Ultimate Guide: How to Plan Your Outdoor Kitchen Zones?

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how to plan outdoor kitchen zones

Planning an outdoor kitchen by yourself may be overwhelming, especially without design principles knowledge on how to plan outdoor kitchen zones. Getting to know design rules makes a huge difference in design and therefore convenience.

How to plan your outdoor kitchen zones? There are up to 5 outdoor kitchen zones: hot, cold, wet, dry and serve. Hot and dry zones are essential for outdoor cooking and should be placed next to each other. Wet and dry also work better combined. A serve zone can be separated.

What is hidden behind zones names? Can some of them be omitted? How to plan each zone and distances between appliances? There is plenty of knowledge I got and want to share. Let’s dive in a little deeper now.

How to plan your outdoor kitchen zones?

In 1940’s a concept of working triangle has been made. Kitchens were not an interesting space to design at the time. They’re small, separated, made for one person to cook and clean after meals. Triangle was a rule saying that distance between sink, stove and refrigerator should be in 4-9′ range. Also access from one top of the triangle to another should be easy.

Nowadays kitchens are not only larger but also fit multiple appliances and tools, so we needed new designing rule: zones. Depending on size outdoor kitchens can have up to 5 zones: hot, cold, wet, dry and serving. What each zone consists of?

how to plan outdoor kitchen hot zone

Rule 1: Place all the heated appliances in a hot zone

Hot zone is the essence of an outdoor kitchen. If there would be only one zone in an outdoor kitchen it would be this one.

What to consider for this area? Grill, burners, smoker, pizza oven, and whatever you need to prepare your specials. It’s worth knowing that making changes in the future in this area might be pricey, so buying a grill for a little more experienced chef might be an actually good idea.


Do not plan your grill at the very end of the countertop. There needs to be at least 12″ countertop length left to the end.

how to plan outdoor kitchen dry zone

Rule 2: Dry zone needs a countertop and a storage

This zone is a second important zone of an outdoor kitchen. A hot zone combined with a dry zone (without any other!) make a small outdoor kitchen. So how to plan a dry zone? First of all – close to hot one. It also helps a lot to have a wet zone next to the dry one.

A dry zone can be fully accessorized. If you have money you can exchange it for a long countertop, warming drawer, marinating drawers, storage drawer, towel dispenser, pans & pots cabinets, and even more.


If you cannot fit enough countertop space in the dry zone consider adding a 36″ table to your outdoor kitchen.

how to plan an outdoor kitchen wet zone

Rule 3: Wet zone needs an access to water

Wet zones location often determines where an outdoor kitchen is going to be placed. Access to water makes cooking outside easier. Connecting outdoor kitchen to hot water makes another big difference.

Usually a wet zone is equipped with sink, trashcan (trash drawer) and a cabinet for cleaning supplies.


The sink shouldn’t be placed on the rare end of the countertop. It needs at least 18″ countertop length on both sides.

how to plan an outdoor kitchen cold zone

Rule 4: Cold zone needs to be afar from hot zone

The cold zone usually is the most distant one from the grill. Why is it so? When the food is taken out of the fridge if often needs to be washed, so it goes to wet zone. Then it goes through the preparation process in the dry zone. So it hits hot zone at the very end. Also in these zones you try to accomplish the opposites, so to keep the food safe hot and cold zones should be separated.

What can be placed at the cold zone? Fridge, freezer, ice maker and more.

how to plan an outdoor kitchen serve zone

Rule 5: Put a serve zone in a perfect distance

Serving zone is an area where you can entertain your family and friends. It can be an alfresco dining set, or a bar counter at your kitchen, or combine both. It’s worth knowing that serving countertop can be on multiple hights. I prepared a post with outdoor kitchen dimensions here.

What this zone has to have is some sort of counter and chair. As an addition you can get: bartending center, kegerator, storage for plates and cutlery.

It’s worth putting in a perfect spot – not too far from other zones, but also not to close to them. It would be great if the chef could speak with guests while cooking, but also far enough so the cooking sounds are not annoying, and no splashes can reach.

how much space is needed for an outdoor kitchen

How much space is needed for an outdoor kitchen?

The minimal size of an outdoor kitchen is 10″ long and 36′ wide. Space depends on owners needs and number of appliances. To figure the exact space size few factors are important: size, shape, gas/ electricity/ water connection. This movie might be helpful.

Outdoor kitchens come in 3 sizes:

  • small (10′ long),
  • medium (16′ long),
  • large (20′ + long).

Size affects vastly the number of appliances that can be incorporated in the kitchen. Small kitchens usually have a grill, burner and sink. Medium have grill, burner, sink and refrigerator. Large are built for multiple cooks. So if you want to have a refrigerator outside your kitchen is going to be rather not shorter then 16′.

There are plenty of shapes one may choose for his outdoor kitchen: basic stand-alone counter, L-shaped, U-shaped, separate cook prep and serve stations. If you’re looking to spend less space basic stand-alone and L-shaped might work better. U-shaped and separate cook prep and serve are going to need more depth, but can take less width.

Single counter outdoor kitchens (so stand-alone and L-shaped) usually are 10′, 16′ or 20′ long and 30″ wide. Double counter outdoor kitchens have the same counter length but differently situated. So for a U-shaped kitchen it can be 3,5’x3,5′, and more. Separate cook space and serve stations should be at least 3,6′ away, so the minimal space would be 5’x 4,5′.

Gas/ water/ electricity connection can also affect the size, as it may occur that for your backyard different shape then chosen is going to work better. Sometimes the connection cannot be made at the desired spot, so all plans have to be changed. It’s worth remembering that the best location for your outdoor kitchen is always going to be in the West, so you can view sunsets while dining.

how to layout an outdoor kitchen

How do you layout an outdoor kitchen?

To plan an outdoor kitchen layout figure first which from the zones ideas you want to incorporate in your outdoor kitchen. How many and which appliances? And let’s talk now about how it is going to affect your project.

This is a table of appliances with the landing space (so an open countertop).

ApplianceGrillCooktopSinkPizza ovenKegUnder-counter fridge
Landing space24″ on one side,
12″ on the the other
12″ on both sides18″ on both sides24″ on one side, 12″ on the other12″ on both sides15″ of open counter above

As you can see there is plenty of countertop space that needs to be left open. Now take your drawings and check if you can really fit all the appliances you wished for. What can be helpful is a rule:


When multiple appliances are combined take the higher distance between them and multiply it by 1,5.

So if you have a grill close to cooktop the distance between them should be 18″ (if you work with the 12″ side).

It’s worth knowing that there are different types of outdoor kitchens according to their size. If your outdoor kitchen can be only 10′ long, you rather will not be able to fit more then grill, cooktop and sink. In a 16′ long one you’re going to be able to accommodate the refrigerator too.

So now you can polish your plan. You know your appliances and open space for each, zones do not have secrets from you. If something is still not working right, start from the beginning – put the grill in your design and work from this place. It’s worth adding as much storage as you can, as there are plenty of things you can store in an outdoor kitchen.

Magdalena Dutkiewicz

I like looking for solutions that lead to specific plans. Of course, looking for inspiration for outdoor kitchens is something I really enjoy too. But translating it into an action plan is something that pushes me to act.

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