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Published on March 9, 2023

Planning guide

The Ultimate Guide to Your Own Outdoor Kitchen

Barbecues, refrigerators, storage, and sinks—an ultimate outdoor kitchen has it all. This guide will fill you in on everything you need to plan and design a complete patio kitchen for you and all of your family and guests to enjoy.

Get Set for Cooking

Outdoor living is growing in popularity and outdoor kitchens along with it. An outdoor kitchen allows you to cook and entertain while spending time with your guests so that you don’t miss out on any of the fun. It also extends your living and entertaining space, especially if you take the time to plan a functional and comfortable layout. Plus, with the right products, you can tailor the space exactly to your needs.
L-shaped outdoor kitchenBistro corner of an outdoor kitchen

Create Your Outdoor Kitchen Plan

Setting up an outdoor kitchen will go much more smoothly when you have a good plan in place. Make sure you consider factors like space, layout, and which part of your backyard you want to use for the project. Your budget is also important and must account not only for the price of the kitchen itself but the cost of utilities and plumbing, as well as any labour and permit costs. A large kitchen might even need its own dedicated electrical circuit.

Once you’ve sorted out the details, it’s time to draw up a plan for all of your different kitchen components on a piece of graph paper, making sure to include everything from the grill to the appliances.

Here are some more tips to consider:

  • Make sure you have enough space to fit your entire kitchen plan, with enough room to move and gather around. Include your seating and dining areas as well.
  • Install your kitchen on a level surface that can support all of the necessary weight.
  • Leave enough clearance around and above refrigeration and cooking appliances for ease of movement and good airflow.
  • Confirm that your layout includes easy access to gas, power, water, and drain lines for the appliances that need it.
  • If your outdoor kitchen will be made of combustible materials like wood, you’ll need to use a freestanding grill and ensure that it is placed adequately far away from those elements.
  • Your plan should also include decorative touches like lighting, water features, and other outdoor decor.

Pro Tip

Make sure you secure any permits required by your homeowner’s association or municipality, and always hire a licensed contractor for any electrical, plumbing, propane, or natural gas work.

Outdoor kitchen located far from the house

Decide on the Right Location

The location of your outdoor kitchen will play a big role in determining its potential size. If the kitchen is located close to your home, it will also provide easier access to the indoors as well as to existing plumbing and fuel lines. However, grills and other cooking surfaces must be kept at least 10’ away from the house and from other combustible property features like deck rails or trees and bushes.

If you opt for a location further away from your home, you can be a little more creative with your kitchen layout, and the space can have a more exclusive and intimate ambiance. However, this will make it more difficult and costly to connect electricity, plumbing, and fuel lines. You’ll also need to think about using an overhead structure for shade, which may or may not be compatible with your cooking appliances.

Pro Tip

Just like in your indoor kitchen, make sure you have a fire extinguisher stored nearby.

Take Measurements of the Space

After you know where your kitchen is going to go, take measurements of the installation area. The space you have to work with will determine how your kitchen can be arranged. Be sure to take seating and other amenities into account as well. Transfer the measurements onto your blueprint to help the project go smoothly.

Choose Your Kitchen Configuration

When you know how much space you have to work with, it’s time to consider your kitchen layout. The configuration is entirely up to you, your design preferences, and your budget. The most common outdoor kitchen configurations are:

  • Linear Kitchen: If space and budget are tight, then a sleek and simple linear kitchen consisting of a grill and some counter space is the way to go. This design can be freestanding or situated along the side of your home.
  • Galley Kitchen: In a galley kitchen design, a central walkway passes through the cabinets and appliances, which face each other on either side.
  • L-Shaped Kitchen: A classic choice in corners for its open design, L-shaped kitchens are great for small to medium spaces.
  • U-Shaped Kitchen: If you have the space, a large, outdoor U-shaped kitchen provides plenty of countertop room for preparing food and drinks. This versatile, 3-sided layout works well for freestanding kitchen designs.
L-shaped outdoor kitchen
Linear, modular outdoor kitchen
Man preparing food outside

Plan Your Kitchen Zones

Dividing your kitchen into functional zones can ensure a much more efficient space. Different work areas will help facilitate a smooth and natural flow when cooking and prepping meals. The customizability of modular kitchens means that you have the freedom to arrange the space in a way that works best for you.

Prep Area – An adequate prep space will give you room to breathe when preparing to cook. It should include a good amount of counter space, as well as prep tools like cutting boards, cooking utensils, a trash bin, paper towels, grilling and roasting racks, and the like. Installing a sink is also a good idea. If your outdoor kitchen isn’t far from your indoor kitchen, then you may simply choose to do most of your prep work inside, but you should still have a small, dedicated prep space outside as well.

