An outdoor kitchen expands your living space and allows you to cook, eat and entertain without having to book a reservation. Summer is the time for backyard BBQ’s and grilling; but a well-designed outdoor kitchen should allow you to enjoy cooking outside beyond the summer months. Incorporating interior kitchen ideas to your outdoor setting is a great way to add versatility, value and fun to your home.

The best outdoor kitchens are as functional as an indoor kitchen, as welcoming as a living room, and as entertaining as a family room. An outdoor kitchen can be as simple as a grill, table and chairs, or as elaborate as a fully outfitted kitchen complete with built-in appliances and seating. Although a simple and straightforward outdoor kitchen can be set up by a homeowner, designing a generous and powerful outdoor kitchen is best left to a professional remodeler like a concrete contractor, patio contractor or landscape designer. With so many different types of outdoor kitchens, designing the best kitchen for your family takes time to plan and may require permitting from the city. Regardless of whether you hire a pro or not, here are some expert tips to get your outdoor kitchen planning started.

Witt Construction outdoor kitchen

Durable flooring material, like this tile, is easy to clean, pressure wash, and will stand up to lots of traffic.

1.  Start from the ground up

Establishing the floor layout and material of your outdoor kitchen is key to building the foundation of your space. Be conscious of different weather climates that may occur as well as the overall weight of the appliances you are installing. Flooring such as tile or marble will be slick and slippery when wet and may not hold up to grease or food stains. If your outdoor space is on a deck consider re-staining or painting it to match the new renovations and ensure that the deck is in top condition. (See tips on staining your deck to ensure lasting quality.) Proper flooring will not only complete the overall look, but add durability and value to the end product. Take into consideration the types of entertaining you will be doing in your outdoor kitchen. Will there be small children running around? Older guests who need smooth surfaces? The floor of your outdoor kitchen is not an element to be forgotten. Pro tip: When building a project of this scale, keep in mind safety first. Very often the outdoor kitchen is located near wet surfaces like swimming pools and spa tubs. Choose materials that meet safety criteria, stay away from flooring that may be too slick or rugged, and select a material that can endure food spills and grease.

Advanced Renovations outdoor kitchen

Placing the smoky grill away from the entrance to the home, like this one, is a good way to keep foot traffic away from potential hazards. 

2. Location, location, location

Where you decide to place your outdoor kitchen depends upon several factors. Firstly, you’ll want to make sure that smoke from the grill doesn’t waft back into the home. So have a good idea of the general wind pattern in your yard and orient the grill appropriately. Secondly, if you frequently entertain, and don’t want to travel a long distance from the indoor kitchen to the outside, consider placing your grill and outdoor kitchen relatively near the entrance to the inside kitchen. Remember that outdoor cooking and entertaining frequently means carrying heavy platters from one place to another. Thirdly, if you want to maintain the view you currently have from inside the house to the outside, you’ll want to place the outdoor kitchen to the side or at an angle so that the view isn’t blocked. Lastly, consider the overall traffic flow of your yard and the safety of your family. A hot, outdoor grill shouldn’t be located right next to the area where the Frisbee is thrown around, or near where you ride bikes or play. Just like an indoor kitchen, the outdoor kitchen is full of hazards so place it accordingly. Good planning will help ensure that your outdoor kitchen is in the right location for your yard. Pro tip: If you are considering doing a lot of landscaping changes to your yard such as adding retaining walls or a swimming pool, include the outdoor kitchen as part of the overall design. A professional outdoor kitchen designer will not only design the right kitchen for you, they can offer valuable advice about the ideal location of the kitchen and how it will work with the other elements of the yard.

Stout Design-Build outdoor kitchens

It’s important to leave enough space for the appliances you need, and enough room between them.

3. Your appliances will determine the kitchen size

The first question a professional outdoor kitchen designer will ask is what size appliances you will need and how many. A homeowner may want to utilize several cooking and refrigeration appliances, and may have specific entertaining needs in mind. Consider how all of these appliances will fit within the design plan, how much room to allow for each, and how they will work with each other. Leave enough space on either side of the grill to accommodate platters and tools, and don’t place appliances too close together. The same working triangle used in the kitchen should be applied to the outdoor kitchen as well, especially if you plan on hiring caterers or have more than one cook. Having various counter heights and work surfaces can allow for different functions within the outdoor kitchen. Traditional 36” high counters are prefect for standing pre work and cooking, 30” high surfaces are ideal for sitting and eating, and 42” high bar tables are great for standing or resting food and beverages. Combining all three heights into your outdoor kitchen design will really allow this space to be both functional and flexible. Pro tip: The ideal working triangle places the sink, cooktop and food storage (like the refrigerator) in a triangle setting. Keep the legs of the triangle no less than 4 feet and no longer than 9 feet. A good rule of thumb for distances around appliances is 36” for every person in the kitchen.

