Outdoor Kitchen Design Ideas and Tips

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A Guide to Understanding Outdoor Kitchens

Outdoor kitchens are perfect for summer. The smell of the food, the fresh air and the setting is nothing short of perfection. That is, unless you're the person whose job it is to run back and forth from the indoor kitchen to provide utensils, food and the like. By having a full kitchen setup outside, you can slow down and enjoy the time with your friends and family, with all the ingredients and cookware readily available in your storage cabinets, and the food cooking steadily on your nice, built-in grill.

Outdoor kitchens range greatly in cost, and can ring up anywhere from about $3,000 for one with a good-quality grill, a six-foot-long counter and a patio to $15,000-plus for higher-end versions and an assortment of appliances.

Foundations of Outdoor Kitchens

  • Patio: Many backyards have an existing patio that is a great foundation for any outdoor kitchen, because it is likely made of level concrete or stone. You can add a grill, counters and other seats and appliances without having to make any structural modifications.
  • Deck: Decks are not usually made of the same concrete or sturdy material as patios, so they will often need additional support for outdoor kitchen setups you want to add. Always consult a construction or architect professional, who can tell you what steps to take in order to prepare your space for kitchen installation.

Outdoor Kitchen Layout and Space

Grills will take up anywhere from 24 to 48 inches of width space and 15 to 26 inches of depth. Any side burners or shelves will add another foot or so to the width. Always be sure to place your grill in a place where it is least likely to blow smoke in the faces of your guests. Arrange your kitchen so that the grill is at the heart of the whole area, and try to make items surrounding it easy to reach, such as sinks, refrigerators, hooks for utensils and other storage.

Eating areas will vary depending on the amount of people you plan on hosting regularly. Tables typically range from 42- by 42-inch models to 96- by 42-inch models, which seat more people. You want to allow at least three to four feet between the edge of your table and a wall, deck railing or other fixed object. This provides your guests enough room to move around and walk behind seats. Always keep tables at least five feet from any stairs. For eating counters that have stools, provide at least two feet of counter width for each stool.

Counter space has a simple rule: the more, the better. This is where you'll be preparing and serving food, so don't short yourself. Plan on having at least three feet of counter space on either side of the grill for best operation. If you have a sink, then allow up to two feet of open space on either side of it to make cleanups easier.

Storage cabinets are often custom-made for outdoor kitchens but can also be purchased as part of a larger outdoor kitchen setup. Masonry cabinets are often the sturdiest and most weatherproof, and the materials used will blend nicely with the outdoor landscape. While more expensive, they can sometimes save cost in replacement fees. Refrigerators are easiest outdoors when they are undercounter units. This way, they're out of sight, protected by counter and easily accessible.

Outdoor Kitchen Tips

  • Support: If you already have a cement deck or patio, then the hardest part of the outdoor kitchen process is already done for you. You may be tempted to quickly move on to the appliance and cabinetry installation. However, you need to first consult a professional about the existing deck or patio. Only a construction expert can tell you whether your deck or patio has the support necessary to withhold the weight of all your outdoor kitchen needs. Take all the necessary precautions to ensure that your outdoor kitchen will be as safe as it will be savvy.
  • Flooring: Outdoor kitchen flooring is not the same as indoor flooring. You won't be mopping it and you (probably) won't be putting rugs on it. For your outdoor kitchen, do not use flooring that is slick or slippery, such as tile or marble, both of which are popular today in indoor kitchens. This material does not handle weather very well and will likely crack due to constant weathering. Stick to brick, stone, concrete or certain types of wood, all of which will handle weather better.
  • Size: Depending on your family's needs, size will vary. If you barbecue only once a week or so, then a grill and a counter-high storage cabinet with tile or stucco would be sufficient. The cabinet protects supplies from the weather, while the countertop provides work space. If you like to eat outside as much as possible, then you'll need more storage space, a bigger counter or tabletop for dining and perhaps a sink and refrigerator. While sinks and refrigerators aren't necessary, the sink will officially upgrade your home's value, because it adds another "kitchen" to your home. Refrigerators are great for drink storage and other perishables that you don't want to have to store inside and carry in and out.
  • Distance: Whether your outdoor kitchen is small or large, you want to place it as near to the house as you can, saving you steps when you need to travel inside for additional supplies. This is also a safety feature and more convenient for electricity purposes, requiring fewer, if any, extension cords.
  • Weather resistance: No matter where you live, weather is likely to affect your outdoor supplies. Always choose the sturdiest and most weather-proof storage and appliances, as these with last longer, keep your food fresher and save you money in the long-run.

Outdoor Kitchen Island Concepts

Basic island: This layout features a grill, sink and small counterspace for preparation and storage. It is ideal for the occasional or rare outdoor cook but is less efficient for those who are more accustomed to or who greatly enjoy outdoor dining. It also limits the amount of preparation space available.

L-shaped island: These provide two separate areas for cooking and preparing food. The grill and some undercounter storage are available at the base of the "L," while the vertical side is dedicated to counterspace, which is usually somewhat more elevated and convenient for stool seating. This is popular among the somewhat frequent outdoor cook.

U-shaped island: The most common for outdoor professionals, the U-shaped kitchen island provides distinct areas for cooking, preparing and eating food. The advantage of this design is that the food can be served straight from the grill onto the dining surface, which is convenient for eating and for maintaining conversation with your guests.

Last Updated: January 18, 2012
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About Emelie Battaglia Emelie Battagila is a contributing writer for Idealhomegarden.com

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