The Big Guide to Planning and Building an Outdoor Kitchen

Outdoor kitchens are becoming more popular and more elaborate in Canada.  Planning and building them can become quite involved and it’s more than a little overwhelming. This guide is designed to help you through the planning stages so you can focus on the end result.

A 2017 study by Casual Living Magazine found that almost half of those surveyed who have an outdoor living space, also have an outdoor kitchen. It can significantly increase the value of your home. A recent Zillow study of current home listings concluded an outdoor kitchen added an average of 25% to the price!

Setting Up An Outdoor Kitchen

Having an outdoor kitchen provides you with a great way to spend more time with your family, while also enjoying everything your garden has to offer. When planning this project, it helps to first understand the basic elements of what it includes, how you cook items, and where things should be stored.

Cooking and Grilling Surfaces

The first thing you need for an outdoor kitchen is somewhere to cook your food. While you may have some type of burners for traditional stovetop cooking, most outdoor kitchens have a built-in or portable barbecue grill. This allows you to cook a lot of different foods, from vegetable kabobs to chicken, steak, and fish. If you are going to use the outdoor kitchen for parties, you can get an over-sized grill so you are able to get a lot of cooking done at once. Some other cooking appliances to consider for the outdoor kitchen including a smoker, deep fryer, and pizza oven.

Countertops and Prep Stations

You also need an area to prepare your meals, such as chopping vegetables and marinating meat. This is where the countertops come into play. If you are going with a pre-fabricated outdoor kitchen, it should already include some countertop space. However, if you are having it custom-made, you will need to choose the countertops on your own. Since it is outdoors, go with materials that are weather-friendly, such as those made from steel or concrete. It is also a good idea to have a sink in your outdoor kitchen so you aren’t constantly running into the house.

Storage

An outdoor kitchen should also include storage for food ingredients and leftovers, cookware, kitchen accessories, and dishes. Many outdoor kitchens have either a mini-fridge or full-size refrigerator. This keeps outdoor eating separate from indoor eating. Your design should have cabinets for storing utensils, cutting tools, and servingware. Also have a place for storing cutting boards, skewer sticks, pots and pans, cups and plates, napkins, and other accessories you will need.

Accessories and Dining Area

Lastly, don’t forget about other accessories, dining furniture, and decorative elements for your outdoor kitchen. Get a good dining table and chairs or benches for your family to enjoy their meal outdoors. Set up the dining area like you would inside, with proper lighting, decorative features, and area rugs. Also include some accessories for the kitchen, such as measuring cups and spoons, dishes, storage containers, tongs, and various utensils. You might also want baskets to grill vegetables and different bottles of marinade and sauces for your meats.

Casual Living Magazine Identified the top five outdoor kitchen amenities as follows:

  1. Grills (91%)
  2. Outdoor seating (72%)
  3. Outdoor lighting (66%)
  4. Countertop (60%)
  5. Cabinets (54%)

Choosing the Right Location

Designing your outdoor kitchen - location

One of the first decisions to make when you decide to build an outdoor kitchen is where exactly to put it. It needs to be a certain distance from living spaces and have adequate space for storage and dining, but should also be protected from our harsh Canadian weather. Follow these easy tips for choosing the perfect location for your outdoor kitchen.

Provide Ample Shade

A good way to determine the ideal location in your backyard for the outdoor kitchen, is to find an area with sufficient shade. You don’t want it directly underneath tall trees since the leaves, branches, and flowers might fall onto your equipment and furniture. However, you do want to have enough shade to keep yourself from being overheated, and to protect the outdoor space in general. For example, choosing a location on your patio where you have an awning or pergola is a great option.

Keep the Kitchen Close to your Home

The next thing you should consider when choosing the right location is make sure the outdoor kitchen isn’t too far from your house. If you have sliding glass doors in your indoor kitchen or dining room, try to place the outdoor kitchen just outside those doors. This makes it easy to go back and forth if you don’t keep a second set of dishes, cookware, and appliances in the outdoor kitchen.

