How to Design an Outdoor Kitchen

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Look at these beautiful outdoor kitchens below. They are stunning. Yet both are wrong.

Outdoor-Kitchen-Designs-What-Not-to-Do

This outdoor kitchen is designed the right way:

kalamazoo-outdoor-kitchen-design-inspiration-ashland-project (1)

You may be wondering what the differences are. After reading this article, you will have the right tools to confidently design your own outdoor kitchen. In the end, we'll redesign the first two kitchens the right way. 

You will learn all about the essential questions to ask before you start building your outdoor kitchen. We'll cover what must-have components, like water, gas, and electricity, you will need to power your kitchen.

Then we'll share all the options you can add to your outdoor kitchen from grills, smokers, griddle accessories, ice makers, and anything else you can use. After that, I will give you a framework of four different configurations to help you with your outdoor space.

This article will walk you through the beginning of your research to the planning phases for designing an outdoor kitchen. In the end, you'll know how to transform your outdoor space into a functional kitchen.

Some of our best tips for designing an outdoor kitchen are from several of the industry's most notable experts:

  • Ashley Smith, Director of Design and Account Management at Urban Bonfire
  • Basil Larkin, Vice President of Sales at Hestan Commercial Corporation
  • Russ Faulk, Chief Designer and Head of Product at Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet
  • Scott Grugel, President of Middleby Residential Sales

There are links to various resources at the end to help you along the way. Don't worry. You can do this. Let's get inspired!!!! (I know I am. I loved authoring this article).

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How to Design an Outdoor Kitchen

You can have about any appliance for an outdoor kitchen. The options are limitless, from power burners and griddles to pizza ovens, sinks, and every type of refrigeration.

Before you invest in your outdoor living space, let's talk about what you truly need. Every space is separate, and so is the way you will look at grills and outside entertainment.

ashley-smith-urban-bonfireStep one is an inspiration. Look at plans, sketches, inspirational images, and/or create a Pinterest board, and do not limit yourself by only looking at other outdoor kitchens! Find inspiration from indoor kitchens as well and create a wish list as well as a list of "must-have" items you would like to include." Ashley Smith, Urban Bonfire

 

Something to keep in mind, is that some kitchen layouts may not be the best or safe for your home. I would look at plans and different pictures, but use them as reference only.

Who Plans and Builds Your Outdoor Kitchen?

outdoor-kitchen-contractor-Outdoor Kitchen General Contractor

 

Let's start with who you should hire for designing your outdoor kitchen. Is it the architect, landscaper, contractor, builder, or mason? How involved are your cabinet shop and appliance store?

The answer can be any of the above. Many of the problems building your outdoor kitchen start from knowing who will take responsibility.

Make sure to research the best contractors and suppliers. Vet them by checking portfolios and reviews, and then delegate responsibility.

Don't assume any builder can design an outdoor cooking space. In Miami, FL, outdoor kitchens are part of the house. In Boston, it's a new phenomenon.

Ask Yourself the Right Questions

Now, you need to ask yourself three important questions.

1. First, what is your entertainment strategy?

How are you going to use this space? Is it a place to make burgers, so all you need is a grill and some space to lay your prep? Or do you want a fully operational kitchen?

If it's a central place, you may need to think about more countertop space for entertaining or for your kids to do homework outside. Outdoor cooking tools and platters are usually larger than indoor ones, so having more counter space is key.

It's often an overlooked component when cooking and serving guests. In your indoor kitchen, you use plates. You will most likely serve on platters in an outdoor kitchen.

scott-grugel-middleby-residential-sales"Will you have one entertainment area or an area for hot and one for seating?" Scott Grugel, Middleby Residential Sales

 
 
 
2. Second, what is the proximity of your outdoor kitchen to your indoor kitchen?

If it's just next to the screen door, you do not need as many appliances and kitchen options outside. Think about where you'll prepare that corn on the cob, for example. Is it inside or outdoor?

If your outdoor space is away from your main kitchen, you may need more storage and appliances. Think about trying to avoid the classic "back and forth" when preparing or cooking.

