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This homeowner decided to take advantage of his “backyard” scenery — Malibu — and install an outdoor kitchen from Kalamazoo. (Photo courtesy Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet)

Whether you grill, barbecue, smoke or saute, cooking outdoors seems to add a special flavor to whatever is being served.

With the summer grilling season here (July is National Grilling Month, after all) consider the options, such as taking your backyard entertaining space up a notch with an outdoor kitchen. According to the Hearth Patio and Barbecue Association, 10 percent of grill owners have an outdoor kitchen, and among those outdoor kitchen fanciers, one-third are likely to be upgrading within the next three years.

Before getting started

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find out what permits are needed, how will it be connected to your indoor version and whether home utilities can be easily used.

Are you going to want hot and cold water? Make sure natural gas can be connected. Think function. To maximize space for cooking and entertaining, consider spots for hot zones (grills, pizza ovens), dry zones (food prep and storage), wet zones (sink) and cold zones (refrigerators and freezers).

Decide how you want to use the outdoor kitchen. Do you want just the basics or are you interested in more specialty equipment pieces such as tandoors, wet bars and blender stations? List what you want and divide it into “musts” and “extras” as your budget allows. Call on contractors when needed, but also consider prefabricated modular kits that can be easily put together.

And, since the whole idea is to entertain — either your family or others — don’t forget about seating.
When Mary and Michael Fry of Yorba Linda bought their house 15 years ago, it came with an outdoor barbecue, but one ill-placed and not very functional. When the wind blew, so did the smoke — right back in the cook’s face. Since the family enjoys spending as much time outside as possible, they decided to upgrade. A lot.

“We actually have pictures of friends barbecuing in goggles, so we decided to redesign, reconfigure and elaborate on just an outdoor barbecue, with the addition of an outdoor refrigerator, ice maker, warming drawer, side burners, lighting, storage, trash storage, serving, dining and barbecue counters including a sink and remotely expandable awning,” Mary Fry said in an email. “We also added an outdoor fireplace for the adults and an outdoor fire ring for the kids.”

Outdoor living has been important to her family. The investment has paid dividends throughout the years with the outdoor space being used for client appreciation and charity events, neighborhood gatherings, their son’s college graduation party and even a wedding. More recently, it served as a lovely party venue for Michael Fry’s Harley-Davidson buddies and their significant others.

The Frys had the fun catered by Jonathan Duffy Davis and Jonathan Dye.

“I am entirely enthusiastic about outdoor kitchens,” said Davis, owner of Tule Peak Farm in rural Aguanga, south of Hemet in Riverside County. “Jonathan Dye and I have conducted cooking classes for the last five years. As a farmer on brand-new/raw land, I’ve spent the last two years planning my incredible 1,000- to 1,500-square-foot outdoor kitchen and event space complete with a 100-year-old wood stove, clay pizza oven, bar and plenty of counter space and seating for guests.”

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