Ultimate Outdoor Kitchens 101

When you think about it, the modern outdoor kitchen really is nothing more than a sophisticated extension of the campfire, combining two fundamental human needs, food and fresh air. Here are 18 tips to consider if you are dreaming of an outdoor kitchen.

The rising popularity of outdoor living, which is about finding new ways to connect our homes to their environments, has paved the way for the outdoor kitchen. And we’re not talking about a freestanding grill on the patio. Today’s outdoor kitchen runs the gamut from a simple cook station to a fully appointed outdoor room. Regardless of the design or the budget, the goal is the same: Cook outside and eat outside. In short, find any excuse to be outside.

Before you begin, become knowledgeable about your local building and fire safety codes, and be aware of any restrictions regarding the size and location of the kitchen.

Water Wisdom
If you want an outdoor sink, be prepared to spend extra money to extend water and waste lines from the house. If the outdoor kitchen is positioned near the indoor kitchen, a sink or other appliance requiring plumbing might not be necessary. An alternative to a fully plumbed sink is a portable unit hooked to a garden hose.

Going Prefab
If you can’t afford a custom outdoor kitchen or don’t have the time or desire to build one or work with a designer, a prefab grill island could be an option. Prices begin at about $1,000 for a basic grill/counter setup and go to $30,000 or more for kitchen/bar/entertainment units that can include everything from a cooking center to a flat-screen TV with a DVD player.

How High?
How high should your counters be? A comfortable standing height for working the grill is 36 inches, and bar-height seating should be 42 to 46 inches.

Location Matters
When deciding where to put your outdoor kitchen, keep in mind it’s no fun for the cook to be isolated from everyone else. To solve this, face the kitchen toward the rest of the yard, or build a seating/dining counter into the kitchen station so that people can sit and talk to the chef.

How’s the View?
Aesthetics are important when it comes to the design of an outdoor kitchen. How will it appear from inside the house? It should be eye-pleasing as well as functional.

Layout Basics
The scope of your outdoor kitchen will depend on your yard, budget and lifestyle, but make sure its layout is as efficient as possible. A basic, single-galley island with a built-in grill can be turned into a double galley by placing another counter opposite, in a parallel configuration. An L-shaped kitchen provides connected counters for cooking and eating, and a U-shaped layout adds even more counter space, making it possible to install special appliances and reserve one counter for seating and dining.

Climate Considerations
Outdoor kitchens in locations with cooler year-round temperatures come with special considerations. For example, you might need a fireplace, firepit or freestanding heater to keep people warm. Plumbing systems must be carefully installed to ensure they don’t freeze, and sinks will have to be drained when the kitchen is shut and winterized.

Beyond the Grill
A basic grill is a necessity, but additional features can make
cooking outdoors even more fun and efficient. For example, rotisseries can be prepped and started before guests arrive so that the food can cook largely unattended while the chef socializes. Side burners are useful for heating sauces, sauteeing vegetables, quickly cooking fish and boiling water.

Why a Trellis?
A trellis can provide excellent sun protection, but its function doesn’t stop there. It can also serve as the framework for light fixtures and stereo speakers.

Kitchen Zones
Whether you opt for a freestanding or attached outdoor kitchen will depend on your yard and how you plan to use the kitchen. If you desire a separate entertainment space in your yard, a freestanding structure might be your best option, budget permitting. If you want to keep the outdoor kitchen close to the house, you can place it against an exterior wall or a few steps from the building.

Make it Easy
Pay attention to things that might seem obvious but if ignored can turn outdoor cooking into a chore. For example, how far will you have to reach or walk to set down a plate of hot food? You don’t want to have to traipse all over the place searching for a free counter, so make sure your design incorporates ample counter space right next to the grill.

Hire a Pro
Although some outdoor kitchens resemble their indoor counterparts in terms of layout and appliances, outdoor kitchens have their own particular requirements, including weather, which materials will last over time, how to set up plumbing lines and electricity and how the kitchen fits in with the rest of the yard. When it comes to these kinds of details, the safest bet is to consult a
design professional or architect.

