(Family Features)--If your idea of enjoying the great outdoors is relaxing on your deck with a tasty beverage while the grill heats up, you're in good company.
"The alfresco movement is transforming backyards across the country as homeowners create outdoor kitchens that finally live up to their name," says backyard design expert Paul Lafrance of HGTV's "Decked Out" series. "If you count yourself among the homeowners ready to undertake a deck upgrade, integrating interior kitchen ideas into your outdoor living space is a sure-fire way to bring fun, function and added value to your home."
In fact, an outdoor kitchen project can provide homeowners up to a 130 percent return on their initial investment, according to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. To help you cook up plans for an outdoor kitchen that truly sizzles, Lafrance suggests the following tips.
Start from the ground up
A show-stopping outdoor kitchen needs a quality stage that can stand up to heavy foot traffic and everyday kitchen mishaps such as dropped utensils or spilled sauces. High-performance, wood-alternative decking is durable and easy-to-maintain – just a simple soap and water cleaning can take care of any common party foul.
"For me, composite decking is a no-brainer,” Lafrance says. “It delivers the natural aesthetic of wood without the back-breaking and time-consuming upkeep, so outdoor chefs can focus on what they love most – preparing delicious meals and entertaining guests."
Think beyond the grill
While outdoor cooking once meant a basic grill and a bag of charcoal, today's outdoor kitchens are more elaborate and equipped than ever, featuring a range of appliances including professional-grade cooktops, refrigerators, sinks and dishwashers, as well as specialty features like brick ovens and fully stocked bars. Grills, too, have been upgraded to handle more than steaks and burgers – think whole turkeys, smoked meats and rotisseries. Your appliances will determine the outdoor kitchen dimensions, so consider how the appliances you want will fit within your design.
Factor in function
Plan for adequate storage to eliminate back-and-forth trips inside your house. From pull-out trash bins to hidden ice chests for chilled drinks, the Trex Outdoor Kitchens collection features cabinetry that blends interior style with durability to withstand the elements.
"You can even get customized cabinets for televisions and entertainment systems, along with sink and grill bases designed to hide plumbing and propane hook-ups while also providing extra drawers," Lafrance said.
Shine some light
Double the time spent enjoying your outdoor kitchen by installing adequate lighting for cooking and entertaining well after sundown. For safety measures, put task lighting over countertops used for slicing and dicing, as well as near stovetops and other appliances that use heat or flame. To set an understated, sophisticated mood, add ambient lighting where your family and guests will wine and dine.
To welcome and accommodate your guests, your outdoor kitchen should be inviting and have ample seating and bar areas. For added comfort, integrate interior-inspired accents like decorative cushions and pillows made of weather-resistant materials. Additionally, your outdoor kitchen should incorporate sufficient counter space not only for food prep and serving, but also for creating a communal environment so guests can chat with the chef.
Published with permission from RISMedia.