9 Important Tips for Designing the Perfect Outdoor Kitchen
The whole process of turning turf into the perfect outdoor kitchen is nothing less than overwhelming. But with some guidance and decision making you’ll be well on your way to feasting on the fruits of your labors in your newly designed space.
Here are some essential elements to bring to the table as you plan out your outdoor kitchen design.
1. Make Observations
This stage of planning involves you hanging out in your own backyard and observing your surroundings. This may seem like a simple step, but it’s so important to take several walks around your space and ask yourself a few questions.
Consider the space you have and the obstacles you need to work around. Is there a pool or a designated play structure? What about a shed or a gazebo?
Your outdoor kitchen should be located in the midst of the activity, but not in such a way that it blocks the flow of the yard or your view from the bocce ball match, action in the pool, or the kids playing on the swing set.
Also think about how each space connects to one another. If you already have a walkway in place, how can your outdoor kitchen benefit from it without making major changes? Consider the flow of guest traffic. This will help you strategically place eating and cooking areas for easy mobility and an open feel.
Tour your yard during different times of day. Sit with your coffee in the morning and a cold beverage in the summer evening. Consider how the sun rotates over the entire yard. At what times does it provide direct sunlight and when is there shade?
Is shade in the entire yard or just in one corner? Knowing how the sunlight moves across your yard may help you decide which direction to face the outdoor kitchen and where to locate it.
Look at the area you are considering for your outdoor kitchen as if you are looking at it for the very first time. Not only will you gain fresh, critical insight into your space, but also you will likely feel inspired to do something new and exciting.
2. Location, Location, Location
The distance of your outdoor kitchen from the house will be a primary concern. Unless your outdoor kitchen will be completely self-sustaining, you’ll find yourself moving back and forth from the inside kitchen to the outdoor one as you prepare, cook, and clean up meals.
Carefully evaluate how far you want the kitchen space to be from the house. If you plan on having a cooking space close to an indoor entryway, you'll need to look into overhead ventilation for the stove.
On the other hand, taking advantage of the existing roof covering can be a benefit that will save you money in the short and long term.
If there’s a good distance between the house and outdoor kitchen, you have more flexibility with exciting add-ons, like wood-burning stoves, a pizza oven, and smokers.
However, the further from the house you travel, the more challenges you may incur with access to power and gas.
Try to strike a good balance of distance from the house for the best of both worlds. This can also help you determine which appliances are necessary.
If you feel like your outdoor kitchen space is close enough to the indoor kitchen, perhaps you can resist purchasing an outdoor refrigerator and sink, so you can splurge elsewhere.
This will make issues like pipes for plumbing less of an obstacle, as well.
If you plan to adorn your outdoor kitchen with every conceivable appliance, such as a wine cooler, warming drawer, oven, cooktop, and sink, you’ll need plenty of space separate from the existing deck or patio.
Pushing it out further from the home also means making room for storage to avoid a lot of back and forth.
3. Size It Up
If you’re looking to host a large group of guests, you’ll want a larger workspace and dining area. If you’re looking for a space to serve as an outdoor family gathering area where you can relax and bond, you’ll want an intimate, cozy space where the family can feel close.
Even if you have a large backyard, it doesn’t mean you have to build a massive kitchen. Keep things quaint with a smaller cooking area. Bring guests in close with a built-in bar so they can pull up a stool and chat while you cook.
Then design a separate eating area where everyone can gather around a table together once the food is done.
If the kitchen is just one part of a larger backyard design, plan for a play area nearby where you can keep an eye on the kids and engage with them while you cook.
Reflect on what your indoor kitchen is lacking. Now is the time to right the wrongs of your indoor space and let your new investment be a truly enjoyable place to be. This will play a large role in determining the size of your area.
4. Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall
Think about each and every season. Your exposure to the elements is one of the largest factors to consider while designing.
For example, the amount of sunlight will affect pathway, overhead, and string lighting.
It will also designate whether a covering is necessary. Perhaps that means going with a temporary covering like a cantilever umbrella or pop-up canopy that protects during the most intense heat, but that can be removed to better enjoy the milder weather in the spring and fall.
For climates with harsh weather, you may want to ensure a full roof and perhaps even one or two sides to your outdoor kitchen space.
For three or four season use you should also consider your options for heating. From a single space heater to take the chill off while you cook to wall or stand-up propane heaters that serve the needs of many, there’s the right fit for each type of situation.
Also, the elements essentially determine the lifespan of your outdoor space. If you’re in an especially rainy area, you’ll want outdoor furniture that is sturdy, easy to clean, and weatherproof.
On the other hand, if you’re in a predominately hot location, you’ll want great shade cover, open airways for breezes to blow through, and UV-protected working surfaces.
