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The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke
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AOK Outdoor Cabinets - Hands On

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Part 1 of this blog focussed on some general details about the American Outdoor Kitchen cabinets that I bought for use in my grill gazebo with my Big Green Eggs. It covers the sizes and types of cabinets available, the construction and materials used and some ballpark pricing information. This part will discuss some what I’ve learned installing and using these cabinets.

INSTALLATION:
Big Picture: I will discuss some things to take into consideration when installing these cabinets, It might appear to it at first blush you simply place one or more of these cabinets next to each other and you are done. Not necessarily true. The terrace you are installing the cabinets on should be sloped to drain. The slope should be a minimum of about 1/4” per foot (64 mm in 30 cm). Mine had a far greater slope. This complicates matters if you are going to be installing two or more of these cabinets side by side and wish to have a level countertop (vs. a stepped one). You also want to make sure you have a level working surface fro you to work on and a level surface for your grill to sit on.

Pre-Planning: It is worth going out to the area you want to install the cabinets in and check out the type of slope you are dealing with. This will affect your cabinet installation in two ways. The cabinet base is only 1 1/2” (3.8 cm) high and you get, at most, another 1 1/2” (3.8 cm) of adjustment via the leveling feet. This will affect the number of cabinets you can install side by side with their tops at the same level without having to include a step. In my case the two center cabinets were level with one another and the two Egg base cabinets were on the outside to the left and right and were stepped relative to one another.

The other problem with the sloping terrace is that in rare cases it can affect the door or drawer operation. This is a bit of an extreme case, but lucky me I had an extreme case. The first cabinet I bought was the Door/Drawer base. So it had a door that swung out nearly two feet beyond the front of the cabinet. The slope of my deck in that location was around 1/2” per foot (128mm per 30 cm) and I ran into the perfect storm of undesirable conditions. The cabinets location was such that the cabinet was high in the back and low in front (sloping downward front to back). Where the door swing went, the slope had reversed and the door swung over an are with an upwards slope. The door would scrape the ground when it swung out. I ended up having to get some small pieces of tile to raise the base up more than the built in base and leveling feet alone were able to give me. Bottom line: Better to know this type of thing in advance before you start putting in a a run of cabinets and you need to elevate them more than first planned.

Weight: These cabinets weigh far more than a standard Kitchen cabinet. The countertop comes as part of the cabinet and the materials used are denser and weigh more than a typical Kitchen cabinet. You may want to have a helper available to assist in moving the cabinets into position. Another option is a good 2-wheel hand truck.

Helper: As I just mentioned above these cabinets are a bit on the heavy side, particularly the full height units. There are two situations where you would be well off to have a helper. The first is when you are getting the cabinets off your truck and moving them into their final position. The second is when you move your Big Green Egg onto the cabinets. If you are just moving the lower base (minus the lid) into position you may be able to manage that task your self. If you are moving a fully assembled Egg into place, removing it from a rolling Nest and placing it on one of these cabinets, a helper is mandatory.

Base Issues: I have previously mentioned two things that will affect what you may want to do with the base of these cabinets. The first is your terrace should be sloped to drain. If you install the cabinets level, as you should, you will end up with a variable width gap under the bottom of the cabinet base. The second issue is the base of the cabinets is recessed about 1” (2.5 cm) on all 4 sides and not just the front. When you place the cabinets side by side you end up with a 2” wide gap between the sides units down at the base level. Both of these gaps seemed like a potential place of entry and/or shelter for a wide variety of critters.

I used the same solution for both issues. I bought some dense foam strips in a black color. These are often used to stuff voids in double hung windows when the sash must be kept raised to hold a window air conditioning units. The foam strips come in both square and rectangular cross sections in various widths. In my installation I actually raised the cabinet closest to the ground so there was a minimum 3/8” (1 cm) gap there. This assured I could stuff a piece foam under the gap even at the low point. I used long rectangular strips under the base pieces and tall square pieces to fill the 2” gaps between adjacent bases.

