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At Home with Marni Jameson: Outdoor kitchens are hot trend

Americans are bumbling their way out of the Great Recession and splurging a little again, and TV cooks have turned former hot dog and hamburger grillers into tandoor oven chefs.
By Marni Jameson Published: May 3, 2014
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At my house, I cook pretty much for one reason. I get hungry. If I didn’t need to eat, and didn’t actually like to eat, I would turn my kitchen into something more interesting like an ice rink or a sky diving arena or a petting zoo, which would all be way more fun than a place to toss salad.

Apparently, I’m a minority of one. Across America, kitchens are the spaces where home improvers get the most carried away. By far. So much so that having one fabulous indoor kitchen isn’t enough anymore.

People are creating serious — I mean restaurant-quality serious — kitchens outside. They have everything built in but waiters.

Now, some of you may recall, I have had homes in my past that had fancy outdoor cooking areas with men who could use them. But in my current single living situation, it’s just me and my George Foreman Grill.

George and I get along pretty well, as couples go, although, he can move a little faster than I like, and he only has two temperatures, on or off. But he’s at home indoors and out, is portable, remarkably reliable, low maintenance and he cleans up well.

I am grateful for George. I am also grateful for my friends, who fortunately, also like to eat, so we have a lot in common. Even better, some like to cook, I mean seriously cook, as in make bacon from scratch.

What’s more, they like to share their mad cooking skills with me. When they do, I salivate so much I put the dogs to shame. And they still invite me back. Maybe it’s out of pity. I mean, they know about me and George.

These friends also have amazing outdoor kitchens and eating areas, which just keep getting better, I’ve noticed. They’re sprouting pizza ovens.

To find out what was up with that, I called Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, partly because the name is just so fun to say, but also because the Chicago-based company (Yes, they know Kalamazoo is in Michigan.) has been designing, equipping and building outdoor kitchens all over the country.

Russ Faulk, vice president of design, confirmed that the trend toward building or expanding outdoor kitchens is not just my imagination.

Two factors are behind this, he said: Americans are bumbling their way out of the Great Recession and splurging a little again, and TV cooks have turned former hot dog and hamburger grillers into tandoor oven chefs.

Let’s pause here to give two seconds of thanks to Rachael Ray, Emeril and Bobby Flay.

Faulk’s company normally does the bulk of its business between April and June, he said, and this season is already strong. If you, too, want to get your outdoor cooking and dining space warm-weather ready, consider these tips from Faulk:

• The heart of the kitchen. At a minimum, an outdoor kitchen has a grill, the heart of the space, and a working counter area. Among houses that have grills, 69 percent are gas, 47 percent charcoal, and 7 percent are electric (like George), according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association. Trending up are hybrid grills, which offer home chefs the option of cooking with gas or charcoal, says Faulk.

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