With an outdoor kitchen, you can cook a feast while enjoying your guests' company (and put them to work). And you keep the heat of cooking outside, so your house stays cooler and your utility bill stays lower.
Go Mobile with a Portable Kitchen
A portable kitchen is an affordable way to get started. You can set it up wherever you like, move it to suit your needs and — if you have a good-sized truck — take it with you for tailgate parties. Here’s what you need:
Grill. Portable grills vary in size from 250 square inches — about the size of a cookie baking sheet — to more than 1000 square inches. Grills built into rolling carts are easy to move, and some expand their usefulness with storage drawers and extra-long counters. Look for models with bonus cooking features:
- Multiple cooking zones for direct or indirect heat
- A rotisserie burner
- Side elements (so you can boil the potatoes before grilling them)
The best grills are made of high-quality stainless steel, with tightly sealed seams, ceramic-coated iron or stainless steel burners and thick, stainless steel grates.
Preparation center. A proper barbeque station — also called a preparation center — comes with extendable trays for preparing your food, ample storage space for your supplies and wheels for moving it exactly where you need it. Some models include a sink that connects to your garden hose.
Cooler. A rolling cooler keeps your food cold until you put it on the grill and gives you easy access to beverages. Buy one that’s counter height to give yourself an extra preparation surface.
Room to cook. Set up on your kitchen on a flat, even surface — your concrete driveway or stone patio is a better choice than your wooden deck, which can burn. Keep it close to the back door so you can fetch anything you need.
Set the Scale
Your built-in outdoor kitchen can be anything from a basic workspace with a grill, a patio and a length of counter to a fully decked-out kitchen and entertaining area with a variety of appliances and perks.
Whether you're planning a custom-made kitchen with all the fixings or a small modular unit you can expand over time, here are some things to think about:
Building codes. Check local and state building codes and the rules of your homeowners association for restrictions on where you can put your outdoor kitchen and what you can put in it.
Location. Put your kitchen where there is cover or plan for cover in your design. Otherwise, the wind will blow smoke at your guests and dirt on your food, and the sun will leave you feeling more grilled than your steaks. Quick access to the house makes it easier to restock or fetch what you've forgotten. Finally, orient your kitchen to take advantage of your yard's features — the view, seating areas, the pool.
Style. While you don't need your outdoor kitchen to mimic your home, a style that’s wildly different is visually jarring and can reduce the attractiveness of your home to future buyers. Tie your outdoor kitchen to your home through its color or architectural style for a pleasing look.
Power and water. Running plumbing, electricity and gas lines to your outdoor kitchen is an added expense, but it greatly increases the kitchen’s versatility by allowing for a permanent sink (stainless steel to face the elements), refrigerators (under-counter or full size) and natural gas for your grill and burners.
While the grill can be the centerpiece in your outdoor kitchen, it doesn't have to be the only piece.
Wood-burning ovens impart a special flavor to food. Prefabricated or custom-built, these ovens can cook everything from pizza to potatoes to fresh-baked bread and provide a free supply of charcoal for your grill.
Double grills — one gas and one charcoal — maximize your grilling versatility
Smokers — gas, charcoal, electric or wood — allow you to cook long and slow, making fall-off-the-bone ribs, smoked fish and many other dishes.
Side burners let you cook non-grilled dishes without a trip inside the house.
Electricity Gets You Extras
When you run power to your outdoor kitchen, you open up a world of extras, such as these:
- A working refrigerator that saves trips to the house
- An icemaker to keep your drinks cold and your guests happy
- Lighting that extends your cooking and entertaining times into the night
- A sound system to keep your guests movin’ and groovin’
- In a covered kitchen, a vent hood for the grill to keep the air clean
- Hanging or floor fans to move the air and cool the cooking area
- And a microwave, because sometimes all you want is a quick bag of popcorn