7 Things To Keep In Mind When Planning An Outdoor Kitchen

 In Outdoor Kitchen

While not everyone has experienced seeing 4-5 grown men huddled around a 12” charcoal grill, or a group of ladies hosting 5 conversations in a 2-person galley kitchen, many can agree there’s something special about hosting friends and family in your own space. If the explosive popularity of outdoor kitchens isn’t convincing, then take our word for it– we’ve stumbled across some outdoor living spaces that compete with even the most sophisticated indoor spaces.

If you’re looking to upgrade your outdoor hangout and considering building an outdoor kitchen, then you’re on the right track. However, adding an outdoor kitchen is no small feat, so here are 7 things you should know before building yours:

1. Assess your area’s size and utility needs

Your first step is to assess the amount of space you have to work with, and whether your area has enough access to necessary utilities such as electricity, hot and cold water, and gas. Surprisingly, you don’t need much space to have an outdoor kitchen installed. Depending on your preferences and budget, an experienced, professional team can help create the perfect outdoor experience that fits your unique needs. Of course, your utility needs depend on what features you’d like to include in your outdoor kitchen. Some great questions you’ll want to ask during your assessment are:

  • Does the ground need to be leveled out?
  • Is it already sheltered from the elements?
  • Can I easily connect to my home’s utilities?
  • Is the spot I chose located near the indoor kitchen?

When you’re assessing your utilities and initially thinking about the layout, it’s important to understand the relationship between your indoor and outdoor kitchen, and how essential it is to the overall design. It’s usually advantageous to have them closer together because it can dramatically reduce plumbing installation costs, as well as provide a convenient transit between each space if you plan to prep your food inside, and cook it outside.

If you intend to do any of the build-out yourself, it’s important to know about any special permits needed for your project and to understand local codes like water and height restrictions, easement requirements, and permeable surface requirements (this is something we do for our clients).

2. Plan Your Layout & Functionality

Next, you’ll want to think about which features are most important to you and plan the overall functionality based on those features. How will you be using your space? For instance, if curling up in front of a fireplace is at the top of your list, yet you know you’ll want cooking capabilities as well, then you’ll want to make sure the pathway from your indoor kitchen to your outdoor kitchen doesn’t go through the seating area near the fireplace. That way you’re not interrupting your guests’ conversation every time you need to walk between your indoor kitchen and your outdoor kitchen when moving the food from prep to cook. Keeping the seating arrangement and guest experience at the forefront of your design decisions is of critical importance because it will determine the overall usability of the space (which is the purpose, right?)

During the planning process, think of your outdoor kitchen in separate areas based on their functionality. This is helpful when deciding on the orientation of your layout. For example, there are four basic functioning areas in a kitchen:

  • Hot –– Ovens, cooking surfaces like grills and ranges, and their associated counter spaces.
  • Cold –– General cold storage like refrigerators and freezers, and their associated counter spaces.
  • Dry –– General prep and storage space that isn’t used for any of the previous functions (i.e. cabinetry).
  • Wet –– The sink and surrounding counter space associated with sink use (i.e. dish-drying rack).

Orienting your outdoor kitchen along an open wall can help you maintain a more open space where furniture can be adjusted to fit the needs of your event. This is also a great way to make the most of your existing utilities since most of your plumbing and electric are already designed into the walls of your home. However, in this type of layout you might feel like your back is facing the party, so including a kitchen cart or island near your kitchen can provide a great way to stay in the conversation as you prep your food.

If your budget is smaller, you might consider more basic features such as a grill and cabinet / counter space. Powering your grill with a propane tank vs. a gas line, and cooling your food with a cooler instead of a fridge could help you save on plumbing and gas installation.

3. Choose Your Seating

First thing’s first, it’s important to remember that your outdoor furniture will be exposed to weathering (even if it’s under an awning), so buying outdoor furniture is much different than buying indoor furniture. Look for upholstery that is fade-resistant, waterproof or water-resistant, repels fungi and molds, and is easy to remove and wash. Some of the most durable outdoor furniture is made from 100 percent acrylic, solution-dyed fabric. This fabric is also popular because it’s easy to clean and doesn’t fade as easily from weathering. It’s a bit more expensive than other fabrics, but maintenance and replacement costs make it more practical, so be sure to consider this in your purchase. To learn about more outdoor fabric options, download our free ebook: Your Step By Step Guide To Planning An Outdoor Living Space.

Other seating considerations:

Knee Space

  • Table height seating at a 30-inch table should have at least 18-inches of overhang.
  • Accessible seating at a 30-inch counter or table requires at least a 19-inch overhang.
  • Counter height seating at a 36-inch counter should have a 15-inch overhang.
  • Bar height seating at a 42-inch counter should have a 12-inch counter overhang.

