An outdoor kitchen can be a beautiful addition to your backyard or patio. Even in colder regions, homeowners are demanding features to their patios and backyards that go way beyond the standard gas grill and patio table. Just like an indoor kitchen, an outdoor kitchen can be designed in a wide variety of styles, configurations and features. But unlike an indoor kitchen, outdoor kitchens need to be designed to withstand the elements of nature. Let’s take a look at the requirements and features you’ll need to consider when designing an outdoor kitchen.

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Before you hire a professional for your outdoor kitchen

There are many professionals who specialize in designing outdoor kitchens. Many have experience in landscape or patio design, and understand how this kitchen should relate to the rest of your outdoor space. Before looking for a professional to design your outdoor kitchen, have a clear understanding with regards to what you want your kitchen to look like, what components need to be present, and how you want to use it. You’ll want to look for a professional who is licensed, bonded and insured (if these are requirements in your state) and check their BBB ratings (which is available on Porch). You’ll also want to verify that they are knowledgeable about current building codes and permits, as some jurisdictions require permitting for outdoor structures, electrical work or gas lines.

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The right location matters

Ideally your outdoor kitchen will be located close enough to your indoor kitchen so you don’t have to walk too far to retrieve supplies, but far enough away as to not pose a fire danger to your home. Because a full outdoor kitchen is nearly as large as an actual indoor kitchen, most homeowners place it wherever there is enough space for the equipment as well as any overhanging structures like an arbor or gazebo. You’ll want to make sure that there is also room to accommodate tables and seating to complete your outdoor entertaining area. If you have a swimming pool or spa, placing the outdoor kitchen near this area can allow you to create a swim-up dining or bar area.

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Plumbing and electrical needs

An outdoor kitchen often includes many of the same conveniences as an indoor kitchen. An outdoor kitchen may have overhead lighting, outlets to operate small appliances (like a blender), a sink, refrigeration, ice machine, televisions, heating lamps, ceiling fans, ventilation, and other electrical and plumbing needs. Because of the complexity of a fully equipped outdoor kitchen, a licensed professional should be hired to complete the plumbing and electrical requirements. It’s a good idea to have a detailed list of your desired appliances and features you want for your outdoor kitchen before the project begins so that the plumbing and wiring can be laid out accordingly. It may be difficult to add on features once the kitchen is complete.

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Flooring in the outdoor kitchen

Your choice of flooring is important for your outdoor kitchen. Outdoor kitchen floors are subject to a lot of wear and tear like stains, oil or grease spills, water, foot traffic as well as dirt and debris. It also needs to be able to support a heavy amount of weight. For these reasons, many experts advise sealed stone, pavers or poured concrete. Regardless of your flooring choice, you’ll want to ensure that the surface is angled towards a drain (most patios are slightly angled for water drainage) or angled away from the home.

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Most outdoor kitchens use a metal structure to house cabinetry, drawers or under-counter appliances. The overall structure of the outdoor kitchen needs to be durable and strong, and once complete, you may not be able to easily reconfigure the island cabinetry. This island cabinet base usually houses the cooking appliances (grill, side burners, etc.) as well as drawers, under cabinet storage, sinks and other features. Very often this metal base structure is covered or wrapped in a veneer of stone or another durable material, which can withstand both the heat and the cold. You can have a professional design and create the “cabinetry” for your kitchen or you can purchase them yourself. Sites like BBQ Guys sell DIY outdoor kitchen kits  that allow you to configure your outdoor kitchen yourself. Cabinet fronts tend to be made from a durable material, like stainless steel, but a properly covered outdoor kitchen may feature wood cabinets.

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Grill, BBQ and other cooking appliances

The cooking appliances you choose to use outdoors are entirely up to you. Some at-home chefs prefer the speed and convenience of a gas grill, and may even install a dedicated gas line. While others prefer the flavor of traditional charcoal or a wood-burning smoker. In addition to a grill or BBQ, some outdoor kitchens also feature a wok, pizza oven or side burners. Like the other components in your outdoor kitchen, you’ll want to communicate your appliance needs to your designer before the project gets underway.

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If your BBQ or gas grill will be placed under a combustible structure, like a pavilion or arbor, you may need to add a ventilation hood. In fact, your local building codes may require it. Outside ventilation hoods function in the same manner as they do inside the home: it works to draw smoke, grease, heat and odor away from the cooking area. Over time, grease and smoke can discolor and even damage nearby walls and siding. If your cooking equipment is powerful or will produce a lot of smoke or grease, consider installing a ventilation hood outdoors.

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Countertop space

Just like your indoor kitchen, an outdoor kitchen needs a good amount of counter space. You’ll need a place to queue up food ready to be cooked and a place to rest food that’s done cooking. You’ll also want room for beverages and possibly space for an eat-in area or bar seating. Although most people agree that you can never have too much counter space, you’ll want to aim for at least 24-inches on either side of the grill.

Neil Kelly Entire House countertops

Sink and Refrigerator

A sink and refrigerator aren’t necessary for an outdoor kitchen yet many homeowners find them to be a great convenience. This is especially true if the outdoor kitchen is located away from the inside kitchen or if you plan on doing a lot of food prep and cleanup outdoors. A sink is a great way to ensure dishware and hands are clean and sanitary, and some outdoor sinks are fitted with both hot and cold taps. Refrigerators are generally below counter versions and can help ensure food safety by keeping foods at the correct temperature. Some outdoor kitchens are also fitted with an ice maker, and this machine will require a dedicated water line.

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Other storage needs

When it comes to outdoor kitchen design, there is no shortage of accessories available for your home. You can install built in trash and recycling cans, built in firewood stations, drawers for cutlery and utensils, cocktail stations, paper towel holders, wine racks, or a cleaning supply station. Like all of the other elements, it’s a good idea to have this wish list right from the beginning of your design stage so that the kitchen encompasses everything you need and want.

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Lighting shouldn’t be an afterthought when setting up your outdoor kitchen. Lighting should be installed not only so you can see what you are cooking once the sun sets, but to help with safety when walking around outdoors. It’s important to consider the type of lighting for your outdoor kitchen. Bright flood or safety lights can often blind the eyes at night, so low-level lighting can help illuminate walkways, stairs or transition areas. LED spot lights are great for above the cooking areas. Having an even amount of lighting is better than having only one or two really bright lights. Be sure the light fixtures you choose are designed for outdoor use.

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Shading, heat and cooling

Outdoor kitchens that are designed with a cover or partial cover can ensure that the kitchen can still be used in inclement weather. Depending on your regional climate, some homeowners add outdoor fans, cooling misters, or heating elements to help make this outdoor space comfortable. Cooking outdoors in the summer can often be really hot and uncomfortable for the chef, so adding some type of shading can make this space much more enjoyable. Be sure that the outdoor grill or BBQ has enough clearance under the shade structure so as to not pose a fire threat.


Top image credit: Key Residential