How to Plan an Outdoor Kitchen: 5 Vital Things to Consider

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Think you know how to plan an outdoor kitchen? Without these five vital tips on research, measuring, and design, you risk wasting your money or being very unhappy with the end result.

Not only are kitchen (and bathroom) remodels the most popular homeowning renovation projects, a staggering 93% of homeowners stated they had a higher quality of life once their project was finished.

With the aid of my guide, you’ll set up a reliable outdoor kitchen that completely transforms the way you live.

These tips come from a mixture of first-hand experience and recent statistics, all designed to help you avoid common planning pitfalls. Some of these details you may not have even considered yet!

If you’re short on time, my top five vital things to consider when learning how to plan your outdoor kitchen are:

  • Determine the size, material, and style of your counterspace – make sure you have plenty of room!
  • Carve out extra propane storage if you’re considering installing a grill.
  • Choose your side burner or power burner – you may need both!
  • Get an outdoor fridge (and don’t be too starry-eyed by big brand names).
  • Don’t overlook filler columns to create a well-rounded, natural space.
  • Extra tips include taking photos of everything, reviewing whether or not you need a permit, and gauging who will use the kitchen space most
Stone outdoor kitchen countertop from ExtCabinets

#1: Determine the Size, Material, and Style of Your Counterspace

An outdoor kitchen without roomy and comfortable counterspace is like attempting to run a marathon without shoes on. You’ll manage, sure, but you won’t be happy about it!

Plenty of counterspace is crucial for making sure you can cook meals and entertain company without your space becoming cluttered. As you learn how to plan an outdoor kitchen, take a moment to consider countertop functions such as:

  • Room for chopping, mincing, and washing food
  • Room to hold appliances like a blender or air fryer
  • Space to place prepared platters and drinks
  • Design opportunities to place vases, family photos, or plants
  • Spare room to set down a soup ladle or your phone 

COUNTERTOP SIZE

The Size of Your Countertop Space Is Your First Step

You can never have too much space when you learn how to plan an outdoor kitchen. Figuring out how to properly use this space starts with figuring out your kitchen layout – what shape will your kitchen be and why?

L-shaped kitchens or a kitchen island are best for smaller spaces, especially outdoor kitchen set-ups on a deck. If you have extra room to spare, you may want to consider a U-shaped or galley-setup. 

Depending on your outdoor kitchen size, the minimum amount of space you should aim for is:

  • Small: 10’ to 12’
  • Medium: 16’
  • Large: 20’

Still not sure if you know how much space you’ll need? Walk through your indoor kitchen with some measuring tape and get some rough estimates of the space you already work with. Ask yourself if that’s enough for your day-to-day needs: you may want more, less, or the same space outdoors. 

Thinking of building your outdoor kitchen on a deck? Check out our guide on how to plan an outdoor kitchen with the most convenient (and safe) location.

FOOD SAFE MATERIAL

A High-Quality, Food Safe Material For Your Countertops is Up Next

Once you have a good idea how much space you’ll need for your outdoor kitchen, you absolutely must have a food safe countertop material. Wood and PVC are some of the lesser options, while granite and porcelain are ideal.

Don’t skimp out on high-quality countertop materials (or any other outdoor kitchen materials). They’re vital for higher ROI, food safety, and visually meshing with your outdoor kitchen aesthetic. 

Wood is very difficult to maintain without thorough applications of varnish or impregnation to keep it resistant to moisture. Their high risk of rot, warping, expanding, and mold make them a pretty high-maintenance option – I recommend saving wood for your cutting boards or ladles. 

If you’re set on wooden counters as you learn how to plan an outdoor kitchen, read our outdoor wooden materials guide on how to do so the right way. 

Granite and porcelain are easily the best options for your outdoor kitchen stone countertops. While heavy, they’re easy to clean and hold up well to the outdoors without chipping or fading. They also won’t potentially leach harmful chemicals or splinters into your food like PVC or wood.

AESTHETIC

The Style Comes Last, But Is No Less Important

Once you’ve measured out your countertop space and chosen a durable, long-lasting outdoor kitchen material, it’s time to pick your style. Are you more of a modern homeowner or do you prefer a rustic aesthetic? 

Your countertop style can line up closely with the material, but it doesn’t have to. If you don’t find a countertop you like visually, you can still supplement your outdoor kitchen’s style with the color and aesthetic of a kitchen island.

Some outdoor kitchen brands will even offer you the best of multiple worlds, such as waterproof HDPE with natural woodgrain textures. 

Some outdoor materials are less flexible artistically. If you choose stainless steel outdoor cabinets, you won’t have a wide range of colors or textures to pair with your countertop space. 

