How to Build an Outdoor Kitchen

Outdoor Kitchen

okchomeseller / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

An outdoor kitchen in your yard brings the promise of parties with friends, family gatherings, or even a romantic dinner for two. Preparing dishes indoors and transporting them outside isn't quite the same. Food goes cold and the chef spends too much time away from the guests. The solution, instead, is to bring the kitchen out to the guests.

For your outdoor kitchen, everything you need can be located outside. Depending on your budget, the layout of the yard, and your needs, you may choose to install an outdoor sink, countertops, stove and oven, refrigerator, a shelter for the area, and a barbecue grill. The scope of your project depends on you. Frequent entertaining and large budgets may translate to full-scale outdoor kitchens. If you throw the occasional party or barbecue, it is more economical to retain some key items—cabinets, counter, and a cooking area—while putting the pricey, elaborate items on pause, at least for now.

Tip

All items need to be weather-tolerant, from the flooring and the cabinets to the counters, sink, fixtures, and all of the appliances.

Codes and Regulations

Be sure to speak to your local permitting department about building codes and any related permits. Running electrical and gas lines to the outdoor kitchen will usually trigger the permitting process. Any structure intended to cover the outdoor kitchen may also require permitting if it meets certain conditions. Structures that adjoin the main residence generally will need to be cleared by local building departments. Always before digging call 811 or your local utilities damage prevention hotline. Technicians will visit your property to mark gas, electrical, water, and other vital lines.

When to Build an Outdoor Kitchen

Should you build the outdoor kitchen in fall and winter, so that it will be ready to go for entertaining in the warm weather? Or is it best to take advantage of spring and summer's favorable weather to build the kitchen? Running underground gas and electrical lines is difficult when the ground is frozen solid; wait until the soil has thawed before digging. Precipitation and snow can hamper outdoor building. If you plan on erecting a permanent covered shelter, you may want to do this first to make it easier to build the rest of the kitchen.

Timing and Cost

You can expect to take two to three weeks to build your outdoor kitchen, and it's important to keep in mind that experts are the only recommended skill level to complete this project. Depending on your outdoor kitchen design, you may need a contractor to help you complete this project. In terms of cost, you can expect to pay between $3,000 and $10,000.

Checklist for Completing Your Outdoor Kitchen

Locate Your Outdoor Kitchen

Where do you intend to build the outdoor kitchen? Logistically, it makes sense to locate the kitchen relatively close to the house, especially if you are running electrical, water, and gas lines. The area should be dry, level, and stable. If the sun is a problem, look for leafy trees that can block the sun. If you want more sun, plan accordingly.

Are there any intervening yard elements such as pools, hot tubs, flower beds, fences, or buried lines? Septic tanks, whether active or filled, may pose a problem for burying utility lines. Check the home title for easements.

Build a Base for the Outdoor Kitchen

The outdoor kitchen must be built on a suitable base that is dry, level, and stable. Options include:

Create a Plan for the Kitchen

Unlike indoor kitchens, which follow strict layout guidelines, outdoor kitchens afford you more freedom for planning. Situate critical services such as the sink, stove, oven, and barbecue grill on the side closest to the house. In most cases, you will be running gas, water, and electrical lines off of the side or rear of the house.

Run the Utility Lines

Next to purchasing the outdoor appliances, running the utility lines between the outdoor kitchen and the house will be the most expensive and time-consuming part of this project. If you do decide to install a full-service outdoor kitchen:

  • Both gas and water lines, if desired, will need to be run underground below the frost line, if applicable to your area. Electrical lines must be run through a conduit or another protective method as required by electrical code such as direct-burial. The lines must be buried at the correct depth specified for your area.
  • In most municipalities, gray drainage water from the sink cannot be expelled to the open ground. To meet the plumbing code, you must run a sewer line from the outdoor kitchen's sink drain back to the house's sewer.
  • It is highly recommended that you hire an electrician to run the power line, if any, to the outdoor kitchen.
  • A plumbing contractor can install water supply and drainage lines, as well as gas supply pipes.
  • All work will need to be inspected and permitted by your local building department.

Build a Shelter for the Kitchen

One favorite option is to build a shelter over and around the outdoor kitchen. A covered shelter will protect the kitchen and users from the elements, both during use and when not in use. A semi-covered or uncovered shelter will help to define the area. You may decide to build a pergola either open on top with a retractable canopy. Or you can create a fabric or wood awning over the area.

Install Cabinets and Countertops

Cabinets should be made of or faced with hardy materials such as natural or veneer stone, stainless steel, or even pallet wood. For tough countertops, make your own concrete countertops by pouring concrete into a mold and flipping it over to reveal the smooth top. If the outdoor kitchen is enclosed and weathertight, you can use more sensitive materials like butcher block for the counters and quality veneer-faced plywood for the cabinets.

Install the Sink, Cooking Area, and Appliances

If the outdoor kitchen has any electric appliances such as a refrigerator, the electrician should come in and install the GFCI outlets. Outdoor lighting can be added at this point, too. The plumbing contractor will complete any gas, water supply, and water drainage connections. If you choose not to run gas or electrical lines out to the kitchen, alternate cooking sources include a pizza oven, a do-it-yourself island barbecue, a mobile gas barbecue grill, or a charcoal grill.

After the connections to the fixed appliances are complete, you will need to have one last visit from the building inspector to finalize the permits.

Create an Outdoor Dining Area

Make a fun, comfortable outdoor dining area that needs only minimal maintenance by purchasing outdoor furniture. Patio heaters keep the area toasty and extend your outdoor season.

More Outdoor Kitchen Building Tips

  • Be realistic about the type and size of your intended outdoor kitchen. If you only rarely eat outside, scale down the construction to save time and money.
  • The fewer dedicated service lines you run to the kitchen, the cheaper it will be. Consider using propane grills and stoves instead of natural gas-powered appliances.

When to Call a Professional

To build a full-service outdoor kitchen, you will need to have at least some professional help: electricians and plumbers, plus builders for the shelter and base. Scaling back the number of services reduces the cost and helps make this more of a do-it-yourself project.