9 Outdoor Kitchen Ideas for Small Spaces that Work

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outdoor kitchen ideas for small spaces

The outdoor kitchen nowadays is a dream of most of the house owners. Sometimes grand addition is out of the question as it requires a lot of room. Luckily there are plenty of outdoor kitchen ideas for small spaces.

What are outdoor kitchen ideas for small spaces? 9 outdoor kitchen ideas for small spaces are:

  1. Choose the perfect spot.
  2. Decide on the shape.
  3. Plan zones for your outdoor kitchen
  4. Pick a proper type: movable/ prefab/ custom.
  5. Incorporate only appliances that you need.
  6. Make your appliances multitask.
  7. Create as much storage as you can.
  8. Work with optical illusion.
  9. Use lighting tricks.

Designing an outdoor kitchen in a small space is very specific, as each inch is important. In other words: there is no place for mistakes. Even though the process looks complicated it is actually quite simple. Let’s dive a bit deeper.

1. Choose the perfect spot

perfect spot for an outdoor kitchen in the backyard

There are two basic types of outdoor kitchens: perimeter and satellite. The first one is next to the house, the second one is in some distance. Small space can be a challenge in both of these cases. What can limit the size of an outdoor kitchen is, for example, patio size, or keeping the distance from property lines.

If you have one spot that can be used for an outdoor kitchen, then you’re done with this part of the process. If not start your analysis now.

A common dilemma is what works better: outdoor kitchen attached to home or detached. The answer obviously depends on the specific setup, but staying close to home has, in my opinion, more advantages: lower budget, using existing covering, and convenience.

Outdoor kitchen space requirements

small outdoor kitchen space requirements

So is there a space too small to arrange an outdoor kitchen? It really depends on your needs. There, for sure, are spaces to little to accommodate grill, smoker, fridge and pizza oven all together. I would say size depends vastly on appliances you wish to have.

There are basically 3 types of outdoor kitchens:

  • small (up to 10′ of countertop length),
  • medium ( up to 16′ of countertop length),
  • large (20’+).

Small outdoor kitchens can accommodate sink, grill, burner, and storage. Medium fit sink, grill, burner, storage, and fridge. Big ones can incorporate basically anything (usually they’re created for multiple cooks).

So what are small outdoor kitchen space requirements? For a typical small along-the-wall design, it is going to be 10’x30″. Depth of the countertop can be changed to 24″, but it is not going to be enough to accommodate typical built-in grill. Lenght can be reduced as well, but shorter one is rather not going to be able to accommodate sink, burner, grill, and storage.

The truth is an outdoor kitchen can be created out of the grill and some prep area, so it can be vastly shorter than 10′. As you create something on your lot it is going to affect its value.

Basically, if you consider selling the house at some point, it’s worth creating the space others are going to like. You can expect some return on the investment (ROI up to 130%). Also, the selling process might be much faster (which is important money-wise), especially during grilling season.

2. Decide on the shape

OUTDOOR KITCHEN FOR SMALL SPACES SHAPES
4 outdoor kitchen for small spaces shapes: against the wall, L-shaped, U-shaped, stand-alone island.

Outdoor kitchen limited in space may have a lot of shapes, but there are 4 basic types of outdoor kitchens for small spaces: along the wall, L-shape, U-shape, and an island. Some of them might be equipped with a bar.

At this very moment, limited space is really your strength. Imagine somebody with unlimited space to use. There are so many possibilities, that it is hard to choose one. You know exactly how much space you have, so making a decision is going to be easy.

Take a piece of paper (checkered if possible) and draw accessible space. Mark all the elements that need special attention. If there are any doors or windows that open, draw it. If there is already a source of water, electricity, or gas mark it on your drawing. Basically, anything that can affect your design should be added to the picture.

small space outdoor kitchen plan

Why did I suggest to use a checkered paper? You can easily design in scale with it. Measure the space you have with tape and put it on paper. In my example ft is 3 squares, so the total space is 6ft x 6ft (18×18 squares). Standard countertop depth is 30″ (7,5 squares). As you can see L-shape may actually work for this space. Outdoor kitchen on a plan has 9’6″ countertop length. It is not a lot, but it can enough.

