Cooking Alfresco

Outdoor kitchens topped the project trends list in the latest American Institute of Architects’ survey.

That comes as no surprise to Walton EMC customer-owner Jay Thornton.

Along with his wife, Casey, Jay owns Southern Spa and Patio in Watkinsville. Along with retailing patio furniture, spas and grills, the local company designs outdoor kitchens and sells the components for them.

The Thorntons have seen orders for outdoor kitchens climb steadily over the last three years. So far, Jay is on pace to double the number of outdoor kitchens he’ll design for customers this year.

“Outdoor living spaces are booming now. They provide a place for
relaxation and entertaining — and food is a big part of that.”
– Jay Thornton, Southern Spa and Patio

“Outdoor living spaces are booming now. They provide a place for relaxation and entertaining — and food is a big part of that,” Jay said, explaining why full-blown outdoor kitchens are replacing the single grill on patios.

More local homeowners are choosing to invest in outdoor living space improvements instead of taking pricey vacations. “They’re staying home and vacationing in their own backyard,” he added.

How much does it cost?

A quality, customized outdoor kitchen — which can be enjoyed almost every week of the year — can be installed locally for as little as $5,500, Jay said. That’s not much more than the average price of a one-week vacation for a family of four.

Of course, prices will vary depending on the components and materials selected, he reminded. He’s also helped customers build outdoor kitchens that are equipped with all the bells and whistles and carry a price tag of up to $30,000.

Outdoor kitchens nationally return 100-200 percent
of the improvement cost.

Typically, outdoor kitchens yield a higher return on investment than any other product in the outdoor renovation product category. CNN Money, About.com and Remodeling Magazine report that outdoor kitchens nationally return 100-200 percent of the improvement cost. As with any improvement, the return-on-investment formula works providing a kitchen is designed and built proportional to the home value and location.

Where do I start?

If you’re thinking of adding a kitchen to your outdoor living space, Jay suggests these initial planning phase steps to make the project successful and satisfying.

1. Think one-stop shopping. “Using a store that sells all the components you need and has a kitchen designer on staff will give you better choices and allow you to stay within your budget,” Jay advised. In the long run, allowing someone with experience to help you plan your space, select components and oversee their installation is likely to save money and give you the finished result you desire.

2. Choose components. Take some time to shop around and determine what components — appliances, cabinetry, countertops, etc. — fit your lifestyle, cooking habits and budget. Ask your supplier for brochures and catalogues. Jay suggests looking at manufacturer websites such as Naturekast and Housewarmings Outdoors. Visit friends and neighbors who have built kitchens to see what they have and how they like it. The appliances included in the average outdoor kitchen are a grill, cooktop with burners, faucet/ sink and refrigerator. Icemakers and warming drawers are the top add-ons.

3. Consider your lifestyle. What will you cook? Will you be preparing food in large quantities? Will you use the space for entertaining? How many people would you like to accommodate?

4. Evaluate your space. The specifics of location and layout are essential when planning the ideal outdoor cooking and entertaining space. Ask your designer to help you select a layout and design that works best for your available space, blends well with your house and existing landscape and takes advantage of available utility hookups.

5. Set your budget. Sure that pizza oven looks cool. So does the wine chiller and the Kegorator. But they add to the price of the kitchen and might not be well used. Do your homework on outdoor kitchen products to decide which components are needed to build a functional space that is right for your lifestyle — without breaking the bank.

Go-to grill

No matter what you choose to surround it, the grill is the centerpiece of any outdoor kitchen. Pellet grills are the latest go-to choice for many outdoor cooks, Jay advised.

A pellet grill is an electric outdoor grill fueled by hardwood pellets. These pellets serve as the fuel, as well as a flavor enhancer for great-tasting wood smoke flavor.

Some reasons Jay often recommends a pellet grill for the outdoor kitchens he designs:

  • It adds great flavor. You can mix and match different types of wood like hickory or cherry, allowing you to create the perfect flavor enhancement for the food you prepare on the pellet grill.
  • It’s easy to use. Most brands have controls such as one button start-up, steady temperature control and flare prevention. In addition, a pellet grill works like a convection oven, so food is cooked evenly.
  • It’s versatile. You’ll get the best of what a traditional charcoal grill and gas grill can offer, plus the benefits of a smoker — all in a single appliance. A pellet grill can smoke, sear, roast and bake.

An outdoor kitchen is a fun, economical addition to any North Georgia household. It adds to the enjoyment you get from an outdoor living area throughout the year while also increasing the value of your home.