Power Up
Designers caution that many people underestimate how many electrical outlets they need for their outdoor kitchens. In addition to outlets for powering a gas grill, rotisserie or side burner, you might need extra outlets for a refrigerator, blender, food processor, coffee maker, etc.

Light Shows
Fiber optic cables are a savvy choice for outdoor lighting because they can withstand all kinds of weather without breaking down. And they can be programmed to create impressive light shows right in your back yard. A nice fiber optic setup will cost around $2,000 to $3,000. Another benefit: Fiber optic systems are inexpensive to run.

Safety Considerations
Extra safety precautions must be taken into account if you cover your kitchen with a wood trellis or other potentially flammable shelter. Make sure the covering is high enough to avoid becoming a fire hazard. If you have a gas grill, position the trellis 54 to 60 inches above it, and if you are using a charcoal or wood grill, plan for at least 60 inches of clearance.

Sun Protection
If you live in an area of the country where summer temperatures can soar, consider covering your kitchen with a trellis. And, if your climate permits, train vines to grow up and over the trellis, which will provide even more shade. In a very hot climate, avoid a solid covering, as this will trap
heat. Ceiling fans can also help circulate air through a covered kitchen.

Counter logic
Counters come in a variety of materials. Non-porous granite is heat and weather-resistant but can be costly. Nonetheless, its longevity might make it worth the expense in the long term. Budget-friendly ceramic tile is available in many colors and sizes, but grout can be problematic if it is not sealed properly. Weather-resistant concrete counters have the advantage of being grout-free and can be tinted to meet your color palette. Stainless steel also works well in outdoor settings and is particularly good for damp coastal environments.

Adapted from Ultimate Outdoor Kitchens by Michelle Kodis (Gibbs Smith Publisher, 2006).


Terry V.
Terry V5 years ago

It seems like a waste of money and unnecessasary to me.
To each their own

Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton5 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Mari Basque
Mari 's7 years ago

Only if it's clean cooking & powered by solar energy.

Lori F.
Lori F9 years ago

I have never heard of a solar oven before, but it sounds brilliant! Would someone kindly recommend a couple that I can research? My outdoor balcony to my apt. is not that big, but hopefully big enough to have a solar oven. It seems like a better investment to me than a grill. Any help would be much appreciated. Thank you :)

Deborah T.
Deborah s9 years ago

I so totally agree, Wallyworld seems to be able to push it's rude self anywhere it wants to be. I read alot of waste here in this article. However there are some basic ideas I will be able to gleem from it. I want to make one , just make it to where any engery used is only when I use the area.

Janice l Peterson
Janice Peterson9 years ago

I can understand some of the previous concerns but if your home were as small as mine and without air conditioning an outdoor kitchen would be a blessing. except of course for the insects.

Michael Adler
Michael Adler9 years ago

I plan on building an outdoor kitchen (not a grilling area) to keep the heat out of the house. It will be attached to the house, sort of like a screened porch. I plan to use extenisvely the Winiarsky Rocket Stove, which efficiently uses small bits of wood to cook food. You can get designs from the Aprovecho research station in Oregon.

Janine Paterson
Janine Paterson9 years ago

We in Far North Queensland Australia have heaps of mosquitoes, toads, birds, frogs, lizards and even snakes and crocodiles. However, we love our outdoor cooking on the barbeque like in your photo. Outdoor cooking means that the house does not get hot (especially with a roast). As for our wildlife, we have shadehouses that can be fully screened off and you can eat outside in peace,

Rachel Robbins
Rachel R9 years ago

I agree with other comments. I'm shocked that Care is talking about building a second kitchen with refrigerator etc! Aren't we trying to lessen our impact?? Solar cookers are BRILLIANT though, my mum has one and cooks heaps of stuff it in. Reduces power use and stops you heating the house in summer.