National Grilling Month begins once again this July, and countless people across North America will be returning to cooking outdoors in conjunction with the hot temperatures of the season. As grilling takes center stage again, the outdoor kitchen is becoming more of a consideration for both new homeowners and those looking for their next home renovation project.
“Outdoor kitchen designs often mirror their indoor counterparts, successfully transitioning the indoors to the outdoors and making use of previously unused outdoor space or repurposing it,” Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens describes.
The idea of an outdoor cooking area for one’s living space is hardly new but its identity as an ‘outdoor kitchen’ began a bit more recently. In a piece for The Spruce, Maria Sabella writes about how summer kitchens became popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, particularly in more wealthy households.
“Historically, a summer kitchen was a small building, often made from brick or wood, that was located adjacent to the main house,” with cooking usually done in an open fireplace or on a stove, she writes. These versatile spaces kept the cooking heat and smell from affecting the rest of the home. Summer kitchens have also been used to prepare mass quantities of food to be stored for the winter months. Today, the outdoor kitchen and its like are modern interpretations of this idea and are typically geared toward both function and entertainment.
The outdoor kitchen has especially begun to gain steam recently. A trend statement for the year 2021 reported that 90 percent of Americans with outdoor living space now considered that area more valuable than they did before COVID. Another survey revealed that 58 percent of Americans plan to buy at least one new piece of furniture or accessories for outdoor living spaces annually. The report attributes this increase to the after-effect of the pandemic when people worldwide had to deal with quarantine and social distancing regulations and outright lockdowns. This led many people to increase the time they spent outside or in open-air spaces.
It also names millennials, the demographic born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, as entering the general age range where entertaining guests at home is increasingly important. “Over half of millennials (53 percent) will be buying multiple pieces of outdoor furniture [in 2022].” People will be using these outdoor spaces for cooking, relaxation, and socialization, and want their outdoor spaces to be enjoyable and functional, and add value to their homes.
The 2022 Kitchen Trends Index published by Atlas Ceramics, notes that searches for the term ‘outdoor kitchen’ have yielded more than two million annual searches on Google, while videos and posts related to that hashtag saw over 71 million views on TikTok and nearly 500,000 posts on Instagram. The Index adds that outdoor kitchen developments are at the top of the project trends list for the American Institute of Architects.
The increased prevalence of outdoor smart appliances and enhancements, in turn, make the possibility of outdoor kitchens more accessible than ever before. Such enhancements include ambient LED lighting, outdoor televisions, and various grilling and barbeque equipment that can be hooked up to local internet connections, making for as entertaining an experience as most indoor setups.
The outdoor kitchen can take on different forms, depending on what an owner wants. Amanda Lecky for This Old House outlines the three types of outdoor kitchen: movable, usually outfitted with a portable, easy-to-clean grill and rolling storage; prefabricated, “an all-in-one option for folks with more square footage and cash to spend,” with a cooking island, situated grill, and counters, lighting, and accessories; and custom, which is the most flexible of the three options and generally has its own appliances, storage and counter space, and runs larger in terms of square footage.
In a piece for amateur gardening magazine Gardeningetc, Sarah Warwick emphasizes that the best ideas for outdoor kitchens look beyond the cooking of food to allow room for preparation and storage, along with extra appliances like an outdoor oven, sink, or fridge. She suggests that many storage units can often be found at DIY stores or through specialist suppliers. Working with specialist designers, such as garden designers or landscape architects, can help to “create an outdoor kitchen as part of a redesign of the entire garden for a total transformation.”
There are further benefits for homeowners who are looking to take the plunge into a bigger world of outdoor entertainment. Jayme Muller for outdoor kitchen company RTA Outdoor Living affirms that, while individual pieces of an outdoor kitchen will vary in terms of value added to one’s property, “You can expect to receive anywhere from 50 to 200 percent as a return on your investment.”
In a piece outlining the benefits of building an outdoor kitchen, the staff of Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens state that homes with these attached can sell for nearly thirty percent more than expected. “Of the nearly four million homes nationwide that sold between January 2016 and December 2017, these outdoor features, amenities and design styles made the largest impact on sale price.” Outdoor kitchens can return 100 to 200 percent of home improvement costs, but the return on investment does depend on other factors such as the value of the home itself and the location.
Although the outdoor kitchen is an increasingly attractive idea to younger homeowners, it is not altogether free from the concerns that the market is seeing right now. RTA Outdoor Living designer Daniel Cdebaca reports that the desire for homeowners to create their own outdoor kitchen or cooking space will likely be stymied by ongoing changes to the global supply chain, shipping delays, inflation, and contractor availability, among other factors.
Although he anticipates that the inflation rate will even out in 2023, this will not provide an instant effect on the economy or overall higher prices of goods. “It’s tough to gauge how elevated pricing will affect the cost of outdoor home improvement and DIY [do-it-yourself] outdoor kitchen projects,” he writes. These factors are always important to consider but should not preclude someone from pursuing this as a new project.
Whether to add value to a home or to take advantage of a renewed interest in being outdoors, whatever your reason for investing in an outdoor kitchen, here’s to another National Grilling Month. May your temperatures be just right and your summertime be relaxing and filled with good food!