Consider the relationship between your indoor and outdoor kitchens. If they are close together, an outdoor kitchen can rely on the indoor kitchen for prep and cleanup.

Shelves, storage for dishes and glasses, places for garbage, and the need for ice and refrigeration are all crucial factors to consider.

russ-faulk-kalamazoo-outdoor-gourmet"Plan space for the basic tasks, including prep, cooking, serving, and cleanup. Each station needs its own countertop space so that entertaining does not turn into an exercise in frustration." Russ Faulk, Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet

 

Most of the important principles to consider for your indoor kitchen apply outdoors as well. When mapping out the space for your kitchen outdoors, be sure to consider:

  • Countertop space for preparation
  • The placement of appliances for the best flow
  • Storage for additional cooking equipment

Write out what you will want to store outdoors so you can choose applicable storage inserts.

ashley-smith-urban-bonfire"Assessing how you will use your kitchen, and its main functions are important to consider when designing this space." Ashley Smith, Urban Bonfire

 

 

3. Third, how do you like to cook, and what will you use the most?

You will learn about products later in the article but how many products dictate your final space? You can do anything now outside, so what do you want to do?

Try to mimic how you use your indoor space to maximize investment, usage, and enjoyment needs. You want to plan around the right amount of counter space, especially if you serve large parties.

Factoring in Wind and Sun When Planning an Outdoor Kitchen

bbq-grill-in-rainRain-Soaked BBQ Grill 

 

The grill experts talked about the sun and wind during my interviews. You want to consider wind, sun, and rain exposure when planning your grill.

scott-grugel-middleby-residential-sales"Understand prevailing winds. You don't want the smoke from your grill or smoker blowing into your house." Scott Grugel, Middleby Residential Sales

 

 

basil-larkin-hestan-commercial-corporation"Location of the kitchen is usually the next best step. You'll want to pay attention to things like direct sunlight (do you need coverage) and wind direction (location of the grill)." Basil Larkin, Hestan Commercial Corporation

 

Fuel Considerations for an Outdoor Kitchen

Natural gas grills and side burners need gas plumbed to the locations. If this is a problem, you can buy a grill powered by propane.

You may need electrical work done for your outdoor appliances, grill ignition, blenders, rotisserie motors, or even charging your phone. Refrigerators, warming drawers, and wine coolers will also need electricity. If you choose an icemaker, sink, faucet, or dishwasher, you also need water lines.

Remember, in areas where winters have freezing temperatures, any appliance with water will need to be "winterized."

Lighting Considerations

outdoor-kitchen-with-banister-lightingBuilt-In Grill and Outdoor Kitchen With Banister Lighting

 

Lighting should be part of the plan, especially for grilling at night. Maybe because I sold lighting, I think lighting is important.

Most people think their outside lights will handle it. But they're usually too bright and not focused on the grill. One great idea is to light your banisters. It can be a 30-second difference between medium and rare on a powerful grill.

You should consider task lighting near your grill. I am a huge fan of "lighting tape." It's just LED diodes on a flat translucent tape. You can stick them anywhere for decent lighting. We just need to wire to a transformer.

Ventilation Considerations

As long-time readers of this blog know, I am specific about venting an outdoor grill. It is not easy to capture the vast amount of smoke from a BBQ.

A large amount of the pictures of vented outdoor kitchens on Houzz will have problems with smoke, like the photo below. 

three-season-porch-and-grill-with-no-ventGrill Located on a Three-Season Porch with No Ventilation

 

You need an extra deep hood and a powerful blower to evacuate the smoke and grease for adequate exhaust. Smoke is channeled into the hood and then removed, so you need both.

Plan your ventilation carefully, especially if your grill is inside or on a three-season porch. I would advise leaving the grill completely outside and not worrying about venting.

If that is not in your design, then spend time planning ventilation. You may even want to try a commercial vent if you like to cook. I would recommend 27 inches deep and at least 18 inches high. Your hood's CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute) should be at least 1500 CFM or more depending on how you cook.

