9 Proven Outdoor Kitchen Essentials That Will Make Your Life Easier

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Outdoor Kitchen Essentials - An 11 Elements Must-Have List

Designing an outdoor kitchen for yourself is exciting, but also challenging. Picking all the outdoor kitchen essentials, extras, and keeping the budget under control is difficult. Usually, the first part of the process is implementing essentials into the project.

Outdoor kitchen essentials is basically a must-have list for the area. It is slightly different depending on the owners’ needs and climate but usually consists of the following elements:

  • Grill,
  • Countertop space,
  • Storage,
  • Sink,
  • Covering,
  • Ventilation,
  • Lighting,
  • Trashcan,
  • Refrigerator.

The basic list contains all the elements that create a fully functional outdoor kitchen in the backyard. How about a kitchen placed close to the house? And why an outdoor area should be ventilated?

Outdoor kitchen essentials: An ultimate must-have list

Outdoor Kitchen Essentials. An ultimate must-have list
Outdoor Kitchen Essentials. An ultimate must-have list

Realtors say there are basically 5 things each outdoor kitchen has to have: sink, storage, grill, fridge, and countertop space. These are true basics but without lighting, ventilation, and space for trash using an outdoor kitchen can be both: a hazard and unpleasant.

Below I present outdoor kitchen essentials with description and average pricing. Choices made are going to influence outdoor kitchen resale value, so it’s worth to make them wisely.

Outdoor Kitchen Essentials: A grill is a focal point of the area

Outdoor Kitchen Essentials: The Grill
Outdoor Kitchen Essentials: The Grill

The grill is the first thing to choose while designing an outdoor kitchen. An outdoor kitchen was created to make using a grill more convenient. The smallest possible outdoor kitchen consists of a grill and countertop space.

These two areas are cold the hot and the dry zone. While designing a bigger space it’s worth adding cold (refrigerator), wet (sink and trash), and dining zone. It is important to place a hot zone next to a dry zone and afar from wet and cold zones. I wrote an entire article on outdoor kitchen zones, and it is available here.

Choosing a grill, or grills, for your backyard, is very often a complicated task. Professionals very often advise buying one that an owner can grow into – so a little bit more advanced. To be honest, these grills are standardized, so changing a grill, later on, is possible without destroying the area.

There are a lot of choices really. Starting from fuel: gas, charcoal, pellet, electric; and finishing with types: regular, kamado, and so on. How to choose a perfect one for your family&friends?

It’s worth starting from the very beginning, so the budget. Even though gas grills are a healthier option, they also require a gas connection. The gas can be delivered from the installation or tank. Installation is more convenient but comes with the price of specialist work and permits. So if you’re not up to spending an additional $1,000 – $2,000 on utility lines it’s worth making less expensive choices. Unless you’re super lucky and utility lines are already in place.

A helpful tip

Gas grills need extra care, so they do not become a safety hazard. Every now and then they need an installation check-up.

If you decide to buy a gas grill with a tank it’s worth purchasing a ventilated bin for an additional tank to be stored at an outdoor kitchen. It is going to take $250 from the budget, but it is much safer to keep tanks afar from the house. Ventilation, in general, is key, we’re going to talk more about it later on.

The perfect size for a regular family tends to be a 3 burner grill (450 – 500 sq in). Entertainers are going to be happier with a 5-6 burner grill (550-600 sq in). A gas grill provides a temperature regulation that enables searing (high temperatures) and indirect cooking (low temperatures). The price range is $500 – $5,000.

Outdoor Kitchen Essentials: Kamado
Outdoor Kitchen Essentials: Kamado

Charcoal grills are considered a less healthy and environmentally friendly choice but have lots of fans due to a specific taste. On average charcoal grills are less expensive to buy, install, and maintain. They do not allow to change temperatures as gas grills do, so the cooking process is a bit different. The price range is $20 – $2,000.

There is a type of charcoal grill that recently got very popular – kamado. These grills offer multiple options for cooking – from traditional grilling to pizza baking (even cookies!). They have a long history, as were invented 2000 years ago in Japan. They are multifunctional and also appealing to the eye. This option seems also to have amazing longevity. The price range is $320 – $2,200.

