Fire it Up

Outdoor living space is potential big business for remodelers. There’s decking, upgrading or expanding the portal to the new outdoor space and now outdoor kitchens. With the growing trend of outdoor living, consumers look to do more with the space that they have such as increasing their cooking capabilities.

According to research conducted by Synovate Research on behalf of Sears, Roebuck and Co., Americans will entertain outdoors 5.4 times this year. The most anticipated part of outdoor entertaining is spending more time with family and friends (36 percent) and just being outside again (22 percent).

“As living space is becoming more and more scarce and valuable in many parts of the country, consumers are becoming more conscious of the investment in their real estate,” says Alex Siow, CEO of Fuego. “The trend is moving outdoor—claiming valuable property for the purpose of both living and entertaining beyond the living cocoon of the home’s walls.”

Homeowners are beginning to look at what can really be done with their outdoor spaces. It is no longer just a focus on a nice deck or patio area, or even putting in a pool or spa, but creating a space that they can live in.

“The outdoor room is growing exponentially with the continuing expansion of the outdoor lifestyle,” says Siow. “Redone patios, porches and decks rank among the three things consumers want most in upgrades to their homes. Entertaining in the home is quickly migrating to the outdoor space—and this trend has helped fuel demand for new technology and design which includes outdoor kitchens, appliances, grills and other value driven amenities and products.”

Why cook outdoors
The outdoor cooking space has been evolving as more Americans are staying home and looking to do more with the space that they have. What began with a charcoal grill and a picnic table has become smokers, roasters, burners, refrigerators, counters and cabinets.

“Homeowners want a great indoor and outdoor kitchen,” says Sue Bailey, lead product manager for Viking. “They are looking for all the products they have inside for their full outdoor kitchen and not just a grill. Once they go outside, homeowners don’t want to have to go back inside.”

The attraction towards outdoor kitchens is one that can be just as alluring and complicated as something that is found in the home. Homeowners aren’t just looking to have things placed outside. They want a total outdoor concept and as kitchens become bigger on the inside, so do the kitchens outdoors.

“Consumers are not just leaning toward more outdoor entertaining, but more luxurious outdoor entertaining,” says Jeff Wimberly, director of sales and marketing for Perlick Coroporation’s home products division. “They want all the amenities outdoors built into some sort of outdoor design.”

Setting things up
So what exactly are homeowners asking for in their outdoor kitchens? In a simple answer they’re looking for a complete kitchen, not a humble outdoor cooking space. They want to be able to focus on their guests and their cooking — spending less time hectically running around.

“Consumers are creating outdoor kitchens that mirror what they have inside,” says Dale Seiden, vice president and director of sales and marketing for Alfresco Grills. “They are having them set up in zones with a prep area; waste area; cooking and refrigeration, including under-the-grill refrigeration for marinating; a plating and garnish station and an entertaining area for cocktails.”

Bailey also agrees that the multi zones that are making their way into the home kitchen are starting to find their way into the outdoor kitchen as well. She expanded on this idea to say that the prep area is set up for mixing, chopping and general preparation of food; cooking includes grilling, roasting, smoking, burners and sometimes baking; and a bar area quipped with beverage prep. The ideal beverage station, according to Wimberly, would involve beer tapers, a wine refrigerator, mug and martini glass chiller and a place to house all the garnishing extras that go into making drinks.

“Begin thinking about what entertaining will be done and how many people will be there,” says Wimberly. “What foods will be made and what cooking devices will be needed. Then it’s important to think about what drinks will be offered and how they’ll be served.”

Viking Range has begun offering outdoor stainless steel cabinetry for the outdoor kitchen and suggests that when starting an outdoor kitchen to start with three to four of these units. These cabinets can be set up as a stand alone unit and placed by outdoor equipment or can be built into an outdoor kitchen island. Systems like this one make setting up an outdoor kitchen a snap when all that needs to be done is add a countertop to finish the look.

