Written by Vanesa Bruner
Today an outdoor kitchen means much more than a barbecue and a cooler of soda. While most modern outdoor kitchens still hail the grill as the central fixture, many have evolved into an extension of the home’s living space. Many people want to have the same conveniences they have inside, if not more. Custom outdoor kitchens can include pizza ovens, wet bars, fireplaces, side burners, smokers, warming drawers and roasting spits.
Anyone who has remodeled or designed a kitchen knows that there are a lot of things to take into consideration. Making sure your space is functional for cooking, entertaining, and relaxing can become overwhelming very quickly. However, the process can be simplified by dividing and conquering: Think about what you’ll be using it for the most, decide on a location, and determine the entertaining, living, and cooking spaces.
Function. As always, it’s important to think about what the primary function of this area will be. Are you a chef-in-training? Then focus on the kitchen appliances, materials and layout. Do you plan on throwing dinner parties? Will this be near a pool? Will it just be an area to lounge, eat and relax? Once you figure this out, you can choose your must-haves for each area and which portion of your outdoor kitchen you’ll want to focus on.
Location. Most outdoor kitchens are going to be situated near the main house. This allows for the easy access of existing utility lines and makes it easy to transport food and other materials to the outdoor cooking area. If these issues aren’t of particular concern for you, be sure to take wind, sun, shade, and access to amenities (such as a pool or a lawn) into consideration before choosing the perfect place.
Entertainment and dining area. If you like to have people over, odds are you’ll be using your outdoor kitchen for a lot more than just the occasional barbecue. When you’re planning your layout and considering your must-haves, think about how you’ll be entertaining your friends (or yourself). This kitchen has pretty much everything: dining table, lounge area in front of the fire, television and bar. Choose seating that is flexible and can be moved around. Allowing guests to move to and from the dining and lounging areas creates a more casual, intimate environment. Install speakers around your entertaining areas to add to the ambiance.
Lounge space. It helps to have your outdoor space covered — just in case. Not only is this a safeguard from the occasional summer shower, but it also offers shade and shelter from wind. Or simply add an awning, umbrella, or another temporary option. Of course, make sure you’re not using any kind of combustible material for the ceiling or awning above the grill area, and make sure the area is well ventilated. Lighting is just as important in your outdoor space as it is inside. Ambiance is great, of course, but safety should really be the first priority when it comes to lighting around an outdoor kitchen. Brighten areas where cooking and other major activity will happen. Pathways should be well-lit, and lounge/dining areas should have adjustable lighting. (You have to set the mood somehow!)
A fireplace, firepit or pizza oven can end up becoming even more of a focal point than the grill. Make good use of this gathering space and set up a place to relax and warm up in front of the fire. Make sure you have a convenient place to store firewood. This pizza oven has a hideaway for firewood right underneath it, which means no one has to make a late night trek out to the wood pile at the other end of the yard. Including other heating sources is always a good idea — it’s usually better to provide too many ways to warm up than too little! Try placing them near seating or dining areas for ultimate functionality.
Cooking space. In terms of utility, the appliances in your kitchen are going to be a very important investment. Quality more important than quantity here. Yes, it’d be fun to go crazy and get a rotisserie, warming drawer, AND a pizza oven — but do you really need them all? Be sure to get what you’ll actually use, that it works well, and is made for the outdoors. You want to be able to move effortlessly from area to area — particularly when working with a potentially dangerous medium like a grill or pizza oven. Take this into account when planning your layout — you don’t want to have to jump from place to place. Try not to isolate the cook from the rest of the party! Nothing’s worse than getting stuck with grill duty and hearing everyone else having a blast behind your back. Cooking and entertaining places should be seamless, but with a decent amount of separation so there’s no dangerous moments when you’re taking the ribs off the grill.
If you’ve remodeled an indoor kitchen, you know how important it is to have the right amount of counter space — the same goes for the outdoors! Dry space should be a top priority, particularly prep surfaces. This outdoor kitchen has plenty of space to chop up vegetables and meat, mix drinks, and have a little serving station.
In terms of materials, everything needs to be durable, weatherproof, heat resistant, and easy to clean. This means rot resistant wood (such as teak, redwood, or cedar), stone, and stainless steel. Also, think about how hot materials get in direct sunlight, or even just warmer temperatures. Since you’ll most likely be using this during the summer, you don’t want to build your backyard kitchen out of something you’ll barely be able to touch!