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design outdoor kitchen

Outdoor kitchens are becoming one of the most popular additions to any home. They’re also one of the most practical. Outdoor, or patio kitchens as they’re sometimes called, are the perfect way to expand your eating and entertaining space to enjoy nature’s fresh air with the sizzling smells of grilled meat.

There’s something primal about cooking outside. Humans have been roasting food over open flames since the discovery of fire. It wasn’t until quite recently in our evolutionary path that we began cooking indoors where shelter let us comfortably prepare meals protected from the elements. However, we’ve always had the yearning to barbecue in the backyard. Now it’s come full circle, and we’re building entire backyard kitchens.

Today’s outdoor kitchens are much more functional than simply the old charcoal or gas grill along with a small fridge and sink. Outdoor kitchen designs now incorporate some of the highest-tech appliances. Combined with durable materials, a weather resistant outdoor kitchen lets you cook and entertain outside as long and as often as you’d like.

Why Build an Outdoor Kitchen

Life is more relaxed outdoors. Summer is the time for outside parties and backyard BBQs, but a well-designed outdoor kitchen lets you get an early spring start and a late fall finish. Some outdoor kitchens are designed for year-round use, and it’s been known that Christmas turkeys are done to perfection right outside the regular kitchen’s door.

outdoor kitchen extension

The best outdoor kitchen designs are an extension of the interior. They’re as welcoming as a living room, entertaining as a family room and are incredibly popular places to hang out. Benefits of outdoor kitchens include adding value to your home and giving excellent returns on investment for resale. For most people, though, having a backyard kitchen is simply fun, and a lot of that comes from the right design.

Here are some helpful hints on how to design an outdoor kitchen.

Outdoor Kitchen Design

The first and most important step is to properly plan what you want and need with a long-term perspective. This includes the location where you’ll place your backyard kitchen, what zones to incorporate into the design, the best materials for an outdoor kitchen, the appliances you intend to use, any utilities you’ll require and how the overall theme fits with your existing architecture and landscaping. You also need to consider your budget.

If your budget is sufficient, you’ll want to involve a professional kitchen designer right from the start. Many of the same design principles involved in interior home kitchens apply to backyard ones as well. Professional designers know far more than do-it-yourselfers and are worth the investment. Their experience and knowledge about what works–and what doesn’t work–in kitchen design is invaluable.

A professional designer will save you hours of research and prevent the risk of choosing wrong materials. They’ll also be familiar with local codes and permit issues that could lead you to grief in civic infractions and insurance jeopardy. A professional outdoor kitchen designer and builder will likely save you money. Their sources of quality materials and skilled labor may be significantly better than what you can find on your own.

Outdoor Kitchen Location

The next most important consideration is your location. Here are the things to consider when making an outdoor kitchen:

  1. You’ll want to be able to control smoke. Building your backyard kitchen with the grill right next to a window or door will risk sucking smoke back into the house. Consider the prevailing winds and settle for a place protected from natural air currents.
  2. Consider the traveling distance from the indoor kitchen or entertainment area to where you’d like to build your outdoor place. Entertaining outdoors usually requires carrying heavy plates and prepped foods. Too far a distance might be impractical, so think of locating it as near to the inside kitchen access door as possible.
  3. You might have a dedicated view corridor out of your home. Blocking an existing view is senseless, so look for an adjacent angle or offset spot.
  4. Determine the natural traffic flow in, out and about your home. Your outdoor kitchen location has to work with how you and your family move about, not against it.
  5. Carefully examine the ground surface you’re going to build your kitchen on. It needs to be solid and easy to clean. The ground also has to be resistant to falling coals or dropped condiments. Solid surfaces like concrete or patio stones are better suited than wooden decks.
  6. It’s important to be safe. A hot grill or smoker shouldn’t be in the path of flying balls or running kids. It also shouldn’t be by the edge of a pool or where spattering grease causes a slippery surface.
backyard kitchen challenges

Just like an indoor kitchen, backyard kitchens present hazards and challenges so pick your location carefully.

Architectural Theme and Ambiance

You may already have a clear picture of your future outdoor kitchen’s appearance. This might be from a magazine or internet picture you’ve seen, a model home you’ve visited or it might be from something your friends or neighbors built.

Regardless of your initial concept, the design needs to blend with the existing architecture of your home. Your outdoor kitchen design should complement your home’s theme, not contrast it. This can easily be blended by choosing materials consistent with what you already have.

