Outdoor Kitchen
Configuration and Design Ideas

By Kealia Reynolds

An outdoor kitchen is the perfect addition to summer cookouts, casual get-togethers, and weekend pool parties. Whether you’re thinking about updating your current outdoor kitchen setup or are starting completely from scratch, here are some pre-installation considerations and design ideas to make the most of your outdoor space.

DIY or hire?

When determining if you should build your outdoor kitchen yourself or hire a professional, it all comes down to the scope of the project and your experience.

Adding tables or building a pergola might not need professional help but creating a permanent outdoor kitchen requires knowledge of electrical wiring, irrigation, and hardscaping in addition to extensive time, money, and resources. If you’re looking to build a permanent outdoor kitchen, rather than a temporary space, we recommend hiring a professional.

What to consider before building an outdoor kitchen

1. Cost to build an outdoor kitchen

Creating an outdoor kitchen will be an investment regardless if you choose a movable structure or custom design. Temporary, movable kitchens will cost $300 to $3,000, a prefabricated kitchen or already-built kitchen (which usually comes with an island, tile countertops, a drop-in gas grill, and access doors for a propane tank) will cost between $2,000 and $30,000, and a custom outdoor kitchen can cost anywhere between $3,000 and $50,000 depending on size and features .

You’ll also want to create space in your budget for labor costs, materials, and permits for electrical or plumbing work (some towns will also require a permit for prefabricated grill islands). Go with a movable outdoor kitchen to avoid a tax hike or check with local ordinances to determine whether you’ll need to pull a permit.

2. Type: permanent or otherwise

Portable outdoor kitchens are great for homeowners or renters who have limited outdoor space. You can buy portable kitchens online or at home improvement stores. Prefab kitchens are a solid option for those who have a little more outdoor space but don’t want to break the bank customizing a permanent outdoor kitchen.

Choosing prefab kitchens also cuts down on time and cost since the design work is already completed for you. These are available online or through specialty manufacturers and home improvement stores. If you have a bigger budget, plenty of outdoor space, and want to customize your outdoor kitchen from scratch, we recommend going with a custom kitchen design and contracting out.

Note that the type of outdoor kitchen you choose will affect installation time. Prefab structures can take as little as four hours to complete while custom kitchens can take a few weeks to install. If you want to use your outdoor kitchen as soon as possible, opt for a movable or prefab kitchen.

3. Proximity to house

Though you have the option of building your outdoor kitchen anywhere in your backyard, it’s best to keep it closer to the house (ideally 15 to 20 feet from your indoor kitchen). Creating the kitchen closer to the house makes it easier for you to transport materials from the inside and it’s less expensive to run utilities a shorter distance. Before finalizing your design, check zoning requirements to make sure your outdoor kitchen will be a legal distance from property lines.

4. Outdoor kitchen appliances

Keep in mind that when adding appliances, you’ll have to look for outdoor appliances. Indoor appliances will work but may not last as long as appliances that are built for outdoor use.

Though these outdoor kitchen appliances aren’t necessary, they can enhance the cooking experience for outdoor gatherings.

  • Sink—Installing a sink in your outdoor kitchen counter space makes it easier for you to wash fruits, vegetables, and cooking supplies without having to make trips inside.
  • Built-in refrigerator—Having an outdoor refrigerator eliminates the need to go indoors while cooking or entertaining, making it easier to always have a cold one in hand.
  • Ice maker—If your built-in refrigerator doesn’t already have an ice maker, consider adding one. You’ll never have to worry about rolling a cooler outside or making last-minute ice runs.
  • Pizza oven, deep fryer, smoker—If you’re the type of person that loves hosting and goes above and beyond the typical grilled meals, consider adding one of these appliances for bigger gatherings. Pizza ovens for outdoor pizza parties, a deep fryer for cookouts, and a smoker for Sunday night football.
  • Cooling and heating—If you live in a warmer climate, consider adding outdoor fans or misters to keep you and your guests cool. If you live in a colder climate, space heaters can make the area comfortable on cooler nights.

5. Layout

Depending on your budget and outdoor space, you’ll have a variety of configuration options to choose from.

  • Island—Whether permanent or temporary, an outdoor kitchen island with a propane grill is perfect for entertaining. If you have a smaller patio or deck, this configuration might be best.
  • One-wall—Outdoor kitchens against one wall typically consist of a grill, stove, and food prep space. This configuration is best for homes with bigger outdoor cooking spaces and separate seating or dining areas.
  • L-shaped—L-shaped kitchens are great for two cooks and usually include a sink and fridge in addition to a grill, stove, food prep space, and bar seating on one side. This configuration is best for houses with larger outdoor spaces or for couples who love cooking together.
  • U-shaped—Perfect for an outdoor kitchen with multiple appliances (grill, refrigerator, sink, oven, etc.) and bigger patios, U-shaped kitchens provide ample space for cooking and entertaining.

6. Safety considerations

To ensure a safe cooking experience, follow these considerations when building your outdoor kitchen.

  • Position your grill at least 10 feet from combustible materials like wood, deck rails, and tree branches. Have a fire extinguisher on deck at all times.
  • Check your gas line for leaks. To do this, mix one part dish soap with two parts water and brush the solution on the hose and connector fittings. Turn on the gas and examine if bubbles form on the hose or connector fittings. If bubbles do form, you have a leak. You will either have to tighten the fittings or replace the parts altogether.
  • Use extension cords that have Underwriters Laboratories (UL) ratings—these protect against UV exposure and high temperatures.
  • When winter approaches, winterize your outdoor kitchen by cleaning and covering the grill, unplugging all appliances, and shutting off the water supply to prevent frozen pipes.

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