Outdoor Kitchen Maintenance 101
As an outdoor kitchen owner, this is where all of our wonderful childhood lessons about responsibility come into play. Granted, your mom or dad may not have been there to remind you that just like owning a pet, you’ll need to take care of your outdoor kitchen by spending time with it, cleaning it, and keeping it safe– so we’ll make sure to give you what you need here without the lecture 😉
Even though outdoor kitchens are generally low-maintenance (especially when compared to indoor kitchens), regular maintenance and cleaning are important and it’s the number one way to ensure your space remains usable and enjoyable. And considering the investment, we’d recommend it. If you agree, then let’s get started. Here are the basics:
Grill & Cooking Surfaces
If we’re all honest, cleaning the grill after use most likely isn’t top of mind when hosting company. Giving the grate a quick once-over with a wire brush before throwing the steaks on can be classified as a collective habit among most grill owners. While your grill and bbq reputation most likely won’t be harmed from this, there are a few other components on the cleaning checklist that deserve attention, and a little due-diligence can extend the life of your grill and other cooktops. Reference your grill owner’s manual for specific cleaning instructions, but generally, you’ll want to pay attention to:
- Exterior surfaces –– you can clean these with a cloth, mild soap and hot water.
- Inside the lid / cover –– grease and residue in this area are normal and may require a stronger detergent solution to cut through. Rinse with hot water and allow to dry before use.
- Cooking grates –– for a lot of grills, it’s safe to use an abrasive scrubbing tool to clean the grates. However, some grates have a porcelain coating that can be easily damaged. In this case, hot water and a strong detergent solution is best. If you run into difficulty, scrub with care.
- Interior components –– for these, you can use a grill brush. Then, use dishwashing soap and hot water to clean the bottom surface.
- Grease cup –– to access the grease cup, reference your owner’s manual. Once you’ve accessed it:
- Use a small brush to clean the burner inlet.
- Use a stiff wire or paperclip to clean ports that may be clogged.
While most people wait until the grill or stove cools to clean it, it’s actually better to clean it while it’s still warm. Even if your grill is self-cleaning, it’s a good practice to still give it a once-over. And, even if your grill is considered corrosion-resistant, you should still always cover your grills and cooktops. Additionally, depending on the material they’re made of, the gas hoses can be vulnerable to temperature changes which can cause them to contract and expand, sometimes leading to cracking or splitting over time. It’s recommended you inspect them at least once per year to see if they need replacing.
Winterizing Your Grill
To winterize your grill, simply cover it and make sure the gas line is turned off.
* For tips and step-by-step instructions on cleaning a gas or wood-fired oven, check out our post, Everything You Need to Know About Outdoor Ovens, Fireplaces, Fire Pits & Fire Tables.
Sinks, Countertops, & Appliances
This can easily be the simplest task in this entire blog post, assuming you wipe down your sink and countertops after each use (it’s never too late to start!). Even if you’re no Cinderella when it comes to your cleaning regimen, the same general rules apply as with your indoor kitchen, the only difference is your surfaces are more likely to collect dust and debris since they’re located outside. Wiping your counters and sink before and after every meal will help you avoid long-term staining and damage that can often occur with neglect, as well as having to clean built-up dust and debris.
For washing a stainless steel sink, you’ll want to use a soft sponge or cloth rather than steel wool to avoid scratching the surface as well as use normal soap and water instead of acidic cleaners, which can cause oxidation and rust. Another tip to remember when cooking is that heated metal such as hot pots and pans can damage your surface with staining and corrosion. And though stainless steel is loved by many for its durability, it’s certainly not indestructible and can, in fact, be stained– *gasp*.
Winterizing Your Sink(s)
- Shut off your water lines –– All the water lines connecting your outdoor kitchen to your indoor plumbing should be turned off. You’ll want to use the indoor shutoff valve for the outdoor plumbing, this way there’s no water in the outside lines that can freeze and cause damage.
- Drain your water lines –– Draining your lines is almost just as important as shutting them off because even after you shut them off, the lines are still full of water that can freeze and cause damage to the lines as well as your appliances. So, be sure to drain the water lines to your fridge, and ice maker also.
- Leave your tap and drain valves open –– In the case where there is still enough water in the lines to cause damage, this is a good practice and adds an extra measure of prevention.
Winterizing Your Fridge
When it comes to your refrigerator, there’s a lot of things that make them great for outdoor use. Most are designed to maintain a consistent temperature in environments that are reasonably unstable and to be weatherproof. However, check your owner’s manual for details about climate standards. If you have a fridge that is not made for temperatures below 40ºF, then you’ll want to make sure you disconnect it, allow the ice in the freezer to melt and drain, and then bring it indoors when winter comes along. If you haven’t built your outdoor kitchen yet, then you’ll want to look into buying a refrigerator that you can leave outside year-round.