Pellet grills are another option, which is environmentally friendly. There are even kamados that work on pellets. They seem also to be a healthier option than charcoal grills, as they produce less acrid smoke and cook food more evenly. This is not the cheapest option, but they come in $350 – $1,300 range.

Electric grills are less popular than mentioned above, but they have their fans too. They do not produce smoke, so they can be used condominiums and apartment complexes. These grills heat up fast and keep the desired temperature for long. They’re also an environmentally friendly option. The price range for built-ins is $1,000 – $5,000.

If you’re all about the traditional brick style a brick grill can be an option for you. It requires a specific space but can be used in multiple ways. This structure costs $500+ (depending on material choices).

There are multiple appliances that can help with outdoor cooking, like:

  • side burner (vegetable, sauces),
  • power burner (stocks, frying, boiling seafood),
  • griddle (crispy bacon hibachi, style meals, steaks with all over sear),
  • pizza oven,
  • smoker.

They’re not essential to any outdoor kitchen, but can be to yours. If you’re not sure you’re going to use one though, omit it. It’s worth to know that possible buyers of your property are looking mainly for the grill from this category (unless you live in a luxurious neighborhood).

Outdoor Kitchen Essentials: The countertop is what makes the area an outdoor kitchen

Outdoor kitchen essentials: A countertop
Outdoor kitchen essentials: A countertop

A countertop is a very basic element of an outdoor kitchen. It brings the convenience of indoor cooking outdoors. It is basically what upgrades the grill station to an outdoor kitchen. There are multiple rules to follow on the subject.

There are basically 3 outdoor kitchen sizes and they’re determined by countertop length:

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

Small can accommodate a grill, sink, cooktop, and storage. A medium can fit a grill, sink, cooktop, storage, and refrigerator. A large one is basically a kitchen for multiple cooks and fits all needed appliances.

So the first thing to think about is how much space do you need and how many appliances you wish to add.

Second is figuring measurements. Hight of an outdoor kitchen depends vastly on owners’ hight. Standard is 36″, but for people smaller or higher than average it is not going to be most comfortable height. I prepared a guide on figuring the best height. It is available here.

It’s worth knowing that not only people’s height determines the countertop height. A standard under-counter fridge needs 38″.

Each type of countertop has a different height and depth. It works differently for a bar, tabletop, and regular countertop. While standard countertop height is 36-38″, the tabletop is 30″, and the bar is 42″. While the main countertop can be easily adjusted to owners’ height, tabletop and bar depend vastly on chair sizes, which are standardized as well.

The standard depth of an outdoor kitchen counter is 30″, the tabletop is 38″, and bar is at least 12″ (as plate size is 9″). If you want to get to know more I created a post on countertop dimensions, it’s available here.

The second thing, crucial to convenience, is spacing.

A helpful tip

Each appliance has to be installed with free space on both sides.

For the grill, it is going to be 24″ on one side, and 12″ on the other. The cooktop needs 12″ on both sides. The sink needs 18″ on both sides. If you want to get to know more about spacing go to my blog post with a guide. If appliances are combined the higher distance should be multiplied by 1,5.

Professionals say that the main DIY mistake is not creating enough space next to appliances. This leads very often to building from the beginning, as using appliances without free spaces is irritating.

And the last, but really not least, is a material. The one I recommend is granite. I made a research on finishes and it simply works best for outdoors (you can read more on that here). If a stone is not fitting into your budget it’s worth considering other options.

Why is granite such a great option for outdoors? Basically it is a natural material that deals greatly with elements. If chosen wisely it is going to stay with you forever. What does mean wisely?

A helpful tip

There is a very simple test that can help a lot with figuring if the slab is proper for outdoors: The Lemon Juice and Oil Test. It takes up to 30 minutes. It should be performed on not visible part of the slab.

What you’re going to need is:

  • a slab,
  • a drop of lemon juice,
  • a drop of oil,
  • a clock.

