Simple charcoal grills have morphed into "outdoor kitchens." In some cases they exceed the capabilities and luxury of the ones indoors.
It's not that the simple kettle, roll-about or carry-about, grills no longer exist. They do and can be purchased in a number of retail stores. But, increasingly suburban homes are opting for the outdoor kitchen.
"We've had customers go as high as $30,000 for an outdoor kitchen that has warming ovens, refrigerators, sinks, eating areas, and bars in addition to a wide variety of cooking capabilities," said Dennis Spradlin, manager of Barbeques Galore on Frontier Drive in Springfield.
"We did one this year where the customer wanted a U-shaped design so that everything was in easy reach just like in a regular indoor kitchen. The island alone was $12,000. Then he added specialty doors to the oven and refrigeration. It came to over $16,000," he said.
His highest priced floor display was $10,599. But even that could be upgraded depending on the customer's desires.
"We can put on whatever countertop you want. We can install all stainless steel doors. And, the various cooking capabilities are all part of the options available to the customer," he said.
Among his displays were those with bar areas featuring upscale seating and an assortment of accessories such as lighting arrangements, separate steamers, and multitask units to do several types of preparation simultaneously.
"With people spending more on their landscaping, they want to upgrade their outdoor cooking capabilities and entertainment areas. And people with pools are very much into this," he said.
DIANE AND JOHN MOCK transformed a small patio/garden area of their Wakefield Court home in the Belle Haven area of Mount Vernon District into an outdoor kitchen with a full capability grill, oven, refrigerator, bar and fireplace. "We have been very happy with it," they said.
"We had it put in during February of 2004 and the workmanship was exceptional. They were able to match the existing flagstone patio to extend its size as well as build the cooking area, bar and fireplace out of the same stone," they said. The workmanship defies the visitor to distinguish between the original and the added patio floor area.
"A number of builders throughout the Belle Haven area are copying the design. It really is like having a second kitchen and we have gotten a lot of use out of it," the couple said.
Extensive work was done in expanding the patio into the driveway area. A privacy wood fence was created to enclose trash receptacles. To highlight the area at night, there is concealed, indirect accent lighting under the bar along the seating area and spanning the cooking center.
"We got the various utilities from Bray and Scarf and then had them installed by an independent contractor following our design," the Mocks said. Their primary cooking element is a Viking, one of many on the market.
BELLE HAVEN NEIGHBORS of the Mocks, Patricia and Chip Callaway, also boast a outdoor kitchen. Theirs was created by Barbeques Galore. "We have a built-in outdoor rotisserie and grill plus a free-standing fireplace. We use it quite a bit," Patricia Callaway said.
Outdoor kitchens have become so popular they now command a page in the Neiman Marcus catalogue. Their "Thermador Barbecue Grill" is priced at $4,319 plus shipping, for an additional $405. A separate grill light goes for $40 and a "wine tower refrigerator" will add another $200.
The handcrafted grill features two foldable sure-lock prep shelves, three stainless steel double-shaped burners that can supply 20,000 BTUs per hour, smoker chamber, five-gallon tank, and natural gas conversion kit, according to the catalogue.
Don't forget the "Viking Apron" for another $60.
There are a variety of outdoor cooking manufacturers on the market as well as suppliers. Barbeques Galore offers products by Viking, Lynx, Grand Turbo and Turbo STS. They rely on the Baltimore, Md., firm of "Products by Chesapeake," according to Spradlin. "They will build the entire kitchen or the customer can use their own contractor and we'll supply the products," he said.
AS WITH INDOOR kitchens, other amenities are involved.
A variety of pre-packaged wood chips adds different flavors to what's being grilled or smoked. These include apple, cherry, hickory, mesquite, oak and pecan. They are just added to the heat element whether charcoal, gas or electric.
"Mesquite was actually a Texas weed that they were trying to get rid of by burning it off. In the process they discovered it gave a good flavor to certain foods. Now it's marketed instead of destroyed," Spradlin said.
One of the more inventive ways to add a different flavor and texture to the cuisine is to cook it on an "Alder trail grill plank." These wood planks are sold in packaged lots. The plank is soaked in water prior to use. The meat or fish is placed on the plank and then over the cooking element.
Other accessories include utensil sets in their own carrying case ranging from $30 to $70 each, silverware, non-breakable dishes in a variety of festive designs, decorated drinking glasses, and a seemingly unlimited variety of individual tools from grilling baskets, to kabob spikes, to the mandatory assortment of brushes to apply that "secret" sauce.
And what would any outdoor kitchen be without its special tables, chairs — regular and bar height — and umbrellas? Also available are roll-around refrigerators for $299, if one isn't built in. There are tall stainless steel heating stands to prolong the season into those cool autumn evenings.
For those that prefer other preparation methods than grilling there are smokers, powered by electric, gas or charcoal, ranging in price from $59 to $579. The latter is dubbed the "Big Green Egg" because of its shape and color. It is a combination smoker, grill and oven.
"More and more people seem to be cooking their holiday turkeys outside in rotisserie smokers. It has really increased in popularity. Particularly since you can add that special wood flavor," Spradlin said.
After all that, there is still the regular, tried and true, Weber charcoal grill. Which, of course can be accessorized with a rotisserie shell for preparing whole fowl. "Just set it and forget," he said.
Still too much? How about the small carry-around charcoal grill for $29.50. Think of it as a tailgate "outdoor kitchen."