Seat Width

  • 24″ wide per person is typical for most seating.
  • 36” wider per person is ideal for accessibility.

Walking Clearance

  • For an area with little-to-no traffic, 32-inches between the surface edge and the nearest obstruction is for minimal clearance.
  • Leave at least 36-inches for people to squeeze behind seats in areas expected to have moderate traffic.
  • Leave at least 48-inches for unobstructed, high-traffic area.


4. Plan Your Counter Space / Surfaces

As mentioned briefly in the previous section, there are countertop surfaces associated with each area of your kitchen to support that area’s function. These surfaces are known as “landing areas” and they are an integral part of the overall design of your space. Some general guidelines for landing areas would be:

  • About 24-36 inches total for grills. This can be all to one side or split up on each side of your grill– whatever best suits your purpose.
  • About 24-36 inches total for ovens. Again, this can be all to one side or split up on each side of your oven– whatever best suits your purpose.
  • About 12 inches on each side of surrounding countertop space for ranges and other cooktops.
  • About 18 inches on each side of your sink.
  • About 14-18 inches total around or above your refrigerator.


5. Plan Your Storage Space

Planning your storage space for your outdoor kitchen isn’t much different than that of your indoor kitchen. The cabinetry can be placed above and below your counter space in a similar fashion. Keeping in mind how you intend to use your cabinet space and what you’ll likely store, there are many options for your storage space design. Tall cabinets and pantries that extend toward the ceiling are a great way to add plenty of storage since you’re building up instead of out, which will help you save square footage. Be sure to explore all that manufacturers have to offer as there are numerous designs and innovations for storage space that can take your outdoor kitchen design to the next level.

6. Choose Your Appliances & Equipment

In the past, a decent grill is all anyone ever needed for a simple outdoor cooking experience, but you’ll want more than a grill if you plan to enjoy the benefits of a fully functioning outdoor kitchen. If you haven’t already, you’ll find there’s a real practicality to outdoor kitchens that has inspired homeowners everywhere to add all the amenities they’d expect to have in a conventional kitchen– some with more! When deciding on your appliances, some good questions to ask yourself would be, “What kinds of outdoor cooking do I already enjoy? What kinds of outdoor cooking would I like to explore?” Once you have an idea on how you’d answer those questions, you can start looking at appliance options. Some examples include:

  • Pizza Ovens –– It’s hard to beat the ambiance of a wood-fired pizza oven. Not to mention cooking a pizza in 5 minutes or less. Pizza ovens have become incredibly popular for outdoor kitchens– and for good reason. You and your family won’t be able to eat fast-food pizza again once you’ve perfected your own recipe!
  • Ranges –– Single, double and quadruple ranges have proven themselves to be a convenient way to cook that we’re all familiar with. Pair this with an oven and there’s nothing your kitchen won’t be able to handle.
  • Grills –– Gas grills are more convenient than charcoal grills, but charcoal grills add more flavor and a unique cooking experience that’s hard to find elsewhere. Then there are hybrid grills, which can be great because you get the best of both worlds.
  • Smokers –– Few champions of the backyard fare would ever go without a smoker. The art of slow cooking is hard to compete with, and if you take your barbecue seriously, then you might already have this one at the top of your list.
  • Refrigerators –– There’s a variety of cold-storage options to choose from. Refrigerators and refrigerated drawers, freezers and freezer drawers, ice makers, kegerators, and wine storage. Be sure to check the manufacturer’s recommendations to understand the climate limitations before purchasing. Some units aren’t designed to operate in climates above or below a certain temperature, while others wouldn’t have a problem.


7. Make Sure It’s Safe

Last, but certainly most important, is safety– especially in areas where you’ll be hosting guests. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • When deciding on flooring, be sure that your surface is slip-resistant in the kitchen area and other areas that might get wet– many concrete and stone materials tend to become slippery when wet.
  • Make sure the kitchen and walkways have sufficient lighting.
  • Design countertop extensions to function as a barrier around ovens, grills, and ranges. This helps safeguard guests who may walk closely by and come into contact with a hot surface.
  • Be sure that no combustible materials (such as a propane tank) are stored above cooking surfaces. These should always be stored behind / underneath cooking surfaces, or off-site if your budget allows.
  • Gas shutoff valves should be accessible and located near the cooking appliance they control.
  • Always have a fire extinguisher nearby and accessible.

Want an outdoor kitchen?

But not sure you have the room? Here are ideas for outdoor kitchens in small spaces!

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