2000s Archive

The Sheltering Sky

Originally Published June 2002
In pursuit of the grilling life, home cooks are moving everything—including the kitchen sink—outdoors.

Once, all that was needed for a backyard cookout was an open pit, a grate of some sort, and a few logs. Then, in the 1950s, along came George Stephen with the Weber barbecue kettle—an instant success that turned a rustic cooking technique into a nationwide suburban pastime. Given the high-tech treatment that grilling equipment has received since then, it's no surprise that the next step has been to move fully functional kitchens outside. Thanks to the introduction of high-end weatherproof cooking appliances, it's now possible for refrigerators, ranges, stainless-steel sinks, wood-burning ovens, and professional grills fueled by piped-in natural gas to live outdoors permanently.

When open-air kitchens appeared a couple of years back they were something of a novelty, but today they've become standard equipment in many warm-climate homes. Jack Chandler, of Jack Chandler & Associates, designed this cinder-block-and-plaster outdoor kitchen for a Napa Valley family. Their requirements were simple: It should be consistent with the existing architecture of their house (which leans toward southwestern) and should also be a fun (and sensible) space for parties. Chandler gave the kitchen a rustic edge by using redwood timbers for the open-air roof, slabs of concrete for the paving, and Mexican tile for the countertops. The living room, complete with a wood-burning fireplace for chilly nights, is a great place to lounge when dinner is over. It just goes to show that when it comes to outdoor entertaining, the sky's the limit.

1. Designer Jack Chandler set the "Medio" wood-burning Tuscan clay oven on a concrete slab and encased it in a conical cinder-block-and-plaster structure suggestive of Santa Fe. Though the oven is primarily used for pizza, it's also perfect for baking crusty breads and imparts a smoky flavor to roasted chicken and meat. $3,450, from Mugnaini Imports (888-887-7206) .

2. This stainless-steel sink with a gooseneck faucet is outdoor-approved and handy for filling pots, cleaning vegetables, washing utensils, and general cleanup. Around $250 for the sink and $200 for the faucet, from Elkay (elkay.com) .

3. Wolf's 36-inch stainless-steel grill is equipped with a rotisserie and a stainless-steel storage unit below. The dual rangetop burners enable the Napa Valley owners to prepare pasta and sauces while meat cooks on the grill. $4,200, from Wolf (800-332-9513) .

4. Sub-Zero's No. 245 stainless-steel refrigerator fits neatly under the Mexican-tile counter and has plenty of room for chilling wine, soda, and beer. The automatic icemaker eliminates trips inside to the freezer. $1,800, from Sub-Zero (800-222-7820) .

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