Slideshow: Outdoor kitchens shine

These Central Oregon cooking spaces take advantage of the outdoors

By Marielle Gallagher / The Bulletin

Published Aug 27, 2013 at 05:00AM

For most Central Oregonians, the end of summer marks the end of grilling on the patio. But we found a few households that, thanks to some clever design work, are perfectly comfortable slicing, dicing, roasting and grilling in their outdoor cooking spaces throughout the blustery winter months.

For now, though, the summer nights are the time for these spaces to shine.

Thor Erickson, chef instructor at Cascade Culinary Institute at Central Oregon Community College, regularly picks kale from his backyard garden, adds a little onion and olive oil and has it sauteing minutes later in his wood-fired oven. Erickson spent a year building the oven, which also has a double-sided fireplace, just out his back door.

Melinda and Michael Peterson, who live east of Bend, have a gable-roofed kitchen enclosed in glass and situated like a peninsula in a foliage-filled garden bed.

Diane Lozito and David Jenkins' outdoor kitchen is perched above a stretch of the Deschutes River. Their kitchen includes a 700-pound smoker where Jenkins, a Texas native, barbecues brisket and spareribs “low and slow,” taking four to 10 hours to cook meats at 220 degrees.

Kitchen with a view

Lozito and Jenkins designed their outdoor kitchen to be part of a room, complete with hot tub, sitting area and a table for eight. On the west side of the room, a wall that looks like an extension of the house serves as a wind break. French doors set into the wall open the space to a porch that runs the length of the house.

The room glows even on a cloudy day because of the richly hued mahogany deck and cedar siding. Teak furniture dressed in white cushions offers comfortable seating. The kitchen space is delineated by slate flooring.

Beyond the room are unobstructed views of mountains and the Deschutes River. “We eat out there year-round,” said Lozito. “It's really comfortable because of the wall that blocks the wind. The breeze is always from the north, northwest. And you still get the fresh air off the river.”

Lozito, who cooks mostly Italian dishes, uses the dual range burner for searing ahi tuna, a dish she says is great for cooking outside because it doesn't set off the smoke alarm. A 36-inch Frontgate gas grill is capable of high heat grilling, and they use it for meat, fish and vegetables. Cooking vegetables on the high heat adds a crispness to the exterior, says Lozito.

Jenkins, who was born and raised in Texas, cooks primarily in a behemoth smoker. Behind big swinging doors is a gas starter to get the wood burning. Jenkins uses hickory for making pulled pork and spareribs, “never short ribs,” said Lozito, and uses hickory and mesquite for brisket. All meats are cooked with a can of water in the smoker to add moisture to the air. Jenkins uses dry rubs and fresh herbs on the smoked meats. “It falls off the bone,” said Lozito. “And you can taste the herbs. David says you only use sauce if you are covering up your barbecue. So it's against the rules in this house.”

Glass kitchen

In 2008 Michael and Melinda Peterson replaced a rarely used hot tub on their back patio with a glass enclosed kitchen, complete with bar seating for three. “Mike loves to build, and I love to design, so that's how things like the kitchen come about,” said Melinda. “We make a good team. We did absolutely everything out there.”

Before the kitchen addition, the patio was long and disjointed with seating at one end and the hot tub on the other. After the kitchen was added, the flow of the space changed. People congregate in the kitchen where there is a full grill and a sunken area in the counter for dutch oven cooking.

The Petersons wanted a relaxed vibe that incorporated the colors associated with Mexican aesthetics like terra cotta and other warm hues. So when Melinda, who loves to visit garage sales, found stacks of terra cotta tile at the Jacksonville Garage Sale Days, it set the tone for the kitchen's palette. The wraparound kitchen counters extend out to glass walls, making it feel as though you are actually cooking in the garden.

“We built (the frame) out of 6-by-6 posts and beams because we wanted that stout look. Especially with all the rock and tile,” said Melinda. Rounding out the space is a fire pit and fence covered in hops.

In the winter, a window can hang on the beam above the island to create another windbreak. “Mike puts on his jacket and cooks out there and it's actually warm, unless it's howling,” said Melinda.

Wood-fired oven and fireplace

Just after 9 a.m. on a recent morning, Thor Erickson slipped a cast-iron skillet of biscuit dough and another of handmade sausage links into a wood-fired oven to prepare breakfast for his son.

As a professional chef, Erickson has worked in multiple restaurant kitchens with wood-fired ovens. So when Erickson and his wife, Cathy Carroll, moved into their home in 2003, they decided to build one of their own. “I'm familiar with the type of math it takes to run a restaurant and to cook, but doing math with masonry and different calculations related to building a fireplace, like amount of oxygen and air flow it needs for the carbon monoxide to escape properly ... it was an interesting adventure,” said Erickson.

For almost a year, Erickson worked to build the oven, which features a double-sided fireplace below the oven. A natural stone veneer finishes the exterior and a vine of Johannisberg riesling grapes grows across the oven dome.

The dome is 14 inches thick and made of refracting materials so it's able to hold heat for days. Even 24 hours after Erickson extinguishes the fire, the oven is still hot enough to bake bread.

“When I shut the oven down in the evening, I like to take advantage of that heat so I'll put a couple sweet potatoes in there and in the morning they're completely roasted in their skins and it's like candy. All those natural sugars are concentrated in there.”

A 15-pound Thanksgiving turkey takes an hour and 20 minutes and results in a juicy meat with a seared, brown skin. “The first time I did it I was absolutely amazed,” said Erickson.

Erickson says cooking with fire creates a closeness between chef and food. “It's almost like the person who is using the oven as a cooking tool has to develop a relationship with it. I don't have a thermostat with it. I've learned to stick my hand in there very quickly and learn what different temperatures feel like. ~ I know when it's going to the heat available to cook different things,” said Erickson.

Using newspaper, Erickson gets a few pieces of hardwood burning. He chooses woods like oak, maple, apple, cherry or alder. Once the fire is going it takes about an hour to get up to 600 degrees.

In addition to the thinly sliced potatoes or crisps and cobblers he makes in cast iron skillets, Erickson says he also smokes meat in the oven. “I can get a very small fire going and smoke a whole side of salmon. Then I can pull it out and get my fire warm and finish it for the guests, and it has a nice smoky flavor.”

Erickson grew up in San Francisco and Sonora, Calif., and his father was also a chef and is a metal artist. As a finishing touch to the oven, his father made a gate for the front of the oven with L'Oven, the oven's name, written into the metalwork.

Erickson says the oven lets him get out of the kitchen when they have guests over for dinner. “It's a little bit of a show. It gets me out of the kitchen so I can interact with guests while I'm cooking.”