How to design an outdoor kitchen: layout options, material choices and must-have features
Follow our expert tips on how to design an outdoor kitchen and you'll be able to cook alfresco in style all year long
Want to know how to design an outdoor kitchen so you can add the latest ultra-desirable garden feature to your space? You've come to the right place. Adding one of these means you can make the most of your yard all year long, both preparing and eating out there, enjoying the unmissable flavor of food cooked outside, plus avoiding the hot slog in the kitchen when the mercury’s high.
The best outdoor kitchen ideas will ensure you have more than just a place to cook too. You can provide preparation and plating-up space plus storage as well as cooking facilities in the shape of a barbecue or outdoor oven. You could add extra cooking options, too. And you might even consider features such as a fridge and sink for the most sophisticated take on an outdoor kitchen.
Whether you opt for a wallet-friendly DIY design or blow the budget with a bespoke option that's perfectly tailored to your space and needs, there's no shortage of options for backyards big and small.
How to design an outdoor kitchen: expert tips for success
Ready to find out how to design an outdoor kitchen? From where to place it to the must-have features you'll want to include in your space, we've got all the advice you'll need to create your dream alfresco kitchen.
What features should an outdoor kitchen have?
One of the key things to consider when planning how to design an outdoor kitchen is what features you want in the space. It could be relatively simple, a sophisticated feature that replicates the facilities you have inside your home – or somewhere between the two. What you go for will depend on your budget and your space.
The most straightforward of outdoor kitchen designs could include a built-in version of the best BBQ, the best pizza oven, plus some preparation space, while the ultimate outdoor kitchen might combine a barbecue with a side burner, have both a sink and fridge, and include extensive preparation space and storage.
An outdoor kitchen will always look smaller than its indoor equivalent, so think about sizing up work surfaces and seating areas to suit the exterior context. When it comes to storage, though, bear in mind that you’ll need less than you do in the kitchen inside your home.
You might want planting to be part of the outdoor kitchen design too with both herbs and vegetables freshly available – there's inspiration aplenty in our kitchen garden ideas.
Bearing in mind that the weather can’t always be relied on, you might also want to include some outdoor heating ideas when planning how to design an outdoor kitchen.
Assess your power supply and plumbing
A complete outdoor kitchen will need both electricity and running water, so make sure you consider this in your plans for how to design an outdoor kitchen.
‘If you wish to install an outside sink you need to arrange for a plumber to bring your water feed and waste pipe to the correct location based on your kitchen design,’ explains Ross Worrod, business development at outdoor kitchen specialist Grillo.
After that, the kitchen should be installed and then the plumber can return to make the connections.
Bringing electricity outdoors is another key element of how to design an outdoor kitchen, particularly if you want to have an electric BBQ, outdoor fridge, wired-in lighting or similar. ‘You need to arrange for an electrician to bring your power supply to the correct location based on your kitchen layout,’ says Ross. Once the kitchen is in, the electrician can install outdoor rated electrical sockets.
How can I cook in an outdoor kitchen?
A barbecue could take center stage in an outdoor kitchen, but you may want to go for a pizza oven as well, which can also allow you to roast meat and even bake bread. As an alternative, a kamodo is a popular option because it can grill, smoke and oven cook, and can save you doubling up on outdoor appliances. The egg shape can also make an attractive feature.
Decide whether you’d like separate burners as part of your kitchen layout so that you can both boil and heat. A teppanyaki can also be a useful feature if you like this style of cooking inside.
Which cooking fuel is best for an outdoor kitchen?
Follow your personal preference when you’re choosing cooking fuel for an outdoor kitchen. Having the best gas BBQ is a top pick for many, offering fast heat-up times and a convenient fuel source. Think about whether you’re going to fuel this via a gas pipe or using bottled gas.
A charcoal grill might be an addition or an alternative in your set-up to provide authentic smoky flavor, and charcoal is a must for many grill fans. Equally, though, you could pick a dual-fuel BBQ that can use gas or charcoal either at the same time, or one at a time, depending on the model. This is a space-saving option if you don’t have a large area to dedicate to your outdoor kitchen.
Wood-fired appliances can also be part of an outdoor kitchen. Think a wood pizza oven or a fire bowl with a grill.
Consider using electricity as a fuel source as well to provide you with an outdoor cooktop and/or oven.
Which materials are best for an outdoor kitchen?
