By Lisa Readie Mayer
Remember when a cookout at the cabin meant firing up the hibachi and gathering around the redwood picnic table? Today that scenario is often replaced by a state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen. More than just a grill, an outdoor kitchen is a cooking and entertaining center with all the comfort and convenience of an indoor kitchen, including appliances, storage cabinets, and countertop prep and serving spaces. And while it’s possible to spend $50,000 or more on custom masonry islands outfitted with built-in refrigerators, warming drawers, pizza ovens, ice makers, dishwashers, keg dispensers, trash bins, TVs – even the kitchen sink – there are ways to create affordable outdoor kitchens that still look great and offer plenty of fun and function. Here are five ways to build an outdoor kitchen without breaking the bank.
1. Phase It In
Building an outdoor kitchen in phases is an affordable approach because you can add on as budget allows. In stage one, tackle hardscapes – patio pavers, retaining walls, benches, arbors, fences, etc. Stage two: Install your grilling area or “hot zone.” Stage three: Install a “cool zone” station for beverages and for serving. But, before you start stage one, it’s important to plan the entire project, addressing issues of prevailing winds, location of utilities, shade, lighting, design, and overall budget. “You don’t want to pay to install gas, water or electric lines, patios and other hardscapes, only to have to rip them up later because the plans changed in phase two,” explains Frank Mello, vice president of sales and marketing at Bull Outdoor Products, a manufacturer of grills and outdoor kitchens. More pay-me-now-or-pay-me-later advice from Mello: Make sure the kitchen can take the weather – especially if your cabin contends with sea spray, cold and snow. “Splurge on a quality grill with a good warranty,” he counsels. “It saves you money in the long run.”
2. Pick Prefab
Prefabricated outdoor kitchen islands are a money-saving option. Made off-site and delivered to your backyard completely finished with the grill, appliances, storage and counters already installed, they can save 50% or more off the cost of a custom-built island. There’s no need for a foundation or for building permits, and turnaround times are generally just a few weeks. While choices of configuration and finish are somewhat limited, options for customizing with raised bar counters, and wood, brick, stone, and stainless steel finishes are growing. Bull Outdoor Products offers different price ranges of prefabricated outdoor kitchens. The Power Q, which retails between $2,999 and $3,999, is a roughly 6-foot straight island with built-in grill, refrigerator, food prep area, and optional sideburner. The larger Luxury Q, at $4,999 retail, combines a Power Q grilling island with a raised-height bar counter at a 90-degree angle. Weber’s turnkey kitchen, the Summit Grill Center with Social Area, is an L-shaped system, which retails for approximately $5,500. It comes in black and stainless steel, and features a built-in Weber Summit Grill, side burner, rotisserie, trash and ice bins, and lots of storage and counter space.
3. Make it Modular
Based on the concept of indoor kitchen cabinets, modular units come in small, standard, easy-to-maneuver cabinetry modules that can be linked together onsite in any configuration you choose. The Belgard Hardscapes line of Harmony Elements features custom-looking, pre-built modules made of tumbled paving stones which combine to create grilling islands, pizza ovens and outdoor fireplaces. An outdoor kitchen can easily be expanded down the road by adding sections, and the online Belgard Design Studio offers design help. Kitchen prices start at $2,500 and go up, depending on the number of modules and layout (grill and appliances are additional). Stainless steel Oasis Modular Islands from Napoleon Gourmet Grills are available in four packages with varying sizes, configurations, and price ranges, from about $2,700 to $6,800. Or create a custom configuration with as many modules – including grill cabinets, drawer banks, trash bins and other storage options – as desired.
4. Do DIY Panels
A fourth and innovative approach to outdoor kitchens keeps costs down by shipping the islands in flat panels, rather than preassembled. Although putting the panels together requires a little work, the savings can be significant for the do-it-yourselfer. Stone Age Manufacturing has introduced a Cabinet Component System made of 2-inch-thick, weatherproof concrete panels that you can easily and quickly assemble with joining braces and glue (instructional videos on the company’s website guide you through the process). Next, you cut the island bases for appliance installation and finish them off with choice of stucco, stone or brick. More than 20 configurations are available, starting with a basic 6-foot island for $1,100 (not including appliances or finish), and increasing in 3-foot increments. An island up to 15 feet may be shipped on a single pallet. KD BBQ Islands from Cal Spas are shipped knocked down (hence the K.D.) in five flat panels, which lock together in the backyard. The 6-foot outdoor kitchens come with or without a raised bar ledge, and include a grill, side burner, refrigerator, and choice of base and counter finishes. Prices range from $3,999 to $5,999, depending on the grill and accessories chosen. They can be further upgraded with other features such as a bar center, sink or ice chest.
5. Select a Support Station
Who says you have to build a grill into an island cabinet? A prep and serving station may be all you need to complement your cart-based grill and create a perfectly functional, high-quality outdoor kitchen. Vermont Islands offers a 6-foot mobile cabinet (approximately $4,000), and a 5-foot stand-alone bar unit with sink, ice well, and lots of counter space (roughly $5,000). All pieces are custom-made of superior materials – choose from durable Ipe wood, which is resistant to rot, insects, and weather; marine-grade polymer designed to withstand harsh seaside conditions without rotting or discoloring; or brick or stone veneer. Countertops are available in granite, engineered stone, tile or stainless steel. There are lots of options available for a fabulous, functional – and frugal – outdoor kitchen that will soon be the hub of your cabin cookouts. Grill on!
Keeping It Super Simple
Who says you need to spend thousands to enjoy the benefits of an outdoor kitchen? If you already have a good freestanding grill, you can use repurposed or salvaged materials to build your own fantastic island for prepping, serving and dining at a fraction of the cost of a custom-built island. Stack flat, weatherproof materials (cinder blocks, pavers, bricks) to form base columns to support counters.
For counters, scour a stoneyard for remnant pieces (they’re less expensive than full slabs) of granite, slate or engineered stone, and have one cut to size. You may also use lengths of salvaged lumber for counters, and they offer advantages: Drill holes for umbrellas, install hooks for grilling tools, and even hang paper towel holders from the underside. But remember: Wood counters have to be covered or stored indoors when not in use, to prevent rot.
An even easier option: Look for a stainless steel prep table designed for use in a commercial kitchen, and place it opposite your grill as a work and serving station. “Preowned” prep tables are often available inexpensively online from restaurant liquidation sales. The work surface is ideal for prep work, resting meat platters, or setting up a buffet, while the bottom shelf is a great place to stash buffet plates and other gear while you grill. The stainless steel finish should hold up well to the elements.