What To Know About a Summer Kitchen

Updated: May 19, 2023

Keep your home cooler and make your outdoor space even more gratifying with a quaint but completely practical summer kitchen.

My love affair with summer kitchens began at a tender age when I spent my summers at my grandparents’ farmhouse. The picturesque setting was already a dream, but the detached summer kitchen was the real star of the show.

The sizzle of steaks on the grill, the aroma of fresh herbs in the air and the laughter of loved ones gathered around made it extra special. For a young kid, it was a magical space full of wonderful scents and jars of interesting things, somewhere I could always find a tasty treat.

Today, let me introduce you to this fantastic concept and guide you through the steps of creating your own summer kitchen.

What Is a Summer Kitchen?

A summer kitchen is a cooking area separate from the main house, designed for preparing meals during warmer months.

Unlike an outdoor kitchen, a summer kitchen is a complete structure that generally includes a grill, sink, refrigerator and plenty of prep space. But it can be as simple or as luxurious as you want and can afford.

My grandparents had a fancy one with a dedicated larder, a cool, dry area for storing canned goods and preserves. They also kept squash, root veggies and orchard fruits in there to last through fall and winter.

History of Summer Kitchens

Summer kitchens can be traced back to the 18th century, predominantly in rural Europe and colonial America. They were built to keep heat away from the main house during the scorching summers.

And it makes sense! Before the widespread adoption of air conditioning and electric or gas-fired cooking, you’d do the majority of your cooking and baking in wood-fired ovens or on cast iron stoves. In summer, that would heat the whole house and make living conditions unbearable.

The popularity of summer kitchens soared in the 19th century, particularly in the American South and Midwest, where they were considered a staple of farmhouses.

Even with the widespread use of AC and modern appliances, the allure of summer kitchens didn’t fade away. Today, they’re popular in Southern Europe, California and parts of Australia, where the pleasant weather allows for outdoor cooking and dining almost year-round.

Key Features of a Summer Kitchen

When gathering ideas for your dream summer kitchen, consider incorporating these essential features:

  1. Oven, stove and grill: These are the heart of your summer kitchen. Think about the dishes you’re most likely to cook in the summer months and choose appliances that make preparing these easier.
  2. Refrigeration: A no-brainer to keep your ingredients fresh and drinks icy cold. If you’re short on space, opt for an under-counter model. If space allows and you have a large family, go with a full-sized refrigerator or even a side-by-side fridge-freezer model. Unless the space is well-insulated, you’ll need one suitable for temperature extremes, just like choosing a freezer or refrigerator for the garage.
  3. Sink and prep space: Again, a no-brainer to simplify food preparation and clean-up.
  4. Storage: Cabinets or shelves for utensils, cookware and dishes enhance your summer kitchen cooking experience. Also consider whether you to add a root cellar, larder or pantry to store preserves and fresh produce.
  5. The structure: You can convert a garage or build a structure. Choose from a traditional one-story wooden barn-style building, or go for a space that matches the siding and style of your home.
  6. Lighting: You’ll need multiple bright lights so you can clearly see what you’re doing, especially if you plan to use the space at dusk or after sunset.

How Much Does a Summer Kitchen Cost?

Just like the cost of building an outdoor kitchen, the cost of a summer kitchen can vary widely depending on the design, materials, appliances and labor.

A professionally installed kitchen with high-end appliances, custom cabinetry, premium countertops and other luxurious features can easily run from $15,000 to $50,000. Expect to pay well over $50,000 if you build a new structure and run electricity and water lines.

On average, a basic DIY summer kitchen can cost between $2,000 and $10,000. This includes a grill, a small refrigerator, some counter space and potentially a sink. It also assumes you already have a functional outbuilding to convert.

If that outbuilding has lighting, electricity and water, or you have the necessary skills to run a water line to it, you can remodel the space reasonably affordably. An experienced DIYer could conceivably lay laminate flooring; install appliances, countertops and a sink; then add finishing touches like wall coverings, a seating area and shelving.