Services of Mukwonago built this outdoor kitchen for a client.
In a state famous for beer and brats
(and long winters), we’re pretty passionate about our cookouts come
summer. What used to be the humble charcoal grill for a backyard bash
has morphed into some pretty spectacular outdoor kitchens, equipped
with luxurious add-ons. Setups have surpassed the lone grill to
include wine chillers, cocktail stations and cabinets — even granite
counter tops. They’re the equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife — you’ve
got everything you need in one convenient location.
Although summers are shorter in
Wisconsin, people tend to take advantage of the outdoors as much as
they can, making outdoor kitchens just as useful here as in warmer
climates, according to Kelly Rigdon, president of Kennedy-Hahn.
Indeed, manufacturers and southeastern
Wisconsin businesses have taken notice of the outdoor kitchen trend.
Bret Achtenhagen, president of Seasonal Services in Mukwonago, says
their outdoor kitchen business has increased in the last couple of
years. The business now sees about five or more outdoor kitchen
requests per year. He points to an increase in home gatherings.
"People entertain in their
backyards more," says Achtenhagen. "I think there’s a
tremendous increase in outdoor entertaining."
Rigdon says that Kennedy-Hahn just
started carrying many of the outdoor entertaining products in March,
like cocktail stations and outdoor cabinets, due to popular demand.
"We get a tremendous amount of
interest in these products," he says.
Kris Zimmer, manager of Oconomowoc’s
On The Deck agrees. "People aren’t traveling as much, and many
aren’t traveling because of gas costs or the price of airline
tickets. They’re investing more in their homes and really enjoying
it, and entertaining more at home."
Tools of the Trade
Bob Radtke of Milwaukee can tell you
what he wanted in his outdoor kitchen: "Fire," he says
jokingly, referring to the large Weber seven-burner grill and smoker
he had installed, along with a large wood-burning fireplace.
The main attraction in Radtke’s
backyard is the tumbled limestone island topped with granite counter
tops. Built in is the Weber grill, and underneath, a wine
chiller/refrigerator. A large wood-burning fireplace is in another
corner of the patio, along with a dining area and propane heater to
keep guests warm on chilly nights.
"At our house we like to
entertain, have friends over and dine out there," he says.
"We wanted something that gave us a lot of counter space and was
versatile enough to have people dine outside. It’s really for
entertainment and functionality."
Radtke’s experience is exactly what
homeowners want in an outdoor kitchen: convenience and flexibility.
"The trend is to have a downsized
version of your kitchen outside. If you remember grilling and having
picnics at home, all of that hauling, cleanup is not convenient. It’s
really a convenience issue," says Achtenhagen.
Outdoor kitchen setups will typically
include a main component with a space to drop in the grill or cook
top. After that, it’s up to the customer what they’d like in their
custom setup. Such amenities may include a cocktail station/side
burner, stainless steel cabinets, refrigerated drawers, wine chiller
— even a wet/dry bar.
Rigdon points out many customers like a
modular design for the main component, which allows for customization.
"If you want an L-shape, you can
do that. If you want to create an island, or a cocktail area, you can
do that. "You can create that space specific to what you want to
do; it’s flexible," he says.
Lap of Luxury
With high-end materials like granite,
quartz, limestone and Corian counter tops and stainless steel
appliances, outdoor entertaining has stepped up to compare to indoor
kitchens, but with tough-weather standards. Perlick refrigeration
systems (they designed the Miller beer taps at Miller Park) have
heavy-duty glass doors. Kennedy-Hahn sells Danver marine-grade steel
cabinets that have a stainless-steel outdoor finish to stand up to the
rigors of temperature extremes. Appliances and counter tops for the
most part are easily cleaned with a pressure washer, stainless steel
cleaner or plain old elbow grease.
Along with appliances, outdoor
furniture for dining and lounging areas are low-maintenance, too.
"Low maintenance is key,"
says Zimmer. "The season is short, so people don’t want to
worry about that, so a lot of products we carry are maintenance-free.
They’re mostly aluminum, wrought iron and outdoor fabrics for
To up the convenience factor even more,
Kennedy-Hahn even carries a line of Solaire infrared grills that heat
up in 3 minutes, even when it’s 20 below outside, says Rigdon. On
the opposite end, Achtenhagen sells Frigidaire, Perlick and Thermador
refrigeration systems, all of which are specifically designed for
"The refrigeration units are
usually built into a masonry island. We then craft openings to slide
the appliance in, so the appliances are protected and out of the
elements," adds Achtenhagen.
So how do you start on construction of
your own outdoor kitchen?
"Check out and search a couple of
companies first. Don’t rush the project and plan ahead, because it’s
really a process," says Radtke.
Radtke used friends’ recommendations
to purchase his Weber grill from On The Deck and used Terra Firma, a
landscaping company in Muskego, for the masonry and patio landscaping.
Interested homeowners will want to sit
down and plan their outdoor kitchen with an experienced company,
because most are custom-made. Radtke consulted with a couple of
companies before deciding on Terra Firma, mainly because Terra Firma
understood the limitations of his compact Milwaukee lot and worked
Homeowners need to determine their
needs for an outdoor kitchen. How much space do you have? How much
money would you like to spend (custom-made projects can be pricy)?
Would you like to keep cold foods outside? Would you need a wet
bar/condiment station or warming drawers to keep food warm while you
grill? And the list goes on.
If you do decide to install an outdoor
kitchen, all of your cooking needs will literally be at your
fingertips — a major bonus for a relaxing and fun outdoor gathering.
Radtke wholeheartedly agrees: "It’s unbelievable and worth
every penny. Everybody that comes over just adores it and really loves
it. It’s better than I thought."