This weekend signals the beginning of the summer season – even if the weather isn’t necessarily cooperating. In some places. It still might a little cool for shorts, tee-shirts, and flip-flops. In other areas, it is raining or otherwise unsuitable for gathering outside. Still, the Memorial Day weekend – in addition to it being a somber occasion during which we remember all of the sacrifices of our veterans (especially the fallen ones) for securing and defending our liberties and freedoms – is the traditional start of the summer season. It last until Labor Day – an outdoor, play-in-the-sun season that is bookended by two three-day weekends (Memorial Day and Labor Day).
Driving by a couple of home center stores today, it was remarkable the number of barbecue grills that were being paraded out of the doors. It was if today was the last day they could be purchased. They definitely were being removed from the stores and being loaded in cars and trucks at a very steady pace. Clearly, preparations are in full-swing for a season of outdoor cooking – whether these are first-time grill owners or experienced ones replacing a previous grill with a new one. Some might even be acquiring a second or third one for a larger capacity experience.
This fascination (may too strong of a term?), or certainly fondness, for outdoor cooking – in the backyard, on the patio, on the porch, or in the driveway – goes back centuries to when we used to cook over a campfire or open flame. Many would argue that the food simply tastes better this way. Also, it takes the heat out of the kitchen and keeps it outdoors. In fact, many homes in this country used to have formal summer kitchens where the cooking was done away from the main house and then served outdoors or inside once it had been prepared.
This weekend marks the general time of the year when outdoor cooking begins in earnest. It never goes completely out-of-style except those days when there is ice, snow, heavy rain, wind, or other inclement conditions. Cold weather doesn’t even seem to be that much of a deterrent for outdoor cooking – just the outdoor eating that goes along with it.
Most outdoor cooking takes the form of charcoal or gas grilling or barbecuing on a portable grill. Most people don’t have anything more elaborate than just their grill. There are many more accessories that be included, however.
Knowing how Americans like outdoor cooking – for the aroma of the food being cooked, the smell of the wood smoke when hardwoods (like oak, pecan, hickory, or maple, for instance) are being used, for the social aspects of friends and family gathering while the meal is being cooked, and for the taste of the food that can’t be matched in an oven or cooktop -providing facilities for outdoor grilling, barbecuing, and smoking is something we should condition as part of our aging in place or universal design projects.
As aging in place professionals, we can and should factor this concept of outdoor entertaining and cooking into our designs and solutions. We aren’t limited to addressing just the inside of a dwelling. The outdoors are important, too, such as the back porch, patio, or summer kitchen area. There are many people who have an informal outdoor kitchen or food preparation area who would like to have a more formal or substantial statement that they can make for their family and neighbors.
Outdoor kitchens or cooking areas (also known as summer kitchens) can be very simple and inexpensive to quite elaborate and high-end. The simpler designs have just a barbecue grill by itself with little to no accompanying cabinetry, furniture, or other appliances. The most elaborate ones have covered roofs, luxury seating, full kitchens (grill, separate smoker, refrigerator, pizza oven, microwave, dishwasher, and sink), and a full complement of cabinets. Some have islands with space around them for eating and drinking.
Whether people are interested in using the outdoor cooking and eating space just for themselves and their households, or they want to invite the neighborhood in or schedule larger parties, providing an outdoor or summer kitchen area for them definitely is part of our overall aging in place design.
There may be higher priorities to address elsewhere in the home, but when we can, we should design and include outdoor cooking spaces for our clients.