The importance of gathering outdoors has never become so apparent, and if you had an outdoor kitchen and plenty of outdoor seating, your home would be an even more comfortable, safe spot to enjoy the company of a few friends and family members when the weather is warm. Even when a pandemic isn't a concern, many homeowners love the idea of creating an outdoor space in which to prepare and enjoy culinary adventures or just plain, old-fashioned cookouts. If you're wondering what's involved with setting up your own outdoor kitchen as a DIY project, the answer is that it depends on how elaborate you want it to be.
You can go with just the basics. They would have to include something on which to cook, which could be a simple griller or a full range appliance complete with an oven and four burners. You also need water, which means a sink is pretty much an essential, and you need food preparation space, so your outdoor kitchen should also include countertops (and, depending on how much slicing and dicing you plan on doing, plenty of counter space). Apart from these, there are plenty more amenities you could add to your outdoor kitchen design, including a pizza oven, a refrigerator, space heaters for comfort and, to make your backyard kitchen usable even on rainy days, a pergola-style roof.
Assuming you're interested in setting up something more elaborate than a backyard barbecue pit, you'll probably need permits because your kitchen will need gas, water and electrical installations. Moreover, some communities regulate setbacks from the property lines, which could place limits on the size and location of your kitchen. Be sure to look into all your local regulations before you start to avoid getting flagged after you've invested time and your hard-earned money.
Is an Outdoor Kitchen a Good Idea?
You get extra usable outdoor space when you install an outdoor kitchen, but it becomes space that you can't use for anything else, including a pool, herb garden or finely manicured lawn, so if outdoor space is at a premium on your property, you have to weigh your priorities before doing a DIY kitchen. It'll be there to stay, and unfortunately, it won't add as much value to your property as remodeling your existing kitchen. When it comes to backyard renovations such as outdoor kitchens, homeowners tend to recoup only about 55 percent of the cost when they sell their home.
On the other hand, a DIY outdoor kitchen costs far less than a major kitchen remodel, which can run anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000. It will cost on average a fraction of that to DIY your backyard kitchen — between $2,000 and $10,000 — although you can easily spend much more if you want all the bells and whistles. For that relatively small outlay of cash, you get a space that nicely supplements your indoor kitchen and may be equipped to host parties on its own.
If you deploy expensive appliances outdoors, they won't last long unless they're made of weatherproof materials, like stainless steel, so they'll probably be more expensive, and you'll want to protect them by making your yard secure. Security is especially important if the outdoor eating area becomes popular and people leave valuables around, so your outdoor kitchen plans may have to include upgrades to your privacy fence, and that's an extra expense.
Designing Your DIY Outdoor Kitchen
One of the first things to consider is how many people are likely to use it and for what purpose. That will help you determine, among other things, how large an outdoor grill you need, how much space to devote to counters and sitting areas and whether or not to include an outdoor bar. It will also help determine the furniture style. If the area is for intimate dinners and cocktails, you'll probably want comfortable, lounge-style seating, whereas a picnic table may work perfectly if the kitchen is primarily for family meals. You can even build the picnic table yourself.
As part of the landscape, an outdoor kitchen should blend in or in some way harmonize with the overall landscape design. Bring some of the greenery into the kitchen area to create continuity and an overall theme within which the kitchen and the rest of the landscape fit. An outdoor kitchen is a unique landscaping element in that it's also part of the house, so you may want to preserve that separation by defining the kitchen with low walls or fencing. You can also do this with perennial shrubs and bushes or with a well-placed trellis on which climbing roses are growing.
Setting Up a Basic Outdoor Kitchen
A basic outdoor kitchen includes a griller (which is a little more sophisticated than a charcoal barbecue), a place to wash dishes and a food prep area to have everything you need for outdoor cooking. To keep things as simple as possible, you could choose a propane gas grill with its own propane supply hidden inside a cabinet underneath. If you want a more permanent stove, you're going to have to install a gas line or electricity service to power it.
Gas is probably the better choice since it eliminates the possibility of corroded wires, electric shocks and the need to install 240-volt electrical wires under your patio. If you want to DIY the cabinets, you'll probably find gas drop-in ovens on the pricey side, so you may want to consider a stainless steel freestanding gas range and build a cabinet around it.
The cabinet and countertop are the centerpiece of your new outdoor kitchen, so you want them to look great, but they also have to have some durability to withstand the weather. If you want to build your own cabinets into which to install stainless steel storage inserts, stone and tile are two of the most popular facing materials for outdoor cabinets but beware if you live in a place with extreme temperature variations because these materials can crack. They will also add a considerable amount to the cost of the kitchen, so if you want to keep your costs low, consider freestanding stainless steel cabinets and countertops or make cabinets from teak, cedar or some other weather-resistant wood and build a concrete countertop or install long-lasting composite countertops.
