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Design Tips for the Perfect Outdoor Kitchen

Outdoor kitchens are one of he most-desired features of a home. After you have determined the scope of an outdoor kitchen-building project, you or a professional will need to design it. How it will look is the fun part. But before you go shopping for materials, you need to consider just how the center will fit into your yard along with deciding on the ideal place in which to situate it, Also think about legal and safety issues, accessibility or availability of gas, electricity and water.

Location, Location, Location

Like any form of real estate, location really does matter. When deciding where to locate an outdoor barbecue or kitchen, take into consideration:
  • Other structures on the property, like your house and any outdoor rooms or buildings, like pool houses, gazebos and arbors.
  • Natural traffic patterns in your yard. Will the location you were thinking about for a kitchen area inhibit existing flows of traffic? How will guests move around the barbecue area? Is there a children's play yard nearby?
  • Sun exposure: Don't forget that the sun's angle changes with the seasons. The sun has a high arc in the summer and a lower arc in the winter. Does your desired outdoor kitchen spot face toward the west? Do you even know? Here's a scenario you want to avoid: you're at the grill in your new outdoor kitchen, marinating those plump chicken breasts, when you become blinded as the sun sets low. Mayhem ensues and you wonder why you forgot about something so basic.
  • Utility hookups: Find out where the gas, electricity and plumbing hookups or lines are located before falling in love with a potential spot in your yard for a kitchen center.

  • Open flames: Cooking with fire is what outdoor kitchens are all about, but you must be aware of flammable eaves, overhangs, wooden decks, fencing, and nearby trees and shrubs. Locate the kitchen area or barbecue away from these potential disasters.
  • View: If there is a view, does the planned kitchen space obstruct it?


In addition to locating an outdoor kitchen away from flammable objects and areas, there are a few other safety concerns. Special cooking units like smokers are prone to hot spots -- the firebox will create extreme heat on at least on side of the unit.

Install gas-burning appliances according to the owners' manuals or website.. Remember to only use the type of fuel that is recommended for a particular unit. If an outdoor cooking unit requires propane (LP), carefully store liquid propane gas tanks in a location where they aren't in danger of being punctured and where the temperature does not exceed 125 degrees Farenheit.

Codes and Regulations

Before embarking on an outdoor kitchen project, check with your local government planning department (city or county) for zoning laws, building and fire codes and regulations, all of which will dictate the design, size, location and layout of your outdoor kitchen. Among other things, fire codes will spell out requirements for clearance between open flames and flammable objects or surfaces. 

Some cities and counties have laws regarding wood burning -- check with your local fire marshal, city or county government, or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) before building an outdoor fireplace or fire pit.

Depending on the extent of your project, you may also need to obtain building permits. Some regions require permits and plans for electrical or plumbing work.n

Utility Connections 

Locating an outdoor kitchen near existing utilities is a time and money saver. It also helps with ease in design and planning.

But those aren't the only utility considerations when designing a cooking center outside. Gas, electrical and plumbing connections must be installed safely, preferably by a professional. Electrical wiring that is routed to an outdoor kitchen needs to be routed via approved electrical conduits. Receptacles must be GFCI-approved should the power need to be shut off immediately if a short occurs. gas lines should be inspected from end to end, checking that all fittings are tight and free of leaks. If doing this yourself, gas companies will usually send out someone to inspect it for safety, often free of charge.

While a water leak doesn't pose immediate danger, improperly installed plumbing can result in erosion and create rust on unseen metal parts. 

Besides illuminating important cooking and activity areas, lighting should be installed along pathways that connect to the outdoor kitchen. As will all lighting indoors and out, fixtures need to be approved by the Underwriters Laboratories (that UL tag) for outdoor use.


Once the location has been determined, the kitchen configuration must be designed to allow the chefs to move easily within the work area. Consideration must also be given to the location of the outdoor dining area and its proximity to the outdoor cooking center. This is also where local zoning laws may limit the size and location of your kitchen.


An outdoor kitchen can cost as much or more than a regular indoor kitchen remodel. Appliance made for outdoor use are expensive -- sometimes twice the cost of their indoor counterparts. Determine how extensive you want to go and what your budget can afford when it comes to optional appliances like warming drawers and wine coolers.

In addition to materials, another factor that will add to your budget will be the work itself. If you are an extremely skilled do-it-yourselfer, this will save you thousands, provided you do everything to code and pass inspections along the way. If not, you need to add the cost of hired help, ranging from a handyperson to a contractor to a landscape architect.


Narrowing your location for the kitchen even more, you must think about the year-round climate. Depending on where you live, you may encounter weather-related issues such as:
  • Exposure to sun and wind
  • Water: rain or salt water spray
  • Insects and control
  • Extremes in temperature: cold or heat from appliances

Personal Style

While this may be the most enjoyable part of the project, it shouldn't be arrived at arbitrarily. Consider the architectural design or your house, along with those of any other buildings on the property. Using the same or similar materials for your kitchen helps achieve some sort of design continuity with your property as a whole. Also look at landscaping and hardscaping elements when designing your kitchen. The materials you choose must be weather resistant and also need to endure the heat from the grill or outdoor oven.

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