Need more outdoor kitchen design inspiration on how to plan an outdoor kitchen? We have plenty of modern inspirations for you to choose from.

Outdoor grill from ExtCabinets

#2: Have Plenty of Propane Storage if You Want a Grill

If you plan on grilling frequently, you’ll need propane and plenty of room to store it. Even if you have a smaller patio or backyard, there are a few ways to safely make room for your tank. 

As you learn how to plan an outdoor kitchen, keep safety at the forefront of your mind with these tips.

DISTANCE

Make Sure Your Propane Isn’t Too Close to the House

Since propane is combustible, you need to go the extra mile to avoid the worst case scenario. Storing your propane tank a little further away from your home will reduce the risk of outdoor accessories catching fire.

A propane tank between 125 to 500 gallons should be at least ten feet from the house. This measurement includes property lines. 

STORAGE

Use Safe, Temperature-Controlled Storage Solutions

Propane is sensitive to very hot and cold temperatures, so you can’t just stick it next to your outdoor fridge and call it a day. You need temperature-controlled storage to keep it safe from sunlight, rain, wind, and snow. 

When you learn how to plan an outdoor kitchen with propane, you need to consider the storage you already have on hand. A shed or garage detached from the house is a great place for storage. On the other hand, a basement is one of the worst areas you can pick (since it’s connected to the house).

POSITION

Never Lay Your Propane on its Side or Cover It With Objects

Propane isn’t a piece of furniture you can toss in with your towels and shoes. It’s a delicate substance you don’t want to accidentally release into the air, so make sure it’s always stored upright.

I also recommend not burying it beneath any objects. You want to be able to retrieve it easily (not to mention surrounding it with objects runs the risk of jostling or tipping it over accidentally).

Outdoor grill and side burner from ExtCabinets

#3: Figure Out if You Want a Power Burner or Side Burner 

Don’t figure out how to plan an outdoor kitchen without asking a few questions about your favorite cuisines or entertaining habits. Failing to answer these questions early could make you lose money on add-ons you barely use.

Side burners and power burners may be must-have outdoor kitchen accessories for just about any cooking style, but how many do you need? Which combination is best and why? 

SIDE BURNER

A Side Burner is Affordable and Versatile

Do you frequently spend a lot of time at your grill? Side burners are incredibly useful for passionate grillers and homeowners who plan on entertaining company since you can create several different dishes in one place. 

For example, you could cook the main dish on your grill, then cook a side dish on a side burner to avoid clutter. Side burners are also useful if you want to avoid cross-contamination for friends or family with food allergies.

One of the best ways to learn how to plan an outdoor kitchen is to simply imagine your ideal scenario, then work backwards.

Just make sure you have plenty of countertop space to place all your plates or ingredients. While these details seem like a lot to take into account, you’ll be glad you did – an outdoor kitchen that’s cramped and uncomfortable is one you just won’t want to use. 

Tip

Need extra help setting up your outdoor grill station? Check out our outdoor grill station design tips for design inspiration and handy measurements.

You also need a little distance between your side burner and grill for safety reasons. I recommend having at least a foot between your grill or side burner and any other countertop space. You should also be careful not to dangle anything flammable above, such as plants or outdoor umbrellas. 

Two side burners are fine if you don’t need to boil much and want to do very large grilling sessions. Just be mindful you’ll be a little limited in your recipe choices and may have to run back into the house if you need to use the stove.

Learning how to plan an outdoor kitchen means considering potential busywork, then snipping it out of the equation.

A side burner is a little more affordable than a power burner, with the lower end ranging between $300 to $500. The high end hovers between $800 to $1,500.

POWER BURNER

A Power Burner is a Must-Have for Complex Recipes

When in doubt, go with a power burner. It’s better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it!

A power burner’s main appeals are its high temperature and its ability to boil, an essential feature for recipes such as soups, sauces, and teas. It’s also very useful for high-temperature cooking, like doing stir fry in a wok or frying up some fresh fish. 

Tip

One of my favorite methods for figuring out how to plan an outdoor kitchen? Consider future scenarios that could cause a headache, then pick add-ons to avoid them.

Do you regularly entertain large gatherings and are short on time? The power burner’s ability to reach high temperatures quickly means you can make more meals in less time. 

Another benefit of the power burner is how easy it is to clean. These models come with useful features such as drip trays and grates to catch anything that falls out – all you have to do is remove, wash, and stick them back in. 

The price range of a power burner depends on the brand, its materials, and its size. As you learn how to plan an outdoor kitchen, expect to spend $500 to $800 for an affordable power burner. The high end ranges between $1,500 to $2,500.

