Outdoor Kitchens 101

What you need to know to create a great outdoor kitchen

By Dave Burt

Photo courtesy Darsan Contracting

Traditionally, the focal point of most backyards has been the garden landscape. For some, a water feature, such as a pool or hot tub, has enhanced the outdoor space even more. In recent years, the emergence of the outdoor kitchen has grown into a phenomenon that has pushed the traditional backyard esthetic into an exciting and dynamic dimension. The reasons for installing an outdoor kitchen are as varied as the designs landscapers, architects and homeowners envision. The most common motivation, however, is the desire to take the food-making experience outdoors, while spending time with friends and family.

What is an outdoor kitchen?

Simply put, an outdoor kitchen is a stationary area dedicated to the preparation of food outside of the home, with the barbecue as the focal point. It can take on a wide range of forms, from inside or outside a cabana or gazebo to a standalone structure close to the house or near the pool. Set within the beauty of the outdoor landscape, this functional and stylish entertainment area has prompted many homeowners to add an outdoor kitchen to their backyard oasis.
Make no mistake—an outdoor kitchen, even a modest one, can be an expensive addition, with few lower-budget alternatives. It will always be less costly to install a simple freestanding barbecue into the yard on an existing deck or patio, without the surrounding permanent structures that are the mark of an outdoor kitchen. Once you begin adding features such as a side burner, fridge or sink, costs will inevitably begin to rise. Thankfully, the investment pays off with a long-lasting, durable and functional space.

Planning your outdoor kitchen project

The key to a successful outdoor kitchen project is early planning, particularly if you want to complete construction in the same year it begins. The length of time the project will require to complete really depends on the scope. A simple barbecue and side burner can take two to three weeks, while a full kitchen loaded with amenities can take several weeks or months. Custom work takes time, but the final outcome is almost always worth the wait.
While it is possible for you to design and install an outdoor kitchen yourself, it is generally wiser to consult a professional landscape architect. Your input, of course, is invaluable, but an experienced landscape architect can also offer a unique, educated perspective on the use of space. They also have the technical expertise required to resolve the structural necessities of the job, including the need for electricity and gas to service the project.
In addition, most landscape architects have a network of trusted sub-contractors (e.g. stonemasons, concrete finishers, granite templater/fabricators, licensed gas technicians, electricians, plumbers, arborists and gardeners) to lend their individual skills to the job. Before the first shovel hits the ground, there are several important questions to ask yourself prior to starting the physical plan of an outdoor kitchen. The answers to these questions will depend largely on your wish list of appliances, features and amenities.

  • Where will the kitchen be located in the yard in relation to the rest of the landscape?
  • Will it be near the swimming pool, near the house or right outside the sliding doors from the indoor kitchen?
  • Is there a location less susceptible to the inclement weather or prevailing wind that is so often a part of our changing seasons?
  • If running water is necessary, how does drainage tie itself to the main house plumbing? (The same sort of relationship must also be established with the electrical and gas connections.)
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