Outdoor Kitchen Design Tips

Sally Painter
Outdoor Kitchen

Installing an outdoor kitchen gives you an additional area for not just cooking, but entertaining. Backyard barbecues can become a regular happening when you have the luxury of an outdoor kitchen at your disposal. With a well-designed area, you may prefer cooking more than just summer meals outside.

#1 Choose Weather Resistent Materials

The materials you select for your outdoor kitchen need to be resilient to the elements of wind, snow, rain, sun. Depending on what region of the country you live, the kitchen requirements may demand more than others. For example:

  • Someone living in a low rain environment, such as Arizona, will need products that have UV stabilizers whereas someone living in Oregon with high rainfall will need products that can withstand the wet environment.
  • Northern climates will require cold and snow resilience whereas southern regions have high heat and humidity concerns.

Material Options

The best materials to withstand most weather conditions, such as wind, rain, snow and sun, are stainless steel, stone, porcelain tile, concrete blocks, cultured granite with UV stabilizers, and brick. There are fire-proof veneers you can use as well.

Countertop Tips

For countertops, you'll want to use hard surface materials that are made specifically for outdoor use.

  • Keep in mind that any natural stone countertop will need to be sealed consistently on a regular basis.
  • Be sure to check with manufacturers if you live in harsh cold climates since some tile countertops may crack when undergoing repeated freezing and thawing conditions.

#2 Create a Comfortable Climate

You can add a few pieces of equipment that will help make your outdoor space more enjoyable and more comfortable for cooking.

  • For hot summer days, consider installing a patio mister or low pressure misting system installed along the upper beams or frame of shelter.
  • In the summer, ceiling fans and wall mounted fans are another way to keep the air circulating.
  • If you live in area plagued by mosquitos, you may wish to invest in screening for your outdoor kitchen or one of the many mosquitos trap machines on the market.
  • If you wish to continue using your outdoor kitchen during cooler months, you can add gas lamps or lanterns, a fireplace that can also be used for baking, a fire pit and infrared heaters on stands or wall mounted.

#3 Have a Sound Structure

If you're constructing your outdoor kitchen on an existing patio or deck, be sure that it is strong enough to support the weight of your kitchen. Some patios may be surfaced with material that won't standup to certain weight loads. Industry professionals, like contractors, will be able to assist you in making this determination and provide recommendations.

Shelters and Enclosures

One of the best ways to improve your cooking experience is to provide a shelter for your outdoor kitchen. A tall roofline will provide ample protection and allow for natural ventilation.

  • Enclosed Outdoor Kitchen
    Choices include a pergola, gazebo, or simply an A-frame roofline with an open base. Consult with a professional designer or architect so that your outdoor structure for your kitchen ties in with the architecture of your home.
  • If you enclose your outdoor kitchen be sure to use a ventilation hood over the grill to ensure the eaves and roof are protected. This is especially important if the kitchen is attached to your home. This added precaution will more than pay for itself in peace of mind.

#4 Create Kitchen Work Zones

Just as you would do with an indoor kitchen, you need to create work zones for various kitchen functions, such as:

  • Food preparation: Countertop space, chopping block, sink with running water, blender and other equipment
  • Food storage: Refrigerator and storage cabinets
  • Beverage station: Storage, refrigerator, ice maker, sink and running water, blender and other specialty equipment
  • Cooking: Includes grill, oven, range, specialty cooking, such as pizza oven, deep fryers, wok burner and other equipment
  • Dining: Table and chairs, bar and barstools or wall top for extra seating
  • Entertainment and socializing: A patio, screen-in gazebo or other casual seating area, includes electronic equipment designed for outdoor use, such as televisions, movie screens/projectors, video, music and sound equipment

You will need to plan electrical outlets to ensure you have enough and that they are located for convenient use.

#5 Lighting Tips

Outdoor lighting is essential to any work area like an outdoor kitchen. There are several types of outdoor lighting that you'll want to use in your kitchen similarly to task lighting found in indoor kitchens.

  • Outdoor Kitchen Lighting
    You may be using your grill at different times during the day, which requires different lighting depending on the time of day. Track the sun before adding lights, so you know where the light is at all times of the day and how much of it you'll have to work with.
  • Augment natural light with artificial lighting, such as recessed lighting, pendant lights, under counter lights, rope lights, spotlights, and decorative string lights.
  • Invest in outdoor-specific light fixtures for a more complete design look.

#6 Blend Style With Architecture and Theme

While you aren't obligated to stick with the architecture of your home, you certainly want your outdoor kitchen to blend with the overall design of your home. Otherwise, your new outdoor room will feel out of place. The success of a design project is that once it's completed, it looks as though it always belonged there. With this goal in mind, there are a few themes you can integrate with your existing architectural style.

  • Americana country: Achieve this look with a colonial architectural style either in wood or brick with white painted woodwork. Red, white and blue fabrics, rug and accessories can carry the colors scheme. American flag motifs, stars and stripes in wood plaques, signs and throws can be used throughout. Add an oval braided outdoor rug to complete the look.
  • Tuscan Inspired Outdoor Kitchen
    Tuscan inspired outdoor kitchen
    Tuscan: This Old World style can be created using large terra cotta tile flooring, stucco walls with antique color wash paint, mosaic tile relief wall fountain, hand-painted square tile countertops, archways, and pizza ovens. Go with amber, gold, green, russet, red and blue color palettes that represent poppy fields, olive trees, and vineyards.
  • Nantucket: This architectural style can be achieved with white painted woodwork, wood shingle roof (modern fireproof material), shingle siding if your outdoor kitchen has walls, a roof walk (widow's walk) and a bake oven built into fireplace. Add outdoor furniture in antique wicker, cushions with bleached cotton look in solids and stripes, Windsor style dining chair and Nantucket-style baskets for storage.
  • English cottage: This graceful style can be found either in painted wood or brick architecture. Dry herbs hanging overhead. Brick, large square slate tiles or cobble-stone patios set the look. A large fireplace out of stone with wide heavy overhead beams can offer protection from the elements. Go with a rustic style harvest table or trestle style table out of teak with rough-hewn benches. Outdoor fabrics can include pastel yellows and greens, with