Joining Adjacent Cabinets: Adjacent cabinets should be tied together using 3” (7.5 cm) stainless steel screws drilled and countersunk into the interior wooden corner posts. The screws need to be that long because you are passing through the corner post, two thicknesses of the exterior cladding, and an air gap between the units, before you reach the other corner post. You will also want to countersink the screw 1/2” or so. The other consideration is the difficulty of installation. Plan on this taking some time, there are aspects of this task that just aren’t easy. Installing screws in the rear posts of the Egg base cabinets is very difficult due to tight quarters and the long reach required. Remember you only have a height of 15” to work in. Installing screws into the rear corners of the full height cabinets are somewhat difficult due to the long reach. Also if you are trying to join two adjacent Drawer bases you must remove the drawers prior to installing any screws. I was lucky I had a Door/Drawer base next to my Drawer base so I was able to fasten through the rear of the Door/Drawer base. Believe me it is worth joining the cabinets together because you end up with a unified very stable installation. But it is slow going.

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Table Nest: The Big Green Egg company sells an Eggcesory for installing an Egg on a table or piece of furniture. It is called a Table Nest and the unit for the large runs about $40.00. It consists of two black metal pieces which bolt together to form an X-shaped base with turned down ends that form feet. The feet are covered with rubber at their tips to help protect the table top from scratches. Yes this Table Nest unit is a bit pricey, but it is the ideal solution here and it will give you years and years of service. You could also stack several fire bricks on top of the counter top, but these will most likely scratch the attractive granite top. I also fell the design of the Table Nest will result in less heat being transferred to the table top than fire bricks. I also like the idea of a cushion of air under the base of the Egg when it sits on the Table Nest.

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Use the Cross Braces: The cabinets come with a 4” (10 cm) long cross ties and hardware intended to secure the Egg to an adjacent cabinet via the hinge band. It is a flat rectangular piece of aluminum with rounded ends and a hole drilled out at each end. The intent is that one end be secured to the lower metal hinge band of the Egg. It uses some of the extra holes in the hinge band that are used to secure the Eggcessory side shelves. This means you must install this bolt first on the back side of the hinge band. If you don’t have a fastener there from a previous shelf installation, you will need to remove the hinge band to install this bolt. The other end is secured via a screw into the adjacent cabinet. Do not install this screw into the side cladding material alone. find a location where you can secure it into through the cladding into the wood skeleton framework behind the cladding.

I realize you may be thinking: Do I need this piece? After all if you have an existing Egg and don’t have the necessary bolt installed in the hinge band, it means removing and reinstalling the hinge band. Let me assure you that you should definitely do it. I went through this thought process when I moved my first Egg off the rolling nest and onto the cabinets. I actually went a week without the brace, thinking I was fine. Then I lifted the lid in a bit of a hurry one day and the entire Egg almost tipped backwards off the table nest. Both of my Eggs are now secured using the cross braces and I would never consider installing an Egg on the Table Nest alone.

USING THE CABINETS:
What Do I Store in the Cabinets: I now have both indoor and outdoor storage areas for my grill gear. The AOK cabinets outside plus I took over a pantry cabinet on the inside to house my grill gear. So I have several criteria I use to determine where something gets stored. The first is where it gets used first. If it is something like a grill basket, pizza pan, pizza peel that starts out being used in the Kitchen and then heads out to the grill, it gets stored indoors. If it is a pizza stone, plate setter, multi-tiered grill grates (like the Adjustable Rig), specialty grill grates etc. that start out on the grill first and never need to go into the kitchen except possibly for final clean up; then they are stored outside. The next consideration is material the item is made from. Anything ceramic, like the Plate Setter or pizza stones can be stored outside. Anything stainless can be stored outside with this qualification: If it is an item such as tongs where appearance matters, I store it inside of something else. These days many so-called stainless steel items are made from a lower grade type 403 stainless steel which can and will rust. In the case of my tongs, I made some sealed containers from PVC pipe and end caps. This keeps the critters away too. Thermometers or anything that uses a battery get stored inside. Fire starters, butane lighters, one box of stick matches get stored outside. Rubber gloves worn when refilling charcoal and welders gloves are out by the grill. Grill grippers, grid lifters, grill brushes, the ash tool and ash pan are kept outside. I try to make it so that wherever the item first gets used, it is stored nearby. The exceptions to this are thermometers or other items with batteries which are kept indoors. The other exceptions are my cast iron Half Moon Grill Griddle and Dutch Oven. These I store indoors to help keep them from rusting. When I get more cabinets I will move these items outdoors and put them in a gasketed plastic bin.