How to perform the test? Put two drops, one of lemon juice, one of oil, on the slab and start observation. If the slab is not going to get darker in 30 minutes the quality is excellent. Getting darker after 4-15 minutes means the slab can be used for outdoors but should be sealed. If fizzing or bubbling is going to occur, or spots after liquids are dull, a slab shouldn’t be used.

If the seller is not going to be happy with The Lemon Juice and Oil Test there is another one: Water Test. This one is going to tell you if the slab needs sealing, but is not going to give info on calcite addition (fizzing and bubbling from the previous one). Basically the excellent quality slab shouldn’t get darker in 30 minutes. If the slab gets darker in 4-15 minutes it needs one layer of sealer. More info on tests can be found here.

The last thing is to protect the construction from scorching hot appliances.

A helpful tip

An insulated grill jacket should be installed always when compostable materials are used for the construction.

The price of a countertop depends on the material. Basic granite costs about $60 per sq. ft. Concrete countertops have similar prices.

Outdoor Kitchen Essentials: Storage is key to the organization

outdoor kitchen essentials: storage
Outdoor Kitchen Essentials: Storage

There are basically two ways of outdoor storage: build-ins and carts. There are advantages of both options and mix should also work great.

There are plenty of options for built-ins, most of them are made of stainless steel. This is a perfect material for outdoors, but if you do not appreciate this slightly industrial look there are other types to choose from (like polymer or wood). Built-ins are used not only to store utensils, spices, etc. but also to provide access to the installation.

What you can see on a picture above are cabinets under sink and grill. The role of them is to give access to the gas line and plumbing. If the grill needs a tank a drawer with ventilation should be added to store an additional tank. These cabinets can be used for storage as well (they can fit a brush, soap, and so on).

A set of drawers is something to go for, if only it can fit an outdoor kitchen and budget. This is also a spot where magic can happen. First of all, there are drawers that can be used for marinating. Second of all, there are warming drawers that can heat up buns for burgers and hot dogs. But even drawers without magic skills are going to be super useful in this area. A regular set costs $100+.

Carts can also be super useful. First of all, they move so you can have them each time where you need them most. They can be made of what you like (not what is resistant to elements), as you can hide them after use in the garage. They can fix the “too little storage” issue at your outdoor kitchen. And you can fill them up indoors and bring them out each time you wish. In other words: a solution to consider. The price is $150+.

A helpful tip

Carts can fix the “too little storage” issue at your outdoor kitchen. It is never to late to add one.

Outdoor Kitchen Essentials: Sink makes cooking and hygiene easier

Outdoor Kitchen Essentials: Sink
Outdoor Kitchen Essentials: Sink

The sink is a true outdoor kitchen essential. If you think about cooking comfortably a water source is truly a necessity. Unfortunately, sinks need plumbing, so adding them can get pricey. And a permit might be needed.

The whole process can be simplified though. I researched the sink installation a bit. There are multiple ways an outdoor kitchen sink can be installed:

  • a simple under-the-sink bucket ($10),
  • lift station ($400+),
  • dry well ($30),
  • drain line ($750+).

Each of these solutions has advantages. Most convenient are dry well and installation, but in some areas, but both require permits. Dry well also allows only rinsing hands and vegetables (no soap or food chunks can go down the drain).

Lift station and under-the-sink bucket do not require installation, but require extra work and attention on a daily basis. You can read more on the sinks in this article.

A helpful tip

It’s worth knowing that sink is an outdoor kitchen element home buyers are looking for. It can be a factor in increasing home value.

Outdoor Kitchen Essentials: Covering an outdoor kitchen elongates the BBQ season and longevity

Outdoor Kitchen Essentials: Covering

An outdoor kitchen is a space exposed to elements. There are multiple reasons to cover the space:

  • increase the longevity of appliances and construction,
  • elongating BBQ season,
  • protecting people.

The best coverage for an outdoor kitchen vastly depends on location. In mild climate regions protection from sun and rain is going to be much wanted. In regions with cold winters protection from rain, wind and snow are going to be a concern. You can read more on the subject here.

