The popularity of the full-blown outdoor kitchen is growing -- we're talking cabinets, sinks, refrigeration and counter space, maybe even an herb garden thrown in on the side.
"An outdoor kitchen is all about being easy to clean and durable; it needs to be easy to live with," said Russ Faulk, vice president of product development for Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet of Chicago.
That means, Faulk said, durable counters made from materials like soapstone or granite, watertight cabinets and outdoor-rated appliances. A good-size outdoor kitchen is about the same size as a small indoor kitchen, maybe "60-square-feet as long as you're not trying to put everything available" into it.
Faulk, whose company tends to work with the higher end of the market, says more and more outdoor kitchens are being turned into all-weather facilities with roofs and rolling screens. Adding a roof makes it easier to install adequate lighting and a ceiling fan to discourage bugs.
But isn't that cheating?
"It's all part of making sure you've got a good kitchen design plan," Faulk said. "You can do anything outside you can do inside."
Well, almost anything. An outdoor dishwasher is not yet available but Faulk said that's likely coming.
"People who want to entertain outdoors want to make it as elegant as they do indoors. We're talking china. Lugging the dirty dishes back into the house is just not convenient," he said.
Faulk has worked on some elaborate setups, including a 14-foot-by-20-foot space that included two cooktops, two sinks and recycling cabinets. Among the strangest requests he received was for inclusion of an under-the-counter fireplace.
"It was a difficult thing to discuss with them," he said. "It was decorative but unobtrusive. It was enclosed in glass, so there wasn't a safety issue. But they were just trying to cram so much into limited space."
New construction is being built with outdoor entertaining in mind, complete with utility links that allow homeowners to expand the living area.
"People are looking at their backyards as a resort," Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet spokesman Chris Mordi said. "They're not spending money on vacations, they're not spending on eating out and they're not spending on taking other people out."
For those without the funds to build a full kitchen, the backyard barbecue island is an alternative. Do-it-yourself kits are available and BBQIslands.org provides homeowners with advice as does werever.com, which sells weatherproof cabinetry.