Peter Marmorato Jr. loves to grill, and lately he has been going beyond the usual barbecue, thanks to an outdoor kitchen complete with a grill, pizza oven, high-output burner and other frills.
"I’m all about being outside," says the Kings Park resident of his new setup. "And I love entertaining."
The pandemic pushed more people outdoors, leading to more outdoor kitchens, which typically need electrical work and plumbing and entail building permits.
"The pandemic has driven people into their backyards," says Michael Gotowala, owner of the Outdoor Kitchen Design Store in Southampton, who designed Marmorato’s space. "The outdoor kitchen, as far as being a hub, is a multi-tool player."
As people improve homes, outdoor kitchens have gone up or been expanded with ovens, refrigerators and other amenities.
"A lot of people are home more than ever," says John Starck, owner of Showcase Kitchens in Manhasset. "They’re looking to set up something outside aside from a grill."
Here is a look at equipment and elements of outdoor kitchens, from the basic to more elaborate.
"A grill, a refrigerator, cabinet with a trash pull and small countertop island makes a huge impact on the family lifestyle," Gotowala says. "You don’t have to have a fully equipped outdoor kitchen."
Everything and the grill
"It’s important to get a good grill," says Starck. "That’s the heart of the outdoor kitchen." Grills range from a few hundred dollars to $3,000 and up for what Gotowala calls a "professional" model. Stainless steel helps survive weather, solid handles improve durability and good ventilation from the hood helps cook better, Gotowala said. Grills don’t need to be "built like tanks," but can show style, he says. Marmorato likes "the look and function" of his Caliber grill. "You don’t have to spend all the money in the world on a grill to get great food," Gotowala said. "It’s not all the whistles and components. It’s the ability to use them."
Accessories add versatility
A grill may be the heart of an outdoor kitchen, but grill accessories add flexibility. "Instead of cooking one component of a meal, you have accessories to prepare a whole meal," Gotowala says. Side burners help cook vegetables and a fryolater ($200 and up, Gotowala notes) uses oil to cook fried foods. A $69 pizza stone lets you cook dough, pizza, bread and flat breads on a grill, he says. A searing station, for a few hundred dollars and up, helps sear, but also boil water for vegetables, lobster and seafood. "I probably will add to it over time," Marmorato says of the accessories. A Sands Point resident included a stainless steel, high-output wok burner to stir-fry.
Going all out with ovens
Pizza ovens or outdoor ovens, which Gotowala says typically cost $600 and up, depending on size, can cook pizza and much more. They can be wood-fired or run on propane or natural gas. "Most people like the flavor and authenticity of a wood-fired oven," Gotowala says of ovens that can be used for pizza, steak, lamb, seafood and other meals. "There’s a learning curve with it," Gotowala adds. Some ovens are hot to the touch, while others offer a cooler surface.
"I wanted a kitchen that was self-sustaining, so we aren’t cooking some food in the house and some outside," Marmorato notes. "The idea is to cook and prep the meals completely outside." He often does pizza night on Fridays with family and friends.
A cool touch
Compact, under-the-counter outdoor refrigerators and beverage coolers let kitchens function as more than an addition to the indoors. Gotowala says fridges ($400 and up) should be UL-listed for outdoors. "The amount of times you go back and forth to your refrigerator correlates to how much cooking you do outdoors," Gotowala says. Beverage coolers, also about $400 and up, provide convenience. Wine coolers, typically $500 and up, keep wine at the correct temperature.
"The refrigerator, beverage cooler and wine cooler are the appliances that work the hardest," Gotowala says.
The ice device
Ice makers provide convenience. "They’re excellent," Marmorato says. "It’s better than having coolers." These devices, which easily cost several thousand dollars, can make cubes typically denser than ordinary ice, melting less quickly on hot days.
"People use their backyard all hours of the day," Gotowala says. "The amount of ice that can be consumed is unbelievable."
Cabinets provide storage space, making outdoor kitchens self-sufficient. Starck says stainless steel or teak, not damaged by humidity, are good choices. "Metals not stainless will corrode," he says. Gotowala notes that trash pulls, recycling bins, cooking tool holders, spice racks, pots and pans, cleaning materials, entertaining glasses and plates can be kept in cabinets.
"The newest trend is to mimic the indoor kitchen outdoors," Gotowala says. Weatherproof cabinetry can be made of pressed resin exterior on PVC; sturdy stainless steel handles can withstand the elements. Marmorato has Naturekast cabinets made of synthetic material that looks like wood. Warming drawers keep food hot before it’s served.
Dishing on sinks
Sinks are important, when water is used for cooking or cleanup. Small hand wash sinks 15 inches by 15 inches help clean, while 30-inch to 36-inch units can also be used for cooking, preparing salads, shrimp cocktail and cleaning dishes, Gotowala says. Workstation sinks ($500 and up, he notes) can be staging areas for salads and desserts with built-in racks.
Invest in counter culture
Countertops are available in granite, marble, concrete, butcher block wood, porcelain and Lapitec that is waterproof and scratch-, chip- and heat-resistant. "There’s less maintenance than many other surfaces," Gotowala says of Lapitec. Furnished and installed counters with porcelain and Lapitec typically cost $130 a square foot Gotowala says, while some granites and stones cost $75 a square foot and up. Marmorato has porcelain countertops that he calls "very durable for the outdoors."
While good weather matters, a good shelter helps. Umbrellas provide some shade, while Starck says retractable awnings can help. Pergolas made of PVC, wood and coated aluminum provide shelter with style at $1,300 for a do-it-yourself kit to $10,000 and more, Gotowala notes. "These structures provide a definition of space above the dining area and shade," Gotowala says. Some have systems where switches close louvers to be watertight. "I probably will be adding a high-tech pergola where the top opens and closes with screens," Marmorato says. "They get very costly, though."
Lights, speakers, action
Lighting keeps the party going through the evening and defines the space, Gotowala says. "It creates emotion and provides safety and security for guests," he notes. Lights can be installed under counters or pergola roofs and spaces can be wrapped with festive lights. Lights attached to houses work, but often produce glare. Starck says some grills have built-in lighting. Speakers, often broadcasting from phones, provide soundtracks. Marmorato pipes in music from iTunes and Pandora to Sonos Bluetooth speakers.