Summer days are finally here, and one of our favorite warm-weather traditions is backyard hangouts complete with friends, family, juicy watermelon, and burgers fresh off the grill. Whether you entertain regularly or simply love having dinner with the family outside, you might be ready for an outdoor kitchen. Outdoor kitchens come in all shapes, sizes, and budgets, and when done successfully, they're so much more than just a place for grilling meat. Think of the outdoor kitchen as an extension of your home, a gathering spot for family and friends, and a place to make fun memories.
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What Is an Outdoor Kitchen?
An outdoor kitchen setup can be as simple as a spot with portable grill or as complex as a custom built-in cooking area complete with a sink, refrigerator, cabinets, and a full set of patio furniture. There are many different ways outdoor kitchens can be built and designed depending on your needs, wants, and budget. As a cooking and entertaining hub all in one, there are many benefits to having an outdoor kitchen. "An outdoor kitchen can provide convenience, accessibility, and efficiency," Lowe's trend strategist Caroline Harmon says. "Cooking outdoors helps reduce the use of air conditioning units running on overdrive, eliminates indoor odors, and allows home chefs to spend more time enjoying the outdoors with family and friends."
Harmon adds that outdoor kitchens are a great way to extend the floor plan of your home. "With all the new styles and products available for the outdoors, no compromise is needed to get the right look and feel for your space."
Some key things to figure out when planning your outdoor kitchen are budget, location, and what you intend to cook. Budget-wise, freestanding grills and modular cabinets will cost less than a full buildout with a grill dropped into a stone counter, a sink, a refrigerator, and so on.
Depending on where you're planning on putting your outdoor kitchen, there are a few elements that the pros recommend having. Brian Eskew, sales and marketing director at Twin Eagles, a premium grill and outdoor kitchen equipment manufacturer, notes that if your outdoor kitchen isn't going to be in close proximity to your indoor kitchen, having a refrigerator and sink as part of your setup is a good idea. "Will your outdoor kitchen be close enough to your indoor kitchen that you can make use of the indoor refrigerator, or is it so far away that you want to be sure that you're able to keep beverages and raw food cold and safe before preparation?"
A sink is another addition that you'll definitely want to consider, especially if it will be located farther away from your house. "Sinks are a big deal," Eskew says. "Everyone that doesn't have easy access to a sink always wishes they had one in their outdoor kitchen, not just for rinsing a plate or a tool but also for washing your hands. Grilling and cooking in an outdoor kitchen can sometimes be a little more messy than the indoor kitchen—it's more fun that way—so having a place where you can rinse things off and wash your hands is important."
As you plan your outdoor kitchen setup, whether you're on your own or working with a contractor or designer, Eskew offers this advice: "Think about the way you cook and the way you entertain; what are you cooking and who is there? This will help you think through the cooking and entertaining accessories that you need."
If You're on a Budget
For a more low-key outdoor kitchen setup that doesn't require hiring contractors, plumbers, or electricians, things like freestanding grills, modular cabinetry, and modest landscaping are the way to go. "A modular outdoor kitchen is the perfect solution for transforming your cooking space into one where you can prep, cook, and clean." Harmon says. "If you're pressed for space, consider adding a portable grill, burners, or a pizza oven, and a bistro set with comfortable seating." She adds that a rolling kitchen cart is a versatile option for adding prep, storage, and serving space.
A pizza oven is essential for Gabriel Rucker, chef and owner of Le Pigeon, who built his outdoor kitchen from scratch. "A pizza oven, hands down, is the best low-maintenance outdoor kitchen addition," he says. "With a pizza oven you have all your bases covered. You can bake pizzas, bread, and even broil with the right technique. I went with a tabletop pizza oven. No masonry needed, just a cinder block table. When you're on a budget, pick outdoor cooking accessories that go together—those are your building blocks."
You can make your outdoor kitchen setup feel more homey with some relatively inexpensive additions. "Finishing details like pillows, rugs, and colorful planters will make the space feel cozy," Harmon says. "Adding string lights creates a great ambiance and an outdoor bistro vibe." Rucker's top tip for any outdoor space is to make it a place people actually want to gather in. "Don't get too utilitarian and forget to make your outdoor kitchen and space a place people want to congregate," he says. "It's not just about practicality. Make it green with moderate landscaping and flower beds. Add a fire pit for all the campfire vibes."
When It's Best to Work with a Professional
If your outdoor kitchen project will involve custom stonework, installing a sink or refrigerator, or dropping a grill in, you'll want to consult a designer or contractor (and probably an electrician and plumber) to make sure it's done right. "If someone is going through the motions of building a grill in, that requires electricity, and full kitchen buildouts generally also require gas and plumbing," Eskew says. "These things are complex, even for a handy consumer."
"If you want to do it right, find a designer," Rucker says. "Find someone you enjoy working with. My wife Hana and I used a company called Grasstains in Portland, Oregon, and really relied on their expertise."