Although it's possible just to place a freestanding grill and refrigerator on the patio or deck, you'll likely want a little storage area and a surface for setting down food.
This gas grill, side burners, and stainless steel cabinet inserts are built into a stucco wall. Both the patio and the countertop are colored concrete.
"Basic outdoor kitchens are brick or stucco walls with appliances set in," says Ann Porter, onwer of Kitchen Studio of Naples. "They do not offer much in the way of storage, but they are easy to incorporate into the patio."
Often designed to match or even made constructed of the same material as the outdoor hardscaping, these kitchens may consist of just a grill island with a storage niche covered by a cabinet door. Or they may have stainless steel cabinet inserts with matching doors and drawers. They can be custom or modular.
Designed by Ann Porter, this outdoor kitchen uses white Perma Panel cabinets from Atlantis Outdoor Kitchens.
For those who prefer the look and function of true kitchen cabinetry, two options predominate: stainless steel or a solid surface material such as Perma Panel or Starboard. Developed for use in the marine industry, these acrylic composites can tough out harsh environments.
Both Porter, who is based in Naples, Fla., and Dawn Whyte, a designer in Petoskey, Mich., use Perma Panel cabinets from Atlantis Outdoor Kitchens. "Perma Panel is impervious to weathering, salt water, you can spray it down with a hose," explains Whyte. "It's makeup also works well in northern Michigan because it's impervious to all the weather things, and works with the hot-and-cold weather change."
Photo: Greg Hadley
Stainless steel cabinets from Danver blend into the stainless steel grill and warming drawer. A honed granite countertop won't show water spots. Designed by Dee David & Co.
From a design perspective, this type of cabinetry offers multiple color choices and door styles, allowing the outdoor kitchen to match the architectural style of the home. It can also accept wooden doors and drawer fronts (which should be made from a moisture-resistant species). One disadvantage to solid surface cabinets: They're heavy, so the deck or patio must be engineered to support the cabinetry properly.
Stainless steel is much lighter, and provides a more contemporary or restaurant-style look. The material is just as stylish and durable for outdoor use as it is for indoor cabinetry.
Like any stainless steel product, however, outdoor cabinets need a little more care and cleaning than just a spray from the hose. A non-abrasive stainless steel cleaner should do the trick. Some outdoor appliances manufacturers offer their own cabinetry, but you can also work with cabinetmakers such as Danver or Lasertron that specialize in stainless steel cabinets.
Many of the materials used for indoor kitchen counters work just as well outdoors, at least in warmer climates. "Tile, concrete/terrazo, natural stone, quartz and acrylic/polyester (Corian, Staron, etc.), and glass provide many color and pricing options for homeowners to choose from," Porter says. "I think the scratch-resistant and low maintenance materials are the best choice. For example, unless you use a high quality grout in a tile countertop, cleaning meat drippings and spills may be very difficult."
With Michigan's freezing winters, Whyte prefers concrete or granite countertops, though not polished granite. "Rain and snow have different airborne chemicals, and can leave water spots on a polished granite," she explains. White recommends a honed, brushed, or flamed finish instead. She also adds a final tip: Bevel or slant outdoor counters so water can run off rather than pool. "In Michigan, if it froze, that would create problems in the spring. It could crack the counter, or leave stains in the thaw."