Consider Your Desired Views

Think about the type of view you want to have when choosing the location of your outdoor kitchen. For example, if you wanted a kitchen outdoors so you can watch the kids in the pool while you cook or enjoy the view of your beautiful rose garden while dining outdoors, choose a location on the patio where you can easily see these areas. Aside from the preferred view, also think about a view that isn’t favorable. Adjust the location or layout if you would rather have a private kitchen and a dining area that is away from the neighbor’s view, for example.

Avoid Areas With a Lot of Wind

Wind can be a real annoyance when cooking and dining outdoors. If there are trees or bushes nearby, the wind will throw flower petals, pollen, branches, and leaves at you and your food. Try to find an area that minimizes the impact of wind or have proper protection in the area, such as with an awning or large patio umbrella.

Prefab VS Custom Outdoor Kitchens

As you begin looking at options for outdoor kitchens, you will discover there are two main choices: a prefab kitchen or a custom kitchen. The prefab kitchen comes with everything you need to assemble and set up the kitchen in your outdoor space. A custom-made kitchen is built for you according to your requirements and preferences.

Following are some things to consider when choosing between a prefab or custom outdoor kitchen.

Prefab Kitchens Provide a Quick and Easy Setup

An obvious benefit to going with a prefab kitchen is that it is basically built for you, you just need to have it delivered and set it up. Some prefab outdoor kitchens require minimal assembly, while others require more assembly. However, they usually include everything you will need, aside from some appliances if you choose to add them. There are different prefab kitchens to choose from, depending on the size and types of materials you want to go with, along with your budget.

Custom Kitchens Work With Any Outdoor Space

Regardless of the size or shape of your outdoor space, a custom kitchen can be built there. A great thing about ones that are custom-built is if you only have a U-shaped area of your patio that would make a good location, you aren’t struggling to find a prefab kitchen with this unique design. The builder can customize the size and shape of it to fit in this space perfectly.  If you’re looking for plans or inspiration, check out the classic book Ultimate Outdoor Kitchens: Inspirational Designs and Plans.

Prefab Kitchens are the Economical Choice

You can save money by going with a prefab kitchen without sacrificing quality. Most are beautiful and made of high-quality materials. There are different sizes and layouts, so you can pick the one that is most suitable for your space. Some prefab kitchens still offer customization, allowing you to add appliances and choose colours or material types for countertops and cabinets.

Custom Kitchens Offer Personalization

When you have the budget for it, a custom outdoor kitchen is often the preferred option. You’ll be able to create a layout, and choose the countertops, flooring, lighting, storage and accessories from a vast number of options. If you want to use a refrigerator and outdoor oven, you can also add room for those and put them exactly where you want them. Be as specific as possible with the contractor when you decide to go with a custom outdoor kitchen so that you truly get everything you want.

Selecting Outdoor Flooring

Building Your Outdoor Kitchen - Flooring

As you begin planning your outdoor kitchen, you will need to choose durable, functional and attractive flooring option. If you are simply installing it on your concrete patio, that will work fine. However, there are other flooring options you may want to consider.

Concrete

Concrete is an excellent outdoor kitchen flooring option. It’s not only durable, but there are also many design benefits. Concrete is naturally a neutral gray or off-white color, but you can have it stained or have textures and designs printed into it before it dries. This allows you to have a traditional concrete patio for the kitchen or a unique design based on your aesthetic preferences. It can also withstand heavy winds, rain, snow, hail, and extreme heat without major damage.

Natural Stone

The next option is the natural look of stone flooring. However, you need to be careful with the type of stone you choose. You don’t want to go with granite or marble, since they can be prone to damage. Instead, choose a stone that is more durable and easily available for your region. This might be flagstone, fieldstone, slate, and so on. Make sure you find out if maintenance or sealing is required when you have it installed.

Wood Flooring

For a warm appearance in the dining area of your outdoor kitchen, you can use wood flooring. Some wood flooring could be vulnerable to damage from humidity or heat, so most people opt for pressure-treated wood. Make sure it’s sealed properly so it holds up to the elements and prevents fire.

