Outdoor Kitchens – An Entertaining Staple in San Diego

July 13th, 2011  |  Published in Convivial Spaces, Learn

Everyone knows that here in San Diego we probably have the best climate in the world.  Our nearly year-round ambient temperature doesn’t stray far from an ideal 72 degrees, so many San Diegans spend a lot of time outside.

As an architect, I can’t think of one project that didn’t require an indoor-outdoor connection, especially when we are concerned with entertaining.  While there are many design considerations to think about when creating an outdoor kitchen, the first (as always!) is budget.  It is very important to set the budget first because it will dictate your design.  You can build an outdoor kitchen for a couple thousand dollars, or you can spend $25K or more – it’s up to your bank account.  Beyond that, your lifestyle will determine what outdoor kitchen design will best serve your needs.

Why build an outdoor kitchen to begin with?  The first most obvious question is if grilling outside has become a hassle.  Are you constantly running back and forth between your kitchen and your grill?  Do you have anywhere to prep your food, to place serving dishes and other utensils?  Are your guests always standing around the grill, but have nowhere to sit, or no shade?

The benefits to having an outdoor kitchen are many; there are functional aspects such as having a prep area with running water – and possibly refrigeration – that reduces the need to return to your indoor kitchen every five minutes.  There are also more convivial benefits as well – if you incorporate shaded, well-placed seating into your design, your guests can comfortably spend time with you while you are cooking, without getting smoked out.

This design provides some shaded seating away from the grill, at bar or table height.

The heart of any kitchen is the hearth, and an outdoor kitchen is no different.  However, the debate rages on – gas or charcoal?  Deciding upon a method is actually pretty simple – it depends on your typical grilling experience.  Do you come home from work and want a grilled dinner in 20 minutes?  Then gas is probably for you.  Or, are you more of a purist who is willing to spend the time with charcoal?  Charcoal is the superior fuel; not only does hardwood charcoal (no briquettes please!!) impart a smoky flavor to your meats, it also burns hotter and drier.  One of the byproducts of burning gas (natural or propane) is water vapor.   So, when you’re grilling a steak on gas you’re actually steaming it!  If that char is really what you’re after, then charcoal is the only way to go.

There are of course hybrid grills, if you want to have both options handy.  If you do decide to go with gas, a nice benefit to installing an outdoor kitchen is that you can pipe in natural gas and never have to worry about tanks of propane.

The next most important element to the outdoor kitchen is a water source.  The ability to wash hands conveniently while working with raw meat is ideal.  If your budget permits, then you might want to consider a prep sink that includes a garbage disposer.  This frees up your indoor kitchen for other food prep that is not being cooked outside.

A refrigerator is nice, but not critical.  Whenever I visit someone’s home that has a refrigerator in their outdoor kitchen, I check the fridge – and it’s usually empty.  If not, it’s full of beer and other cold beverages.  If budget permits, sure, go for the fridge.  If not, I would recommend an ice bin built right into the bar top that is easily accessible for your guests to simply serve themselves.  Make sure it’s well-insulated, shaded and connected to a waste line for easy drainage and cleaning.

Obviously, close proximity to your indoor kitchen would be ideal.  The closer you are, the fewer amenities you need.  A great element to consider is a large pass-through window that incorporates a continuous indoor-outdoor counter top, linking both your indoor and outdoor kitchens seamlessly.

Indoor kitchen with pass-through and continuous countertop.

While seating around your outdoor kitchen is very important to entertaining guests while you’re cooking, I would recommend a detached table for sitting down to the actual meal.  A table is more convivial than bar seating; your guests can see each other and communicate more easily.  While there are certainly table-shaped counter seating solutions, in my opinion it is more pleasant for your guests to be seated away from the prep area for the meal, instead of having to look at a cooking mess while enjoying your gorgeous food!

In San Diego, it's great when indoor/outdoor spaces blend seamlessly

The key to the success of any design project is asking the right questions; good answers to good questions will enable your architect to create an outdoor kitchen that perfectly suits your needs.

Laurie C. Fisher

Laurie C. Fisher, AIA is an award-winning California Registered Architect practicing in San Diego. Born a bon vivant, her main focus in architecture is in creating joyful environments, indoors and out. An avid cook and francophile, Laurie is able to impart her unique knowledge of culture, cuisine and entertaining to her projects. She can be reached at 619.252.2312 or laurie@lcfisher-architect.com.

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