Creating Your Ideal Outdoor Kitchen

Get the most out of outdoor entertaining this summer.

U.S. News & World Report

Creating Your Ideal Outdoor Kitchen

Modern outdoor living:

When planning for your outdoor kitchen, consider appliances you'll want, location in your yard and utilities you'll need to reach outside.(Getty Images)

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July – the season for outdoor entertaining is upon us. Bags of charcoal will flow, barbecue flames will leap and meats will sizzle as outdoor cooking heats up this month and blazes through the summer.

Outdoor cooking has become an all-American pastime. According to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, 75 percent of U.S. adults own a grill or smoker. No doubt this popularity stems from the simple fact that many people prefer the flavor of foods that are grilled or smoked – types of cooking you can’t typically do indoors. And, of course, people enjoy the ambiance of al fresco food prep and dining.

For many homeowners, outdoor cooking has gone beyond the basic barbecue. For some, the art of outdoor grilling has become a passion. Along with this passion, the simple barbecue has been replaced by something much more substantial: the outdoor kitchen.

Outdoor kitchens run the gamut, from simple and utilitarian to palatial. Some are small brick edifices with a grill in the center. Others are stone and stainless steel cooking centers that include countertop, cabinets, sink, gas cooktop, refrigerator, dishwasher and more. Some even incorporate a smoker, fryer or pizza oven.

Custom Outdoor Kitchens

A custom outdoor kitchen is designed and built as a permanent improvement to the yard. It typically has a tall masonry base that sits on a solid, steel-reinforced concrete footing. The base holds cabinetry and may include appliances such as a mini-refrigerator. A countertop caps the base, and a barbecue grill drops into the counter.

Custom outdoor kitchens are constructed from very durable, weather-resistant materials such as stainless steel, brick, stone, tile and stucco. The design possibilities for these kitchens are limited only by your budget. You can create almost any size and shape, and specify any of many amenities and materials.

Some custom outdoor kitchens are designed by landscape architects or kitchen designers. Others are designed and built by a mason or landscape contractor. Because of the complexity of design and construction, expect at least 3 to 4 weeks from design to completion. Cost of a custom outdoor kitchen can run from $2,000 to $10,000, or much more for a fully decked-out masterpiece.

Custom masonry barbecues should be designed according to building code requirements with consideration of zoning and property-line setbacks. Though masonry work may not require permits, electrical and plumbing work usually do.

The best working height for a countertop is 36 inches high. For serving or a bar where people sit and eat, figure a height of 42 inches. Typical minimum countertop depth is 24 inches – this allows enough space for sinks, dishwashers and mini-refrigerators.

Prefabricated Outdoor Kitchens

Prefabricated modular outdoor kitchens are less permanent than custom outdoor kitchens. In fact, some types can be disassembled and moved if you sell your house. Many styles and configurations are available, priced from $500 to more than $8,000.

At the minimum, prefab units generally include a grill, countertop and some durable outdoor cabinets. At most, they are complete cooking centers crafted from elegant materials and designed to include a refrigerator or other appliances.

Prefab modular outdoor kitchens are sold through specialty manufacturers and large home improvement centers. You can find them online by searching “prefabricated outdoor kitchen.” Many are designed for do-it-yourself assembly. To install one of the DIY models, you will need a few basic skills, tools and a flat surface such as a patio or deck. For electrical and plumbing hookups, you may need to call an electrician or plumber. A big benefit with a prefab outdoor kitchen is that you can assemble it and have it working within a day or two of buying the kit.

What’s Your Cooking Style?

When planning an outdoor kitchen, start by thinking about the functions you want it to serve. Will you want to do certain kinds of cooking that you can’t do indoors, such as smoking large cuts of meat or deep-frying a turkey? You’ll need to anticipate these kinds of tasks in order to determine the kinds of grilling and barbecuing equipment your kitchen will need.

Do you want to encourage people to gather near the cook? A typical outdoor kitchen built for entertaining includes a cooking and prep area, storage and a raised bar with stools or nearby table for serving and dining. It might include a separate counter or island. A patio overhead may offer shelter from sun, rain and wind and make the area feel more like an enclosed outdoor room. Beware of flammable materials overhead, including trellises, patio roofs and trees.

Consider Utilities

An outdoor kitchen that has one or more sinks will need water-supply plumbing and a drain. For hot water, it either will need a hot-water pipe that ties into the home’s water heater or, preferable in some cases, a point-of-use water heater located under the sink. That point-of-use water heater will need either an electrical or gas hookup, depending upon the type (most are electric).

Refrigerators, rotisseries, appliances and lighting also require electricity. And, of course, gas burners or a gas grill will need a gas supply pipe.


Proximity and easy access to the kitchen are a plus. For starters, this makes food prep and carrying dishes and supplies to and fro more convenient. In addition, an outdoor kitchen that is directly connected to a house wall sometimes benefits from the house for support and shelter. With a house-attached outdoor kitchen, it also may be easier to tie-in water supply, sink drain, electrical wiring and gas lines, depending upon the location of pipes and wires.

Just be careful not to place the grill where it could become a fire hazard or where prevailing winds might carry smoke into the house.

A detached outdoor kitchen has pluses, too. An outdoor kitchen located at poolside or at a gazebo away from the house can become a destination that draws people out into the yard.

Type of Fuel

What will fuel the fire? According to the HPBA, gas grills are the most popular, followed by charcoal and then electric. A very small but growing percentage burn wood pellets.

If you can pipe natural gas to it, a gas grill may be your best choice. Because the fuel is delivered directly to the unit, gas grills are very convenient. They also start quickly and are easy to control and clean up. And the fuel is relatively affordable.

Propane gas is a good alternative if piping natural gas to the unit isn’t an easy option, but you’ll have to buy and replace propane canisters periodically.

Many purists prefer the flavor of food smoked or grilled on a wood- or charcoal-burning appliance. One big plus of such an appliance is that it doesn’t require a gas hook-up. On the flip side, you have to carry-in and store the wood or charcoal. Be advised that, because it can present a fire hazard, an open wood-burning flame may not be allowed in some areas – check local codes.

Don Vandervort offers more information on outdoor kitchens at his website,

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