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Kitchens Alfresco – It’s time to get cooking in the great outdoors!

by Karen Austin
Photo courtesy Viking AppliancesWhether you are roasting, grilling, sauteing or smoking, food somehow just tastes better being prepared out of doors.
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Have you fired up the barbecue grill yet? It’s that time of year when cooking moves outdoors. Blessed with warm, rain-free summers, Californians love to eat and socialize outside. On patios, decks and backyards, we easily extend our living space. Why not take that next step and create an outdoor kitchen? It’s a growing trend that is rapidly becoming the next big thing in home design.

When you are ready to make the leap from the kettle grill to something more refined, there are plenty of offerings to choose from. Manufacturers such as Viking, Dynasty, Weber, DCS (Dynamic Cooking Systems), Lynx, Thermador and Dacor all offer products that will make time spent cooking out of doors a real treat. From separate rolling cart barbecue grills (called freestanding) to elaborate built-in units, be prepared to pay from $400 for a small Weber on wheels to $5,000 and up for top-of-the-line grill units.

Custom kitchens can be designed and purchased to include working counter spaces, sinks, dishwashers, serving areas and additional appliances, all wrapped up in stucco, brick, rock, ceramic tile or even wood ” depending on how protected your new outdoor kitchen will be from the elements. Will it be housed against an outside wall, under a pergola or freestanding roof, or be under the big open sky?

You don’t have to travel far to shop for your outdoor kitchen products, either. Hasel Carter, owner of Foxfire in Grass Valley, showed me her large selection of cart-type barbecue grills and smokers. “I’m usually outside by our store’s front door most Saturdays barbecuing for our customers ” rain or shine,” Helen told me. “Come by and sample what we have in our smoker grill. You won’t believe the flavor, and all prepared without rubs, sauces or other flavorings ” just the distinctive flavor the wood smoke imparts.”

Grills For All Seasons in Penn Valley also showcases a wide selection of outdoor kitchen appliances and equipment, and offers separate burners, smokers, refrigeration and high-quality stainless sinks to use with your new grill. Owner Tom Goudie who worked in the restaurant business for many years in Southern California, has now found his bliss helping others create their dream outdoor kitchen here in the Sierra Foothills. “I cook outdoors year’ round at my home in Lake Wildwood,” Tom declared. “You just can’t create those flavors any other way.”

Most modern grills feature heavy-duty grates and burners designed with high BTUs to achieve the searing action so desirable in the grilling of a variety of meats. You can also opt for a slide-out smoker drawer that holds soaked wood chips ” creating special flavors to enhance and personalize your grilled meats.

Side burners (the same high quality as the ones indoors) are also available to conveniently simmer sauces, boil pasta or convert to wok cooking. These side burners can be placed right next to the grill. Most brands also offer sturdy rotisseries on their larger grills, both on the built-ins and the cart units.

To get you cooking quickly, some brands offer a battery ignition feature. With most grills, you can choose either natural or propane gas for the actual cooking, with electronic ignition and interior halogen lights available. Thermador’s Char-Glo line boasts a built-in temperature gauge located in the canopy lid. Below most of the freestanding grills there is room to house (and hide) a propane tank.

If you opt for a built-in barbecue unit, matching access doors can be placed below.

If you are really serious about smoked meats, you’ll need a full featured smoker, available in sizes as big as you need ” and then some. They cook with wood chunks or pellets and can be equipped with a programmable cooking system and thermostatic controls to take the guesswork out of smoking meats to perfection.

Many manufacturers offer companion appliances specifically made to be used outdoors along side their grills, completing the truly outdoor kitchen. You can purchase under-counter refrigerators, warming drawers (at poolside, great for warming beach towels!), ice makers, additional storage drawers and beer and beverage dispensers ” all available in stylish, heavy gauge stainless steel to withstand the outdoor weather. Some manufacturers make high output heaters you can install to extend the barbecue season into the cool fall evenings.



760 S. Auburn St.,

Grass Valley

Grills for All Seasons



Not sure what food goes with what wood when grilling or smoking?

Here’s how to match them up:

– Maple: Light and sweet, a great choice for poultry, ham or sausage

– Hickory: Gives a heavy, smoky flavor to beef, pork and game

– Alder: Its medium tart flavor is ideal for fish and game

– Mesquite: A light, smoke flavor makes it a good all-around choice for any meat, especially beef, lamb or pork


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