Image by Ryan Hughes Design/Build.

Outdoor Kitchens: Everything You Need To Know Before Building

For the past few years, outdoor kitchens have grown in popularity. In fact, they are quickly becoming the must-have outdoor renovation of homeowners everywhere.

When planning your outdoor kitchen, you have to consider the ambiance in addition to all the high-tech appliances. Whether you install a bar, purchase a large outdoor dining table, or both, you’ll want to build a comfortable area for you and your guests to eat.

Table of Contents

Outdoor kitchens are ever-evolving, transforming into mirror replicas of their indoor counterparts. As homeowners increasingly prep more of their menus outdoors, the appliances they use to create their gourmet meals have become progressively more sophisticated and highly efficient. Today’s outdoor kitchens supply everything the backyard chef needs to assemble a soup-to-nut feast without stepping back indoors.

Custom Outdoor Kitchen in Pacific Light Blue, Officine Gullo, 

Like any project, you need to consider your options before you begin. First question: what kinds of amenities do you want in your outdoor kitchen? How you answer this question is the key to success because your wish list will act as the road map for whoever designs and builds your kitchen.

Outdoor Kitchen Appliances: Grills, Pizza Ovens, Rotisseries

Photo courtesy of Westside Watershapes, Fort Worth, Texas; photography by Adam Wood

The nucleus of every kitchen is the cooking area, and like their indoor equivalents, the appliances you choose to include should be based on your cooking style and budget. Plus, if you plan to regularly cook large amounts of food, then you must take into consideration how well your chosen appliances can endure day in and day out activity (and the weather).

“I believe you get what you pay for,” says Chris Cipriano, founder and president of Cipriano Custom Swimming Pools & Landscaping, Mahwah, New Jersey. “You should always select name brand items that have a good reputation in the industry. They are usually the most reliable.”

There are a variety of ways to create a heat that is hot enough (or low and slow enough) to cook every portion of a meal–from grills, barbecues, and smokers to stoves, conventional ovens, and flattop grills. Many homeowners see the value of using a combination of units so they can have a variety of heat sources at their fingertips. Other options include warming drawers, teppanyaki grills, side burners, and rotisseries. And don’t forget a ventilation system—especially if your kitchen is covered. Plus, by diffusing the aromas around the backyard, you will draw your hungry guests from wide and far…no dinner bell required!

When the meal is being prepared and served outdoors, the chilling part is also crucial. The best way to keep food safe outdoors but also easily accessible is to include refrigerators, beverage chillers, ice machines, and cocktail stations in your plans.

When the party is over, who wants to wash dishes or haul the dirty dinnerware back to the house? After celebrating your first big soiree, you will pat yourself on the back—for the party and for including a dishwasher and a sink. “Keep in mind that a sink and dishwasher must be carefully planned before construction begins,” says Cipriano. “Water needs to come from somewhere and it must drain into a septic system or public sewer. Plus, the plumbing for both can add more than you think to the overall cost of the kitchen.”

Above: One of the most requested outdoor kitchen appliances is the pizza oven. There are a variety of styles and types, including stainless steel versions and this custom-designed pizza oven finished in natural stone.

Outdoor Kitchen Countertops and Backsplashes

Photo courtesy of Gyori Development Corporation, Loomis, California; photography by Lorenzo Bartone

Good workspace is worth its weight in gold, and when planning your outdoor kitchen, keep in mind that you need plenty of free space to prep, serve, and assemble all types of food, cookware, and serving pieces. Don’t skimp: you will thank yourself later.

There is an array of durable yet beautiful materials that are best suited for crafting kitchen countertops and backsplashes for outdoor use. While many designers recommend granite, ceramic or glass tile, numerous outdoor kitchen planners also suggest cast-in-place concrete because of its resilience to the elements, durability, low maintenance, and the handsome look.

“I like to incorporate a lot of recycled materials in my countertops, which I can do easily with concrete,” says Scott Cohen, owner of The Green Scene Landscaping & Pools, Los Angeles, California. “Plus, concrete is environmentally friendly because there is no waste when casting onsite.”

Above: Backsplashes add a touch of sophistication to outdoor kitchens, both stand-alone stations and those that are in a covered outdoor room. This backsplash features mountain range granite and doubles as a piece of art.

Outdoor Kitchen Cabinets

You never have enough storage space, so plan to include more cabinets than you think you will need. With a variety of weather-resistant materials on the market, which type you choose should be based on your property’s location, your personal taste, and your home’s style. Again, let your professional guide you towards the appropriate option.