Alderwood Landscaping outdoor kitchen

This outdoor kitchen has lots of countertop room as well as storage drawers.

4. Have a place to set and store

Just like your indoor kitchen, you will need places to put items on and plenty of storage. The difference is they must all be waterproof and durable to temperature changes. Countertops and cabinets are designed to provide space and keep away clutter. For a customized look, coordinate your flooring, countertops and cabinets, just like you would with your indoor kitchen. One option is to have stone and steel counters and cabinets; this provides a sleek and modern look as seen in the picture above. Keep in mind how much storage you will need for your kitchen. Will you be using this kitchen only in the summer months or year-round? Are you planning on hosting dozens of guests in your outdoor entertainment space? Visualizing how your outdoor kitchen will be used once it’s complete will help with your decision-making process. Pro tip: Countertops combining stone and stainless steel give a contemporary look that is both stylish and functional. Choosing easy to clean and waterproof counters and cabinets will be beneficial in the long run. Concrete counters are resilient, smooth and easy to maintain.

 Neil Kelly outdoor kitchen

Stainless steel, concrete and stone are great materials for the outdoor kitchen.

5. Choose reliable appliances

Many outdoor kitchens include a grill (both gas or charcoal), a sink, and a small refrigerator. Some kitchens even include specialty appliances like a beer tap, smokers, hibachi grills and warming drawers. Purchase appliances that will make it through both rain and sun. Stainless steel or ceramic appliances work great for all weather conditions, are very durable, and require low maintenance. Some sinks offer limited use for quick hand rinses while others may be used for washing large quantities of food. Depending on your projects designed sink use, remember an outdoor sink must be either hooked up to a yard hose or connected to the home’s water supply. Calling a plumber to connect your outdoor sink to a water supply is an easy way to let a pro handle the hard work. Some outdoor kitchens are also fitted with other appliances to make the outdoor kitchen feel custom. Be sure a licensed electrician installs your electrical connections so you can be assured your outdoor kitchen is up to code. Pro tip: Gas powered grills are a popular feature in the outdoor kitchen. If you want a plumbed gas line for your gas grill, you’ll need to hire a licensed professional and most likely file a permit with the city. Be sure you consult an expert for this project.

 Shuler Architecture outdoor kitchen

Creating a comfortable setting will encourage relaxation and enjoyment.

6. Add a touch of ambiance

Your outdoor kitchen serves as a place to enjoy cooking and eating food while entertaining family and guests. It’s an opportunity to enjoy the outdoor weather while having the comforts of your indoor space. Make sure you incorporate features that really make this space the center of your summer. Chairs, tables and decorative objects can complete the look, as will specialty lighting. When it comes to furniture, choose durable pieces with comfortable outdoor cushions. Select the largest table you can for the space so you can use it as a buffet as well as a dining table. Chairs that stack can help save space when it comes time to winterizing the patio. A small fountain or pond can also lend a relaxing ambiance to your outdoor kitchen. Some outdoor kitchens are being fitted with television sets, truly making the outdoor kitchen both the place to cook, eat, relax and entertain. Be sure it’s properly installed out of the elements (using a weatherproof cover) and away from heat.  Pro tip: If you have a smaller backyard don’t overdo it with an extravagant full outdoor kitchen. Sometimes less can be more. An alternative option is to build a BBQ island, which has all of the essentials from a grill to countertops and is a better fit for a smaller space and budget.

Webster Landscaping outdoor kitchen

These built-in lights allow these homeowners the chance to safely cook even when it’s dark outside.

7. Bring indoor comfort, and safety, outside

Weather can be a big issue when it comes to outdoor entertainment. Building a tall roof or pergola over your outdoor kitchen will allow you to enjoy cooking outdoors, even in the rain or extreme heat. You can incorporate different forms of shelter such as having a stone roof, or simply supplying patio umbrellas for coverage. Hot locations may want an overhead fan or mist sprays. Colder regions may want heat lamps, a fire pit or fireplace to warm up the area. For areas with pesky bugs or mosquitoes, consider adding netting around the dining area or a mechanical mosquito device. Outdoor lighting will not only extend your time outside, it offers safety for walkways, staircases and grilling areas. Some outdoor kitchen designers incorporate lighting into the kitchen, either under the countertops or above. Pro tip: If you plan on installing an outdoor grill under a structure, be sure you allow plenty of clearance space between the grill and the ceiling, and design the room for ventilation. To prevent house fires, professionals never recommend operating a grill under eves or decks unless there is a professionally installed ventilation hood. Keep your grill clean to prevent accidental fires.

If you would like to discuss your project with a local outdoor kitchen contractor:

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Top Image Credit: Darwin Webb Landscape Architects, P.S.


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