Most popular coverings for outdoor kitchens are pergolas, gazebos, and roofing over patios. Pergolas cost on average $300 – $15,000, gazebos $300 – $20,000, and building a roof is $7000 – $11,000. To get to know more about budgeting a covered outdoor kitchen click here.

The cheapest options are available online and require a little bit of DIY skills.

A helpful tip

To make covering even more budget-friendly it’s worth considering sail shades. It’s possible to buy them under $200 and they work well with multiple outdoor kitchen styles.

Outdoor Kitchen Essentials: Why is ventilation in an outdoor kitchen so important?

Outdoor Kitchen Essential: Ventilation

There are basically three types of ventilation to consider. The goal of all is to keep an outdoor kitchen safe.

An island vent is a panel that should be installed everywhere where a gas grill is in use. It allows trap gas to escape and helps a lot in case of a leak in the installation. The price is about $20+.

A vented tank drawer is a safe way to house propane fuel near the appliance. The price is $250+.

A vent hood is an over the grill solution to go for if your outdoor kitchen is located on the covered patio with limited airflow. It clears a thick smoke grilling can produce. The price is $500+.

Outdoor Kitchen Essentials: Lighting makes a drastic change!

outdoor kitchen essentials: lighting
Outdoor Kitchen Essentials: Lighting

Lighting is what makes an outdoor kitchen a special place. It is worth designing prior to construction, as it can make miracles.

There are three types of light to incorporate for a next to house outdoor kitchen, and an additional two for a distant one.

Lighting for a next-to-the-house outdoor kitchen

While designing a perimeter outdoor kitchen it’s worth taking three types of light into consideration:

  1. Ambient light
  2. Task light
  3. Accent light

The ambient light is what illuminates the whole area. Fixtures that can be used to get this effect are recessed lights, chandeliers, fan with light sources, and more.

A helpful tip

Installing a dimmer is a perfect idea. This way following a natural cycle is going to be enabled.

The task light is one that is crucial at any kitchen, including an outdoor one. This is the light that makes cooking after sunset possible. The goal here is to cook safety and be able to view cabinets’ content. What works great as a task light are wall lights, grill lamps, led strings attached under the counter. This category is also an inexpensive led grill lamp that can be attached to a grill.

Accent lights‘ role is to stress what is beautiful and draw attention to it. If you have a beautiful finish on the walls, or a fireplace, or a beautiful ceiling – these lights are going to help to draw attention to detail.

Lighting for satellite kitchens

Satellite kitchens also need ambient, task, and accent lights. What differs them is a distance from the house, so the path has to be well illuminated. The additional types of light are:

  1. Path lights
  2. Stair lights

It is very important to illuminate the path, so guests can safely reach the house. Path lights can add a lot of charm to the backyard.

A helpful tip

If the kitchen is located afar from the house it is important to add a light close to the entry of the house.

Lighting for an outdoor kitchen is a huge subject. If you wish to get to know more about how to illuminate the area, stressing style of the outdoor kitchen with light, or non-standard ways of illuminating area (like torches), click on this link and read my blog post on it.

Outdoor Kitchen Essentials: A trashcan is a necessity

A trashcan is a necessity while cooking. It can be convenient to hide one in a drawer/ cabinet, but a nice free-standing trashcan is going to work as well. It’s worth considering one that allows trash segregation.

A garbage can is a solution that is not going to be budget-consuming but is, no doubt, worth implementing. Bringing all the trash back to the indoor kitchen is a huge pain.

Outdoor Kitchen Essentials: A refrigerator makes an outdoor kitchen fully functional

Outdoor Kitchen Essentials: Refrigerator
Outdoor Kitchen Essentials: Refrigerator

A refrigerator outside makes cooking way more convenient. It creates a cold zone, which makes a whole outdoor kitchen more functional. There are plenty of appliances to choose from, but outdoor-rated appliances come with a price. The cheapest models are about $500.

If you’re short on budget, but dream of a kegerator you can use a workaround. A smaller keg will leave enough space so food and beverages can be stored inside.

I wrote this post to share my outdoor kitchen essentials. What is most important for you? Please live an answer in the comment section.

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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