The Inside-Out Kitchen
Landscape designers and outdoor furniture specialists offer hot trends for the gourmet in the garden.
For the longest time, cooking out meant building a wood campfire or firing up the charcoal grill for hot dogs and s’mores. Now, outdoor cooking has become a gourmet event and just about any feature or function of an indoor kitchen can be installed outdoors. Landscape designers are creating backyard entertainment centers to rival those of resorts, while do-it-yourselfers can find high-tech grills, pizza oven kits, appliances and all the accessories needed for entertaining outside in haute cuisine style.
Trends in Outdoor Kitchen Design
When it comes to landscape design, outdoor kitchens are in high demand. “The trend is to become a full-service outdoor living space,” says Gene Grant, owner of Grant and Power Landscaping in West Chicago, of the landscape projects his company designs.
“It used to be that everyone wanted an L-shaped kitchen and bar,” says his colleague Brian O’Malley, senior landscape designer. “Now we separate the two and extend it out, with countertop or bar-top table areas and kitchen islands that you can put chairs around.” He also notes that people are no longer relying on a rectangular table for dining, but prefer to have spaces for couches and lounge chairs. “A lot of eating is done at a coffee table or bar,” O’Malley explains.
The business is seeing increased demand for weatherproof refrigerators, coolers and even sinks, which must be plumbed back into the house for the water supply. Virtually all outdoor kitchens include electric and gas lines with shut-offs, so home chefs can use small appliances like blenders with ease. (Margaritas, anyone?)
According to Mark Speers, landscape architect for King’s Landscaping in Lemont, good outdoor kitchen design has a “balance between the number of appliances you have, the space you have to work with and the countertop surface needed. You don’t want to pack too many appliances into a small space.” For starters, he says, “The must-haves are the grill as #1 and storage as #2,” in the form of pull-out or access drawers to hold utensils, spices, kitchen linens, and other cooking needs. If space is an issue, Speers suggests scaling back on the size of the appliances or consolidating by using cabinets with multiple functions, such as a combination trash bin and storage unit.
Like other elements in landscape design, outdoor kitchens are customizable. “They can be as simple or as elaborate as homeowners want,” says Speers. He recommends including lighting in the outdoor kitchen to extend hours of use.
To make outdoor kitchens feel more like indoor rooms, landscape designers incorporate pergolas and other overhead structures that provide a sense of enclosure, as well as plantings that surround the space, acting as low walls. “We use different size plantings, a mix of taller and shorter plants, to give it a more intimate feeling,” says O’Malley. He suggests planting a vegetable garden near an indoor or outdoor kitchen for ready access while cooking. Large flowerbeds are better placed farther away to avoid attracting bees to the party.
Furniture and Accessories Designed for the Weather
Although some landscape designers offer outdoor furniture, they say that most homeowners prefer to pick out their own dining and patio furniture at local retail stores.
Family-owned Wannemaker’s Home and Garden in Downers Grove carries outdoor furniture in cast aluminum, wrought iron, wicker, teak and composite material made to look like lumber. “The most popular trend is composite furniture from Berlin Gardens,” says Joe Wannemaker. The composite material is made from recycled bottles in Aurora, which is then shipped to Berlin, Ohio, where it is assembled by the Amish community. “It comes in fun colors, it’s heavy and it doesn’t blow over,” says Wannemaker. “It’s an investment but it lasts forever.” For homeowners picking out dining furniture, he advises bringing in the dimensions of the seating area to ensure that you get the sizing right before placing a special order.
At Wannemaker’s, customers will find several furniture collections set up on the floor, ready for them to try out the seats or take measurements.
Wannemaker’s and stores like The Great Escape and Crate & Barrel offer both outdoor furniture and a wide range of weatherproof accessories, such as unbreakable dishware and wine glasses, placemats and colorful cushions. As for decorating, Wannemaker recommends getting a small flowerpot for the table and hanging baskets of flowers to tie in with the color scheme.
The Latest in Grills and Pizza Ovens
If you haven’t shopped for grills or pizza ovens recently, you haven’t seen how the latest technology has boosted the function of what Carmen Parisi, president of Chicago Brick Oven, calls “the oldest form of cooking in the world.” His company’s wood-fired pizza ovens come in various sizes and configurations, including a pre-assembled countertop model, ovens made to fit custom brick installations, a hybrid that can burn both gas and wood, and a relatively new tailgater set-up that sports fans and traveling chefs can take on the road. The pizza ovens reach temperatures above 1,000 degrees and can cook pizzas at 750 degrees in just a couple of minutes.
“We call this the karaoke of cooking,” Parisi says of pizza parties, where toppings are set out to meet a variety of food preferences. “It entices guests to participate by making their own pizzas.”
The local hero of grills, Weber-Stephens, headquartered in Palatine, introduced a fancy gizmo this year called the iGrill 3, a Bluetooth-enabled thermometer device that delivers alerts to your smartphone so you’ll know when that steak is done to perfection. The iGrill3 works with Weber’s Genesis II grill line and also has a mobile app that sends alarms and offers instructions on grilling along with recipes. Best known for its charcoal grills, Weber now offers hybrid gas/charcoal models and even electric grills that can be used indoors and out.
Wannemaker notes that Weber grills are his best-selling line but they are getting competition from the Traeger wood cooker that burns wood pellets, with high-tech features like an auger-fed burner, electronic ignition and digital thermostat control. “You don’t have to flip anything,” he explains of the Texas-style cooker popularized in barbecue competitions. “You can do a quick burn or seven to eight hours as a slow cooker.”
Check It Out
If you want to see high-end outdoor kitchen appliances at work, visit Pirch in Oakbrook Center. King’s Landscaping sets up several outdoor kitchen layouts in the store, and you’ll find big names in outdoor appliances such as Viking, Wolf, Sub-Zero, DCS and Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet.
Chicago-headquartered Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet also has its own showroom in the West Loop, which you can visit by appointment to try out its sleek, heavy-duty appliances. Designed for the outdoors, the company’s cabinetry features hidden rain gutters to keep out the elements.
Chicago Brick Oven opens the doors of its Melrose Park manufacturing facility by appointment to view its ovens, which are sold directly to consumers, through distributors Belgard and Unilock, and by landscape architects as part of an overall landscape design and installation. If you’d like to see how outdoor kitchen structures such as pizza ovens can be built from concrete block, take in the Unilock Idea Center in Aurora.
When it comes to outdoor kitchens, inspiration and innovation are right in your own backyard.
New York Strip Steaks with Basil-Arugula Pesto by Weber
Prep time: 15 minutes
Grilling time: 6 to 8 minutes
• 11/2 cups loosely packed baby arugula
• 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
• 2 tablespoons roughly chopped toasted walnuts
• 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
• 1 garlic clove
• 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 6 New York strip steaks, each 8 to 10 ounces and about 1 inch thick, trimmed of excess fat
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. In a food processor, combine the arugula, basil, walnuts, lemon zest, and garlic and pulse until coarsely chopped. With the machine running, gradually add the oil and process until well blended. Season the pesto with salt and pepper and set aside.
2. Lightly brush the steaks on both sides with oil and then season on both sides with salt and pepper. Let the steaks stand at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes before grilling.
3. Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat (450° to 550°F).
4. Brush the cooking grates clean. Grill the steaks over direct high heat, with the lid closed, until cooked to your desired doneness, 6 to 8 minutes for medium rare, turning once. Remove the steaks from the grill and let rest for 3 to 5 minutes.
5. Top each steak with a generous dollop of the pesto and serve warm.
Recipe from Weber’s Greatest HitsTM written by Jamie Purviance.Edit Module