Designing an Outdoor Kitchen

outdoor kitchen area with stainless steel cabinets and grill against stone wall

Creating your own personal oasis with an outdoor kitchen is a great way to kick back, relax, and dish out a delicious meal. Building the outdoor kitchen of your dreams may seem intimidating, but it’s totally doable on any budget.

If you have an existing patio, you may have to make some alterations. If you're building a new patio and want to integrate the outdoor kitchen, there will be things you can do to make the process go smoother.

This article will go over all the ins and outs of designing an awesome outdoor kitchen.

Benefits of an Outdoor Kitchen

If you’re on the fence about investing in this kind of project, rest assured there are a lot of benefits, including upping the resale value of your home.

Return on investment (ROI) for outdoor kitchens ranges from 55-200 percent, making it a wise way to invest money in your home.

An outdoor kitchen also increases the amount of living space that you can enjoy, adding beneficial extra square footage especially when it can be used all season long. This allows you to entertain guests, and put on larger events with two working kitchens.

Having an outdoor cooking and dining space may inspire you to cook more at home, as well. It offers a unique way of cooking by including more traditional methods native to your region or heritage like barbecuing, grilling, or using open fires, wood stoves, and ovens.

An outdoor kitchen is more beneficial than simply having a large grill, as it can also include countertops, cabinets, utensil storage, sinks, and even outdoor refrigerators.

This way everything is at your fingertips, rather than having to run inside for different items. Cooking outside also keeps strong food odors from inside the home.

outdoor kitchen with grill, sink, and vegetables

Designing the Outdoor Kitchen

When we say outdoor kitchen, this still leaves a lot of unknowns. They can be as big or small as you want, depending on your budget, and what the outdoor space entails.

Is there an existing patio already? Will it be covered? Are there trees, other structures like a garage or shed that may get in the way of planning? Will you need to excavate or do any major grading?

Some folks merely want a built-in barbecue area that gives them a little more storage with a small countertop area. Others want the works, and will design the entire kitchen from scratch to achieve their vision.

While most outdoor kitchens revolve around a grill, you aren't limited to the type of cooking medium.

Off-grid cabin and camping options offer a whole other world to bringing stoves and ovens outdoors, and can be run on solar, propane, or electrical depending on your preference.

While it will be on the higher end in terms of cost, you can build an entire setup complete with a grill, stove, oven, sink, cabinets, countertop, refrigerator, and any other accessories you can think of, but you can also utilize some DIY skill and keep costs down with a simpler vision.

Will Your Patio Need a Permit?

Building a deck or patio in and of itself may require a permit depending on local bylaws, and most states require permits whenever electric, gas, or water connections are being installed.

In general, permits will ultimately depend on your local municipality as well as your specific plans.

If you dream of having a fully-functional outdoor kitchen with running water, electricity, and gas connections, check with your local bylaw office so you understand what's allowed and what permits will be needed.

A contracting company may be able to guide you through this process, but doing your own due diligence is recommended since it's your property and money.

HOAs may also have restrictions on what you can build, as well, so make sure to check with them if you are part of one.

Do your research before you start building to save on any costs involved with changing, removing, or scrapping something along the way, especially since multiple trades may be called in, and planning these elements ahead of time will make the process go a lot smoother.

outdoor kitchen

Outdoor Kitchen Styles

One of the hardest parts about designing an outdoor kitchen is choosing a style and sticking to it. Many homeowners integrate the look of their interior decor with the outside for a stream-less approach, but you can also depart completely and create an entirely new space.

Contemporary outdoor kitchens are a good choice if you want an extension of the indoors, as they incorporate materials with a modern look to them.

Polished surfaces like quartz or granite countertops, porcelain tiles, as well as custom cabinetry and modern appliances can be a simple, but elegant approach to outdoor dining that makes you feel like you're in a normal kitchen.

Traditional outdoor kitchens use warmer colors and tones, and harken back to an old-world model of cooking styles. They may still integrate with your existing home's color scheme and can mix and match materials to achieve the best of both worlds.

