Outdoor Kitchens: 10 Tips for Better Design

Following some basics of design will ensure a successful project.

KalamazooKitchen

This outdoor kitchen can hold its own with most indoor versions. Photo courtesy of Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet

Outdoor kitchens are a hot segment in many parts of the country. Russ Faulk, marketing manager with Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, a maker of high-end grills and accessories based in Chicago, offers 10 tips for creating the best outdoor kitchen and entertaining areas:

1. Apply good kitchen design principles for functional zones of the kitchen. "If you're not a kitchen design professional, be sure you understand good kitchen design principles, or partner with one," Russ says. Cold areas (refrigeration), hot areas (grills and cooktops), wet areas (sinks) and dry areas (prep counters and storage) must all work together effectively in proper proximity, each with enough allocated space.

Russ suggests the Kitchen Planning Guidelines by the National Kitchen & Bath Association for more information.

2. Remember that indoor and outdoor kitchens are simpatico. The most significant difference between indoor and outdoor kitchen design is often the exposure to the elements (shelter and durability considerations). Other differences include more difficulty in running utilities such as water. And there is usually no outdoor wall, so the outdoor kitchen equipment typically defines the room boundaries. "Outdoor rooms bring a whole world of additional cooking options, like open-wood flame or smoking," Russ says.

In planning the outdoor kitchen, Russ says, it's important to consider the relationship between the indoor and outdoor versions. How will they be used together when cooking or entertaining? What is the traffic pattern between them?

3. Select low-maintenance materials and equipment designed to withstand the rigors of an outdoor kitchen. "The easier the kitchen is to clean and maintain, the more the homeowner will use and enjoy their investment," Russ says, noting that high-quality stainless steel provides a sanitary surface that's easily cleaned and corrosion-resistant. Counters and patio or decking material should be highly resistant to grease stains and able to withstand high temperatures.

Natural stone counters require sealing on a regular basis. If you go with granite, use cultured granite with UV stabilizers. Avoid highly porous materials such as limestone. In climates with considerable freezing and thawing, avoid tile countertops.

For flooring, sealed pavers or concrete works. So do natural stone blocks with a lower porosity, such as granite.

4. Complement the design of the home's architecture and landscape, Russ says. Use compatible materials and incorporate subtle architectural details.

Jonathan Carr, president of landscape design and online retailer Grillmaster's Garden (Zionsville, Ind.) advises adding structure. "A fireplace is an excellent anchor. And try to create a feeling of something over your head." He suggests pergolas, arbors or other open-air or roofed structures, even the canopy of a shade tree.

5. Plan the entire outdoor entertaining space as part of a single functional plan. Dining areas, cooking areas and pool areas often coexist. Think of these as outdoor rooms and consider the flow of traffic as part of the design. "Don't isolate the cook from the rest of the party," Russ advises.

6. Plan for utilities. When planning layouts, keep in mind the best practical placement or installation of the necessary gas, water and electrical supply.

7. Extend the outdoor entertaining season with heaters, shade and rain shelter. "Incorporate shade trees, pergolas and awnings in cooking and dining areas, but don't put a combustible ceiling or awning above an outdoor grill," Russ says. Outdoor-rated vent hoods are another option.

Natural gas patio heaters can be used effectively under eaves and pergolas. Portable propane patio heaters are another option. "Radiant heat under the patio and countertops has been used in outdoor kitchens where money is no object," Russ says.

8. Incorporate music and other entertainment so the homeowner doesn't face the design challenge of adding it later. Russ notes: "TVs need to deliver a good picture in bright sunlight."

9. Provide adequate task lighting as well as ambient lighting to accommodate after-dark cooking and entertaining, Russ says.

10. Understand the homeowner's needs and the equipment available. Russ suggests asking the homeowners these questions:

  • How do you cook inside? Outside?

  • Do you do your own cooking at parties or hire a chef?

  • How many people and how often do you entertain?

Marcia Jedd writes frequently about design and construction issues.

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