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Outdoor appliances for al fresco dining

Taking the temperature

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With New Orleans' warm winters and sultry summers, outdoor spaces ­— backyards, decks, patios and courtyards — are extensions of homes for gathering with and entertaining family and friends. The arrival of spring weather means taking the fourth-anniversary gift of appliances beyond toasters and microwaves and into the innovative world of outdoor kitchens.

  Malinda Hill, sales associate at Nordic Kitchens and Baths, says technologically advanced open-air cooking equipment is trending this spring.

  "We are designing more and more fully equipped outdoor kitchens each year," she says. "Adding an under-counter outdoor refrigerator or refrigerator drawers ... allows you to store food and drinks outside."

  Grills have come a long way from simple charcoal and lighter fluid-fueled devices. Now there are multi-tier grills and roasters with separate climate zones, and the innovations don't stop there.

  "Not only do clients want an easy-to-use, built-in gas grill that can be turned on with a push of a button — like the Alfresco Grill — but they also want to incorporate a ceramic smoker such as the Kamado Joe," Hill says.

  The Kamado Joe is an Asian-style grill coated with a thick wall of ceramic. The ceramic holds in smoke from burning charcoal or wood, which imparts rich flavors to food. The grills also are customizable with a range of interchangeable cooking surfaces.

  A built-in alfresco kitchen is the perfect gift for a host who doesn't want to leave guests outside while preparing meals indoors. Hill says that clients also want simple accessories such as cabinets and drawers to store cooking utensils and cleaning supplies.

  Other popular kitchen appliances include pizza ovens, icemakers and power burners.

  "Two appliances that are currently being requested from our clients are the Kala- mazoo pizza oven and the Scotsman outdoor ice maker," Hill says.

  Scotsman Ice Systems makes residential and commercial machines, offering "nugget" or crushed ice for soft drinks and larger cubed ice for cocktails. Using the right ice makes drinks stay colder longer.

  "The Kalamazoo pizza oven is available in a countertop design, which requires no installation, or you can opt for a built-in design for a more custom look," she says. "After a 45-minute preheat, you are able to bake a Neapolitan-style pizza in less than three minutes."

  Bradley Carlson, communications manager for Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, says the Kalamazoo Artisan Fire Pizza Oven collection brings pizzeria oven heat to the backyard via two independently adjustable burners (one above the interior cooking surface and one below) that can be powered by natural gas or liquid propane. The inside is lined with ceramic to conduct heat evenly.

  "[The burners] can deliver temperatures from 250 to more than 800 degrees Fahrenheit," Carlson says.

  Kalamazoo recently added a freestanding oven option to the countertop and built-in models. The freestanding option has convenient shelving and is attached to a portable wheeled cart that stores the fuel tank.

  Hill says that Kalamazoo's wood-fired Gaucho Grill also is in vogue among customers at Nordic because of its unique design.

  "[It's] an Argentinian-style wood-burning grill and rotisserie," she says, "which has a spoked wheel that raises and lowers the grill grates and rotisserie, allowing you to control heat and intensity by adjusting the proximity of food to the flame."

  The Gaucho Grill is available in three models: built-in, freestanding and freestanding with an attached side burner.

  "Another appliance that is trendy right now is the Versa Power Cooker by Alfresco," Hill says. "This (outdoor burner) offers 400 to 65,000 BTUs of power for total heat control. This is great for smaller shrimp and crab boils."

  Other local grill vendors include Comeaux Furniture & Appliance, which offers DCS Outdoor Grills, and Backyard Living, a designer of luxury outdoor spaces that sells grills, outdoor furniture, built-in outdoor kitchens, smokers, lighting and fountains. The goal is the same: an elegant yet practical solution to outdoor cooking and entertaining, made even easier by the latest advances in open-air appliances.

  "Our clients want to be able to dine at their favorite restaurants and then come home and recreate the dishes for their friends and family," Hill says. "Due to our warm climate, clients are able to do this in their outdoor kitchens all year-round. Many clients are using their ceramic cookers for smoking their Thanksgiving turkeys. They are using the Alfresco Versa Power Burner to have shrimp and crab boils. They are even able to cook large pots of gumbo outdoors."

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