What to Include in an Outdoor Kitchen
American families have taken to outdoor living, and, as a result, more and more people are looking for an outdoor kitchen. Outdoor kitchens aren’t simply a place to barbecue anymore. They’re a place where families and friends can relax, share a meal and an adult beverage or two and have fun outdoors.
The increased demand for outdoor kitchens has seen them grow in size, scope and budget.
Outdoor kitchen designs often look like the indoor kitchen. Today’s outdoor kitchens tend to blur the line between indoors and out. They are much, much more than the old hibachi and picnic table from years ago.
Outdoor Kitchens are Trending
The 2023 survey results from the NKBA (National Kitchen + Bath Association) show that 60% of the designers surveyed reported their clients are asking for outdoor kitchens. They’re not limited to California and Florida either. All across the country, homeowners want to have an outdoor space for grilling, eating and socializing.
What is Included in an Outdoor Kitchen?
Outdoor kitchens can feature items made specifically for the outdoors. They can include some or all of the following:
- Grills, some as large as a small car that can cost thousands of dollars
- Pizza Ovens
- Beer Taps, i.e., a kegerator
- Refrigeration, including a freezer, wine cooler
- Heating – natural gas patio heaters or portable propane patio heaters
- Entertainment Systems – TVs need to deliver a good picture in bright sunlight
- Decorating Accessories – outdoor rated furniture and fabrics now deliver indoor style and comfort
Why an Outdoor Kitchen?
Extend Living Space.
Possibly the #1 benefit of an outdoor kitchen is that it extends living and entertaining space. You can make the most of this additional space by including shade and shelter in the summer and warmth in cooler months. Think fire pit, outdoor heaters and/or radiant heat.
Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, a brand of luxury outdoor appliances and cooking systems, has reported that they are selling more and more into the areas north of the Sunbelt – even as far north as Canada. These areas are newer to outdoor kitchens, and people realize they can have the outdoor kitchen they want, regardless of climate. People everywhere are grilling year-round and enjoying their outdoor kitchens.
What to Consider For Your Outdoor Kitchen.
To make the best decisions for your outdoor kitchen, think about the following:
- How do you cook inside?
- How will you cook outside?
- Do you do your own cooking at parties or hire a chef/caterer?
- How many people do you entertain?
- How often do you entertain?
- What is your budget and what are you expecting to spend?
To avoid unpleasant surprises:
- Walk yourself through the process from food storage and prep through cooking and cleanup to make sure you include everything you want and need.
- Maintenance and upkeep are very important. For example, Kalamazoo Gourmet units feature a seamless gutter around door and drawer openings to prevent water and dirt from getting inside.
Consider the Surroundings.
An outdoor kitchen needs to fit into the yard and surrounding area. The colors and textures you choose should complement and/or extend the style of the home’s exterior and landscape.
Plan the Layout.
An indoor kitchen’s layout is defined by walls, doors and windows. Outdoor kitchens usually lack this clear-cut definition. That’s why L-shaped designs are popular choices for outside, because they create a sense of room division.
Plan out the best locations for the functional zones of the outdoor kitchen. Cold areas (refrigeration), hot areas (grills and cooktops), wet areas (sinks) and dry areas (prep counters and storage) must each have enough space to work efficiently. For example, the refrigerator should be out of direct sunlight and not next to the grill to help it work efficiently, conserve energy and last longer.
After the layout, it’s time to make appliance choices. Because there are so many appliances to choose from, look at the appliances you believe you will use the most. Of course, you will focus on “outdoor” appliances. The indoor version will probably work OK, but since they aren’t designed for outdoor use, they are less likely to last as long.
Here are a few of the most popular appliances for outdoor kitchens:
Grills and Smokers
Many types of grills are available for outdoor kitchens, so you will need to do some research before buying. Choices include grills powered by:
If you’re a grilling enthusiast, you may want more than one!
Look for these features when grill shopping:
- Built-in thermostat
- Shelves to hold condiments, cheese, spices, etc.
- Burners with at least 12,000 BTUs per burner
- Enough cooking space. Some experts recommend 100 square inches per person. So if you have a big family or expect to cook for a lot of people, your kitchen designer can help you choose the appropriate grill size.
- A grill cover
A built-in refrigerator is a necessity for outdoor kitchens, and people are incorporating more and larger refrigeration units. They have discovered that having water bottles, sodas, beer or juice boxes stored outdoors makes it easier for everyone. And it keeps people from constantly going in and out of your house.
For people who entertain a lot or who just like to drink beer, a kegerator is a popular option for an outdoor kitchen. A built-in kegerator with at least two taps is recommended so multiple types of beer and/or root beer can be offered.
Outdoor living requires lots of ice, so an ice maker for the outdoor kitchen is a smart addition. Built-in ice makers are available, but if space is a problem, a portable ice maker can do its job, then be stored away when not needed.
Lighting Your Outdoor Kitchen
Task lights that will light up food prep, cooking, eating and clean up zones are important. If the outdoor kitchen has a ceiling, an overhead fan with lights can work to light the space and create a breeze. Many modern grills are equipped with LED lights that come on when the lid is lifted.