Tile

The final option is tile. This is good when you want a beautiful, high-end style, but don’t want to deal with all the sealing and high maintenance involved in using natural stone. Tile also has a tendency to handle not just outdoor climate conditions, but also the heat and humidity in the cooking area of your outdoor kitchen. Porcelain tile is fine to use, as well as ceramic, however make sure it is not glazed and is frost-proof. Tile may crack and chip, so exercise caution when placing heavy items on it.

Countertop Options

If you want to create an outdoor kitchen that goes beyond a grill and dining area, you will need to choose the proper countertops. You won’t only look for durable countertops for the cooking and preparing, but will also consider materials that work in an outdoor climate. Consider these countertop options and the benefits and drawbacks of each one.

Granite

The most popular countertop choice for outdoor kitchens is granite, according to the Casual Living Magazine study. While granite isn’t quite as resistant to weather damage as concrete and tile, you can still use it for your upscale outdoor kitchen. However, you do need to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages. Granite is obviously beautiful and provides a high-end look to the countertops. However, it must be sealed if you want to avoid damage from moisture, such as rain or snow.

Stainless Steal

The second most popular choice in the above-mentioned study is stainless steal. It’s amazingly durable, resistant to stains, hygienic, and safe from heat damage or fire. While to cost is higher initially, the durability and longevity makes it a worthy investment. You can lower the cost significantly by doing it yourself (all or in part), or have it customized for you by companies like Home Depot. The downside to a stainless steal countertop is it does scratch, although some consider this to be part of a trendy look. Denting is also a concern, but you can prevent it by adding it over hardwood and choosing a thicker gauge.

Concrete

Concrete provides a countertop that can handle the elements, is easy to clean and doesn’t stain easily. However, it is still prone to cracking over time if you don’t have it sealed properly. Concrete can be stained with other colors during installation, so you aren’t stuck with the cold cement-look.

Tile

Tile offers aesthetic appeal and longevity. Additionally, it is very easy to clean and take care of, has lots of color and style options, and is affordable. Unfortunately, tile may stain and pale tile colours may turn yellow outdoors.

Stone

Natural stone is a good option for your outdoor countertops, aside from just using granite. Other types of stone are more durable and easier to take care of, without requiring excessive sealing. For example, soapstone is a beautiful stone that can lend a unique appeal to your outdoor kitchen countertops. This is also very durable and often easier to take care of than granite. You might also want to choose a multi-colored stone like flagstone, which also happens to be used as a durable flooring option for many outdoor kitchens.

Don’t be afraid to mix it up by using more than one type of countertop for a unique and functional design.

Outdoor Kitchen Storage

Building Your Outdoor Kitchen - Storage

A common regret with outdoor kitchen design is not putting enough thought or planning into storage. Following are some options and tips to make sure you have plenty of storage for all your cooking utensils, dishes and accessories.

Have Custom Storage Built

If you are already having the kitchen itself custom-built, your storage options are virtually endless. You can compile a list of exactly what will need to be stored, and inform the contractor so they can make sure you have adequate storage. This might include certain sizes of cabinets and shelves for cookware, utensils, barbecue tools, dishes, cups, and food. Even if the entire kitchen isn’t custom-built, you can still hire a cabinet company to build the cabinets around your grill and other kitchen appliances to provide ample storage.

Go the Budget-Friendly Route

If you feel that there aren’t enough cabinets or built-in storage options, you don’t need to call in a builder to create them for you. A less expensive alternative is to incorporate prebuild storage. For example, you can add a tall shelving unit right next to the outdoor kitchen setup, putting in some different boxes and bins where you can store additional items. This option is easy and can fit any budget.

Store Some Items Indoors

While it is convenient to have all your kitchen items stored outside, it isn’t always feasible. Unless you want to buy two of everything, you might want to keep some things inside in your regular kitchen, then bring them out as needed. As long as your kitchen is close enough to the house, it shouldn’t be difficult going back and forth. Alternately, you can have a storage bin inside that contains everything you need so you can easily bring it outside as required.

Lighting

Designing your outdoor kitchen - lighting

No matter how or where you set up your kitchen, you’ll have plenty of outdoor lighting options to choose from. You can use traditional wall or ceiling lighting, landscape lighting, post lighting, deck and step lights, patio lanterns, custom lighting features, or any combination thereof.

