Take your inner chef to the outdoor kitchen of your dreams

Take your inner chef outside

Outdoor kitchens are growing in popularity—and they’re hugely affordable. Starting at only $3,000, it can be on every homeowner’s to-do list

(The Home Improvements Group Inc.)

The outdoor kitchen of your dreams is within reach. (The Home Improvements Group Inc.)

Ray Evenson has built a lot of outdoor kitchens in the past few years, and now he’s making sure his new North Vancouver home has one, too. It was his first priority. By this summer, he’ll be able to “chuck a steak on the barbecue, or toss a few hot dogs on the little grill,” while focusing on what’s really important: Socializing with the people he’s cooking for.

Just as the kitchen exerts a gravitational pull inside the house, grilling stations instantly become a focal point for entertaining in the backyard. That helps explain why outdoor cooking areas are growing in popularity in a country where they’re really only usable for part of the year. For the barbecue captain of the household, an outdoor kitchen means an end to the social isolation that can come with burger-flipping duty. “Once you have one, you won’t want to not have one,” says Evenson, whose firm is called West Coast Modernscape. He says outdoor kitchens are now a “super popular” amenity around the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, where the weather co-operates for a decent portion of the year—by Canadian standards, anyway. “It’s pretty common in new construction as well as in renovations.”

Outdoor kitchens are on the rise in Ontario’s playgrounds for the affluent, too. In Muskoka, for instance, “They’re becoming bigger and bigger”—bigger as a trend and bigger in terms of their complexity, says local Re/Max real estate agent Heather Scott. “Everything that you could imagine inside of a gourmet kitchen will be outside.” If the trend continues, outdoor kitchens could become the norm throughout recreational regions. The good news for those wanting one: An outdoor kitchen may recoup as much of your investment as an indoor one. Homeowners who remodel their inside kitchens typically recoup 60% or more of their investment upon resale, she says, and “an outdoor kitchen is similar to that.”

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How much will that investment be? The $12,000 to $15,000 range is typical for most homeowners, who will stick to a fairly straightforward, but still custom-built, solution. This kind of outlay buys a setup that looks like a kitchen island, sporting a quality grill, a sink, some space for food preparation, and likely a storage cupboard. A small outdoor fridge and a side burner or griddle cooktop are also affordable and convenient to have.

Construction generally starts with a steel frame built upon a concrete pad, and it’s usually faced with stone. Hardy granite is a popular countertop option for Canada, but tile and steel-reinforced concrete are other possibilities. The contractor will design the unit to fit the chosen hardware and appliances, which are purchased off-the-shelf.

For a more affordable option, consumers can look to home improvement big box stores, where the popularity of outdoor kitchens has led to the appearance of prefabricated, ready-to-use versions. Lowe’s Canada offers packages starting at $2,997 through its in-house Master Forge brand. A higher initial investment can lead to increased longevity for an outdoor kitchen, says Rick Bloye, who owns the Aurora, Ont., firm Outdoor Luxury with his wife, Joanne. Grills and other equipment from high-end brands such as Fire Magic and Lynx will last longer. But besides durability, an investment in professional-grade cooking equipment can yield benefits. For example, side burners touted as “searing stations” will crank up to 1,200˚F (650˚C)—sufficient to caramelize a steak in a flash while sealing in the juices.

Other frills for higher budgets include draft beer taps, cooler bins to fill with ice and cold drinks, warming drawers, and even dishwashers. Pizza ovens, starting at $6,000, are tempting but extravagant. “It takes a lot of pizzas to amortize that cost,” Bloye observes. Still, the oven could see a lot of use for families who entertain big groups or have hungry teenagers to feed.

Other add-ons are designed to extend the kitchen’s usable season. “On the West Coast it’s nice to have shelter,” given the rainy climate, Evenson notes. This helps the kitchen last longer, too. In chillier climes, infrared heaters extend the grilling season and work warming wonders even if it’s windy out, and start at $600. But this adds up. Outdoor Luxury’s biggest job cost $65,000 for the kitchen, not including the pavilion to cover it, Bloye says. The client started by looking for just a barbecue and island, but got carried away. “He took everything in the brochure, practically.”

For more scaled-down versions, Evenson says the building time for an outdoor kitchen is about one week, but that’s after you gather all the materials, so work with your contractor to source everything up front. “Have everything in the same pile and then build it. If you do that, you’re looking at five days.” After that, the only thing you’ll be asking yourself is, ‘Let’s see, what am I going to throw on that grill tonight?’