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Glamped-up grilling in luxury outdoor kitchens

The backyard barbecue is about to get a lot less basic.

This summer, the ultimate luxury in outdoor cooking goes beyond the old-school gas grill, as advancements in appliance tech and trends in home construction are bringing sophisticated kitchens to the backyard.

“It’s like glamping,” said radio host Neil Saavedra, who is in the process of installing an outdoor kitchen at his Los Angeles home. “It’s outdoor cooking and grilling, but, really, you’re doing it on equipment that is the equivalent of some of the best restaurants.”

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His plans for the tricked-out cooking theater include a professional grill with rotisserie, 30-inch flat-topped Evo grill, pizza oven, refreshment station, ice maker, under-counter refrigeration, drinks station and warming drawers.

“I love our [indoor] kitchen, but we have more square footage in our backyard than in our home, and we never used it. We’re redesigning our whole backyard as living space,” the host of KFI AM 640’s “Fork Report” said, adding that the outdoor kitchen would be “a thousand times better” than the indoor version.

Saavedra is not alone in taking the party outside.

“It’s definitely what all my clients are going for,” said Gary W. Drake, owner of Gary Drake Construction in Sherman Oaks, who specializes in building luxury homes.

The contractor credits glass pocket doors, retracting walls and open-floor plans with putting a spotlight on outdoor spaces.

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“What everybody wants now is a large family room that ties into the backyard, that flows into an outside dining room and kitchen which ties into the pool area,” he said. “It’s a seamless kind of atmosphere.”

Here are some of our favorite backyard kitchen amenities:

Ice, ice baby

Improvements in refrigeration have removed barriers to cooking alfresco. Five years ago, outdoor refrigeration would fail if temperatures hit 90 degrees, said Doug Sanicola, president of La Verne-based patio design center Outdoor Elegance.

Sanicola said new, high-end units such as those from Perlick can function in environments up to 115 degrees. Cool fact: These ice machines produce 35 to 40 pounds of clear ice, just like the ones in bars.

Pie in the sky

Why bother waiting in line at Pizzeria Mozza? Wood-burning pizza ovens are the darlings of modern outdoor kitchens. Drake says they’re available in freestanding, countertop and built-in models and are on everyone’s wish list.

Warm wishes

Built-in heaters are also de rigueur for petite patio palaces. Overhead heaters are especially popular, but Drake said a few clients took the idea one step further.

“On a couple of five-star projects, we actually heated the floors,” he said. “It really distributes the heat evenly.”

Backyard Benihana

The cast-iron Evo flat-topped grill is prized for its versatility — and to some for its good looks.

“I always wanted one,” said Saavedra, “and when Doug first showed it to me, I was apoplectic. It’s like a teppanyaki grill you would find at a Mongolian barbecue place. It’s got sex appeal.” 

Beer on tap

Bring the bar to your backyard with an at-home beer dispenser that serves ice-cold brews on tap. It’s sure to get the party started. Just no keg stands, please. 

Smart grill

Wi-Fi compatible smart grills mean you can check the meat without leaving your seat. Wi-Fi controls allow at-home grill meisters to fire up the grill remotely, check temperature and monitor a variety of sensors online via an app.

Party central

Don’t forget to incorporate a prep area and communal countertop.

“You don’t want to build a beautiful outdoor kitchen and have a grill, a pizza oven, a refreshment center and nowhere to put anything when you are ready to serve it,” Sanicola said.

After all, “where do all your parties end up?” he said. “It’s always the kitchen.”

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