If your fridge can remain outdoors, make sure not to cover it as moisture can accumulate under the cover and cause damage. Aside from potential winterizing tasks, maintaining your refrigerator isn’t much different than that of your indoor refrigerator. One of the best things you can do to maintain your fridge’s longevity and appeal is to regularly wipe down the interior and exterior surfaces with soap and water.
Cabinets & Natural Surfaces
Stone, granite, and other natural materials for countertops are very common in outdoor kitchen design, probably because they add such fabulous appeal to any outdoor living space. The thing to remember about these natural materials is that although they seem smooth and resilient, the surfaces are actually porous and can stain. While most people may not be concerned with the effect that weather may have on the surfaces, you still have the option of sealing your natural surface. Just make sure you hire a professional who uses best practices and a commercial-grade sealer.
You can also powerwash your stone as a part of your seasonal maintenance which helps to prevent staining. The stains can occur from a variety of factors, some being from lawn trimmings, smoke from fire features, mildew, and food or grease buildup from neighboring cooking appliances. When power washing, beware of the pressure, and make sure to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for maintenance, and avoid going overboard on the pressure. Natural stone can hold up ok and it’s not a big deal if a small amount of the stone washes away. When it comes to manufactured stone and stamped concrete, this can ruin the facing if you aren’t careful.
Winterizing Your Cabinets & Natural Surfaces
Winterizing methods for cabinets varies depending on the type of materials used for your cabinets. Stainless steel cabinets should be treated just like stainless steel countertops, and a quick coat of polish to give them a nice shine wouldn’t hurt. Wooden cabinets will most likely need to be oiled or sealed. Some woods are naturally oily and may be fine without the added wood and / or sealant. In the “Outdoor Wood” section of our ebook, Your Step by Step Guide to: Planning Your Outdoor Living Space, you can find more information on types of outdoor woods, and which are likely to require special treatment.
Lastly, if your outdoor kitchen isn’t covered, you’ll want to cover your countertops and cabinets to protect them from the harsh winter elements. (PRO TIP– be sure to remove the food from your cabinets. Though it’s kind of obvious, you might be surprised at how often it’s overlooked.)
Fireplaces, Fire Tables, & Other Fire Features
If you’ve ever owned a fireplace, you’re probably already familiar with what it takes to keep it tidy. Outdoor fireplaces and other fire features aren’t much different. Generally speaking, there are some fundamental things that apply to most fire features in order to keep them functional and appealing. For more specific fire feature maintenance, see our post, How to Maintain Your Outdoor Fire Features (Gas & Wood). As a general overview, here are some important things to note:
- Remove the ashes from your fireplace regularly with a fireplace shovel and place them in a metal container. Make sure the ashes are completely cool before transferring them to a non-metal container. It may take a day or two for the oven and ashes to cool completely.
- If you don’t already have a cover for your chimney, you may want to consider one. This way you’re fireplace and chimney aren’t susceptible to weather damage and critters.
- Use a wire brush to sweep your chimney at least once per year. You can also hire someone to do this, or your local fire department may offer the service for free.
- For info on cleaning your outdoor oven, be sure to check out our post, Everything You Need to Know About Outdoor Ovens, Fireplaces, Fire Pits & Fire Tables.
While outdoor furniture isn’t the main topic when discussing an outdoor kitchen, it quickly becomes obvious that most outdoor sanctuaries aren’t complete without proper furnishings. It’s always a best practice to keep your furniture away from direct contact with weather elements, and the measure to which you do that depends on which materials your outdoor furniture is made of. If your outdoor space isn’t covered, then you’ll want to consider moving your furniture indoors during extreme weather. A more realistic option is to cover your outdoor furniture with enough space between the cover and the floor to allow moisture to escape (helps to prevent mildew).
A mild soap and water solution will often suffice for most weather-resistant materials, and harsh chemicals such as bleach or ammonia should be avoided. To avoid staining, address spills as quickly as possible.
For additional info on outdoor furniture materials, check out the “upholstery” section of our free ebook.
Winterizing Your Outdoor Furniture
If your furniture is made of mesh, vinyl, or has some protective coating (like acrylic), then they are typically better suited to withstand normal weathering depending on the brand and manufacturer. Even if you have the advantage of weather-resistant materials, we still recommend you cover your furniture during extreme weather and winter season.
An outdoor kitchen is not only a significant investment but can also be a significant asset to your home if you eventually decide to sell. Either way, it’s important to properly maintain your outdoor space in order to keep it functional and appealing as you spend quality time with friends and family. If you have more specific or detailed questions regarding maintaining your outdoor living space, feel free to contact our team, and we’d be happy to help!
Ready to Get Started?
Check out our free step-by-step guide to planning your outdoor entertainment area.Download Our Planning Guide