Solar-powered accent lighting and/or strings of lights over the areas where people will be gathered are popular. Further they add ambiance. And citronella candles or tiki torches will provide some mosquito repellent.
Countertop Materials for an Outdoor Kitchen
Depending on the climate, certain materials work better outdoors. Granite, glazed ceramic tile, porcelain and concrete are all good options. They provide strength and durability while still being decorative. However, these materials need to be maintained and sealed.
Dekton from Cosentino was created specifically for outdoor use.
Flooring Materials for an Outdoor Kitchen
Flooring, patio or decking material should be highly resistant to grease stains. In addition they must be able to withstand high temperatures. For safety purposes, stone or wood-look tile that has texture is great.
Porcelain is being used for indoor-outdoor flooring. It can go from the inside right through to the outside and doubles the space visually. Sealed pavers and concrete both work well also.
Cabinets for an Outdoor Kitchen
The material you choose for your outdoor cabinets is especially important. The weather and climate in your region must be considered first, and style second.
Options for outdoor cabinet materials that are weather-resistant include:
- stainless steel
- marine-grade polymer
- teak and cypress
Stainless steel is a good material to use for outdoor kitchen cabinets as it is weather- and bug-proof. The type or grade of metal typically used in outdoor cabinets is 304 stainless steel, as it is the most resistant to corrosion and staining.
To ensure that cabinets are fully weatherproof, all hardware must be stainless steel. This includes not only stainless steel door knobs and drawer pulls, but also the unseen hardware, like fasteners and hinges.
Looking for a colored finish? Stainless-steel cabinets can be powder-coated in various colors.
Be aware that stainless steel outdoor cabinets can get very hot when exposed to the sun. Also, stainless isn’t stain-proof and will show its age. It requires regular applications of protective coating or it will get damaged.
Another popular outdoor kitchen cabinet material is marine-grade polymer. Polymer is a synthetic material like a heavy-duty plastic, and marine-grade means it can be used outdoors, it can get wet without rusting and deteriorating, it doesn’t stain and is UV-resistant. Polymer is truly weather proof and not simply weather resistant. It can take anything Mother Nature throws at it and still keep its good looks.
Polymer is engineered for direct exposure to rain, snow and extreme temperatures, hot or cold. This cabinetry will not split, fade or crack. And it definitely won’t absorb water and swell like wood cabinets do. Plus, it comes in different colors and different door styles are available.
It can be hosed down for cleaning. And it’s bug proof! Because no organic material is used, there’s nothing for bugs to munch on.
The disadvantage to polymer cabinets is that the polymer material is very dense and the cabinets are very heavy. Plus the polymer requires specialized equipment to cut and shape the panels, doors and drawer fronts, making them expensive.
Teak and Cypress
People who want wood and not metal or plastic for their outdoor kitchen cabinets should consider Teak or Cypress.
Teak and cypress are not as weather-resistant as steel or polymer, but they are naturally more weather-resistant than other woods, such as Oak or Cherry. They can withstand all types of weather. They repel water, and as a result, don’t warp, crack or become brittle.
When new, Teak wood has a honey brown color. Over time it will fade and age naturally into a soft grey. Many people like the weathered look and can’t wait for their teak to develop its natural patina.
Cypress is ideal for the constant heat, humidity and torrential rains of coastal locations. And people love it because of its longevity and good looks. It’s used as siding and shingles in areas with high heat and humidity, so its ability to stand up to Mother Nature has long been proven.
Just FYI – Teak and Cypress are used for the doors and drawer fronts on outdoor cabinetry. The cases will be stainless steel or polymer.
Outdoor Kitchen Storage
You will want a lot of storage in your outdoor kitchen to make it useful. Be realistic about what you will store outdoors so you can get enough cabinets to meet your needs. A mix of deep and shallow cabinets will avoid the problem of things getting lost in deep cabinets.
Just remember that outdoor kitchens are – well, outdoors. They will be exposed to dirt, dust, leaves, grass clippings and pollen, in addition to temperature changes, humidity and precipitation. To keep dishes and tools clean and ready to use, choose cabinets that are fully enclosed. Look for cabinets that have sealed doors and tops because dust will filter down from the countertop if tops aren’t sealed.
The one universal truth that you must keep in mind is this: All building materials in an outdoor kitchen must be able to stand up to the elements. An outdoor kitchen needs to withstand whatever the weather may bring, such as high winds, heavy rains, extreme heat and possibly even ice and snow storms. The materials must be tough enough to withstand the elements, while still being low maintenance for easy care.
With beautiful, durable outdoor cabinets and appliances you will be able to enjoy outdoor living in your outdoor kitchen through all seasons, year after year.
Kitchen Design Partner exists to offer insight and advice about all things related to kitchen remodeling. Our goal is to connect homeowners with talented, experienced kitchen designers who live and work in their communities. We are a serious resource for anyone preparing to remodel their kitchen so they can make the best possible choices about designers, contractors and products.