By Stan Hanel
Luxury homebuilders often team with landscape architects to create gathering places that can seamlessly move a party outside, while still retaining comfort during both hot and cold seasons.
Outdoor kitchens have become a hub for this desert lifestyle. An outdoor cooking island is a sculpture of industrial art and a robust, weatherized food preparation center.
Modern outdoor kitchens are fabricated with concrete, finished stonework and wood. Embedded stainless steel appliances are molded into a wide array of hospitality features.
Most custom designs start with the hooded grill, the rock of the cooking and entertainment complex. The grill’s fuel sources will determine the type of cooking and resulting taste sensations, whether using propane tanks, piped natural gas, charcoal, wood, fuel pellets or electricity. The cooking tools for the host should be within ready reach, making it easy for a chef to transform raw meats, fruits and vegetables into a feast for the senses.
The bar is next. Food preparation and beverage creation usually require an integrated sink, refrigerator and multiple electrical outlets for appliances that can blend drinks and sauces. The bar section should include stainless steel cabinets and drawers for storage, and countertops and cutting blocks for staging ingredients. Extend the countertop area farther to create a dining space with surrounding stone tops and comfortable stools. The bar section should allow guests to interact with their hosts while sharing the food transformation experience.
Additional seating and dining areas may be located nearby the outdoor kitchen. These outdoor gathering spaces can be covered by a gazebo, a foldable umbrella, drop-down screens or a rooftop overhang that provide a protective barrier from changing desert weather. Accessory fans and misting units can help circulate air and moisture during hot summer months while radiant heaters, fire pits and fire tables can bring warmth to a chilly desert night.
Specialty cooking appliances enhance the versatility of the cooking space. Some examples are a Kamado smoker/grill, griddle, side burners, hot dog rotisseries, ice cream makes, kegerator, popcorn popper and even a wood-fired pizza oven.
Solar ovens that absorb direct sunlight to produce internal heat may soon find a niche use for outdoor cooking in the desert sun while not consuming electricity, natural gas, wood or other fuels.
GoSun makes a series of double-walled evacuated glass tubes that function as solar cookers to trap infrared rays inside a copper-coated cylindrical chamber. The glass tube is mounted on a foldable stand and is surrounded by curved aluminum reflectors that are adjustable to align with the moving sun. Internal cooking temperatures can reach 500 degrees from direct and reflected sunlight. A variety of meats, vegetables, pasta, rice, quick breads and other staples can be loaded into a long aluminum tray with a wooden handle that slides inside the evacuated glass tube.
Galaxy Outdoor Kitchens at 4425 Dean Martin Drive in Las Vegas has offered innovative design options to its customers for 30 years. The company showroom feels like an automotive performance shop, jammed full of glistening industrial art from multiple vendors that are made from stainless steel, granite, porcelain, ceramics, decorative glass, concrete and wood.
There are plenty of spare parts and cooking supplies on hand in different corners of the store, including big replacement knobs for grills and ovens, threaded plumbing fixtures, wood-based fuels, cooking utensils, an array of barbecue spices and lots of accessories.
“The company started because I wanted an outdoor kitchen for myself,” said Bruce Spangrud, owner and founder of Galaxy Outdoor. “Our company is the only one in the area to offer a lifetime warranty. We just reached 40,000 outdoor kitchen installations, recently.”
Designer Alejandro Oliva is available behind the central counter area with a CAD graphics workstation to help customers visualize how their choices of outdoor kitchen appliances can be integrated into their selections of cabinetry, access drawers, sinks and countertops. On-site consultations can be added, after a client has viewed initial design options inside the company showroom.
“Our job is to ask the right questions and come up with the right answers so that the customer is happy with the final purchase,” Spangrud said.
Custom outdoor kitchens can be designed into a variety of shapes to fit an outside patio space: rectangular, L-shaped, V-shaped, circular, curvy or even serpentine. Galaxy Outdoor kitchens are built on welded steel frameworks with a minimum of fasteners.
PermaBase concrete boards wrap around kitchen islands and can receive multiple types of finishing materials that include granite, tile, stacked stone, stucco and bamboo siding. Porcelain slabs are also becoming more popular in outdoor countertop designs. A separate showroom within the store has samples of different finishing materials for customers to consider.
Galaxy Outdoor maintains a network of recommended local contractors who can implement the company’s custom outdoor designs and integrate plumbing for water and natural gas, electrical wiring for air-conditioning outlets, lighting, audio/video components, and other external connections.
Outdoor kitchen installations are coordinated through General Manager Chris Hewitt. A project can take from four to six weeks, depending on size and complexity. Costs for custom outdoor kitchens normally range from $8,000 to $60,000.
Michael Gardner, owner of studio g Architecture and Luxus Design Build, created The New American Home of 2023 within the Ascaya community of Henderson. The showcase home was an integrated exhibit for the International Builders’ Show that convened at the Las Vegas Convention Center during February.
Gardner’s design approach to an outdoor kitchen extended the second-floor balcony overhang and the sidewalls of the living room area into the patio and pool area. The indoor living room merges with the outdoor recreational space through glass panel doors.
One sidewall integrates a fireplace feature while the other sidewall houses a Brown Jordan outdoor kitchen and island bar. Stainless steel appliances contrast against organic wood and stone materials that blend with the Ascaya terrain and landscapes. Comfortable lounge furniture, a serving table and chairs fill the center space where guests can gaze out across an infinity-edge pool to a panoramic view of the Las Vegas Valley below.
“You’ve got to look at all the systems of a home, collectively,” Gardner said. “How do they all inter-relate? Look at the systems as a whole and balance the components, while building responsibly to the climate you are in.”
Dennis Vang of Vangson Consulting is a top-rated landscape architect who has designed outdoor kitchen features for luxury homes in The Ridges and Summit communities of Summerlin.
He starts by talking with his clients about their lifestyles and aspirations, helping them make decisions about the location and functionality of each custom kitchen component.
“How do people entertain, how do they cook, what type of foods do they prefer?” Vang asked. “A sink may not be needed in a bar island if the outdoor kitchen is located closer to the home. A chef should be facing his guests, not have his back to them or on the side when cooking. The flow of the design of the prep area, cooking area and beverage area can make the outdoor kitchen space more interactive for everyone.”
Some of the cooking trends that Vang has noted are the inclusion of flat burners or griddles for bacon and eggs, wood-pellet smokers for meat curing, and Parrilla grills with hand-cranked elevating platforms. Raw foods on mesh trays in the Parrilla grill can be lowered close to the flames of the wood fire below.
Vang graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas after studying landscape architecture more than 20 years ago. He has watched his business grow alongside the development of master-planned luxury communities within the region.
Ozzie Kraft Enterprises Inc. has been installing outdoor pools and patio features in Las Vegas since 1942. The company crafted some of the original fountains at Caesars Palace and unique swimming pool designs for luxury homeowners. When working with a general architect or a landscape architect on a luxury home, Ozzie Kraft designers have sometimes integrated custom kitchen facilities into the company’s waterscapes.
“The outdoor kitchen design will often share the same modern lines as the home’s architecture,” said Terence Thornton, waterscape designer and project manager at Ozzie Kraft. “Natural stone countertops with waterfall edges are popular for both indoor and outdoor kitchens, creating a seamless connection.”
“Outdoor kitchens may also include the same entertainment media that are found inside the home, such as integrated audio, TV and video systems,” Thornton said.
Granddad’s backyard barbecue station has exploded in size and functionality during the modern age, since the time when Ozzie Kraft first built his outdoor pools and patios more than 80 years ago.