The Lake Country has become a hot spot for the latest designs in outdoor kitchens
story by LYNN HOBBS / photos by CASEY PARRISH
Whether it’s steaks, burgers, ribs, or your own special entrée, the backyard barbecue has always been a big hit and outdoor kitchens have taken it to a whole new level.
Forget the aggravation of running in and out of the house carrying food or to retrieve forgotten utensils; with an outdoor kitchen, everything is right there within easy reach while the conversation with guests never misses a beat.
Tom Curtis always wanted an outdoor kitchen. So, when he and his wife, Dana, bought a home in Reynolds a few years ago, they had one added beside the back patio. Right beside the swimming pool and a few steps from their dock and the lake, the open-air kitchen is the perfect place for everyone to hangout when their big family comes to visit.
“We are having a big family reunion on July 4th, so we will crank it up and use it a lot that week,” Dana said, noting the cozy space is also where they enjoy having their 5 o’clock cocktails.
Before having the kitchen, which was designed and installed by Fireside Outdoor Kitchens and Grills, the couple’s outdoor cooking capabilities were limited to their Big Green Egg grill. That Egg is built into their outdoor kitchen now, along with an Evo flattop grill, a Twin Eagles Power Burner, a Fontana Forni Toscano Pizza Oven, an ice maker and several True refrigerators, a bar sink and a large, deep sink, Naturekast cabinets and plenty of soapstone-like countertops. Everything in the kitchen is made for outdoors.
“The pizza oven is probably our most-used and most fun piece of equipment,” Dana said, explaining the oven works like a wood-burning stove.
The pizza oven came in handy a couple of years ago when members of Dana’s big family came from all over the country and rented houses at Reynolds for a large family reunion.
“We hosted a big pizza party and made a lot of pizzas,” she said. “The pizza oven cooks them really fast; and with the refrigeration we have, we could just take everything out there and we could roll all the pizza dough out on the big countertops. It was a lot of fun.”
Dana and Tom have made many pizzas in their backyard since then, she said, describing her tastes as “simple” when telling her favorite pizza to make is “a margherita style with good, fresh tomatoes and mozzarella.”
They also like to cook a good Low Country Boil on the Twin Eagles Power Burner, she said.
The flattop grill is a personal favorite of Greig McCully, president of Fireside Outdoor Kitchens. Rubbing the palm of his hand over the smooth surface in the Curtis’ outdoor kitchen, Greig likened cooking on the large flattop to cooking on a cast iron skillet with two burners built into it.
“This one will cook about 30 hamburgers at one time,” he noted; “and the grease runs out in every direction (into the drip pan) when it’s heated. Plus it’s only about 4-inches tall, so it doesn’t obstruct the view of the person who’s cooking, like a traditional grill,” he added, referring to the hinged lid of a traditional grill compared to the removable dome lid of the flattop.
With more than 10 years’ experience designing outdoor kitchens, Greig was a mine of information on the subject. He started out years ago, while in the medical business at the time, as a “backyard carpenter” for his own family and friends. After building a table for his Big Green Egg, he decided to open his own business, and Fireside Outdoor Kitchens and Grills was born and he soon became an expert. Located in Augusta, Fireside has created 75-80 outdoor kitchens in the Lake Oconee area, and about a dozen more at homes on Lake Sinclair, Greig said. He estimated they’ve done about 1,500 in the Southeastern U.S.
Outdoor kitchens used to be a stack stone grill or fireplace, but now they have every function of an indoor kitchen, he explained. Materials have changed a lot over the years that he’s been in business, the outdoor kitchen designer said, holding up a piece of the cabinetry for inspection. The material looked like wood with a gray stain, but was a marine-grade composite of materials Greig likened to PVC, resin and plastic.
“This material can last for years in any kind of weather and is not a fire hazard like wood is,” he explained, pointing out that the appliances in the Curtis’s kitchen would last 10-15 years without any trouble, also.
One of the newer popular additions people with outdoor kitchens are getting is an outdoor heater. The infrared heaters make the temperature around it about 15 degrees warmer, so people can stay outdoors a few hours longer on Georgia’s mild winter nights, Greig said.
Fireside does not carry any “cookie cutter” kitchens, because “people want what they want, so we let them customize it.” The actual design and decision process takes some people quite a while, but once it’s ordered, turnaround time is around 90 days.
Price depends on the customer’s tastes and budget, he explained, saying he’s done them for anywhere from $4,000 to $400,000.
Whether you’re a do-it-yourselfer making a table to go beside your grill, or buying something simple like a fire pit with a table built around it, or going all-out and getting a full-service kitchen with seating for your guests, Greig emphasized the importance of doing your homework and focusing on the materials used.
“I’ve seen people use the wrong materials too often, and I see beautiful projects that are not going to last or are going to be a fire hazard,” he said. “Do your homework. A really good builder will build one that’s going to catch on fire. The problem is there are no codes for outdoor kitchens. So, no matter who is doing the work, focus on doing it safely.”