#7 Consider Your Grill Options

Decide on what type of fuel you want for your grill. Gas grills have convenience and ease of starting while charcoal offers different taste options as does a mesquite grill. Will the grill be a standalone or will it be incorporated into a cabinet design? These are design questions to address before you make your final selection. A few examples of options include:

  • The Kenmore 6 Burner Stainless Gas Grill has front storage, six burners (8,000 BTUs), side burner (13,000 BTUs) and 788 square inches of cooking space for multi-zone grilling. Pick it up for between $500 and $600.
  • The Bull Outdoor Gourmet-Q Grilling Island has a built-in grill with seven burners, single or double side burner, storage drawers, radio/cd player with speakers and a nine-foot umbrella. It provides a 45.62 square foot work space complete with stainless steel sink, faucet, and stainless steel refrigerator. The price starts around $6,550.
  • The Bull Mesquite-Q Grill Island in stucco has a galvanized steel frame and cement board base that includes food prep tile countertop with a four burner grill, long bar area, built-in refrigerator, stainless steel access door and storage drawers. It costs around $7,000.
  • The Magikitch'n Magicater Transportable Charcoal Grill is made from aluminized steel construction and has an adjustable chrome top grid, snap in leg system, and six inch heavy duty casters. It's listed for around $1,650 but can be found on sale for around $800.

#8 Appliance and Counter Placement

When working with a custom designed grill you want to provide enough counter space on both sides of the grill for platters and cooking tools. Also, it's a good rule not to crowd your appliances together. Allow space between them for proper air flow and heat distribution.

Use the Working Triangle

The working triangle rule that governs indoor kitchens should be applied to your outdoor kitchen. The best working triangle places the cooktop, sink and food storage (refrigerator) within the space.

Kitchens.com explains the work triangle. Essentially, you should be able to draw a straight line from the center of the sink to the center of the range or cooktop, from there to the center of the refrigerator, and then back to the center of the sink. Ideally, each line should not be any longer than nine feet or less than four feet. Anything less than these guidelines is considered undesirable for an ergonomic work flow.

Vary Counter Heights

Another great tip is to allow for varying counter heights if possible. This will assist in the workflow and can be used to help distinguish various work zones. For example, the HBO recommends:

  • For prep work and general cooking zones, 36" high cabinets with countertops are standard.
  • For eating and sitting bar areas, a 30" high counter space is desirable.
  • Bistro style counters and tables for standing or sitting is 42" high.

#9 Include Storage and Accessories

As with the interior of your home, there can never be enough storage. You want to provide as much as you can to lessen the number of trips needed to the indoors kitchen. The ideal is to have all your kitchen supplies on hand and within easy reach in your outdoor kitchen.

These include:

  • Pullout trash bins
  • Recycling bin
  • Composting bin
  • Baskets or stainless steel bins for utensils, napkins, cleaning supplies, condiments, spices and other items
  • Drawer dividers for organizing barbecue and cooking utensils and tools
  • Cabinet space for pots, pans and grilling tools
  • Paper towel holder within easy reach of cooking zone and another in the food preparation zone

The most important accessory that you don't want to overlook is a fire extinguisher - with the hope you'll never need to use it.

#10 Aesthetics Are a Must

While it's easy to get caught up in the technical and mechanical aspects of designing an outdoor kitchen, it's important to remember there is also an aesthetic side to creating this space.

Buy Outdoor Furnishings

Outdoor Kitchen Furniture

You need to select furnishing, such as table, chairs, rugs, cushion fabrics, throw pillows, throws, umbrellas, sofa, chairs, ottomans and barstool-the same as you would for the interior of your home. The only difference is the type of materials you'll be shopping for are specifically designed for outdoor use.

Decorative Detail Tips

Once you have everything selected and construction complete it's time to think of the minute details that will make your outdoor kitchen extra special. There's a wide variety of choices in style and finishes, such as wood, steel and outdoor upholstery.

  • Recliners will give your outdoor space a homey feel and perfect for star gazing or watching a moving outside.
  • A buffet table is an ideal way to serve guests.
  • Don't forget outdoor table lamps, placed on either end of a buffet or on an end table, and floor lamps all add needed ambiance and layering of lights.
  • String decorative bulb lights over the dining table for nighttime ambiance.
  • Don't forget to add a few art objects, wall art, baskets of plants and flowers, table centerpieces, candleholders, and candles.
  • Pathway lights along stepping stones or a sidewalk leading to your outdoor kitchen are a must.

Landscaping

Polish off your creation with excellent landscaping. This can be elaborate or simple depending on budget and style.

  • Seasonal plantings will give you year-round color.
  • Special features, such as a water fountain or koi pond, can add depth and great aesthetics to your outdoor kitchen.

The Small Things Matter

Take a moment to examine your wonderful creation. Check each area and review the small touches you've added or perhaps overlooked and need to add. Color, style and design should all come together to give a cohesive and natural addition to your home. It's now time to enjoy cooking outdoors!

Outdoor Kitchen Design Tips