Read More: How to Vent an Outdoor Grill

Best Outdoor Kitchen Products

Grills

There is an endless array of grills from Hestan, DCS, Kalamazoo, Weber, and Lynx. The grill is the cornerstone of your outdoor kitchen and the middle of your flow. You want to arrange everything else around it.

russ-faulk-kalamazoo-outdoor-gourmet"Configuring your outdoor kitchen appliances starts with the grill. Your grill is the centerpiece of the outdoor kitchen." Russ Faulk, Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet

 

 

Now pause here for a bit and answer the following questions.

  • How do you like to grill?
  • Do you like speed? Or lower and slower?
  • Do you want added flavor and texture?
  • What's your go-to method?

Based on your answers, you may find yourself inquiring about several types of grills. Here is a breakdown of the different types of grills and what they can and can't do:

Gas Grills

LiveAbode-Features-Hestan-Outdoor-Built-In-Grills (1)Hestan Built-In Gas BBQ Grill

 

Incredibly fast, sear the best, especially with an infrared sear zone. Gas grills are simple to use as well. Kalamazoo is different than a regular gas grill with their hybrid drawer, allowing you to use wood and charcoal to infuse flavor. They start at about $10,000, so it's not for everyone.

Drawbacks: Gas grills do not add flavor or texture.

Pellet Smokers

Traeger-Timberline-3Traeger Pellet Grill

 

There are several types of smokers. Most popular is the pellet type. Smokers do an excellent job at adding flavor and texture with tons of different flavored pellets. Many have Wi-Fi interfaces and clocks to be able to program your cooking. 

Drawbacks: Smokers are low and slow. You cannot quickly throw a few burgers on the grill. At a max temperature of 400-450, a smoker cannot also sear. Do not buy just a pellet type if you want to grill. Many people make that mistake.

Charcoal

Weber-Charcoal-Grill_1Weber Charcoal Grill

 

Charcoal has the speed of gas with the texture of pellets. Pro grillers will use some type of combination of wood and charcoal in competitions. You have the speed and the flavor in a grill.

Drawbacks: You have to add charcoal after each use and empty the ash—the temperature isn't as constant as gas. You don't have the flavor combinations of the pellet.

Ceramic

big-green-egg-at-yale-appliance-in-boston-maOld Display of Big Green Egg Ceramic Grills at Yale Appliance in Boston

 

A ceramic-like the Big Green Egg or Kamado Joe can do a bit of everything.

Drawbacks: You must learn how to use a ceramic grill and consistently mind the grill like charcoal. No grill can cook fast and slow.

Best BBQ Grill Brands for Your Outdoor Kitchen

LiveAbode-Features-Hestan-Outdoor-Built-In-Grills (1)Built-In Hestan Grill and Outdoor Kitchen

 

I am mentioning availability in every article these days. When you look at Hestan, DCS, and Lynx, they are all-powerful grills with similar output. The features are similar with some differences. Buy the available one. Don't be fixated on the brand because you could wait a year.

1. Kalamazoo

Kalamazoo is a hybrid grill operating with pro burners to use charcoal and/or wood for speed, texture, and flavor.

They have the deepest surface for thorough "natural convection" cooking. Their grills, pizza ovens, and accessories are the most expensive but are considered the best in the world.

2. Lynx

Lynx is a pro grill with high output. Their ceramic burner is weatherproof. You can buy Lynx with all burners, all burners, and an infrared sear and all sear grill as well.

Lynx will have availability issues in 2022-2023. If you want one, buy it now

3. DCS

DCS was the first pro grill with two series. They now offer a charcoal accessory as well as 25,000 BTU (British Thermal Unit) per burner output.

They will also be the most available pro grill, at least this year.

3. Hestan

Hestan residential is an offshoot of the giant commercial manufacturer Meyer. They have distinguished their grills with laser-cut grates to maintain a sear throughout

Unlike any other manufacturer, Hestan has several colors as well.

4. Weber

If DCS was the first professional grill, Weber was the first to build a reliable grill for less money. They may not have the other three output burner, but they offer a much lower price, especially in their Genesis and Spirit series grills.

