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How to Design Your Dream Outdoor Kitchen

Outdoor Kitchen on a Backyard Deck

If you love being at the grill on sunny afternoons or pouring your guests sangria on warm summer evenings on the patio, you’ve probably found yourself dreaming of an outdoor kitchen. A kitchen is a huge upgrade to outdoor space. It can turn your basic backyard landscaping into a full area for prep and entertainment without ever needing to set foot indoors.

Imagine going from a standalone grill to a large barbeque or even a range installed in a beautiful stone countertop! With refrigerators, smokers, pizza ovens, bars, and more becoming popular parts of an outdoor kitchen, there’s something to appeal to everyone.

They can also be an understandably intimidating project to take on between the construction requirements, electrical and plumbing, and outdoor kitchen costs. We’re here to make things a little simpler with our guide on everything you need to know to design your perfect backyard outdoor kitchen.

Utilities and Code Requirements

Before you can get into the fun parts of designing the look and feel of your outdoor kitchen, you have to understand the technical requirements of the project and how to meet local codes. Make sure to research your town or county’s specific zoning laws and construction regulations. Still, there are some basic rules that should be followed pretty much everywhere.

Outdoor kitchens are a project that simply cannot be done completely DIY. Depending on what appliances you want to install, you’ll likely need to connect your kitchen to water, natural gas, electricity, and waste lines. All of that needs to be done by specialists, right down to installing your outdoor kitchen sink.

Beyond simple safety requirements, these experts should survey your site and help you plan your outdoor kitchen in a functional way to include access to everything you need right at your fingertips. They will also be able to help you assess any other construction needs that will factor into your outdoor kitchen design ideas.

If you’re installing heavy appliances and countertops, you’ll need to set a sturdy foundation for them to rest on. Do you live in a cold area? You’ll have to fully winterize your appliances and water pipes. If your property is surrounded by a lovely picket fence, you’ll have to make sure that your kitchen has plenty of distance from it. Your local code requirements will tell you exactly how far open flames need to be from fences, decks, and other flammable surfaces. As a general guideline, expect at least 10 feet.

Once you have a better idea of exactly what options are feasible for your area and your budget, you can get to the more exciting part—planning out your outdoor kitchen design.

Planning Your Kitchen

The next step in designing your outdoor kitchen is understanding exactly how you plan to use your space. If this is a larger kitchen area, it helps a great deal to work with an experienced outdoor kitchen planner who can incorporate your kitchen into your landscape design. They can help to understand your needs and anticipate issues you might not be aware of.

First, consider what features are important to you in your outdoor kitchen. If grilling is your passion, you should specify your desire for an extra large grill in the design phase. If you’re dreaming of serving frozen margaritas all summer long, include space for prep and a blender next to your bar.

There are dozens of wishlist items that are entirely personal to you ranging from dining tables to televisions to wine fridges to open play space for the kids. Make note of them and prioritize which matter most as you determine what’s possible within the scope of your design and budget.

There’s also a wide range of practical concerns that a good outdoor kitchen designer will consider when creating your space. Making sure your outdoor kitchen has easy access to your indoor kitchen or your fresh herb garden will simplify food prep. Anticipating where grill smoke will travel is an important part of determining its placement. Deciding whether to place your outdoor kitchen under a pergola or pavilion roof is a deciding factor in whether or not your kitchen can be used in poor weather, but it also requires more construction and code considerations.

Balancing all of these elements will help you and your designer plan an outdoor kitchen that matches your goals for outdoor living and entertaining. The next step is getting into the nitty-gritty—what materials work best for building your dream kitchen?

Outdoor Kitchen Materials

When your layout is planned, it’s time to decide what you actually want to build it all out of. Outdoor counters, bars, and cabinets need to be more weather resistant than their indoor counterparts. That affects your options for building materials.

If you’re building your countertops from scratch, you’ll need four components:

  1. Interior framing (made from metal, wood, or concrete block)
  2. Walls to serve as a base for your cladding (either cement board or you can attach cladding directly to a concrete block frame)
  3. A cladding material—the visible outer surface of our outdoor kitchen (common materials include stucco, tile, brick, and stone)
  4. Countertops (options include tile, stone, concrete, and stainless steel)

There are pros and cons to nearly every building material. We recommend steering clear of wood due to flammability and rot. Metal (including stainless steel) is vulnerable to water damage in moist climates. Tile is affordable and easy to install but cracks easily. Many stone countertops are prone to cracking during temperature shifts or ground movement. We recommend researching the materials you like the look of to see if they suit your environment.

One of our favorite cabinetry options for both ease and versatility is pre-made stainless steel cabinets. These are relatively lightweight, sturdy, and come in a wide range of styles to accommodate any appliance and layout. Plus, many of these models include some of the luxuries you might be accustomed to in indoor kitchen cabinets like toe kicks, soft close hinges, and a variety of door and drawer options. They can be easily customized to suit almost any backyard design, and powder coating helps to prevent any water damage and increase their durability.

As far as countertops go, we like to recommend granite. It has the beautiful look of an indoor stone countertop, but is one of the most durable stone options and can stand up to temperature shifts. For more extreme cold, a sturdy absolute black granite in a honed finish is the perfect choice. It can last through biting New England winters and the dark color will help to disguise any stains.

While you’re putting together your countertops, don’t forget about fun additions! There are endless customizations for your outdoor kitchen. You can inset ice buckets and herb planters right in the countertops. The cabinets can conveniently hide pullout trash bins. And there’s a wide range of appliance options beyond just a grill—outdoor refrigerators, wine coolers, kegerators, ice makers, outdoor pizza ovens, smokers, and warming drawers are just some of the more popular options. These are the choices that can really make an outdoor kitchen feel like a space made just for you.

Outdoor Kitchen on a back patio
Kitchen by RTA Outdoor Living

Customizing Your Space

It’s easy to get caught up in the counters and appliances—the parts of an outdoor kitchen that really feel like a kitchen. But if you want to make your outdoor kitchen into a true living space, you’ve got to consider the area around your cooking area.

The largest consideration that should definitely factor into your design plans is lighting. Some grills feature their own built-in lighting, but you need to plan electrical lines and wiring to support lighting for your full kitchen area if you ever plan to use it after the sun goes down. Lighting prep areas is essential, and you should consider the space around your kitchen as well. Do you have a bar? Patio tables? Make sure you’re lighting the areas where you want to relax and enjoy the products of your kitchen.

Speaking of, don’t forget to plan out your dining areas! We love placing tables and chairs for eating and lounging by our outdoor kitchen designs to create a whole space for entertaining. Comfortable bar stools elevate your built-in bar into a space where guests never want happy hour to end. And of course, there’s always something magical about having your dinner and drinks cozied up by a fire pit.

With all this information under your belt, you know everything you need to start bringing your outdoor kitchen and bar ideas to life. If you’re looking for help from an expert in pulling everything together and getting those technical details just right, that’s where we come in. Get in touch and we can help you design an outdoor living space so good you’ll never want to go back inside.

Below are some recent outdoor kitchens Tilly has designed:

New York

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