Outdoor Kitchen: What To Know Before You Build One

Outdoor kitchens make the perfect focal point for outdoor living spaces. If you're planning on building one, here's what you need to know.

With indoor gatherings limited by the coronavirus pandemic, many homeowners took a good, hard look at improving their outdoor living spaces. With 90 percent of U.S. homeowners believing that “outdoor living space is more valuable than ever,” it’s no wonder 78 percent of Americans made upgrades to these spaces in 2020.

If you’re among those people, one of the most impactful upgrades you can make is adding an outdoor kitchen. Unfortunately, poor planning and design can lead to regrets and wasted money. To avoid this, here’s what you need to know before building an outdoor kitchen.

Permits and Building Restrictions

“Anytime there is sewer, water, electric or gas, a simple permit and inspection is required,” says Gregg Cantor, president and CEO of Murray Lampert Design. He advises checking with local officials for permit requirements before you start your build.

If you’re a member of a homeowners association (HOA), there may be restrictions on outdoor kitchens. Cantor recommends checking for any Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC & Rs) in your HOA agreement as a first step.

Budget

With so many layouts, styles and features to choose from, it’s important to determine how much you’re willing to spend before diving into planning. According to Joe Raboine, director of residential hardscapes at Belgard, outdoor kitchens can cost between a few thousand dollars and $60,000-plus.

“Like an indoor kitchen, the size, quality, number of appliances and the countertop surface are the main drivers of the price,” says Raboine.

On average, you can expect to spend around $10,000. Cantor suggests visiting your local outdoor living showroom to help gauge the cost of all available options.

What Are Your Must Haves?

There are lots of options available in an outdoor kitchen, so it can be difficult to determine what’s essential. Says Raboine: “An outdoor kitchen should usually start with a grill, but additional elements could include a sink, storage, refrigerator, lighting and electrical outlets.”

Riverbend Homes owner Ben Neely says the ideal outdoor kitchen also should contain side burners and an ice bucket. Neely suggests adding as many features as your budget allows to avoid future regrets. “The majority of homeowners we talk to always wish they had thought of future-proofing their space,” says Neely.

And Michael Menn, architect, contractor and owner of Michael Menn, Ltd., says homeowners most regret not adding enough counter space.

Style

Selecting a style that matches your home’s exterior ensures your outdoor kitchen blends into the existing landscape. Cantor also stresses accounting for future renovations. “You should think ahead if you plan on adding hardscape, patio covers and other outdoor living features,” Cantor says.

With that in mind, common outdoor kitchen styles include:

  • Contemporary. Concentrates on clean lines and polished surfaces. Often uses granite countertops and stainless steel appliances for a sleek and clean appearance.

  • Rustic. Uses earthly colors and rough or distressed wood, stucco and stone materials to provide a worn and lived-in appearance.

  • Traditional. Inspired by the 18th and 19th century, outdoor kitchens with this style typically use brick, stone and stucco while prioritizing simplicity, functionality and symmetry.

Layout

An outdoor kitchen’s layout means how the appliances, amenities and work surfaces are arranged. Options include:

  • Single Island. A stand-alone outdoor kitchen island incorporates a grill, burners, countertop and sometimes a refrigerator into a single unit. Single islands are excellent choices for smaller spaces, but are usually only large enough to accommodate one cook, with limited guest seating. However, they do offer the possibility for expansion and add-ons.

  • L-shaped. These layouts feature two sides situated at a 45 degree angle. One area usually has the cooking space (oven, burners, countertops, etc.). The other is often for seating and dining, and may have a sink, fridge and/or storage cabinets.

  • U-shaped. These have three sides with a cooking area in the center and two larger work and/or seating spaces on the other sides. This layout allows for the most storage, appliances, guest seating and amenities.

Your outdoor kitchen’s layout will largely dictate the workflow and foot traffic. Position your guests so they’re not crowding the cooking area. “One of the most important considerations,” Menn says, “is to make sure others are not in the way when the cook is doing their thing!”

Access to Plumbing and Electrical Power

Depending on the outdoor kitchen appliances you choose, you may need to supply plumbing, electrical and/or gas lines. Menn notes that many grills require an electrical connection, gas connection or propane hookup.

Even if electricity isn’t required to power your appliances, Menn says electrical connections allow you to add useful items like a blender, ice machine and lights. If you install a sink, you’ll need a water supply and drain line. Installing any of these hookups will add to the overall cost of the build, and the proximity to the utility sources may influence the location of your kitchen.

James Fitzgerald
James Fitzgerald is a handyman and freelance home-improvement writer with a passion for DIY, gardening, and anything involving working with his hands. He has over a decade of professional experience in a variety of trades, including construction, tree work, landscaping, and general maintenance. When not in search of the next enticing DIY project, he may be cooking, lifting weights, riding his motorcycle, hiking out at the coast, or nose deep in a great book.