Their smart grills really work as well. You should buy their Bluetooth thermometer even if you don't buy a Weber.

Read More: Best Professional Outdoor BBQ Grills

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Outdoor Kitchen Appliances

true-outdoor-kitchen-refrigerationOutdoor Kitchen featuring True Undercounter Refrigeration

 

Think of your outdoor kitchen as an extension of your home. The outdoor kitchen is often one of the last items to be added to a home, but you can start thinking about this while planning your indoor kitchen.

All your appliances for your outdoor kitchen, should be UL rated to be placed outside. Their composition should be more metal and resistant to rusting.

Consider the appliances you want indoors compared to outdoors, and make sure they complement one another.

ashley-smith-urban-bonfire"This might include incorporating a pizza-making station or adding in a power burner to cook lobster. You do not need to limit yourself to a "traditional" kitchen. Make it suit your needs and your space." Ashley Smith, Urban Bonfire

 

Secondary Appliances and Cooking Accessories

Pizza Ovens: They can be pricey, but all of them cook pizza well quickly.

Warming Drawers: Place near or under your grill. It keeps foods warm for up to 3 hours.

Asado Cooktops: Asado cooktops are large griddles. The hot dogs and sausages and peppers were cooked on a griddle if you go to a ballgame. You can cook anything on a griddle.

Side Burners: Great for boiling lobsters or corn on the cob. You can cook foods as well as grill with side burners.

Refrigeration

There are all types of refrigerators. You have refrigerators, wine coolers, and ice makers. With icemakers and dishwashers, you need a cold-water line. Maintenance is always key, especially with icemakers. You should clean them periodically.

Storage

You will need some storage or cabinets for your outdoor kitchen. You can buy them from a manufacturer like Lynx, Kalamazoo, or Urban Bonfire.

You can also find them in many prefabricated solutions (we will cover that later).

Sinks and Faucets

You should consider a sink and faucet if your outdoor kitchen is not close to your main kitchen. The Galley is an interesting sink to consider. It is marine grade, available from 2-7 feet, and can double as a workspace.

4 Best Outdoor Kitchen Layouts

The grill should be your centerpiece, as I have said. However, you want to apply the same logic as we discuss on planning the inside as well.

Burners and other cooking appliances should be in close proximity. You do not need refrigeration close in your plan. It's not critical to cooking.

Your other consideration is your sink. You are at the sink more than any other appliance, washing, and cleaning. If you have a sink in your plan, centralize it.

1. Island Outdoor Kitchen Layout

island-urban-bonfire-outdoor-kitchen-with-hestan-grillOutdoor Kitchen with an Island Layout from Urban Bonfire

 

Island is the most popular, with the grill in the center and serving appliances on either side. You will have to serve and eat elsewhere, but an island is the most space-efficient.

Look at the faucet next to the burner. You won't have to lug a big pot of water from the inside. You just fill that pot right there.

2. L-Shape Outdoor Kitchen Layout

l-shaped-urban-bonfire-outdoor-kitchen-with-lynx-grillOutdoor Kitchen with a L-Shape Layout from Urban Bonfire

 

You can serve food in an L shape. Many designers raise the counter a bit for this reason. The L shape is efficient. Note the distance between the grill and seating. It's easy to serve.

ashley-smith-urban-bonfire"If you like to entertain, consider adding an island as a place for people to sit and gather around so that the cook can interact with guests, or creating an L shape to incorporate seating." Ashley Smith, Urban Bonfire

 

3. U-Shape Outdoor Kitchen Layout

u-shaped-outdoor-built-in-grill-layoutOutdoor Kitchen with an U-Shape Layout from Urban Bonfire

 

The U is a bigger L allowing for more entertaining and serving. You can also incorporate more appliances on the other side.

4. Galley Outdoor Kitchen Layout

urban-bonfire-galley-shaped-outdoor-kitchenOutdoor Kitchen with a Galley Layout from Urban Bonfire

 

Like many indoor setups, this separates the "cooking" side from the serving and eating side. Galley layouts are growing in popularity for outdoor entertainment.

