Home & Garden

A cooking backyard: Outdoors kitchen industry escapes recession

Recession? What recession?

For those whose livelihoods depend on designing, building and selling outdoor kitchen appliances, times are good ... very good.

"We haven't seen a slowdown at all," said Paul Denison, owner of Southlake, Texas, retailer BBQ Outfitters, which provides high-end outdoor kitchen appliances, design services and supplies to homeowners and general contractors. "Rather than selling in a down market, homeowners are remodeling and adding outdoor areas to extend their living space and enjoy their backyard patio and pool area year-round."

But don't think of today's outdoor kitchen as anything like your father's old kettle smoker, Styrofoam cooler and nylon-strung aluminum yard chairs. With built-in 56-inch grills featuring rotisseries, woks, pizza ovens, warming drawers and power burners, as well as glass-fronted refrigerators and wine cellars, today's backyard kitchen can run a princely sum.

"Prices for an outdoor kitchen range from modest to very substantial," said Ted Bilsky, outdoor living manager of Southlake-based Claffey Pools, who has worked with Denison in designing and installing numerous high-end outdoor kitchens for neighborhood clients. A simple outdoor setup can start as low as $10,000, but with increasing personalization (hand-built fireplaces, fully roofed cabanas with masonry columns and arches, arbors, architectural concrete and flagstone floors), prices can quickly rise to $40,000 for an average kitchen and $100,000 for gourmet dining and entertainment centers.

"Today's families are spending more time outside than in, so they want to give themselves the full experience," Bilsky says. "We've built two-story cabanas with fully functional bathrooms and pools with swim-up bars. It's all about bringing indoor style outside."

"Construction is the priciest element," said Denison, who adds that outdoor kitchen appliance sales make up 85 percent of his business. "We offer appliances to fit all budgets, but housing the appliances in a limestone-veneered bar with granite countertops, building ornate outdoor fireplaces and installing floor covering definitely adds to the budget. But by the same token, this is an extension of the house that will probably see a disproportionate share of use once it's built, and it also adds to the home's total value per square foot."

It makes sense to build with quality in mind, he said.

Will the outdoor kitchen boom continue? "We don't know," Denison admits. "But people are taking friends and family outdoors because of what's there. It's more relaxing, and relaxing causes relaxation. It's just good therapy, as well as a solid investment."