Weatherproof materials are, of course, essential when it comes to how to design an outdoor kitchen. There are a range to pick from, and which you go for will depend on your personal preferences, your garden design ideas, and your budget.
- Stainless steel looks sophisticated and is a fabulous complement to contemporary landscaping ideas. It can be co-ordinated with your grill and other appliances, too. It’s a high budget option, though, and can get hot.
- Powder-coated stainless steel can allow you to go for a finish with color rather than the usual shade.
- Wood kitchen cabinets can blend in with their surroundings and are a good choice for more rustic garden ideas. They can also continue the look of a kitchen inside your home. Bear in mind that they need regular maintenance. For safety, wood cabinets should not be used to wrap grills.
- Cement, brick and stone can withstand the heat of grills, and they’re strong and durable. They can also allow you to give your outdoor kitchen an individual look. They are trickier to clean than some other options.
- HDPE (high density polyethylene) is often used to make outdoor furniture and it’s employed to make outdoor kitchens, too. It’s an easy-care option, and comes in a range of colors. It isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing choice of all, though.
Outdoor kitchen counters could be made from some of the same materials, or other options.
- Granite has all the appeal of natural stone, but it’s heavy so cabinets must be able to withstand its weight. Just as inside your home, you’ll need to be careful about spills, which can stain it. This upscale option also comes with a high price tag.
- Concrete can also look great and is hard wearing.
- Tile is another alternative for an outdoor countertop and is a good choice if your budget is tight and you're looking for cheap garden ideas. Make sure you pick a tile that’s suitable for outdoor use, and be aware that grout can stain and is harder to clean than the tiles.
Structure and features of an outdoor kitchen
Once you’ve decided on your layout, it’s time to create the perfect base. Any outdoor kitchen will need to be located on a strong, level base that’s topped with a slip-resistant, non-porous material, like exterior floor tiles, so that it won’t stain when things are dropped. Need some inspiration for material choices? Our paving ideas feature is a great place to start.
You might want to factor some half walls into your design – these are ideal for protecting your cooking area from wind, and can also provide something for you to position your storage and work surfaces against. This kind of work is best carried out by a builder, especially if you’re not 100 per cent confident in your DIY skills!
You might also consider some patio cover ideas for your outdoor kitchen to create shade and protection from passing showers. This could be in the form of pergola ideas, a gazebo or canopy. It will also add height to your garden, providing something to grow climbing plants up, and will also help zone your outdoor kitchen.
Our step-by-step guide on how to build a pergola is ideal if you want to create a DIY shelter for your space.
How much prep space do you need in an outdoor kitchen?
An outdoor kitchen likely won’t need as much preparation space as the kitchen inside your home has. But in order to get this important factor right when planning how to design an outdoor kitchen, consider the type of meals you’ll want to prepare outside as well as the number of people you’ll be providing for.
‘We suggest at least one worktop 4 feet (1.2m) for food prep on one side of the barbecue and another worktop 4 feet (1.2m) on the other side of the barbecue for presentation/social,’ says Ross Worrod. ‘This is also good for food hygiene, as it means there won’t be any cross contamination during cooking.’
If you ever feel like you spend most of the time hosting a BBQ running back inside to get tongs, plates, serving platters and napkins, the beauty of an outdoor kitchen is that you can include plenty of garden storage ideas to keep all those essentials to hand.
Cabinets are great for keeping items clean and dry between uses, but it can be a good idea to include some open shelving, too. Plus, a storage bench with a lift-up seat is a great place to stash cushions, blankets and tablecloths.
Constructing an outdoor kitchen
Think about the direction of the prevailing wind when you’re planning the location of your outdoor kitchen. You’ll also want to avoid the sun making it hard to see while you’re working for both safety and comfort’s sake.
If you’re fitting a sink and need electricity for a fridge, this may influence where you can locate the outdoor kitchen. Remember, too, that services will need to be planned in from the start and installed by a registered contractor.
Consider the neighbors
You’ll want to consider garden privacy ideas as part of planning how to design an outdoor kitchen, and your neighbors will like the idea of retaining theirs, too. Think about how garden fence ideas, walls and even plants can ensure you’re not intruding on one another, but be mindful of the kitchen’s proximity to these barriers as well.
‘When you plan the location of your outdoor kitchen, think about what is around, and ensure that the site chosen is a safe distance from any flammable materials,’ says Ross Worrod.
Start with the base units
Ready to start the next phase of how to design an outdoor kitchen? The base units will create the style for your kitchen and, as we’ve discussed above, there’s a wide choice available.
