Picking wood for an outdoor kitchen frame, cabinets, doors, countertops, or backsplash can be frightening. Some say it is foolish even to consider wood for the backyard. Others state it works amazingly in humid areas. What is the truth? Can you build an outdoor kitchen out of wood?
An outdoor kitchen can be built entirely out of wood. Multiple wood species will work excellent for outdoor kitchen frames, cabinet doors, countertops, and even covering! A wooden outdoor kitchen can be:
- created in a variety of budgets,
- durable and long-lasting,
- the focal point of any backyard.
So am I saying all the voices on the internet who state wood is a terrible material for an outdoor kitchen are false? It really can be if you don’t follow the 7 basic rules of a wooden outdoor kitchen design. Keep reading 🙂
Outdoor kitchen wood guide: 7 rules
Wood is one of these materials that look amazing in the backyard. A wisely designed wooden outdoor kitchen can be not only great-looking, though, but also durable. There are 7 rules to follow, and some differ for budget outdoor kitchens and premium ones.
The most important thing about wood for an outdoor kitchen is, rule number 1, use only wood with 20% or less moisture content. To achieve this parameter, wood has to be dried either by air or in the chamber. A properly dried wood is more resistant to elements, less likely to rot, and will not change its shape visibly.
Wood is a combustible material. It does not imply it will last a short period of time (have you seen 100+ wooden houses around the world?), but it means it needs to be used wisely. Rule number 2 is: for a wooden construction or countertops, remember to add an insulated jacket under every appliance using heat. Yes, jackets add to the budget, but they make your outdoor kitchen a safer place.
Also, take your grill instruction seriously; if it requires range hood installation, go for it. The goal of a hood is to reduce smoke and direct the fire in case one starts.
As with any outdoor space, the outdoor kitchen needs to be looked after. Rule number 3 is making inspections of your outdoor kitchen at least 2 times a year. To be honest, this is a step that should be performed in any outdoor kitchen really. The additional point is looking for any signs of insects or rodents’ invasion, leaks, and performing water and gas installation check-ups in wooden ones.
Rule number 4 is picking a proper wood species. For a smaller budget, spruce is a nice choice, a slightly more expensive oak will be a nice option. Being cheap and going with a pellet of fence wood is not an option, as these are soaked in chemicals. A great option for heftier budgets will be exotic wood, like ipe, teak, or tigerwood. Exotic woods are very dense and durable and make outdoor kitchens look great and work amazingly for a long time.
It is worth knowing that exotic woods are more resistant to fire too (some are class A).
The next rule is crucial for constructions made out of softer woods. Rule number 5 is softwoods need to be sealed yearly. This means that each year you have to sand them and apply sealer. This process will not only improve the visual aspect of an outdoor kitchen but also make the wood waterproof (if you’re going to use a waterproof sealer). Hardwoods
If you’re going for wood construction or your outdoor kitchen will be finished from bottom to top with wood, putting it on a block of concrete is not the best option. Rule number 6 is to lay an isolation layer between wood and concrete, as concrete wicks moisture.
Rule number 7 is adding roofing over a wooden outdoor kitchen or covering it when it is unused. This simple move is going not only to make your outdoor kitchen long-lasting but also cooking much more comfortable. When you have some covering above your outdoor kitchen, you can mount a fan to it and get rid of flying insects.
These 7 rules will make a wooden outdoor kitchen a durable and beautiful part of your backyard. If your main concern is a fire hazard, remember to never leave your grill or burner unattended while on. It is also worth keeping a fire blanket, or an extinguisher, in your outdoor kitchen area.
Outdoor kitchen wood frame
Making an outdoor kitchen framing out of wood is pretty common amongst DIYlfers. Wood is much easier to work with than metal, and all the needed tools are usually in the household. Wood is also a much more forgiving material than metal.
I actually wrote an entire post about why people choose to build a frame out of wood, even though professionals highly recommend using steel or aluminum studs (Outdoor Kitchen Frame Material Comparison: Metal vs. Wood).
Even though, in general, professionals say metal is better for framing, wood can actually work better in humid areas like Florida. The main issue with metal is it can rust. Wood, on the other hand, is going to extract and contract depending on the humidity. It is a natural process and one of the great wood features.
The key to a long-lasting wooden frame is a proper type of wood. Its moisture content has to be under 20%. To get there, the wood needs to be dried under the sun or in the chambers. If you’re able to buy a processed wood, like glulam, that does not have any knots or other imperfections, go ahead and do it. Imperfections, like knots, can rot, be less resistant to insect invasion, and so on.
Glulam is actually an excellent type of construction material, as it has all the wood features enhanced. They even build bridges out of this material. It is super-strong, super resistant to mold and insects, and has high thermal isolation. It also has no knots, as they’re removed during production.
Even though a wood frame can be a good solution for most outdoor kitchen construction, I recommend installing a metal frame, brick, or concrete blocks construction under the grill. Why I find it worth it? These materials are less fragile to high temperatures, so they will burn slower if there is a fire. Most outdoor kitchens are placed close to the house, so keeping fire hazards as low as possible is important.
If different material of a frame under a grill or a burner is too much fuss for you, remember to use an insulated jacket under these appliances. An insulated jacket is basically a stainless steel part you put between a structure made of combustible materials and a burner/ grill. The goal is to isolate a source of heat from the wood so it is more resistant.