Pro Tip: Once you pick everything, chalk the diagram on your current space to see if it looks right to you.

Best Materials for Your Outdoor Kitchen

You want your kitchen weather-resistant, especially in New England.

For counters, you want a non-porous material like granite, Dekton, concrete, and stainless. Tile can crack, and granite should be treated occasionally.

Dekton and other modern materials offer a "no maintenance" alternative and are growing in popularity. Dekton is a composite weather-safe material. Urban Bonfire, an outside cabinet and design company, recommends Dekton.

Do not use quartz and limestone because they weather poorly and are not UV stable (fading over time).

For outdoor cabinets, marine-grade aluminum, stainless steel, marine-grade polymers, and stone are the best materials. If you want wooden cabinets, teak wood weather is the best. Marine-grade aluminum is the best.

However, there is no clear definition of "marine grade." It's typically 304 or 316 types stainless with high molybdenum content or treated with taurine to resist corrosion. You still must wipe it down.

Now you know the basics, let's look at the array of products.

What Are Your Best Options for Building an Outdoor Kitchen?

urban-bonfire-galley-shaped-outdoor-kitchenUrban Bonfire Outdoor Kitchen

 

Many people will have an architect, designer, cabinet shop, and builder plan your outdoor kitchen. This is a great option if you have plenty of time, space, and a larger budget.

However, you can buy various kits from box stores and different manufacturers. Lynx has a cabinet line, as does, Hestan, Kalamazoo, and DCS, amongst others.

You must make sure they are weather-resistant in all parts, including the drawers. Urban Bonfire is a manufacturer based in Montreal. Their cabinets are made of thick gauge, marine-grade aluminum. Its full powder coated to protect in sun, snow, and saltwater with all non-combustible materials.

They include the structure, storage, and design all in one and work with all major grill brands and sizes on the market. You can customize your finishes without waiting 6-8 months for delivery. They have models with only a 2–4-week lead time.

Urban Bonfire provides the best out-of-the-box solution, plus the prices are reasonable, usually starting at $7,000.

How to Design an Outdoor Kitchen: Key Takeaways

It all starts with who will be helping you. Make sure they are qualified. Then it's about you and your space. Start with your entertainment strategy of what you will use or want. Pick the products, cooking, storage, and refrigeration. Then chalk it off or draw it out.

If you are thinking about building an outdoor kitchen, start planning your electrical and plumbing early.

Look at alternatives. In this case, out-of-the-box solutions are good to eliminate delays and blow up your budget.

You can now have any type of grill, accessory, and appliance for your outdoor kitchen. Just plan well so that you can enjoy it fully later.

Now let's redesign those kitchens from the very top of this article.

Outdoor-Kitchen-Designs----What-Not-to-Do-

Most of the kitchen on the left is unnecessary. The kitchen is close by, so you don't need all that stuff. Look at the refrigerator on the left. It obscures the doorway. How do you think it looks from the vantage point of the other room?

The kitchen on the right needs more. It's too far from the house, so I would recommend side burners and a refrigerator in the plan to eliminate the back and forth.

Now, look at this design.

kalamazoo-outdoor-kitchen-design-inspiration-ashland-project (1)Outdoor Kitchen featuring a Kalamazoo Professional Grill

 

As you now know, the grill is the center of any outside kitchen. The second consideration is the sink which is the most used appliance (on your inside kitchen). Look at how they positioned all the appliances. You would never have to move more than one foot in any direction while cooking.

The side burners are next to the grill, and as are all the appliances, you will need immediate access. Refrigeration is off to the side because it is not mission-critical to have a refrigerator immediately in reach. The hood is also extra deep and tall. I am not a huge fan of venting a grill, but this will work.

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Steve Sheinkopf

Steve is the third-generation CEO of Yale and a lifelong Bostonian. He currently resides in Boston, one mile from where he was born. Despite being one of the worst goalies of all time, he is a huge hockey fan of college hockey and the Boston Bruins. The love of his life is his daughter Sophie.

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