Outdoor kitchens set the stage for al fresco gatherings

FRESH AIR APPROACH: Local broker associate Vivien Snyder says the so-called "Carolina kitchen" started gaining popularity about a decade ago. “Now they are more common, and some people have expectations of there being one in the properties they’re seeing," she says. Pictured is the outdoor kitchen of a home in Weaverville renovated by its former owner, Homer Adams. Photo by Leighton Grant

When it comes to luxury homes in the Asheville area, expectations are high: spacious master with a spa bath, en suite bedrooms, a chef kitchen, top-of-the-line appliances, high-end finishes, multiple fireplaces and panoramic views through expansive windows are must-haves on many checklists. According to Realtors with Beverly-Hanks who specialize in that demographic, homebuyers drawn to Asheville’s outdoor lifestyle are increasingly seeking something they may have left behind in their home state: a well-equipped outdoor kitchen.

Broker associate Cheryl Cenderelli knows that client base well. A native New Yorker who married a Californian, she also spent time in Florida before moving to Asheville 20 years ago. “Outdoor kitchens were very common in Florida and California,” she says. “When we built our house here on the ridge, we built a really nice outdoor kitchen, not as fancy as many you see in Florida, but a mountain version, more similar to what you’d see in Northern California.”

The kitchen she and her husband designed was part of an outdoor entertaining area geared to their family. “We had lots of recreation options, including badminton, horseshoes and short court basketball, the kitchen, a dining table, an outdoor fireplace and a fire pit we used to roast hot dogs and make s’mores,” she says. “It was all about outdoor living.”

The ‘Carolina kitchen’

Vivien Snyder, a residential broker associate, says that while Florida has long been a feeder state for the region, lately she is also seeing lots of transplants from Texas, California and Colorado, and they are seeking this amenity as well.

“I didn’t see the ‘Carolina kitchen,’ as many people call them, until about 10 years ago,” she says. “Now they are more common, and some people have expectations of there being one in the properties they’re seeing. At the least, they’re looking for a grill, sink, cooktop and refrigeration so that they can enjoy the full meal production outside. Men who cook especially prefer the outdoor kitchen.”

That was true of Homer Adams, who 10 years ago moved from Houston to Weaverville. He purchased an existing, 10-year-old home and, over the years, remodeled it to suit his love for entertaining.

“It was really a labor of love,” he says. “In fact, my contractor and I spent so much time together he became a personal friend.” His last renovation project, about three years ago, was the addition of an outdoor kitchen, for which he imported cedar from Oregon, bought high-end Magic Fire stainless steel equipment and installed an L-shaped bar and a fire pit. “Overall, it added about 400 square feet of party space,” he says. “My contractor and I decided to go all out because we believed that ultimately the outdoor kitchen would sell the house, and we were right.”

Cenderelli, who sold Adams’ home in June, agrees. “When I listed Homer’s house, I really featured the outdoor kitchen and outdoor area. His gas fire pit was very contemporary and lit with a switch. The L-shaped bar could accommodate stools so he could interact with his guests when he was cooking. The people who bought it are from Tampa, and they fell in love with it.’

Gathering space

Outdoor kitchens and expanded living spaces nestled in nature are not only an appealing stage for parties but ideal areas for casual family gatherings. Brian Houck, owner of Olde World Stone Crafts, is working on a project specifically intended as common space for extended family.

“The family lives next door to each other,” he explains. “A surgeon and his wife in one house and their son and his family next door. The parents’ home already had a gorgeous outdoor living space with a gazebo, but they wanted to add a kitchen and other elements to create more family space.”

Houck worked with his client to come up with a design that features recently poured concrete countertops that will include an electrically equipped backsplash. “I’m building stainless steel slide-out boxes for the propane, the grill, the side burner, garbage bins,” he says. “There’s the big stone-veneer fireplace and chimney, room for firewood and storage for summer-to-winter things. I’m making doors and mantelpieces with beautiful sycamore from Bee Tree Hardwoods. It’s over the top and a really fun project to work on.”

He also built his own outdoor kitchen, not with all the bells and whistles of his current project, but perfect for his family. “I have the skills to do it, but not the big budget,” he says.

Building an outdoor kitchen can be an accessible project even for the average DIYer on a budget, he says, although complex plans may call for expert help. He notes that besides masonry skills and knowledge, there are safety precautions to consider, like knowing not to build a chimney next to a house with vinyl siding, which will melt from the heat. But the outdoor kitchen-curious can get ideas for their own projects from local rock companies that have model fireplaces and chimneys on-site, and there are plenty of other options as well.

“Depending on your space and your budget, you can build something simple and basic,” he says. “It may not be pro style, but if it gets you outside to cook and be with family and friends, that’s the ultimate goal.”


“Rudimentary” is how Jeffrey Horner, brewer/owner of Brouwerij Cursus Keme, describes the outdoor cooking set-up at his year-old brewery at the terminus of Thompson Street. “We have a Weber grill, a stainless table, a reclaimed workbench, a two-door reach-in refrigerator, a three-compartment sink and a pop-up tent,” he says. “It is basically the under-$500 outdoor kitchen. The intent since we opened last summer was to rely on ourselves to provide the food and not on food trucks.”

Recently, a pop-up arrangement he had with two local chefs ended, but a simple menu of Chop House-sourced sausages sizzling over hardwoods remains. Currently open only Friday through Sunday, a larger brewhouse nearing completion will soon increase production to allow Brouwerij to expand beer service to seven days a week — and keep the grill fired up as well.

“I like the spirit of outdoor cooking,” Horner says. “It kind of embodies our approach to how we make beer in a unique and historically oriented method. Cooking over a live fire smells great, is fun to watch, Old World and kind of primal.”

Humans aren’t the only living creatures who appreciate an outdoor kitchen. Beverly-Hanks broker Nancy Witek’s al fresco setup overlooks Pisgah National Forest, and she says she occasionally gets visitors of the four-legged kind. “We sometimes see a squirrel or raccoon on the countertop,” she says with a laugh. “We also see bears, not on the countertops but lurking around. It’s no big deal — when you live in Asheville, you’re going to see bears.” You just don’t have to invite them for dinner.



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About Kay West
Kay West began her writing career in NYC, then was a freelance journalist in Nashville for more than 30 years, including contributing writer for the Nashville Scene, Nashville correspondent for People magazine, author of five books and mother of two happily launched grown-up kids. In 2019 she moved to Asheville and continued writing (minus Red Carpet coverage) with a focus on food, farming and hospitality. She is a die-hard NY Yankees fan.

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