Outdoor kitchen, grill, and ice tray from ExtCabinets

#4: Get a Fridge That Fits Your Lifestyle (Don’t Be Fooled By Brand Names) 

If you’re not sure if you want an outdoor fridge, consider the benefits as you consider how to plan an outdoor kitchen – you don’t have to run back inside for a cold drink. You can also keep freshly mixed drinks cold as you wait for company or keep any cold food items at arm’s length.

However, you’ll have to prepare yourself for a possible failure in a few years: outdoor fridges just aren’t as hardy as indoor fridges. When you consider the ongoing exposure to the elements, it makes sense they’d wear out more quickly. 

How do you get your money’s worth, then? I have a few tips to help you pick an outdoor fridge that lasts a while and holds up to sunlight, temperature changes, and humidity.

WARRANTY

Get a Long Warranty With Broad Coverage

When 35% of homeowners renovate their kitchen because it got old and broke down, you don’t want to overlook a broad warranty. Most outdoor refrigerators come with a one or two year warranty, but I recommend holding out for a brand that goes the extra mile. 

Ideally, try to find a brand that offers a warranty for three years. That’s enough time to get comfortable in your outdoor kitchen without jumping into replacements too soon. When you learn how to plan an outdoor kitchen, you should also plan for less work down the road, right?

MATERIALS

Make Sure You Get Sturdy Materials That Don’t Sweat or Rust

Some outdoor fridges have a fancy glass door so you can easily see the materials inside. While this is a useful feature, glass is finicky since it tends to sweat and drip water all over the place.

I recommend getting an outdoor fridge made out of stainless steel – either 304 or 316

PLANNING

Be Strategic About What You Use Your Outdoor Fridge For

There’s no shame in still using your indoor fridge for storing larger quantities of food. Your outdoor fridge can work well as a supplement, such as holding cold drinks or the immediate ingredients you’ll be using that day.

Tip

As you learn how to plan an outdoor kitchen, don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for ideas.

If they’re going to spend time in the space, they may have extra thoughts on how to make it comfortable to use!

HDPE outdoor kitchen from ExtCabinets

#5: Don’t Overlook Design With Some Extra Fillers 

It can be easy to overlook the visual design aspect as you plan your outdoor kitchen, especially if you’re worried about ROI or day-to-day functionality. While fillers are purely aesthetic, they really bring an outdoor kitchen together and make it feel like a completed space.

Below are a few tips on how to plan an outdoor kitchen with fillers (and avoid last-minute scrambling to fill in blank areas).

SCRIBING SERVICES

Get Professional Scribing Services (Unless You Have DIY Experience)

It’s very difficult to fix a poorly installed column or wall (and it’ll look terrible all the while). Professional scribing services will get the job done right the first time (barring exceptions with a money-back guarantee). 

Filler visually polishes an outdoor kitchen by filling in the blank space with something pleasing, like a column or wall. You can also use scribing to fix an outdoor cabinet to an irregular surface.

OUTDOOR CABINETS

Determine How Many Outdoor Cabinets You Think You’ll Need

Do you want to fit in some cabinets for your outdoor kitchen? Don’t jump straight into measurements yet – ask yourself what you’ll need cabinets for and why.

When you learn how to plan an outdoor kitchen, you do a little introspecting on your cooking habits. Do you want outdoor kitchen cabinets to store your non-perishable food such as cans, bottles, and bags? Perhaps you need outdoor cabinets to help you organize knick-knacks like rags and coasters.

Once you’ve taken stock of your day-to-day storage needs, you can then narrow down details like outdoor cabinet materials and scribing measurements. 

When it comes to outdoor kitchen storage, I’m a firm believer you can never have too much. If you’re constantly running back to your indoor kitchen, it kind of defeats the purpose!

EXTRA TIPS

5 Extra Tips On How to Plan an Outdoor Kitchen 

Now that you know what kind of countertops you want or the side burner you need, does that mean you’re ready? Absolutely not – I have a few extra tips to help you learn how to plan an outdoor kitchen with extra attention to detail. 

PHOTOS

Don’t Forget to Take Photos of Your Space to Send to a Manufacturer

Even the most experienced DIY homeowner is still not a professional – as you figure out how to plan an outdoor kitchen, you may overlook crucial details a manufacturer will spot in a heartbeat. Be on the safe side and take photos of everything.

Your home measurements are important – definitely send those to your manufacturer – but they don’t tell the whole story. From an incompatible drain location to a poor choice for a filler column, you don’t want to overlook little details that could result in a big payment down the line. 

Take photos of details such as:

  • Where you want to set up the entire outdoor kitchen, such as your kitchen island or grill
  • Where you want to set up your furniture, such as tables, chairs, or hammocks
  • Where you want to set up filler columns 

The more well-lit photos you take of your outdoor kitchen set-up, the easier it’ll be for a manufacturer to send you the set-up of your dreams. 