Cooking Area – The cooking zone is your kitchen stage. It’s where you’ll find all of the outdoor cooking appliances like the grill, cooktop, smoker, pizza oven, and more! This is also where you will keep all of your cooking and grilling accessories, like tongs, spatulas, meat thermometer, and burger press. Don’t forget to include good storage and be mindful of the ventilation above, below, and around the cooking appliances.

Serving Area – The serving area should provide plenty of counterspace for plating your grilled food and getting it ready for serving. This is also where you can keep garnishes and condiments, as well as products like napkins and paper towels. Warming drawers can help keep food warm until it’s ready to be taken to the table.

Entertainment Area – As meals are finished and guests start to relax and socialize, the entertainment zone will help ensure that everyone keeps having a good time. Position this area away from your prep and cooking spaces to cut down on foot traffic, and use a beverage refrigerator to keep drinks readily on hand. Consider installing a patio bar to stock up on glasses and other drinkware and barware so that you can serve up everyone’s favourites.
Man using a barbecue

Choose the Right Grill

The grill is the most important component of your outdoor cooking space, and it is available in 3 main types:

  • Freestanding Grill: Convenient freestanding units can be moved into place wherever you need them.
  • Built-In Grill: These seamless units are built right into your outdoor kitchen cabinets and countertops, making them a highly popular option.
  • Portable: A portable unit can be used right on the countertop and is easy to store away after.

Pick Your Grilling Fuel

Next, you need to choose your cooking fuel. Each one offers its own unique benefits to consider:

  • Liquid Propane: As outdoor kitchens come with built-in storage for propane tanks, liquid propane is a popular choice.
  • Natural Gas: The most common outdoor fuel type for outdoor barbecues, natural gas needs to be installed to an existing line.
  • Charcoal: There’s no beating that smoky charcoal flavour, and outdoor kitchen units provide plenty of storage for charcoal bags.
  • Pellet: Used in freestanding pellet grills, wood pellets come in a variety of flavours like hickory, maple, and mesquite.
Outdoor unit with a sink and refrigerator

Keep It Cool with Refrigeration

Refrigerators are just as important in outdoor kitchens as indoor ones. Ensure that your food, drink, marinades, and condiments stay chilled in an outdoor refrigerator that also keeps them close at hand.

For items that need to stay frozen, not just chilled, consider also getting an ice chest. Available in drop-in and built-in designs, ice chests are a summer must-have if you want to serve frozen goodies and refreshing drinks.

A unit with a built-in icemaker is also great to have for keeping drinks cold in the summer heat.

Keep Organized with Good Storage

Proper storage is also just as important in outdoor kitchens as indoor ones. Keep your cooking tools, dining sets, and cleaning supplies within easy reach with outdoor cabinets and storage that provide all the space you need to stay organized. Choose from a selection of drawers and double-door units to create an organization system that works for you.

Make sure you also add airtight and bug-resistant pantry units to keep your outdoor kitchen stocked with dry ingredients like herbs and dry rubs. These handy units come with ample shelving for easy organization.
An outdoor kitchen sink

Keep Clean with an Outdoor Sink

Make cleanup a breeze by installing an outdoor sink so that you don’t have to carry all of the dirty dishes inside. A built-in sink will make it easier to wash up and keep your entire kitchen tidy. Some models can be outfitted with both hot and cold water, and you can also choose a double basin sink that offers even more space.
Exterior rolling bar

Outdoor Kitchen Extras and Accessories

Here are some additional accessories to help complete your outdoor kitchen space.

Cocktail StationsCocktail stations come with everything you need for serving up handmade cocktails, including an ice bucket, a built-in sink, and a drink mixing area.

Rotisserie Kits – Go all-out with a rotisserie spit attachment for your grill that allows you to slow-roast your favourite proteins to perfection.

Covers – Quality outdoor covers for your grill and outdoor kitchen units will help protect your investment. You can even find stainless steel covers to close up the sink.
Outdoor kitchen with decorative accents

Tie It All Together with Outdoor Decor

Enhance your new outdoor dining and entertaining space even further with the right outdoor decor. Opt for comfortable patio furniture that suits your style, whether your tastes are more rustic or modern. Look for pieces that can be used for dining and for relaxing, as well as durable and waterproof materials that can stand up to the elements.

Ideally, your outdoor kitchen should be covered by a retractable roof, a pergola, or a weatherproof canopy to keep everyone comfortable and protect your investment. In colder climates, you can also extend your outdoor entertaining season with a patio heater or even a fire pit that doubles as a decorative focal point. As days get shorter, outdoor lighting will ensure that the party can go on after the sun goes down.

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