Terracotta bricks, travertine tiles, and the use of natural stones and mosaic tile on cabinetry and flooring can bring out various flavors to match your cooking style.

These may implement more traditional cooking methods like open fires and pizza ovens, as well as large, long butcher board countertops for food preparation.

Rustic outdoor kitchens may also incorporate traditional cooking methods, but this type of design focuses more on the materials used than the types of appliances.

Contemporary grills and stoves can be easily integrated into a design that uses dark stones like slate, with rough cabinetry and outdoor furniture made of cedar, barn-board, or salvaged materials.

Adirondack chairs, firepits, off-grid appliances, and DIY-friendly building and cooking methods are all welcome in this versatile design style that truly gives you the feeling of taking in the great outdoors.

While these three are some of the most popular styles to start with, they are by no means the only ways to design an outdoor kitchen. You can mix and match as you like, but starting with one approach can help if you feel overwhelmed.

Whatever style you go with, make sure to add some personal touches along the way.

outdoor kitchen

Outdoor Rated Materials

Your outdoor kitchen needs to be both stylish and functional, and the materials used to build it must stand up to nature’s elements. This includes high winds, excessive rain, hot sun, and snow and ice storms.

Stainless steel is a common choice for outdoor kitchens, since it’s classic, sleek, and durable. Grills, sinks, and refrigerators are available in this finish, but you can also find stainless steel countertops and cabinets, as well.

It's easy to clean, and extremely versatile, especially in outdoor applications.

Wood is another excellent material to use, however, not all wood species are meant for outdoor use. There are many options to choose from including pressure-treated lumber, cedar, redwood, bamboo, and acacia just to name a few.

Just make sure any lumber is rated for exterior projects to prevent mold, mildew, rot, and insects and properly seal or stain as needed.

Composite wood products are popular choices for outdoor kitchens, and companies like Trex offer entire kitchen designs from flooring to lighting and everything in between.

Tile is often used in outdoor kitchen spaces as it’s durable and available in many different styles. Once again, make sure you are using outdoor tile and not indoor tile.

Porcelain, slate, and travertine have indoor and outdoor options, but outdoor tile will be naturally slip-resistant and strong enough to withstand various extreme climates and weather.

Concrete pads and pavers are good choices for a patio space, and can fit within a variety of budgets. They're durable and can last a long time when installed properly.

Pavers offer the most choice in terms of color and size, but concrete pads can be stamped, stenciled, and even tinted.

Countertop Surfaces

Your countertop surface is another important area to choose proper outdoor-rated materials for. You can't use products meant for indoor use and expect them to last when installed outside.

Similarly to patios and outdoor flooring choices, concrete, tile, stone, and wood can all be used appropriately in your build, giving you lots of options to suit your design and budget.

Concrete countertops offer an interesting aesthetic and can be poured once the cabinetry is in place. They will be heavy, but offer a unique and durable countertop space that can withstand extreme temperatures and heavy snow.

Pavers and tiles aren't as commonly used for countertops as you want a sleek finish that can be easily wiped. These materials would be better used as cabinet facing or any backsplash areas.

Natural stone will offer some of the best options for an outdoor kitchen countertop for durability and style. Granite and quartz are the two top choices as they can handle the elements, and look great. They're expensive, but worth it if your budget allows.

Wood countertops like butcher board are often made of acacia or bamboo which may be outdoor-rated, but check with the manufacturer before installing.

Wood has a tendency to warp and shift more than concrete and stone, but if it's sealed with polyurethane or coated in a hard epoxy, they can last a long time with little maintenance.

outdoor kitchen grill

Pick Your Appliances

The most common outdoor appliance is a grill, but you can also add a smoker, flat-top griddle, stove, or oven. You are not limited to a regular barbecue, and could even have two if you want for different cooking methods.

An outdoor refrigerator really takes the outdoor kitchen to a whole new level. They don't have to be full-size, and a bar-fridge might do the trick. They can often stay outside as long as they are rated for outdoor use.