This is how a wooden outdoor kitchen with an insulated jacket looks like. As grills are most often in stainless steel color, jackets are nearly invisible to the eye (you can see how they look separately here).
Outdoor kitchen wood cabinets
There are designs for which outdoor kitchen wood cabinets an a good idea. These will be all protected from elements spaces, like the patio in the picture above and Florida rooms. Covering adds protection from elements, so most of the construction can be safely done with wood. I enjoy a lot the window behind the grill in the picture.
What kind of wood works best for outdoor kitchen cabinets? The recommended types of wood for premium outdoor kitchen cabinets are teak, cypress, and bamboo. For DIY projects, spruce, oak, and maple are a good option. Outdoor kitchen cabinets need to be finished with an oil or a water-resistant seal.
It is important not to put outdoor kitchen wooden cabinets directly on a concrete slab, as concrete wicks moisture. It is crucial for softer species of wood, but should apply also to exotic wood cabintes.
It is a good idea to add a metal construction under the grill, even if all other cabinets are done from wood. If you decide not to follow this advice remember to add an insulated jacket under every appliance that uses heat.
Outdoor kitchen wood doors
Wooden doors are the easiest way to incorporate wood into your outdoor kitchen design. A famous interview with the designer Sandy Koepke about outdoor kitchens in the New York Times, where she states: “Your goal is to integrate it with nature,” and achieving this goal with stainless steel cabinetry is impossible.
On the contrary, wooden outdoor kitchen doors are simply going to fit outdoors very well. As you can see in the pictures above, wooden outdoor kitchen doors can have so many styles! From traditional to modern, you can do basically any style with them. And each is going to look great in the backyards, close to nature.
It’s worth remembering that countertops overhang can protect doors, especially if an outdoor kitchen is not covered.
Outdoor kitchen wood countertops
The wooden countertop is a controversial solution for an outdoor kitchen. It sure looks amazing but is a great maintaining challenge at the same time.
Above you can see two pictures of outdoor kitchen countertops made out of wood. An outdoor kitchen in the first picture is luxurious, the second picture shows basically an outdoor grill station with a bar counter.
In the first picture, an outdoor kitchen is entirely under the roof. It is essential information for anybody who is planning an upscale outdoor kitchen with a wooden countertop. It is an option for covered spaces. Second of all, only a part of a countertop is made out of wood. You may ask yourself why… Well, the reason is the wood countertop stains easily and gets burned too. There is nothing like a stone countertop for the outdoors.
I find one type of countertop amazing for an outdoor kitchen, a butcher block. If you’re into rustic style, or a butcher block suits your design, this is a way to go. It can be a top part of a movable outdoor kitchen table that increases the size of your countertops as well as the stylishness of your outdoor area. The rest of the countertops can be made out of more suitable materials for the outdoors.
On the contrary, for a casual option, like an outdoor grill station in the second picture, wood might actually be an excellent option. It is inexpensive, easy to DIY, and can be easily changed. In other words, for a low-key design, its features look totally different than for the upscale one.
It is worth knowing, though, which types of wood will work well for a countertop. I’ve read and see plenty of strange devices on the internet, like use wood from a pallet or regular fencing wood. These types seem dangerous for a food prepping surface, as they can be contaminated with toxic chemicals and harmful bacteria.
There are plenty of wood types that can be used for a countertop. The pricier they get, the more long-lasting they will be. For a lower budget, spruce can be a nice option. Oak and maple are more pricey but also will age with grace. If you look for a wood that is going to last and look great, and at the same time can be more expensive, going for exotic woods (like teak or tigerwood) is an excellent move.
Outdoor kitchen wood backsplash
A backsplash is a very unusual place for wood. It can add a lot of warmth to an outdoor kitchen design, as it is eye-catching on a vertical surface. Basic wood types do not work well with water and heat and need to be frequently impregnated to stay in shape. So how to work it?
First of all, you can fake it and put on the backsplash tiles that look wood alike. This is a safe option, but for wood-enthusiast may not be acceptable.
The second option is adding a backsplash only afar from the grill (like in the picture above). Water may damage unsealed wood with time, but it is not going to burn it. This option would be so much easier to maintain with an exotic wood.
Is wood an eco-friendly material for an outdoor kitchen?
Wood is the only renewable construction material. During growth, which usually takes decades, it captures carbon dioxide. Often trees capture more CO2 than is generated during wood treatment. Now let’s dive a bit into the diagram below.
As you can see, wood is the most sustainable material of all! With results close to nothing. And this diagram does not even include carbon dioxide captured in wood during growth!
As a matter of fact, using wood for your outdoor kitchen can a big gesture for our planet. As you can see, concrete, which you really have to use to create an outdoor kitchen, generates plenty of carbon emissions in its life cycle. With stainless steel, it’s even worse! Actually, let’s be honest, it’s terrible.
When you try to care for Earth, it is crucial to reduce the number of fossil fuels used not only by yourself but also to produce the products you buy. As you can see on the SCA diagram, there is no construction material like wood.
If you still wonder what type of wood should be chosen for your outdoor kitchen in terms of sustainability, the answer is the one that will be most durable. You will use the longer things, the more care you show for the planet.
I hope this article helped you in making an informed choice for your backyard. What part of your outdoor kitchen is going to be made with wood? Please leave an answer in the comment section.