Some of the items that Viking has seen consumers ask for more and more are hoods for partially enclosed areas, warming drawers and refreshment/cocktail centers. Another area that it’s seen a jump is in refrigerators that include space for beverages plus a freezer with a built-in ice maker.

“The outdoor grill island is currently the most typical setup for an outdoor kitchen,” says Siow. “Usually a built-in grill unit is installed along with a surrounding island counter to generate a social gather space around the chef.”

Alfresco Grills’ Sheiden began his career by creating professional kitchen equipment for the restaurant market. With homeowners trying to avoid doing anything inside the house, Alfresco Grills have focused their attention on bringing restaurant style products to the consumer to order to create open-air culinary systems.

“We want to create the kitchen Emril or Wolfgang Puck would want in their house,” says Seiden.

Clean up is another appeal of the outdoor kitchen and an easier chore for the home owners as well. After getting all the dishes taken care of, part of the appeal of an outdoor kitchen is being able to just hose it down. This makes having an outdoor kitchen easier to maintain than an indoor one.

Driving the trend
Just why are consumers asking for these more involved outdoor setups? It’s still the same backyard they’ve always had, and yet they are moving into outdoor living and outdoor cooking. Americans are realizing that their home doesn’t have to end with the walls that contain them.

“Outdoor living is becoming big because it’s another whole ‘wow’ area of the house,” says Bailey. “It’s another place to entertain and there’s just something relaxing about sitting outside.”

Homeowners are having counters and bar areas installed to go along with their kitchen appliances. As the indoor kitchen is becoming the gathering/entertaining area inside, the outdoor kitchen serves the same purpose on the outside.

“Consumers are spending more money on their homes and enjoy outdoor entertaining more,” says Seiden. “Stations like HGTV and the Food Network show consumers that there is more to the outdoors than just grills. And there’s always the snob appeal of people wanting the coolest, biggest kitchens.”

Many homeowners are finding the piece of equipment they want in their kitchen like a built-in grill and then having the entire space created around that. Designers are getting more involved in the process of setting up outdoor kitchens with no shortage of clients.

“We’re seeing a continuing result of the nesting that has taken place since 2001,” says Wimberly. “People see outside as an extension of their living space and are doing more entertaining at home.”

There’s virtual no part of the country that isn’t in an outdoor living boom. A trend that started in south where outdoor living could be utilized for much of the year has spread across the United States.

“The Northeast is exploding with outdoor kitchens,” says Wimberly. “I would have expected it in the Southwest, but it tends to be more leveled off there.”

According to Seiden, some of the largest areas for outdoor kitchens right now are California, Florida, Texas, New York, Connecticut and Washington.

“In a lot of Northern regions contractors are putting outdoor kitchens into their homes,” says Seiden. “That way they can lure potential clients into getting a more complete home that includes outdoor living.”

Coming up next
“The market is now in a shift,” says Seiden. “Consumers are now looking for a more complete kitchen with refrigerators, dishwashers and all the zones and stations. In the summer months consumers are using their outdoor kitchen as more of the main kitchen in the home.”

As more and more companies begin creating cooking and refrigeration products, established manufacturers in the outdoor kitchen market are looking at the niche items to attract more homeowners. Alfresco Grills is one of these companies and is looking to expand more of it’s products into the prep and serving aspect of the outdoor kitchen now that they have established their appliance line.

“As the outdoor living lifestyle continues to gain popularity, new and sophisticated designs and products are emerging quickly to meet growing consumer demand and driving new outdoor trends,” says Siow.

Bailey indicated that among niche items that consumers are asking for are outdoor pizza ovens and dishwashers. In the coming years she predicts that the trend will be full kitchens coming in from all arenas.

What may determine the victors in this emerging market could be a focus on variety of products in combination with quality of companies’ outdoor appliances.

“In the restaurant business if appliances break down, the place is out of business,” says Wimberly. “It’s important to have the same reliability in the residential products that you offer in the professional equipment.”