PERMITS

Always Double-Check to See if You Need a Permit

The last thing you want to do when you plan your outdoor kitchen is spending thousands of dollars…only to have a demolition order wipe it all away. As you learn how to plan an outdoor kitchen, double-check if you need a permit for any of the fixtures or accessories you want.

Generally, non-permanent structures don’t need a permit. Non-permanent outdoor kitchen cabinets are a popular solution for homeowners who want a faster and more flexible option.

These cabinets come with all sorts of practical add-ons such as a sink or an ice tray to make even the smallest outdoor kitchens fully functional. 

If you plan on installing a new plumbing or electrical line, however, you will definitely need a permit. On the lower end for simple electrical lines or plumbing, you could spend between $50 to $300. On the high end for complex outdoor kitchens, you could spend up to $2,000

It can also take a few weeks for your permit paperwork to be approved. Want to skip the cost and wait? You may be better off with non-permanent outdoor kitchen cabinets or kitchen islands. They’re one of the easiest ways to figure out how to plan an outdoor kitchen quickly and safely. 

UTILITIES

The Closer to the Utility Source, the Better 

If you think you’ll need plumbing, electrical, or gas lines, you can save some money by building closer to the source. The more pipes and wires that need to be installed, the more money you’ll have to spend. 

Now, you’ll still need some distance between your outdoor kitchen and any newly installed lines for safety purposes. As you learn how to plan an outdoor kitchen, ask your contractor for the closest possible distance so you can stay within your budget.

This is not a detail you want to figure out after the fact!

RECIPES

Narrow Down Your Favorite Types of Recipes

In the midst of figuring out your budget limitations, consider reviewing your favorite meals to cook. You may find you don’t need a side burner or may benefit greatly from an outdoor fridge.

Are you a fan of delicious Mexican cuisine with a dozen different sauces and sides? How about classic American burgers, steak, and fries? If you cook and eat a lot of meat-focused dishes, you’ll definitely need a grill and a side burner. 

Tip

If you’re a big fan of mixing up delicious cocktails or enjoying a tall glass of iced tea on a hot day, an outdoor fridge is a must

You can learn how to plan an outdoor kitchen down to the last detail, but no fridge will mean a lot of back-and-forth.

GUESTS

Figure Out Who Will Frequently Be in Your Outdoor Kitchen Space

After you cement your favorite cultural cuisine or dishes, it’s time to narrow down who will be in your outdoor kitchen the most. Do you have a spouse, roommate, or relatives who will be enjoying themselves in your new set-up?

The more people you expect to regularly see, the more room you’ll need for them to mingle comfortably. Grab some measuring tape and take some measurements of your indoor kitchen space to get an idea of what your outdoor set-up needs. 

This tip is pretty easy to adapt to – even if your outdoor kitchen ends up a little small, you can always compensate in other ways. For example, if you’re a little low on room for extra chairs, you can always set up another dining space further out in the backyard or along the deck.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Are your creative juices flowing? Below are a few more questions to give you the full picture on how to plan an outdoor kitchen. 

What is the Cheapest Way to Build an Outdoor Kitchen?

The most cost-effective outdoor kitchen is one that doesn’t require permits, has few add-ons, and invests in high-quality materials. Cheap materials save you money in the short term, but become expensive in the long term since they have to be replaced constantly. 

How Much Does it Cost to Build an Outdoor Kitchen? 

A small outdoor kitchen on a budget is between $3,000 to $5,000, while a large and complex outdoor kitchen can exceed $20,000

What is the Most Common Shape for an Outdoor Kitchen? 

When learning how to plan an outdoor kitchen, the most common shapes are the U-shape and the L-shape. The former is a popular choice for larger outdoor kitchen models, while the latter is a favorite among space-conscious homeowners.

How Do I Start an Outdoor Kitchen? 

Starting an outdoor kitchen starts with narrowing down your budget and what you plan to use the space for. Once you’ve got basic answers out of the way, you need to determine if you want a DIY project or to hire an outdoor kitchen brand to set everything up. 

Grill and side burner from ExtCabinets

Your Outdoor Kitchen Foundation is the Most Important Part

If your foundation is weak, the rest of your outdoor kitchen won’t be functional. Whether you’re worried about not having compatible add-ons or don’t know if you’ll have enough space, these details are essential to figure out now

Fortunately, you don’t have to figure out everything on your own. We’re here to take some of the busywork out of the process and give you extra insight into details that will save you time and money. 

If you need even more help on how to plan an outdoor kitchen, check out the following guides:

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