The ambiance is how everything ties together. It’s how it feels to be around the outdoor kitchen. This might include a masonry or stone fireplace. It might be an exact style of furnishings, or ambiance might come from a combination of colors, lights, sounds and smells. Maybe it’s incorporating a fish pond or fountain.

Ultimately, your backyard kitchen has to be a reflection of your personal tastes and style. This is another area where a professional kitchen designer can be a huge help. They’ll be able to take your vision and make it a reality. They’ll also be able to establish a functional form to the layout or zones of a workable outdoor kitchen.

Zoning and Layout

Properly laying out your outdoor kitchen is crucial to how well it performs. It’s also crucial to how well you’ll enjoy using the backyard area. You can accomplish an excellent layout by dividing the patio kitchen into working zones. These include a dedication for:

  • Cold Areas for Refrigeration
  • Hot areas for cooking
  • Wet areas for cleaning
  • Dry areas for prepping

These four areas can be laid out in four distinct zones where kitchen tasks take place.

The Entertaining Zone is where the fun takes place and guests mingle. People gather, sit, drink, snack and watch the cooking take place. This is the zone where you design any of the following:

  • Bartending center including bottle storage, insulated containers and a sink
  • Outdoor compact refrigerator to keep beverages, food and condiments chilled
  • Ice bin and cooler
  • Ice machine
  • Beer Kegerator
  • Wine cooler
  • Blender

The Cooking Zone is where the work takes place. Depending on how many cooks take part, this area will dictate the overall size of your outdoor kitchen. Here you’ll design the must-haves like:

  • Main grill, which is the heart of your new space
  • Side burners
  • Cooking oven
  • Pizza oven
  • Griddle
  • Accessory storage

The Prepping Zone is where you prepare food. This is everything from marinating meats to chopping veggies to slicing bread. Make sure you think about:

  • A large sink
  • Trash, recycling and compost bins
  • Dry storage drawers
  • Cutting boards
  • Paper and cloth towel holders

The Plate and Serve Zone is where guests dish up. Handy items to include are:

  • Warming drawer
  • Overhead plate warmer
  • Garnish center
  • Cutlery container
  • Pot holders

Designing your outdoor kitchen around these zoning concepts is the key to a well-functioning area where people work and socialize together. It creates a natural flow to the kitchen and reflects in good design, good taste and good times.

planning zones

Here’s a great zoning tip. Plan your zones within an arm’s length of each other. Make the prep and plate zones on each side of the cooking zone with the entertainment zone on one end. Having everything within an arm’s reach is so handy.

Shapes are another basic of good outdoor kitchen design. The three typical layouts are:

  • Straight counter
  • “L” shape
  • “U” shape

Each layout has its pros and cons. The straight counter arrangement is the most economical and most popular in small patio kitchens. “L” shapes have two perpendicular intersections in the design and are ideally suited for a corner application. “U” shaped arrangements are perfect where you have lots of room and can make your grill the center of attention.

A great deal of design influence comes from how many and what type of backyard kitchen appliances you’re planning on having.

Pick Your Appliances

Here’s a piece of advice that you’ll hear repeatedly. Pick your appliances early in the outdoor kitchen design stage. The entire layout and material selection is going to be based on the size and requirements of each appliance you decide to build into your backyard kitchen.

Appliances suitable for outdoor use are expensive compared to indoor appliances. They’re designed and built for the elements and to be left outside twelve months a year including in wet and cold climates. They need to be rust resistant and have a durable finish that can take a beating from heat and dust as well.

For this reason, stainless steel is by far the most popular finish for patio kitchen appliances. Costs for each unit vary depending on the thickness or gauge of steel as well as the sophistication of features. Be careful about mixing different brands of stainless appliances if you’re particular about a matched look. Various brands use different steels. The sheen and texture variations can be quite noticeable. They can also require different care in maintaining a fresh appearance.

Grills are the prominent appliance in all outdoor kitchens. Make this your centerpiece and prepare to purchase a quality grill. You want it to perform and show for as long as possible. Size is not everything in backyard grills. The heat capacity and functions are important. It’s also important to determine if your grill is to be freestanding or a portable module.

Other popular appliances to consider when designing and budgeting you patio kitchen are:

  • Refrigerators including mini-bars and under counter models
  • Icemakers, freezers and beer/wine coolers
  • Microwave and convection ovens
  • Pizza ovens are very popular
  • Warming appliances
  • Sinks with compactors and garburators
  • Dishwashers
  • Grill hood ventilators

Appliances aren’t restricted to devices that help warm, cool and clean. Upright and overhead heaters are great for chilly days or cool evenings. Misters are used in hot, dry places. Electronic bug zappers are excellent for backing off pesky flies and mosquitos.