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Critters and Creepy Crawlies: These cabinets are not hermetically sealed. Like any other cabinets there are gaps around the doors and drawer fronts and in the carcass that allow in both moisture and 4,6, and 8 legged creatures. As a result anything I keep out there that will come into contact with food I store in plastic bins. The Container Store sells a line of white plastic bins that are gasketed. These bins keep out dirt, moisture and bugs. It is a bit of a nuisance having to open a door or a drawer and then open up a bin, but I know anything inside the bins is as clean as the day it went in and has not rusted.

Granite Top: The granite top is easy enough to keep clean using mild dish soap and water or a heavy duty granite cleaner for tougher stains. The more serious consideration is avoiding placing hot items on the granite. The thermal shock could crack the granite. I had a piece of Dupont Corian, (a man made solid surface material often used for counter tops in restaurants) which I leave out by the grills and use to land hot items such as roasting pans or the Adjustable Rig.

Cleaning the Cabinets: The cabinets have been easy to keep clean. Often I just brush them off with a dust pan brush. For a more thorough cleaning I simply use either a mild dish soap or a glass cleaner to clean everything but the granite. Charcoal dust stains are the worst thing I’ve needed to get clean so far, but I have been able to get it off with a little elbow grease.

Keeping the Hardware Tight: Be sure to make sure all of the screws attaching the hardware to the cabinets are tight. Be sure to keep them tight going forward. The doors of these cabinets are heavier than typical cabinet Kitchen cabinets. A door with a loose screw or screws on the hinges will wobble when opening and closing which will serve to enlarge the screw holes and make retightening the screws more difficult. One of the doors on my first cabinet had a hook for holding grill grates. I had some loose screws and the weight of the cast iron grill grate plus the weight of the door loosened the screws further and distorted the shape of the holes. As a results the existing screws would no longer hold tight. I had to drill out a deeper hole and install new longer screws. Lessoned learned: I keep a screw driver in one of the drawers and I now check the tightness of the screws regularly.

Appearance: The cabinets seem to look as good as they did when I bought them. In my case about 9 months separated my oldest cabinet purchase from my newest. I could detect no signs of fading in the older cabinets. One thing that may help with this is my cabinets are in part of the yard that gets little to no sun. In addition my grill gazebo helps shield what little sun I do get.

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Outside Prep: Having nearly 5’ ( 1.5 M) of outdoor counter space is great. It helps during setup, allowing me to layout the tools and Eggcessories I plan to use for that cook. I often preflight the setup I plan to use on the Adjustable Rig to make sure I have the necessary clearances and that the food will fit on the Egg. During warm weather I am able to do some of the mid-cook prep right out at the grill: Foiling ribs or pork shoulders, basting roasts, swapping the positions of the food on the grates to even out the cooking etc. It also makes doing soups or stews easy since I can bring everything out to the grill, lay it out in the order I will use the ingredients and never have to make a trip back to the Kitchen.

SUMMARY:
I really love my outdoor Kitchen and these American Outdoor Kitchen cabinets are a big part of that. I plan to continue adding several more cabinets including a high top seating counter as well as a cabinet to support my future third Large Big Green Egg. These cabinets are not cheap, but they are well built, attractive, easy to maintain, give me lots of flexibility and totally suit my needs.

SOME RELATED LINKS:
Here is a link to the American Outdoor Kitchens website where you can download a PDF catalogue of their cabinets and use the Dealer Locator to find a dealer nearest to you. Additionally there is a link to Part 2 of this blog entry.

  AMERICAN OUTDOOR KITCHEN WEBSITE
  AOK OUTDOOR CABINETS - BIG PICTURE

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