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Designing an Outdoor Kitchen

Large outdoor patio kitchen featuring a sink and grill.

Tips for creating a 5-star culinary experience

You can’t beat alfresco dining, whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner—or simply snacks and drinks. And depending on your climate, you may be able to enjoy the pleasures of an outdoor kitchen almost year-round—or at least stretch the season as long as you can. If you’re considering an outdoor kitchen, you’ll find that, as with other home projects, planning is invaluable. How you want to use the space, the materials you choose, and the right lighting all come into play.

Key Considerations

The first thing to think about is how you want to use your space. Do you plan to entertain occasionally? Regularly? Do you intend to use the kitchen daily? Next, think about the nuts and bolts that are core to the design:

  • Utilities: You’ll need to plan for power—gas or electric—and water, if you want to include a sink. Depending on budget and space, you could always use your indoor sink and refrigerator rather than including them in your outdoor kitchen. 
  • Convenience: While you need to design the layout for the space that you have, convenience also takes top billing. Ideally, it’s best to site an outdoor kitchen near your indoor kitchen, for easy accessibility. (Running utilities is also less expensive for an outdoor kitchen located near the house.)
  • Climate: Will you need shade? If so, you might consider a pergola, awning (if your kitchen is next to your house), or umbrella or two. Do summer evenings get chilly? Or do you want to extend the season as long as you can? Then perhaps an outdoor heater is important.  
  • Essentials: Less is usually more, so prioritize what’s important to you while keeping in mind how much space you have. A grill is probably a given—but do you want gas or charcoal? A smoker? Pizza oven? How about a sink for food prep and cleaning up? Or a small refrigerator for keeping drinks cold and ingredients within reach?
  • Seating: Obviously, you’ll need seating, but how many people do you want to be able to accommodate? Do you want seating only around an eating area, or do you also want to include chairs meant for relaxing? Whatever you decide, make sure to plan your seating far enough away from the cooking zone to avoid smoking out family and friends.

Materials and Appliances

It goes without saying that you’ll need durable materials and appliances that can withstand Mother Nature. And if you live near the coast, you’ll want materials that can also stand up to salty air and high humidity. Stainless steel is a great material for outdoor kitchens, including cabinets, as it resists rust and corrosion. (An added bonus: it’s easy to clean.) Heat-, stain- and moisture-resistant stone, such as granite, is ideal for countertops and backsplashes, as it tile. When shopping for appliances, make sure your grill, refrigerator, sink and so on are made of weather-resistant materials and specifically designed for outdoor use. 


When the sun goes down, you don’t want to have to call it a night, which is why good lighting is a must-have. (Remember, all fixtures need to be rated for the outdoors.) Think about lighting in terms of five segments:

  • Task lighting above cooking and prep areas, so you can see what you’re doing
  • Under counter lighting, which makes it easier to find cabinets and the mini-fridge door 
  • Area lighting to call out paths and steps so guests don’t trip 
  • Accent lighting for highlighting focal points, like the bar
  • Mood lighting, such as string lights, to create ambiance
An outdoor grill and dining table in the background. Both seating and shade are two must-haves for outdoor dining.
Outdoor kitchen featuring a grill and other appliances. Stainless steel is a top choice for cabinets, grills and mini-fridges.
An outdoor kitchen and bar. Purposeful lighting makes the space more user-friendly.

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