IN America's rush to duplicate every indoor room in the great outdoors, kitchens seem to be a favorite. Forget for a moment the recent spate of outdoor living rooms, sleeping pavilions and elaborate spas springing up across the land. They add minimally to one's gastronomic social status.
But a well-planned outdoor kitchen? It can transform a garden or deck into a kind of island resort, where great friends and great flavors mingle under sun or stars.
Nothing beats an outdoor meal with friends and family, says Deborah Krasner, a kitchen designer and cookbook author who wrote her new book, "The New Outdoor Kitchen: Cooking Up a Kitchen for the Way You Live and Play" after building what she calls "the ultimate outdoor kitchen" for herself.
Then there's the taste: "You can achieve flavors in outdoor kitchens that you simply can't get from cooking on traditional indoor equipment," she says. And for Southern Californians especially, there's the matter of added living space: "With the right design and equipment, you've added what is essentially another full room, one without walls, that you'll live in much of the year."
The newest trend is to reproduce the same level of efficiency and attractiveness outdoors as you have inside the house, she says. New outdoor cabinets, for example, are impervious to weather, and as handsome as the indoor kind. Refrigerators are built to withstand the elements.
With the vast array of portable and built-in choices for cooking, Krasner says, it's possible to cook and serve a gourmet meal for dozens from scratch, without ever having to go inside.
She lives in Vermont, where it's too cold to use her new kitchen for much of the year. "You guys in Southern California live in paradise, with sunshine so much of the time. I understand why you're in the forefront of the outdoor-kitchen craze. It adds so much to a home's function and fun," Krasner says in a phone interview.
Those with big families, lots of friends, or both, may find it's the ultimate home improvement, she adds. "Even with a tiny outdoor space, you can design something great."
Krasner's book covers everything from countertops to decks, and all the outdoor cooking options, both built-in and portable: smokers, smoker grills, wood-fired ovens, roasting boxes along with every type and size of grill. She also discusses fuel choice (wood, charcoal, propane, natural gas, electric).
The designer thinks the biggest enticement for people to step up to a bigger, better outdoor kitchen is the wood-fired oven.
"You go to someone's house, and they're pulling these delectable pizzas from an outdoor oven, and you think, 'Wow, I'd love to have that.' Then you realize that in a wood-fired oven, you can also roast meat, fish, chicken, veggies — anything that takes high heat." Such ovens are available from about $2,000 and up, she says.
In her own new outdoor kitchen, she's done it all. She has a wood-fired oven (by Fogazzo), a gas grill with side burners and wok attachment (by KitchenAid), an under-counter electric smoker (by Cookshack) and a charcoal smoker grill called a Big Green Egg. Her outdoor cabinets are stainless steel. Her counters are all Vermont soapstone. The results from this equipment are unlike anything she could get indoors, she says.