Affordable and portable outdoor kitchen ideas

Michelle Radcliff
June 8, 2012

Summer is backyard barbecue season. And some Americans are taking this tradition to the next level, basically creating outdoor kitchens in their backyards. If you think you can't afford an outdoor kitchen or can't have one because you rent your home, good news: There are affordable -- and even portable -- options for the ultimate barbecue setup.

Keep costs down with affordable options

Here are some ways you can save money on your outdoor kitchen design:

  • Use propane tanks to heat your grill instead of trying to run gas lines to your patio.
  • A charcoal grill can save you even more money. Some people even prefer food that is cooked over charcoal.
  • Use a prefabricated oven kit instead of building an oven brick by brick.
  • Use a prefabricated outdoor kitchen island.

Affordable options can also be portable options

You can save a lot of money by purchasing a prefabricated outdoor kitchen island instead of hiring a contractor (and possibly a stone mason) to custom build an outdoor kitchen unit for you. The trick is to go with a company that will build the kitchen to the level of completion you specify. Then you can take over and complete it yourself. This opens up a wide range of options for different budgets and different do-it-yourself abilities.

Anytime you can do a project yourself, it can help you save money but only if you know what you're doing and do it right the first time.

Another advantage of a prefab island is the ability to take it with you if you move. If you're renting a home, this is a great option.

You can also build your outdoor kitchen in stages, if necessary. It could take you several months or even up to a year, depending on how elaborate you want to make it. Your only real limitations are your imagination and your desire.

Even more portable and affordable options

Portable, rolling kitchen carts are a great low-cost alternative for extra work space and storage in an outdoor kitchen. Look for carts with stainless-steel tops, which can be both durable and attractive. Place one of these carts next to a mini fridge sitting on a small, portable cabinet bench and you've got half your kitchen already assembled.

A small, portable fire pit makes a nice centerpiece for the outdoor kitchen seating area, where guests can enjoy fireside conversation after dinner or even roast some marshmallows.

You can find a variety of portable gas or charcoal grill carts. Camping supply stores are a good place to look for these items.

A small charcoal water smoker gives your barbecue chef more cooking options and you can pick one up for under $100.

Don't get left in the dark

Don't forget lighting for your outdoor kitchen. The fun doesn't need to end when the sun goes down.

You can easily light your grill or workspace with a portable LED lamp that comes with a handy C-clamp that allows you to attach the lamp to horizontal or vertical surfaces. You can find these at most home improvement stores.

Hang some Chinese lanterns from your patio ceiling. They are inexpensive and create a nice ambience when lit.

Outdoor candle lanterns are inexpensive and come in a wide variety of styles. You can hang them from trees, the patio ceiling, or a garden trellis; or set them on your patio tables, grill island, cabinets, or countertops. Stock up on candles as well.

Tiki torches (also called bamboo or Polynesian torches) are another inexpensive lighting option.

String lights can really dress up your patio and give your outdoor kitchen a very festive atmosphere.

Start planning your outdoor kitchen

Now that you see how many great, affordable options there are for designing an outdoor kitchen, go ahead and start planning. Your dream outdoor kitchen is just waiting to be created!