Since the basic backyard barbecue began evolving into the outdoor kitchen, the trend has only grown. Some of today’s outdoor cooking areas can seem almost like full kitchens, with more appliances and food prep space. Even walls, ceilings and TVs.

“It’s not just where you prepare the food. It’s where people gather,” says HGTV’s Vern Yip. “Just as the kitchens inside of our homes are kind of the center of energy at a party or gathering, the outdoor kitchen really has become that as well.”

This trend “used to be limited to the upper end of the market,” Yip says. But today “even the middle portion of the market is embracing it.”

Josu Gaubeka, founder and design director at La Cuisine Appliances, based in Miami, agrees: At all price ranges, he sees homeowners doing more outdoor cooking throughout the year.

One goal is better health — you’re not frying with oil if you’re outside grilling, or even using an outdoor oven, Gaubeka notes.

We’ve asked Yip, Gaubeka and New York-based designer Brett Beldock for advice on what’s trending in outdoor kitchens, and how you can create one even on a relatively modest budget.

SINK AND STORAGE

Many homeowners begin by installing “a small island made of concrete or synthetic material,” says Gaubeka. These are usually built around a grill and offer counter space for food prep, plus the option of adding other conveniences.

Among the most popular: a small outdoor sink that’s hooked up to the outdoor water system by hose, and a small refrigerator. Having these basics outside cuts down on trips into the house during cooking and entertaining.

Prices vary widely: “You can buy all those elements for $1,200 if you’d like,” Gaubeka says. Or you could spend $1,200 or more on the grill alone.

For those considering a larger investment, Yip points out that a built-in outdoor kitchen adds monetary value to a home.

COOKING BEYOND THE GRILL

Another trend Gaubeka sees at a range of costs: adding a brick pizza oven or gas-fired pizza oven that can be used for much more than pizzas.

“You can bake outside or you can actually sear a thick piece of meat,” he says. While indoor ovens generally reach 550 degrees Fahrenheit, outdoor pizza ovens can reach 700 or 800.

Beldock says a fire pit can also be a fun place to cook “anything from s’mores to hamburgers.”

More than a canopy

To make a backyard cooking area feel even more like a kitchen, Yip recommends covering it with something more permanent than a canopy.

“A permanent roof structure is a much better way to go because it allows you to use that room during more times of the year,” he says. “It also helps protect your investment.”

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