Outdoor Kitchen Cabinets and Countertops

Now that you’ve decided on your location, theme, zoning layout and appliances, it’s time to pick out what finishes you’d like on other visible parts of your patio kitchen. That’s the cabinets and countertops. Here’s the best material for an outdoor kitchen.

weather resistant

Above all, your choices have to be weather resistant. They need to keep water out of the inside and under the outer surface. This includes porous products that absorb and hold moisture. Interior applications simply won’t stand up to exterior conditions

You have three standard selections for exterior cabinets:

  • Polymer cabinets, or high-density polyethylene (HDPE), is a plastic resin base, and it’s totally weatherproof.
  • Marine-grade veneer woods that appear as interior cabinet products but are made for the outdoors.
  • Stainless steel cabinets that compliment your appliances are the most popular outdoor kitchen selections.

You have three standard selections for exterior cabinets:

  • Polymer cabinets, or high-density polyethylene (HDPE), is a plastic resin base, and it’s totally weatherproof.
  • Marine-grade veneer woods that appear as interior cabinet products but are made for the outdoors.
  • Stainless steel cabinets that compliment your appliances are the most popular outdoor kitchen selections.

You also have three standard

  • Ceramic or porcelain tile can be mortared onto a weatherproof substrate and finished with epoxy grout.
  • Poured concrete counters are cast in place and exceptionally durable, however they require proper sealing.
  • Granite surfaces are the best countertop for outdoor use. Granite is totally weather resistant and able to take hot contact without marking.

Once you’ve made your cabinet and counter choice, you’re finally ready to tie it all together. This involves using decorative veneers to wrap your outdoor kitchen into one flowing design.

Decorative Veneers

Deciding on decorative veneers or other weather resistant outdoor kitchen finishes for your backyard kitchen depends on the look you’re looking to achieve. These materials have to be durable as well as attractive. It’s also a bonus for them to be low maintenance as well as affordable.

These are the most common finishes to consider when designing an outdoor kitchen:

  • Brick is timeless as well as relatively low cost. Bricks come in dozens of colors and combinations. They also come in full bricks that can be used as a solid structural foundation or in half-bricks that are glued to a structure’s face.
  • Stucco is common in the southwest but not seen as much in the colder northeast. Properly applied, stucco is weatherproof but has a tendency to mark easily and be tough to clean.
  • Rustic wood is increasing in popularity. Some recycled timbers lend a dramatic effect to outdoor kitchens, particularly in building post and beam structures for covered kitchens or heavy pergolas.
  • Natural stone gives a beautiful, outdoorsy feel to a kitchen. There’s a wide selection of stone, but it can be expensive. A common alternative is cultured or engineered stone which looks amazing but at a fraction of the price.

Other Outdoor Kitchen Design Considerations

The more elaborate you design your outdoor kitchen, the more consideration you need to give in servicing the addition, accessorizing it and making sure you’re safe as well as legal. Here are some more things to work into your design:

  • Make sure to account for utility connections like electricity, water and natural gas
  • Enquire with local authorities about permits and restrictions
  • Insurance issues need to be covered for increasing your property value
  • Consider the effects of natural and artificial lighting including shade
  • Allow for entertainment components like music and outdoor television
  • Wind breaks and air movement from fans are important
  • Don’t forget safety devices like fire alarms and suppression
  • Remember that cooking needs ventilation and fans can be noisy

One last consideration in designing your outdoor kitchen is that it’s going to be just that–outdoors. That means you’re going to get visits from nature’s critters whether they walk, fly or crawl. Accept you can only do so much to protect against animals. The only advice is to minimize attractions and make sure your design is easy to clean. For a professionally designed outdoor kitchen, consider contacting E.B. Endres, Inc. in Huntington. PA. We’ve been in the business of designing and building custom cabinetry and counters since 1928.

Our mission is to provide the highest quality architectural millwork products and installations to customers throughout eastern PA and throughout the eastern United States. That includes designing and creating outstanding outdoor kitchens.

If you’re looking to build the outdoor kitchen of your dreams, fill out a project inquiry. We’ll be glad to receive your details on how to start an outdoor kitchen project. For all your outdoor kitchen cabinetry questions, contact usfor assistance.