Designing the Perfect Outdoor Kitchen

There’s something about cooking and enjoying a meal outdoors. Maybe it’s the fresh air, the company, or the relaxed atmosphere — or a combination of all three. Alfresco dining is an experience to savor, and we’re not the only ones who feel this way. Outdoor kitchen popularity was on the rise even before the pandemic. Homes that featured them sold for a premium, according to a Zillow housing study. Fast forward to 2022, and outdoor kitchen is the most searched kitchen trend of the year so far and is the most popular outdoor living addition.

An outdoor kitchen is a wonderful way to relax and entertain family and friends, and they’ve come a long way from a simple grill and masonry island. Design-forward outdoor kitchens can be made to your exact style preferences and with all the fixtures and conveniences you need to prepare and enjoy a great meal. But a great outdoor cooking and entertaining space often requires just as much planning as an indoor kitchen. It’s important to get it right so you actually use and enjoy it, so we’ve enlisted the expertise of our friend Jeff Stone, owner of Denver’s Creative Living, to walk us through the features of a well-appointed outdoor kitchen.

Outdoor kitchen with mountain view
Cherry Flame wood grain powder coated stainless outdoor kitchen. Photo provided by Brown Jordan Outdoor Kitchens.

Access and Orientation

When considering an outdoor kitchen design, the first order of business is to decide where to put it. Its location relative to the home and how easy it is to access are important. The farther it is from the home, typically the less it’s used, which is why most homeowners opt to install an outdoor kitchen off the main living areas of the home.

An outdoor kitchen is often part of a home remodeling project or new home build, Stone says. Many homes include large glass walls or bi-fold glass doors that open to terrain or backyard views, and homeowners want to expand their living spaces into the outdoors.

“With these large open walls, it creates one big flowing living space from indoors to outdoors,” says Stone. “Architects and designers now consider all of that area as part of a home’s livable space.”

Once you’ve finalized a location for an outdoor kitchen, you’ll want to consider its orientation. For a kitchen, this means what direction you’ll face when preparing and cooking meals. Taking your lot configuration and home’s layout into account, this could include a landscape or pool view, facing seating areas to engage with guests, or within view of a television.

Plenty of storage means more time to enjoy your outdoor kitchen and less time spent going back and forth for supplies. Photo provided by Creative Living.

Cabinets and Counters

Appropriate storage and work space will often dictate how often an outdoor kitchen is enjoyed. More is better here because the goal is to eliminate the need to venture indoors for supplies or food preparation.

Outdoor kitchen cabinet manufacturers are now offering more door styles and colorways than ever before to complement your home’s architecture or interior design. Or you can go bold and have fun with color. Stone has installed outdoor cabinets in blue, yellow, and even bright orange for a Broncos superfan.

Companies like Danver and Brown Jordan feature European frameless designs, traditional beadboard, and sleek modern profiles, to name a few popular outdoor kitchen cabinet styles. Powder-coated stainless steel construction will provide the weather resistance and longevity required for outdoor use. If you plan to integrate specialty appliances like a pizza oven or smoker, select a manufacturer that offers appliance cabinets in your desired style and color.

When thinking about countertops, material choice should take weather resistance and maintenance into account. Most traditional countertop materials can transition to an outdoor kitchen but will require more frequent sealing, like granite, concrete, or soapstone. Manufactured countertops like those made by Cosentino or Lapitec are lovely high-performance surfaces that are non-porous and resistant to moisture, UV rays, and scratches.

Outdoor kitchen cabinets have come a long way and are now offered in many different colors and styles to match the rest of your home. Pictured here: java powder coated beadboard style stainless outdoor kitchen. Photo provided by Creative Living.

Quality Appliances

We can’t talk about outdoor kitchens without mentioning the importance of appliance selection. Stone recommends high-quality appliances from reputable brands, as they will last longer, are easier to use and maintain, and will produce the most delicious results.

And homeowners are no longer adding a grill and calling it a day. “It’s been really interesting to watch what people are putting into their outdoor kitchens, because it’s changing from two or three years ago,” says Stone.

Outdoor kitchens are integrating a host of specialty appliances for unique dining experiences, like pizza ovens, kamado cookers, and teppanyaki griddles. Most top-tier cabinet manufacturers offer easy appliance integration for a custom and seamless design.

Evo teppanyaki grill (left), Built in Kamado style cooker and grill (right). Photo provided by Creative Living.

Bars and Sinks

Keep the good times rolling outdoors with easy access to cold drinks. No well-appointed outdoor kitchen would be complete without refrigeration for food and beverage. For drinks, a bar center, ice bin, wine cooler, or kegerator can integrate into your design and keep your favorite beverages within easy reach for you and your guests. Compact refrigerators and freezers will store perishables outdoors until you’re ready to use them.

Water access is also important for food preparation, making drinks, and cleanup. Stainless steel outdoor kitchen sinks and faucets are the most durable and weather resistant. For sink size, consider how you plan to use it. If it’s simply to prepare drinks, a single-basin bar sink will suffice. If you plan to use the sink for multiple functions, a double-basin sink is a better choice. Again, the end game of a great outdoor bar is to keep you and your guests entertained and comfortable through happy hour and beyond.

This island bartending center features a sink, built in fridge, and shaker doors with panel inserts. Photo provided by Creative Living.

Outdoor Lighting

Outdoor lighting is often an afterthought for some homeowners, but it shouldn’t be. Proper illumination is necessary for comfort and safety, especially in a kitchen with appliances that heat up to high temperatures.

Approach lighting here as you would in a traditional indoor kitchen, with plenty of ambient or overhead lighting as well as task lighting for specific activities. Stylish and functional pendants can be easily installed in covered patios or pergolas. Stone also prefers indirect light sources for a softer glow. He particularly recommends LED light strips for under cabinet and counter illumination. “We can tuck it in so many different places to make an outdoor kitchen glow without ever seeing where the light is coming from.”

Nothing spoils an outdoor gathering like an injury. If your outdoor kitchen is elevated in any way, install step and pathway lighting for safety and to prevent slips and falls.

This covered outdoor kitchen and dining space includes a teppanyaki griddle, smoker and bartending area. Photo provided by Creative Living.

All-Weather Comfort

When done right, outdoor kitchens can be enjoyed through fall and up through the first hard frost. In the mountains, some outdoor kitchens are even designed to be enjoyed year-round! Ceiling-mounted heat lamps and freestanding heaters will keep you warm and comfortable. Bonus points if you include an outdoor fireplace nearby for cozy ambiance. Retractable wind screens and shades can also help maintain a consistent cooking environment.

Finally, protect your investment with some quality custom covers for outdoor kitchen islands, cabinets, and appliances so they’ll last season after season.

This outdoor kitchen is designed to be enjoyed year-round. Photo provided by Danver Outdoor Kitchens.

It’s Grill Time

Creating a comfortable outdoor kitchen is a wonderful way to enjoy your home and entertain. With proper planning, an outdoor kitchen can be a natural extension of your home’s living space and will provide a lovely perch to dine outdoors in comfort and style. To learn more about Jeff and his team at Creative Living, click here.

For more outdoor living design tips and inspiration, check out these 4 luxury outdoor living spaces or these outdoor living design tips for projects of all sizes.

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