used or discontinued items, having friends help out with the building if they can, maybe even trading or bartering with people they know or other business they work with for what they need. For them, a 10,000 dollar outdoor kitchen can be had for probably around 5-7000 dollars if they save money in all the right areas.

Family B may also spend 10,000 dollars on their outdoor kitchen but they will probably get less of an outdoor kitchen for that price than Family A. Having not lived in their area as long they won’t have as great of connections as Family A. They will more than likely not have the time to put into getting the best deals they can and will use more money as their solution. They have lots of friends who come over and the family wants to spend their time outdoors in the great weather rather than always inside. For them, it would make financial sense to pay for a new outdoor kitchen because they can have friends and business partners come to their house instead of having to dine out at fancy restaurants all the time.

Listen – if you’d love an outdoor kitchen but can’t really justify the cost, then go budget, go modular and go DIY. What do I mean?
–    Plan out your purchases for the next year or two. If you have a serviceable grill, than either stick with that or sell it and buy yourself a newer one. If you buy a newer one, buy yourself the best rolling cart grill you can reasonable afford.
–    Check out discontinued models from reputable grill companies. Some models drop by 30% on the secondary market once they are discontinued, allowing you to get more grill for your budget.
–    Don’t get dazzled by all the flash. Seriously, do you really need a rotisserie? If you do, then great, but if you’re more of a steak/burger/hot dog/ribs kind of family, don’t bother with it.
–    Be sure, and I mean be really sure to look at buying over the internet. Yes, this site will make some money if you buy something from one of the links on our site, but that’s not why. Prices can vary greatly from brick and mortar stores to the internet. Be sure to factor in shipping prices as well
–    Build or buy a sink and food prep area. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to do its job and not look like crap. Used is fine as long as the stainless steel can be scrubbed clean enough to make you happy.
–    Get a medium to small used refrigerator and put next to your food prep area. Used is definitely fine for this, just clean it out well.
–    Make sure all the installations are done by a professional. If you don’t know a professional who can do it, find one a local one on the internet or make friends with someone who can do it.

Hey, this kind of setup won’t be award winning. It won’t look super fantastic, people won’t come over to your house and say “Wow, what a great outdoor kitchen.” But odds are pretty good nobody’s going to come over to your house and laugh at your little set-up. They’re coming for the company and the food. If they overly criticize or make you or your family feel bad for your setup, show them the door. But I seriously doubt you’ll ever need to do that. They other great thing about this approach is it is customizable to suit your needs. Realize you need a bigger refrigerator? Great, get one. Want more storage space? Fine, put it in. Want to move it to another part of the backyard – easily done. Need to move to another house? You can take most of the stuff with you if you plan it out right.

Outdoor kitchens can be awesome. But they can also be overblown money hungry time sucks as well. If you can afford it, by all means go ahead and spend the money. LTB won’t criticize or look down on you. We’ll just turn green with friendly envy. On the other hand, if you don’t have lots of money to spend on an outdoor kitchen or have the money but don’t want to spend it, don’t be discouraged. There are awesome ways to build an outdoor kitchen on a budget if you are smart with your money and don’t care that it isn’t a super expansive architectural wonder. Just don’t build one expecting it to pay for itself when you sell your house. It probably won’t.

In the end, outdoor kitchens are about good food and time spent with family and friends, and not necessarily in that order. Keep that in mind as you are searching or shopping for your new outdoor kitchen.

LTB Admin

The only thing Peter Shaw truly knows is that he loves barbecue. That is his guiding force and his reason for existence. That and his family. Which one is first is a tough call and changes depending on how hungry he is.

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