Ice-makers are a neat appliance to add, especially when you want to make cold drinks on a hot, summer day. A built-in kegerator can also be a great way to quench your thirst while cooking and entertaining and are great for outdoor kitchens that want to integrate a bar area.

As you shop for outdoor appliances, be sure to verify that the models you are choosing are suitable for use outdoors. Many indoor versions will work fine outdoors, but some can be damaged easily by exposure to extreme temperatures.

Decide the Layout

Once you've chosen your style and some of the materials you want for your outdoor kitchen, you can start planning the layout. The order of choosing products and designing may jump back and forth as you make changes along the way.

Create a basic layout before making any final decisions on products, and have it looked over by your contractor and other trades before the build starts.

Remember that most outdoor kitchens won't be completely enclosed by four walls like indoor ones. They may integrate the back exterior wall, or have others constructed, depending on needs, but layout dictates the flow of your cooking and dining experience.

The countertop shape can help to give your outdoor kitchen a distinct layout. L-shaped designs are good choices since they offer a lot of storage and space for food preparation. They can also give the feel of a wall without having a full one constructed.

Single islands are more streamlined and can easily be built against an existing exterior wall, or placed out in the open to act as a divider between two areas. Depending on their length, you can have a simple kitchen space, or a large food prep area complete with a sink and all other appliances like refrigerators and grills in one long line.

Wider single islands placed out in the open are easy to combine outdoor seating with stools and high chairs to act as a serving area on the other side. They can also be smaller, more economical ways to have an outdoor kitchen for less intricate food prep with potential for future expansion.

U-shaped islands offer even more cooking and prep space, as well as dedicated seating. Since they offer three different sides, the length can be customized for your space, while giving the feeling of an enclosed area.

U-shaped islands and countertops work well for anyone that wants to have larger gatherings, or cater events in their home.

Flooring is another way to use design to signal different areas. The use of lumber for the majority of the patio space may be perfect for the seating area, while pavers or outdoor tile could be laid in the food prep and cooking area.

Mix and match materials to outline distinct spaces, and also consider how they can help direct food traffic and the overall workflow of the outdoor kitchen.

Think About All Seasons

Often when we think of outdoor kitchens, we automatically go to the warm and sunny days of summer. However, this space needs to be designed with every season in mind and goes beyond using outdoor rated building materials.

Ways to heat and cool the space will help you get the most out of the outdoor kitchen. Heat lamps, space-heaters, and fire-pits can give you all-season access depending on how cold your region gets, but you may also want to consider design tactics like adding wall enclosures, rooftops, and other kinds of weather barriers.

For warmer regions, adding a gazebo, umbrella, or pergola for shade, as well as designing with natural elements like tree canopies, wind flow, and the sun's rays will help you naturally cool the space without the need for fans or air conditioners.

Cooling appliances may be necessary in the hottest regions, so adding electrical might be worth it on those extra hot days. Otherwise, try to naturally cool and warm the area with good design and environmentally-friendly materials.

Black stones and dark surfaces will absorb the sun's heat. Lighter colors will stay cooler. Adding plants and garden spaces, as well as ponds and fountains can also help to combat extreme temperatures.

outdoor patio kitchen with umbrella, table, and brick oven

Add the Finishing Touches

No kitchen, indoor or out, would be complete without the finishing touches. Patio furniture, outdoor rugs, cushions and throw pillows complete the entire dining experience.

Full sets of outdoor dishware and serving plates can be found at all the major retailers, as well as outdoor textiles to make your space cozy and warm.

Outdoor lighting, string lights, and candles allow you to comfortably use this space at all hours while creating a nice ambience. Outdoor art can also tastefully be added to brick walls and fences to bring it all together.

Once you get the ball rolling, designing an outdoor kitchen can be fun and exciting. It can be done on a variety of budgets, as there are many directions you can take this space. You just need a vision, and a zest for entertaining.