On the practical side, you’ll want to ensure adequate lighting for meal preparation, along with safety and security. On the fun side, you can decorate with strings of twinkle lights and patio lanterns or novelty solar lighting. Consider any electrical requirements as you plan, to ensure your creativity isn’t stifled by a lack of electrical outlets or poorly-planned wiring.

Protection from the Elements

Building Your Outdoor Kitchen - Weather Protection

While there are many advantages to having an outdoor kitchen, one of the biggest disadvantages is the fact that it is vulnerable to the elements. If it rains or snows, if you have extreme heat, or if a natural disaster hits, the kitchen is vulnerable to damage.

Here are some ways to protect your outdoor kitchen from Mother Nature:

Choose the Right Location

Start by choosing the right location for your backyard for the kitchen. For example, choose a location in your yard that is naturally protected from the elements.

Install a Patio Awning

If you don’t already have a patio awning, now is the perfect time to consider one. You can either go with an awning that is always open to provide adequate shade and rain cover for your patio and the outdoor kitchen area, or a retractable one that is only open during inclement weather. While retractable awnings are great, there are some definite disadvantages. Among them include the fact that you might not be home when it starts to rain and can’t open up the awning to protect the outdoor kitchen area. An awning also won’t hold up under heavy snow.

Build a Pergola

A pergola is a type of outdoor structure that includes framework, often of wood, that provides shelter and shade. You can have one custom-built so that it fits on your patio or in your chosen yard space. It can either cover your entire patio, or be just large enough to cover the outdoor kitchen and dining area. You can even decorate it with twinkle lights or climbing plants.

Go the Easy Route With Umbrellas

If you aren’t able to have a pergola built or installed, and don’t have the funds for an awning, a patio umbrella works just fine for light weather protection. They have large patio umbrellas that provide shade coverage over and beyond your patio table. You’ll also find large umbrellas that you can place in the ground and adjust it to protect the kitchen area from the sun, rain, wind, and heat.

Consider These Four Outdoor Cooking Options

Building Your Outdoor Kitchen - Outdoor Cooking Appliances

One of the first things you need to decide is how you would like to cook your food. Your outdoor kitchen can have just one method of cooking, or you can use a variety of different cooking methods. These are just four of the most popular appliances for outdoor cooking.

Barbecue Grill

A natural choice for cooking meals in your outdoor kitchen is a barbecue grill. The great thing about full-size outdoor kitchens is that it doesn’t have to just be a traditional standing grill, but one built into the custom kitchen. You can still choose between the basic types of grills, including gas (chosen by more than half of those who have outdoor kitchens), charcoal or electric.

Smoker

If you love the flavour of smoked food, you should consider adding a smoker to your outdoor kitchen. These do take longer to cook food, as the objective is to smoke the food under lower heat for longer periods of time. However, you get tender and juicy meat that falls right off the bone with a smoky flavor you can’t get any other way. You can even make your own smoker with these easy Build Your Own Barbecue Smoker plans.

Fireplace or Fire Pit

Using real fire is a an option for cooking food in your outdoor kitchen, adding that camping flavour and atmosphere. The first way you can use fire is by placing an outdoor fireplace in the kitchen area. There are a variety of outdoor fireplaces to choose from, limited only by the size and layout of your patio kitchen. It’s not only great for cooking, but can also make it feel more like a cozy living room in the evening and keep you warm on chilly nights.

You can also use a fire pit in your outdoor dining space. These provide an even better place to cook food over a real fire. You can set the fire pit in the middle of the dining area so you can cook and entertain at the same time. To use a fire pit for cooking, you can either place a grate on top of it, or use skewers or a rotisserie over the open fire.

Outdoor Oven

There are ovens that can be used in your outdoor kitchen, though they might cost a little more than the above options. However, this gives you the option of mastering your brick oven skills or even installing a fun pizza oven for this space.

How to Choose the Right Barbecue Grill

Planning and Building an Outdoor Kitchen - Grill

One of the fundamental parts of an outdoor kitchen is the cooking method, which often includes using a barbecue grill. The type and size of your kitchen area often determines the best type of grill, but there are also some other things to consider when choosing the right one.