Choosing base units made from wood can make an outdoor kitchen blend into the landscape, as can stone, while brick or a brick veneer could match it to your house. Stainless-steel will make it a more attention-grabbing feature of your backyard ideas, but choose a powder-coated version and the color can complement the soft shades of the garden or be more striking.
Base units can be used to create a kitchen layout just like one inside the house. It could be a linear arrangement, or an L shape, for example, and could include an island or peninsular unit.
‘The flow of the kitchen design is also an important consideration to make sure it works with your social requirements,’ says Ross Worrod. ‘You don’t want to put a barbecue in the corner facing the wall when you could create an island design with integrated bar seating so you can interact with your guests whilst you’re cooking, or enjoy a beautiful sunset.’
Fitting the oven and sink
While the BBQ grill is likely to take center stage, you can fit an oven into an outdoor kitchen. Modular designs permit you to incorporate an under-counter oven so you can cook just as you would inside.
More often, it will be a pizza oven that’s included and this can be positioned in a variety of locations whether that’s at countertop level, built in below, or even above an outdoor fireplace with a brick surround so it looks like a traditional Italian pizza oven.
Outdoor sink ideas are an extremely worthwhile feature when considering how to design an outdoor kitchen, as long as you don’t mind paying out the extra for one. It's a great way to ensure you can wash both veggies and hands without having to go back to the house.
As to its location, just like in your indoor kitchen, think about the work triangle so you can move efficiently between the grill, refrigerator (if you have one) and the sink.
Leave around 24 inches (60cm) of counter either side of the sink for adequate space for working and the dishes.
Finishing touches and added extras for your outdoor kitchen
We’ve already mentioned the value of adding a sink to your outdoor kitchen design, which of course should be a model rated for outdoor use.
You might also want warming drawers so you can serve everything up at the right temperature.
Other luxuries worth considering if you're thinking of how to design an outdoor kitchen and take it to the next level include integrated outdoor bar ideas with stools for seating guests along with a dedicated drinks fridge. And how about a coffee machine so you can serve these after a meal?
Consider the location of your seating areas too
Once you’ve prepared all of that delicious food, you’re going to need somewhere to sit down and enjoy it. Make sure you locate a table and chairs close to the kitchen for maximum convenience. There’s no point having your outdoor dining ideas at the other end of the garden as you’ll spend the whole time traipsing up and down the space.
If you can, locate your table and chairs right next to the kitchen and under the same pergola or cover. If you’re adding in an island or peninsula, you could even have some bar stools at that so you can talk to family and friends while you cook.
Go bold with your color choices
The beauty of decorating an outdoor kitchen is just that, it’s outdoors. It means you can afford to go bigger, bolder and brighter when designing an outdoor kitchen than you would inside. Outdoor paints come in every color of the rainbow these days, so have fun with your garden color schemes!
Darker colors look great outdoors, even black, and will create a dramatic backdrop and make your plants pop. You can add even more interest with the best outdoor rugs, cushions, throws and, of course, some colorful tableware.
Don't forget about your planting
There’s nothing better than fresh basil on pizza, or handpicked mint in your mojito, so why not think about how to create a herb garden next to your outdoor kitchen. Shelves topped with pots mean you can always have freshly grown herbs to hand.
And if you’re really green fingered, you might want to include some larger raised garden bed ideas where you can grow everything from lettuce to tomatoes and garlic. If you’ve gone for bold or dark colors for your outdoor kitchen, soften the look by planting tall grasses alongside them for contrast.
Is planning permission needed for an outdoor kitchen?
Often you won’t need planning permission for an outdoor kitchen, but there are limitations on where a structure can be located near a boundary and on height. Also, if you live in a conservation area, or your home is listed, other restrictions can apply. Check with your local planning authority. The kitchen may need building regulations approval if it’s a more complex design.
Where to buy an outdoor kitchen
To create your own outdoor kitchen, find outdoor storage and units at DIY stores, or all the essentials at specialist suppliers.
Alternatively, specialist companies can design and build an outdoor kitchen for you, or you can work with a garden designer or landscape architect who can help you create an outdoor kitchen as part of a redesign of the entire garden for a total transformation.
There's more advice on how to plan your garden design in our guide.
Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor writing for websites, national newspapers, and magazines. She’s spent most of her journalistic career specialising in homes and gardens and loves investigating the benefits, costs and practicalities of home improvement. It's no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house revamper.
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