How to Design an Outdoor Kitchen

Outdoor kitchen in the Colinas II model by Dress Custom Homes in Dripping Springs, TX.

Outdoor kitchen in the Colinas II model by Dress Custom Homes in Dripping Springs, TX.


If you plan on installing an outdoor kitchen area, it’s important to allot sufficient time and design energy to your backyard area before construction is completed. Proper planning will help ensure ideal placement of the outdoor kitchen in relation to the main home, as well as sufficient access to all needed utilities before construction is completed.  

Here’s what you should consider when designing the perfect outdoor kitchen space for your new home: 

Location and size  

Commonly, an outdoor kitchen will be built under a covered patio attached to the main home or as a self-contained island in the backyard.  There are pros and cons to both locations and this choice usually boils down to personal preference. The overall size and footprint of your outdoor kitchen will dictate the amount of cooking and appliance options you will be able to install.  

Again, always consider how you will supply your outdoor kitchen with all needed utilities before finalizing a location.  In addition, some grading and leveling may need to occur within your backyard to ensure proper drainage once your outdoor kitchen is completed.  You should work closely with your contractor during this stage of the process. Avoid building an outdoor kitchen next to a high-traffic play area, such as a basketball hoop to avoid kids or sporting equipment falling into the heated grill area.  

Also, be sure to look at the chosen location from the windows inside your main home to ensure you’re not inadvertently blocking a view of the backyard you wish to remain unobstructed.  Be careful locating your main grilling area too close to your primary outdoor seating area as smoke from the grill may be too much depending on wind direction and venting choices. Make sure to select the materials that not only best fit your individual taste, but are also a suitable match for the regional climate and elements your outdoor kitchen will be located in. 

Appliances

Once a physical location has been selected it’s time for the fun part – selecting what appliances to install!  Here is a quick rundown on a few of the most popular outdoor kitchen choices:

  • Cooking Grill – the grill is the heart of any outdoor kitchen.  With so many grill options on the market your choices will only be limited by your kitchen size, access to any needed utilities and your budget.  Typically, the most popular grill selection for an outdoor kitchen will be gas (natural and propane). Other grill options include: pellet, charcoal, electric and infrared.  Many outdoor kitchens will include a side burner cooking area as well so side dishes may be prepared along with the main course on the grill. 
  • Sink and Drain – most outdoor kitchen enthusiast love the convenience of a fully functional kitchen sink and drain.  These range from smaller bar sinks to full size kitchen models.   Again, access to proper plumbing is crucial for this option so be sure to discuss this with your contractor well in advance of the completion of your new home. 
  • Refrigeration – this includes outdoor refrigerators and beverage coolers.  These appliances will allow you to minimize trips back to the main house for cold drinks and will help store snacks and food to be grilled later.
  • Storage Drawers/Cabinets – ample storage drawers and cabinets help minimize trips back into the house.  These storage areas are the perfect place to store cooking utensils, spices, hand towels, extra plates and cups, etc.
  • Specialty Appliances – depending on your taste, a built-in Kegerator beer dispenser, icemaker or wine cooler would be perfect appliances to put a personal touch to your outdoor kitchen.  Outdoor rated models exist for all three of these products. 

Determine final size and design of your outdoor kitchen

Once you and your contractor have determined that your desired location will accommodate an outdoor kitchen footprint sufficient to house the grill and appliances you’ve selected, and includes sufficient access to all required utilities, building may commence. This process typically consists of the main kitchen body being constructed first at which time all required grill and appliance cut outs will occur to match each unit’s listed specs and dimensions. Once the body has been completed, and a final inspection confirms all intended appliances fit properly in their designated cut outs, the main countertop will be lowered onto it and permanently attached. It is at this point your outdoor kitchen will truly begin to take shape for the first time! 

Outdoor kitchen in Plan 6721 model by Huntington Homes in Prosper, TX.

Outdoor kitchen in Plan 6721 model by Huntington Homes in Prosper, TX.

Optimal arrangement of grill and appliances within your outdoor kitchen

Most outdoor kitchen designers encourage the arrangement of the grill, sink and appliances into separate zones whenever possible.  An easy way to create these zones is to divide them by the job they are designed to perform.  The designation of zones will also assist your contractor in the proper placement of plumbing, gas lines and electrical outlets as he plans out your kitchen. Here is a popular four zone layout design to consider:

Zone 1 – Sink and food prep area. This zone requires ample counter space on top and easy access to refrigeration storage below. The nearby sink aids in food prep and cleanup.

Zone 2 – Main grill and cooking area. Frequently the visual centerpiece of an outdoor kitchen and includes a built-in door below for easy access to gas lines and additional storage for cooking utensils.  This zone will need to be sufficiently spaced far enough away from any other zone that may include built-in refrigeration units to avoid heat from the grill impacting them.

Zone 3 – Main serving area of the kitchen.  This zone requires ample countertop space and usually a storage area below to house eating utensils, spices, condiments, napkins, etc.  This is also an ideal area to locate an under the counter trash bin.

Zone 4 – Beverage and specialty appliances.  Ideal zone for built-in beverage coolers, Kegerators or ice machines.  This also allows sufficient distance from main cooking area as to not impact the appliances ability to properly cool when grilling is taking place. (*Note: built-in icemakers require a permanent water line and drain so many choose to locate them near the main sink in Zone 1 if a second water line and drain is not available.)

Finishing touches

Placing exterior lighting around the outdoor kitchen area not only adds an extra visual flair but will allow you and your guest to safely navigate at night. The addition of easy access electrical outlets is always a good idea to help power items such as music systems, blenders or to charge your phone. For outdoor kitchens not located under any type of covering or shade, the addition of an overhead Pergola structure or cover is usually a popular feature during the summer months.

Key points to consider during this vital part of the construction process:

  • Your outdoor kitchen should include easy access doors built-in under the grill and sink areas so gas lines and plumbing may be reached as needed.  This may include the storage of a propane gas tank under the main grill.
  •  Make sure all needed electrical outlets, gas lines and plumbing pipes are in place behind the appliance cut out areas before the main countertop is attached.
  • Depending on the type of grill and location within your backyard, your main kitchen body may need to include built-in venting to alleviate any gas grill leakage and ensure proper functioning of the grill.  If your outdoor kitchen is located within your covered patio area attached to your home an overhead vent hood system may be required.
  • Make certain all appliances are rated for “outdoor use.”  Failure to do so may result in the unit not functioning as designed and may negate the manufacturer’s service warranty agreement.
B. Ford spent more than a decade in the specialty appliance retail industry, and now devotes his time to freelance print and video content creation. 

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