Built-In or Stand-Alone Grill?

The first decision to make when choosing a barbecue grill is to decide between a standard grill or one that is built-in. Some outdoor kitchens, whether prefab or custom-built, will come with the option to have a built-in grill. You will either have to go with whatever is included with a prefab kitchen, or select just what you want for a custom-built design. However, if your dealing with a confined space, a small stand-alone grill might work better for you.

Choose the Cooking Method

After you have decided between a built-in grill or a stand-alone grill, you must then decide what type you want. Many outdoor kitchens use electrical grills with other electrical outdoor appliances, but this isn’t the only option. You can also get built-in grills or stand-alone grills that use natural gas or charcoal. This will give your food more of a classic barbecue flavor that an electrical grill doesn’t always provide.

Consider Alternative Types of Grills

Basic barbecue grills are not the only options available to you. There are also some other methods of grilling your food, from placing a grilling grate over an open flame to using a smoker with your grill. There are some smaller smokers meant to go over a grill, providing a slow-cooked, smoky flavor without purchasing a standalone smoker. You can also get a portable grill if your outdoor kitchen is made with an oven, but there isn’t room for a large built-in style grill.

Think About the Size and Cost

Naturally, large built-in grills are going to cost you the most, but you get the convenience of having them blending well with the kitchen and being more convenient. Electric grills do tend to be a little pricier than gas or charcoal grills, though the size and types of features they come with can also adjust the price as well. To save some money, purchase your grill when their prices are drastically cut to clear them out at the end of the season.

Benefits of Using a Smoker

A smoker is a type of cooking appliance used outdoors that cooks your food in a long and slow method, as opposed to rapid cooking like with an oven, stove, or grill. It provides a lot of unique benefits that you won’t get from any other method of cooking.

It is Small Enough For Any Outdoor Space

First of all, smokers are usually small cooking appliances, making it easy to incorporate it into any space. Even a compact outdoor kitchen has room for a smoker. You can also use a smoker that fits right onto your grill so it doesn’t take up any extra space.

Enjoy Tender, Juicy Meat

If you have ever tried to rapidly cook your meat on a grill, you know that while it has a nice charred flavor, it tends to be a little tough. There are ways to still make it juicy, but for the most part steak will be on the chewy side. There is much less chance of this happening when you cook meat with a smoker, since it takes a long time to cook. You are smoking it at lower temperatures for a longer period of time. This allows the meat to cook fully while still retaining many of its natural juices.

Your Food Has a Natural Smoky Flavor

You might have been to a restaurant that had smoked meat on the menu, especially if it was an authentic barbecue place. These restaurants often use real smokers, either inside or outside the kitchen area. The smokers give the food a very distinct flavor that is almost impossible to mimic with other cooking options. When you use a smoker in your outdoor kitchen, you get that charred and smoky flavor of the hamburgers, chicken, steak, and other meats that you get from the best barbecue restaurants.

Choosing a Smoker

Like barbecue grills, there are a variety of different smokers to choose from. There are electric smokers available, or get more of a natural smoky taste by going with a charcoal or gas smoker. There are also pellet smokers and wood smokers. Take a look at the different methods of cooking with the smokers, along with their size, difficulty of use, and cost when deciding which one is the best fit for you.

Outdoor Cooking Tips and Recipes

There really is a knack to the best barbecue food and luckily it can be learned. We recommend learning from 8-time grand champion griller, Bill Anderson, who wrote Competition BBQ Secrets! He actually teaches you the techniques and secrets that win competitions, includes winning recipes, and he’ll personally answer your questions.

Google It!

The Internet is the best tool for inspiration when designing an outdoor kitchen. You can research every option and check out sites like Pinterest for ideas. Try to find discussion forums or social media groups so you can read genuine comments and ask questions. You’ll also find a plethora of videos to inspire you, such as this video of celebrity chef, Bobby Flay, showing off his outdoor kitchen:

??? Do you have any suggestions or questions about outdoor kitchens and dining spaces? Please comment below.

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