Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July – the season for outdoor entertaining is upon us. Bags of charcoal will flow, barbecue flames will leap and meats will sizzle as outdoor cooking heats up this month and blazes through the summer.

Outdoor cooking has become an all-American pastime. According to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, 75 percent of U.S. adults own a grill or smoker. No doubt this popularity stems from the simple fact that many people prefer the flavor of foods that are grilled or smoked – types of cooking you can’t typically do indoors. And, of course, people enjoy the ambiance of al fresco food prep and dining.

For many homeowners, outdoor cooking has gone beyond the basic barbecue. For some, the art of outdoor grilling has become a passion. Along with this passion, the simple barbecue has been replaced by something much more substantial: the outdoor kitchen.

Outdoor kitchens run the gamut, from simple and utilitarian to palatial. Some are small brick edifices with a grill in the center. Others are stone and stainless steel cooking centers that include countertop, cabinets, sink, gas cooktop, refrigerator, dishwasher and more. Some even incorporate a smoker, fryer or pizza oven.

Custom Outdoor Kitchens

A custom outdoor kitchen is designed and built as a permanent improvement to the yard. It typically has a tall masonry base that sits on a solid, steel-reinforced concrete footing. The base holds cabinetry and may include appliances such as a mini-refrigerator. A countertop caps the base, and a barbecue grill drops into the counter.

Custom outdoor kitchens are constructed from very durable, weather-resistant materials such as stainless steel, brick, stone, tile and stucco. The design possibilities for these kitchens are limited only by your budget. You can create almost any size and shape, and specify any of many amenities and materials.

Some custom outdoor kitchens are designed by landscape architects or kitchen designers. Others are designed and built by a mason or landscape contractor. Because of the complexity of design and construction, expect at least 3 to 4 weeks from design to completion. Cost of a custom outdoor kitchen can run from $2,000 to $10,000, or much more for a fully decked-out masterpiece.

Modern outdoor living:Custom masonry barbecues should be designed according to building code requirementswith consideration of zoning and property-line setbacks. Though masonry work may not require permits, electrical and plumbing work usually do.

The best working height for a countertop is 36 inches high. For serving or a bar where people sit and eat, figure a height of 42 inches. Typical minimum countertop depth is 24 inches – this allows enough space for sinks, dishwashers and mini-refrigerators.

Prefabricated Outdoor Kitchens

Prefabricated modular outdoor kitchens are less permanent than custom outdoor kitchens. In fact, some types can be disassembled and moved if you sell your house. Many styles and configurations are available, priced from $500 to more than $8,000.

At the minimum, prefab units generally include a grill, countertop and some durable outdoor cabinets. At most, they are complete cooking centers crafted from elegant materials and designed to include a refrigerator or other appliances.

Prefab modular outdoor kitchens are sold through specialty manufacturers and large home improvement centers. You can find them online by searching “prefabricated outdoor kitchen.” Many are designed for do-it-yourself assembly. To install one of the DIY models, you will need a few basic skills, tools and a flat surface such as a patio or deck. For electrical and plumbing hookups, you may need to call an electrician or plumber. A big benefit with a prefab outdoor kitchen is that you can assemble it and have it working within a day or two of buying the kit.