Building an outdoor kitchen means coordinating three different design elements to work together: kitchen design, entertainment design, and coordination with the indoor kitchen. Don’t worry, we’re here to offer helpful tips to get you thinking along the right lines!
An Outdoor Kitchen Is Still a Kitchen
Solid kitchen design principles still do need to apply to an outdoor kitchen, just as they do for an indoor kitchen; hot areas, such as a grill or outdoor range, cold areas, such as fridges and freezers, wet areas like sinks, and dry areas like countertops and other food prep areas, all need to be adequately sized, and arranged in good proximity to each other just as in a normal indoor kitchen.
The challenge comes in three areas.
No Outside Wall to Define the Space
In an outdoor kitchen, usually the cooking appliances and cabinets are the thing that defines the borders of the kitchen, rather than walls, backsplashes, and overhead cabinets. This usually means making sure those elements provide a very continuous visual line without too many gaps or sudden breaks.
Difficult in Running Utilities
Getting water, drain, gas, and electrical lines out to an outdoor kitchen can be something of a challenge. If you build the outdoor kitchen so that at least one area of it is close to the house, with no traffic areas between the building and the outdoor kitchen, you may not have to bury lines, running them under an outdoor-rated floor cover.
Providing Vertical Enclosure
Shade from sun, rain, and other elements is important for an outdoor kitchen. Pergolas, awnings, and other open-air outdoor roof-like enclosures are a great solution, but make sure any outdoor grills, smokers, or other appliances that produce large amounts of heat are not below any flammable section of that enclosure. There are outdoor-rated range hoods if you want to go that far, but support for them will be another important design consideration.
It may seem really obvious, but it bears mentioning that a significant challenge of building an outdoor kitchen is that it’s outside and exposed to the elements. That means taking into account the climate, both average and expected extremes, in your area. If you’re in Arizona, you’ll definitely need to use materials that can stay cool in direct sunlight, and any granite or other natural stone will need to be sealed and UV-stabilized.
If you’re in a northern climate that freezes often in the winter, you don’t want to use tile or other surfaces with cracks or gaps that can become the victim of ice wedging, either in the countertop or the floor.
Concrete is a good bet for both floors and countertops in both types of environment, and tends to be on the affordable side of things as well, but granite and artificial laminates designed for outdoor use are also viable.
An Outdoor Kitchen Is Also an Entertainment Area
It’s important, especially if you intend to do your cooking yourself, that you don’t isolate the cook from the party. This often means building the outdoor kitchen near a corner of the pool or other outdoor entertainment area. However, it’s important to take traffic patterns into account, so that party traffic and splashes of chlorinated water from a pool don’t interfere with the cooking.
Since you’ll already be building a structure of sorts with at least some protection from the elements, incorporating a sound system with outdoor-rated speakers can save a lot of trouble in figuring out how to set up music when entertaining. If you build a TV into your outdoor kitchen setup, make sure it’s bright enough to be seen even on a sunny day.
Coordination with the Indoor Kitchen
Whether you do the cooking yourself or hire a chef, chances are not all of the cooking will be done in the outdoor kitchen. You’ll almost inevitably find yourself (or your chef) moving frequently back and forth between the two areas.
This means taking into account the proximity of the outdoor kitchen to the indoor one, as well as where the traffic will flow between them. If possible, try to avoid traffic patterns going directly through party areas where a cook carrying heavy trays of hot food might trip over children or pets at play. It’s also worth making sure carpeting and other flooring is a little bit heavier along those pathways, possibly with temporary mats or rugs to protect carpeting from heavy traffic and spills. Doors should be easily opened with one hand or even the nudge of a hip, or simply be left open. French doors are great for this, but sliding doors can also be convenient.