5. A Room with a View
For those who have a particularly scenic yard area, it’s important to structure your outdoor kitchen around the view.
Take advantage of the kitchen placement to soak in nearby beauty, which will leave your guests impressed when they come to enjoy the newly constructed area.
If your yard doesn't have a natural view, consider making one yourself by planting a fragrant pollinator garden where you and your guests can delight in watching hummingbirds, butterflies, and other natural wonders. You can even landscape a small or large moon garden for guests to enjoy after the sun goes down.
6. Carefully Consider Countertops
It’s pretty standard to stick with stainless steel for outdoor kitchen appliances and working surfaces because it’s easy to sanitize and is erosion-free.
However, stainless steel can get exceptionally hot in direct sunlight. Plus, it’s one of the most expensive surfaces you may be considering.
If you don’t like the steel look or price tag, other options are available, but it’s important to avoid porous surfaces. Granite or natural stone can work, but you need to look for blocks that are UV-stabilized.
Also, these natural rocks may require some regular maintenance to keep countertops clean and long-lasting.
Tile is another popular option because there are endless varieties, it performs well outdoors, and installation is a manageable DIY project.
However, many people get frustrated by dirty and stained grout lines that affect the overall look of the surface. Tile can also break, cranking up the repair requirements on what should be a carefree surface.
7. Put a Rug on It
The integrity of your outdoor kitchen really relies on your foundation. Making this decision smartly will absolutely determine how tidy your space looks, as well as how well it functions.
For example, like your appliances and furniture, your flooring will be subject to the elements, spills, and splatters. Using wood or brick for your flooring will mean difficult cleanup unless you put on several coats of sealant.
Placing inexpensive, easy-to-replace rugs over the areas that are in the splash zones is a good way to keep your flooring clean and protected, not to mention, it gives you an opportunity to add a bit of flair to the area!
Remember though, the surface beneath your kitchen is the foundation for everything on top of it. Inasmuch, you’ll need to make sure you’re on solid footing with a properly built deck, poured concrete pad, or laid paver stone ground as a surface for your outdoor kitchen.
8. Fresh, Consistent Color, and Style
It’s important to note that creating an outdoor kitchen does not mean it’s time to create an entirely new look that contrasts the architecture of your home.
If you have a charming bungalow and create an outdoor kitchen with a stark modern look, it won’t make sense. Be consistent with what style your house already has going on.
If you feel like your exterior home looks drab, don’t hesitate to throw in colorful pillows and pops of colorful outdoor paint to your outdoor kitchen.
Consider growing vibrant vines on your pergola or throw in smatterings of bright pottery with fun annual flowers around the dining area. This will keep the area always feeling new and fresh.
You can also add a fun element such as a tiki bar or wine barrel tables that create a theme of a tropical getaway or a romantic winery atmosphere.
Also feel free to change the look with the seasons. Put out the pumpkin and leaf decor in the fall. Adorn the furniture with bright floral prints in the spring and swap them out or garden or animal prints as summer rolls in.
9. Dream Big
Sure this space is meant to bring your family outdoors and entertain your friends, but it’s also for YOU. Go wild!
The possibilities for designs are endless, but don’t rush into doing every single thing at once. You can allow the area to be a work-in-progress, changing with the seasons and your tastes.
However, put in the groundwork before you break ground, meaning start with a solid plan and a well thought out budget. Be sure to research costs for every item on your wish list, from the grill or smoker to a blender.
While some things may remain on the optional list, such as a power juicer, others will need to be at the top in order to get your outdoor kitchen up and functional.
Prioritize by making sure you have a way to cook foods and a place to eat them. Provide a space to set down trays as you pull them off the grill.
Also include some supplemental shelving or ensure your first purchase is a prefabricated kitchen unit that includes cabinets and a countertop surface.
From there, you can slowly grow your space as you desire. Perhaps that means building a full-scale bar or simply adding a kegerator and a tap. Maybe wine is more your thing and you’d like a wine cooler to keep everything at a premium temperature.
You might be dreaming of multiple cooking stations, a multi-tiered pizza oven, an ice maker, or a freezer. Whatever it is, start with a plan and work towards it.
Creating an outdoor kitchen can technically be as simple as placing a grill on level ground and stocking it with cooking utensils. But there’s so much more you can do to enhance the space, especially if you use it often.
Make it the focal point of your backyard activities. There are few cultures where food isn’t at the center, so embrace the opportunity to host and share with others.
While you’re busy dreaming about what your outdoor kitchen might look like, check out our related articles Outdoor Kitchen Ideas, Building an Outdoor Kitchen Bar: Choosing the Countertops, and Building an Outdoor Kitchen Bar: Beer and Soda Taps.