In a petit outdoor kitchen, every inch of the countertop is valuable. So take all of the shapes described above and try to fit as much of this valuable space in.

You know now how much countertop space you have to work with. Outdoor kitchen with 10′ countertop length is considered small, but it can still fit sink, cooktop, grill, and storage. Usually, in this size of an outdoor kitchen, there is no under-counter refrigerator (which is usually possible to incorporate at 16′ countertop).

I prepared a table with spacing, which can be used to add the proper amount of space on both sides of the appliances. For example, the sink needs 18″ of open space on both sides to be functional. Not leaving an open space is actually a big bummer, because it cannot be fixed, and without a proper spacing outdoor kitchen is not going to be functional.

Advice

It is important to figure out the common direction of the wind for your outdoor kitchen area. Appliances that produce smoke should be placed downwind from the house and sitting area.

3. Plan zones for your outdoor kitchen

zones for outdoor kitchen in small spaces

Outdoor kitchen zones are areas at your kitchen that are dedicated to specific tasks. There are five zones: dry, hot, wet, cold, and serve. I wrote an entire article with tips on this subject.

A dry zone is where food is prepared. It can have some storage, but it has to have a countertop. For small spaces, drawers can be a super-useful storage option.

A hot zone is basically where a grill and cooktop are. It should be placed next to a dry zone and far from a cold zone. A grill cannot be put at the end of the countertop. There should be at least 12″ countertop length left to the end.

To make a minimalistic outdoor kitchen a dry and hot zone are enough. So if your space is limited, but you have those two, you are good to go.

If you still do have space to work with you can use it to create: wet zone, cold zone, and serve zone.

A wet zone is where the sink is installed. It should be placed next to a dry zone. It is more useful with hot water supply, but having a tap water source might be just enough (you can always warm it up with a point-of-use water heater installed under the sink). Very often this is an area where trash is stored.

Cold zone is where the fridge is. It is very often next to a wet zone. In some big-ass outdoor kitchens, there are multiple appliances you can add here like ice-maker or ice-bin. For small kitchen an isolated bucket might be a more reasonable solution (easier to clean as well).

small outdoor kitchen with bar

And last, but not least, serve zone. This one is as important as all the cook-prep zones. It might be a bar-counter or a table with chairs. What is important regarding this particular zone and small space is picking furniture with clean lines and defined legs (you can see through the legs which make space more open). If the space is small furniture should be rather light. Huge, heavy pieces can make it even smaller.

4. Pick a proper type of outdoor kitchen structure: movable/ prefab/ custom.

This is one of the most important choices to make. Making changes on your lot very often requires a permit, especially for zoning and utilities.

If you do not want any paperwork movable outdoor kitchen might be a good-enough solution for your household. It can be created out of a rolling cart with a grill and an electrical extension cord. It comes in multiple styles and sizes. In fact, movable outdoor kitchens are so popular, that Ikea sells them. And they can be very functional too, as plenty of them are equipped with a fridge and sink!

Unfortunately, ready-to-use solutions very often are not a good fit for limited spaces. If you’re about to use your lawn though, you’re good to go (and store it in the garage while unused).

With prefab and custom outdoor kitchen, even small one, a permit might be required. It should always be checked with the City Building Inspections Department and HOA, as building an outdoor kitchen without a permit might result in demolition order.

structure for outdoor kitchen in small spaces

So what are prefab outdoor kitchens? Basically you buy a whole structure to put in your backyard and can start using it the same day as delivered. They look customs alike but are a standard-sized, which for some spaces is going to be enough. Prefab outdoor kitchen price depends vastly on chosen appliances and finishes, but at the end should be approximately 30% less than a custom one.

When your space is untypical, which is common for small spaces, a custom outdoor kitchen might be the only way to go. This way you’ll get a solution that uses every inch. Even though it is usually a little bit pricier than prefabs, if your space is really limited, you’re not going to experience it that much. Custom solutions are usually priced with the linear foot of the structure, so with the limited size, you get a limited price.