A few of the more popular cabinet materials are heavy-gauge stainless steel, solid marine-grade polymer, teak, cedar, and powder-coated metal made to appear like real wood.

Outdoor Kitchen Flooring

“Make sure you choose a floor that is safe and difficult to stain such as stone pavers with a low sheen sealer to protect them,” says Cohen. Concrete is another option that outdoor kitchen designers recommend. “You can get any pattern, color, and texture you like,” explains Cohen. “Just keep in mind that if your property is in an extreme climate, the installer must use the proper mix in order to ensure that the floor survives a freeze/thaw.”

Once all the details are in play and all of the amenities are in place, your kitchen will be open for business. Don’t be surprised if it becomes your family’s new favorite room.

Outdoor Dining Rooms

There are a variety of outdoor dining options, from a traditional round table with four chairs and an umbrella, to full-length setups that include space for 12. One of the most popular options, however, is the breakfast bar. Large or small, this concept gives homeowners plenty of room for dining and conversation. Plus, when finished in tile, stacked-stone, or other material and topped with granite, concrete, or tile, it creates a sophisticated line of demarcation between the dining area and other parts of the outdoor space.

Many homeowners decide to include a breakfast bar for a more practical reason, too: it doubles as a countertop. When not in use for dining, the breakfast bar can be employed as a staging area for the prepping, stacking, and assembling of your gourmet dishes.

Styles and types of outdoor chairs are seemingly infinite, but they all have one thing in common: they are made to withstand heavy use, changing weather conditions, and accidental spills. Hardwoods like teak, jarrah, and shorea are sure to last a few generations as will plastics/acrylics and wrought iron. If fabric is involved, select one that is made for outdoors, like Sunbrella®.

Outdoor Kitchen Lighting

Photo courtesy of Mark Scott Associates, Newport Beach, California

Lighting is important, for wellbeing and mood-creating. A lighting expert will design a schematic that handles all types of safety situations, including the paths leading from other areas of the outdoor space to the kitchen, around the grill and other appliances, over the dining area, and along the edges of the floor.

Additionally, the difference between an average outdoor kitchen and one that has a high drama quotient is usually found in the lighting. The design expert will use different lighting fixtures, bulbs, and shades to create an ambiance that comes to life after the sun sets.

Above: Offering the best of both worlds, this fully equipped outdoor kitchen adjoins the pool, allowing guests the luxury of either swimming up to the bar for a beverage or snack or strolling over after an afternoon nap by the water.

Outdoor Comfort: Heating and Cooling

Photographed by Karen Vance Photography for Classic Pool & Patio, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana

It’s not always paradise outside, but that shouldn’t stop you from using your outdoor kitchen no matter the weather. Manufacturers are constantly creating new types of outdoor heating and cooling devices to suit every need. To enjoy your outdoor kitchen during coolor months or chilly evenings, you may opt for propane-fueled units like patio heaters, gas logs, space heaters, or go with something more aesthetic such as a custom fireplace, fire pit, fire column, fire tables and pellet-fueled stoves.

For those times when you need relief from the heat and humidity, there are portable air coolers, misting systems, and if you have a roof over your outdoor kitchen, ceiling fans that are designed to keep the atmosphere cool and comfortable.

Above: Full of stainless steel highlights and all of the amenities of home, this outdoor kitchen features a wood-finished ceiling, a two-sided fireplace, and enough seating to accommodate everyone on the guest list.

Outdoor Kitchen Cost and Budget

You also need to establish your budget. Average outdoor kitchens can cost around $15,000, while the more luxurious layouts can be $25,000 or more. “I’m doing a kitchen right now that will finish at around $100,000,” says Chris Cipriano, founder and president of Cipriano Custom Swimming Pools & Landscaping, Mahwah, New Jersey. “We included energy-efficient appliances, state-of-the-art sound and entertainment systems, LED lighting, and custom-made glass tile for the backsplash.”

Choosing a Builder

Knowledgeable and licensed professionals will help you dot all of the i’s and cross all of the t’s. They will assist you with permits, choosing the appropriate materials and appliances, suggesting the right location, recommending if your kitchen should be covered or left open, and most of all, give you the benefit of their expertise.

You will have to do your homework, however. Be a sleuth and leave no stone unturned. Ask friends and family for referrals, check websites that offer ratings and opinions, and don’t be afraid to interview prospective contractors before your project begins. Discuss your requirements, review portfolios, and when you feel comfortable with one pro over another, then and only then, hire the team who will create the outdoor kitchen of your dreams.

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