Plumbing an outdoor kitchen is a snap if you direct the gray water from the sink drain to the lawn or garden. The plants will be happy as long as you separate food waste, oils and greases and dispose of them separately (in many areas, unfiltered wastewater from a kitchen sink is considered to be "black water" and not suitable for draining onto your property).
If you prefer the convenience of using the sink as you do your indoor sink, you always have the option of plumbing the sink with a waste line complete with P-trap and venting and connecting it to the home's waste system. To supply water, connect a PEX water pipe to the nearest outdoor faucet pipe, split it into two branches with a tee, direct one branch to the faucet and feed one through an on-demand water heater to give you plenty of hot water to clean the dishes.
Add-Ons for Functionality and Convenience
A kitchen isn't a kitchen without a refrigerator, but you can always use the refrigerator in the main kitchen inside the house. However, if you want a steady supply of ice and plenty of storage space for beer, nothing stops you from putting a refrigerator outside as long as you keep it in the shade and far from the grilling area to keep your energy costs down. You can incorporate it into the cabinet you build for your grill, or if your budget allows, you can buy a grill with a prefabricated cabinet that includes an alcove for a minifridge. If keeping beer cold is your main concern, why not invest in a kegerator whose sole function is to do just that?
Cooking food outdoors makes it taste better, as many culinary-conscious homeowners believe, and there's nothing like a charcoal-fired pizza oven to produce the ultimate in tasty pizzas. Don't want to deal with dirty charcoal? A gas-powered one will do the job just as well, and you can connect it to the same gas supply you use for the stove.
Incorporating a Kitchen Into Your Landscape
Inside the house, the room that is your kitchen is designed for that purpose, but outdoors, you have to adapt the landscape to accommodate a kitchen. You need a solid floor, so if you don't already have a patio made of concrete, stone or pavers, you'll want to build one. That makes the kitchen installation easier in a way because you can lay pipes and wires first, which gives you more options for power and fuel sources and makes the installation of a grill island with piped-in gas more practical. Adding a pergola-style roof not only protects your kitchen appliances from the elements but it also gives you a shady space to enjoy the fruits of your culinary labor.
The kitchen patio should be on level ground, and it should be sloped slightly away from the house to allow water to drain. If the area around the platform is flat, consider installing an underground drainage system around the patio perimeter to prevent water from backing up. No one wants to sip martinis with wet feet.
Another way to keep water runoff off the patio is to build low walls, which can also be used for food-prep counters, sitting areas or plant containers. Walls also help define the kitchen space as separate from the rest of the landscape, which is especially important if you build your kitchen on a large patio that includes a pool deck. If drainage isn't an issue, walls don't have to be solid. You could, for example, frame a wall in redwood or cedar and fill it in with bamboo fencing to give your kitchen a tropical feel.
Light and Heat for Your Outdoor Kitchen
When it comes to lighting your outdoor space, you have more than one option. You can power conventional 120-volt lights either by tapping into receptacles in the house if the kitchen is right outside the back door, or if the patio is far from the house, you can run wires underground from the main panel to supply dedicated circuits for the kitchen lights and appliances.
If, on the other hand, you consider the kitchen part of the landscape, low-voltage or solar landscape lighting would be more appropriate, but considering low-voltage lights often aren't bright enough for kitchen activities, you may want a combination of conventional and low-voltage lights. You can easily arrange that with a single exterior light circuit on which you add a GFCI outlet for the low-voltage transformer.
An elegant way to heat your outdoor kitchen is to install a gas fire pit, which makes a lot of sense if you already have gas piping for your stove. These units can be modified to burn both natural gas or propane, and they work with 5-gallon propane bottles, so they come in handy even if you didn't install gas pipes. Another great option is a standing propane heater, which — because it carries a 5-gallon propane tank inside it — is portable and can be placed wherever you need its radiant heat. If your kitchen has a pergola roof, a third option is to hang a radiant propane patio heater from the rafters.
- BBQ Guys: Outdoor Kitchen Checklist
- Home Tips: Planning or Buying an Outdoor Kitchen
- This Old House: How to Build an Outdoor Kitchen
- Compact Appliance: 8 Tips for Designing an Awesome Outdoor Kitchen
- Custom Home Group: Pros and Cons of Outdoor Kitchens
- Wayfair: The Ultimate Guide to Designing an Outdoor Kitchen
Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker.com.