How to Design the Perfect Outdoor Kitchen

by James SheaJune 22, 2018

You can’t beat sitting outdoors on a warm evening. Dinner’s on the grill. You’re sipping on a bottle of beer. Conversation is flowing between family and friends. Traditionally, this has happened a deck or porch, but one of the hottest trends in home refurbishment is the outdoor kitchen. People are bringing kitchen amenities into the backyard and making the outdoor environment a central meeting place.

Custom outdoor kitchen with overhead louvers and a magnificent view of a southern Utah canyon.

This project adds major value to the home. Most analyses have shown that an outdoor kitchen project can return 50% of the cost, but some have reported that an outdoor kitchen returns 100% to 200% of the investment.

“Homeowners continue to find new ways to add value to their homes by creating more functional space, which is apparent in the rise in popularity of outdoor kitchens,” said Kermit Baker, American Institute of Architects chief economist. “Kitchens have become a hub for the home, now homeowners want to bring some of that activity to their outside space.”

When deciding to establish an outdoor kitchen, you have many options. Homeowners have designed simple outdoor kitchens, but others have created elaborate designs. While many of the decisions are based on cost, you also need to consider the functionality of the space and who will be using the kitchen.

What is the purpose of your outdoor kitchen?

Among many people, grilling has taken on almost religious overtones. People work hard to perfect the art of grilling and light up the grill for a number of occasions throughout the year. When designing an outdoor kitchen, you must decide on the kitchen’s purpose. A space used to entertain guests will need to be very different than a kitchen that is meant to grill for quaint family dinners. For entertaining, you will need seating and shade. If grilling is the focus, you will require large amounts of counter space and room to work. Also, for entertaining, you might want more than one grill installed.

How often do you plan to use it?

The amount of time you spend in an outdoor kitchen will partially depend on the climate. A person in Florida could use an outdoor kitchen almost year round, but a homeowner in Vermont is most likely not going to be outside in December. You must also consider how much you grill out now. If you don’t spend much time on your current deck or in your yard, chances are you won’t all of sudden spend most nights at the outdoor kitchen. Entertaining can also influence how often you use an outdoor kitchen. An outdoor kitchen is the perfect place for guests to have a glass of wine and relax while dinner is being cooked. A pool is another factor. A pool can be a central focus of the home in the summer, and the kitchen would become an extension of the pool.
Young friends having barbecue party in garden.

What works best in your space?

Outdoor kitchens can occupy a large amount of space. You will need to decide if that is the best use of your outdoor area. If you have a small backyard, you might choose a simple design for the outdoor kitchen. Perhaps, you only want a single grill and a small countertop. If you have a large space, you can add an L-shaped kitchen space with multiple amenities.

Which features do you need in an outdoor kitchen?

An outdoor kitchen can have any of the amenities of an indoor kitchen. A refrigerator, oven, microwave, cabinets, rotisserie, icemaker, sink, wood-fired oven, and a grill are all possible amenities in an outdoor kitchen. Many outdoor kitchens have a fireplace so you can be outside on cool fall and spring nights. Your imagination is the only limiting factor when it comes to designing an outdoor kitchen. Couches, chairs, lighting, fans, and an awning are features that can be added to an outdoor kitchen as well.

Small outdoor space featuring some seating options and a grill in an Arizona home's backyard.

What style matches the home?

An outdoor kitchen is an extension of the living environment. You want to pick a design that fits with your home’s style and décor. You should consider color patterns that match the home. You should also look at your environment. An outdoor kitchen in Arizona will look very different than one in Upstate New York. You want the outdoor kitchen to blend into the space.

Prefabricated, custom, or modular design?

Outdoor kitchens can be custom designed or prefabricated. Prefabrication cuts down on the cost, but limits your options. If you want something unique, you will need to hire a company that specializes in outdoor kitchens. A modular design is also a possibility. These are interlocking blocks that allow you to build the pieces together and assemble the kitchen space.

What type of flooring?

Like an indoor kitchen, outdoor kitchens have some form of flooring. The layout of the flooring often dictates the overall design of the outdoor kitchen. Stone, concrete, and tile are possible options for an outdoor kitchen floor. You want to think about who will be using the kitchen when selecting the type of flooring. Will small children be in the kitchen? Will a large number of guests be using the space? Is it located near a pool?

Will you properly maintain an outdoor kitchen?

An outdoor kitchen is exposed to the elements and requires a lot of maintenance. You need to consider how much time you are willing to devote to cleaning the grill and sealing countertops. Certain elements will also require special attention. For instance, stone elements will need to be carefully power washed annually. You must also check to make sure the gas lines and water lines are maintained and that they are carefully secured during the cold winter season. In addition to that, refrigerators, ovens and other appliances need to be cleaned regularly. Furthermore, the outdoor furniture will need to be cleaned and the cushion stored in the wintertime. All of these factors are an important part of the equation that goes into designing an outdoor kitchen.

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About The Author
James Shea
James Shea is an award-winning journalist and author. He owns Media Lab, a content marketing and search engine optimization company is Richmond, Virginia.