5. Incorporate only appliances that you need

ideas outdoor kitchen small spaces

Limited space means sacrifices need to be done. Even though pizza oven is a part of the theater of an outdoor kitchen party, it might not be crucial for a small space. So what are appliances that are a must? A must list below consists of appliances in order from most to least crucial.

  1. Grill
  2. Sink
  3. Refrigerator (or refrigerator drawer)
  4. Storage
  5. Stove

This list can vary depending on how you use an outdoor kitchen. I wish for everybody not to have to let any of those go.

This list is not only created in regards to cooking but also making your house easier to sell in the future. These are appliances and functions people are looking for in general.

6. Make your appliances multitask

As there is a limited amount of appliances that can be added to an outdoor kitchen in a small space, they have to multitask. If you dream about the smoker but are unable to fit it in, find a grill with the smoking function. A pizza oven can be easily created by an add-on to the grill. Even though there is no drama, like with the pizza oven, there is still a function.

7. Create as much storage as you can

storage small outdoor kitchen

This is a basic rule for every small space around. It cannot be cluttered, as clutter makes it look even smaller. Most of the stuff you’re going to use at an outdoor kitchen should be stored in it or next to it. While designing try to find all of those extra spaces in the project. It is going to pay off later on.

While we’re at it, most people use their storage also at night, so it should have proper lighting installed.

8. Work with optical illusion

white outdoor kitchen in small space

Even modest space can look splendid if designed well. There are multiple rules to follow.

First of all lighter colors are going to work better for limited areas. Actually giving walls and flooring similar color may be a great idea. As outdoor kitchens are placed in the backyard, close to nature, I’d suggest neutral natural colors in light shades. What can be done is painting the ceiling with a similar color to walls too. The same goes for finishes for outdoor kitchen – light colors usually will work better with small space.

What often works in an outdoor kitchen with a smaller space is a reflective surface. It’s worth taking into consideration while picking countertop finish or cabinetry. If you have a place for a mirror it might do the trick as well.

It is amazing how floor can influence our size perception. Even a small space’s with vertical stripes on the floor can seem longer. To get the best effect flooring should be continuous for the whole area.

Furniture might also help in fulling the eye. Small spaces do not look well with heavy furniture. Chairs with defined legs will make space look bigger, as you can see past them.

And what really makes a drastic change is lighting design.

9. Use lighting tricks

light at outdoor kitchen

Light is an amazing design tool. It can accentuate assets and hide shortages. It is absolutely essential to use an alfresco kitchen after sunset. I wrote an entire post with inspiration for each type of outdoor kitchen space. Basics of lighting design are:

  • provide task light for prep and cook area,
  • add ambient illumination to the dining area,
  • brighten up all the paths and stairs that are going to be used.

While it is generally important in all sizes of outdoor kitchens, for outdoor kitchens placed in small spaces it is essential. You’re going to use every inch of what you’re planning to build. At night what is not lit is not accessible.

Let’s start from the grand lighting on the ceiling. An over-the-scale fan with a light source is a fixture that is going to trick the eye to think space is much larger. It is not only going to add illumination and drama, but also character to the whole area.

Unfortunately, it is not going to be enough, as the secret to enlarging small spaces with light is: multiple lighting sources.

If there are any paths that should be followed, as from patio to home, it’s worth adding wall fixtures, or solar-powered stakes along the path. For safety reasons, riser lights for deck stairs should be added. It’s also worth adding a light fixture above the house entrance.

The next crucial type of lighting is task lighting. Imagine you have to prep food at night – all areas you’re going to use need to be illuminated. You can use scones, you can use a standing lamp or clip-on grill light. There are plenty of solutions for this area.

What is important not only countertops and grill should be illuminated, but also storage. Under-counter led lighting really is a must.

At the sitting area, ambient lights can be added to enhance the space. What works great are Edison-style lighting or fixtures with glass/ mesh shades.

It’s worth remembering that at night we prepare to fall asleep. To make it an easy, natural process light should be softer-yellow. It’s always worth installing dimmer in an outdoor sitting area.

With this post, I tried to help readers with designing an outdoor kitchen in a small space. Please let me know if it was helpful to you in a comment. Is there any type of info you’re looking for and didn’t find?

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