Optimizing an Outdoor Kitchen Layout

Bring your indoor kitchen design outdoors, with these tips on creating a functional layout.


Photography courtesy of Kalamazoo

Photography courtesy of Kalamazoo
By: Amanda Lecky

Once you've chosen the right site, it's time for the fun part, creating the outdoor kitchen you've always wanted. But before you start shopping for the most expensive grill and handmade tiles for the backsplash, it's essential to settle on a layout that will make the space as easy to work in as it is easy on the eyes. After all, this is more than just a showplace, it's a hard-working kitchen.

You may already be familiar with the concept of the "kitchen triangle". If not, it's pretty simple: In an efficient kitchen layout, the refrigerator, range or cooktop, and sink should form three points of a triangle, with no leg of the triangle measuring more than 10' feet additionally, the legs of the triangle should be unobstructed by structures like cabinets or a kitchen island.

In a large kitchen it can be difficult to achieve this tight locus, and some designers create two triangles. Fortunately, outdoors this is rarely a problem. "Most outdoor kitchens are fairly small," says NKBA-certified kitchen designer Laurie Haefele, of Haefele Design. "So you'll end up with a natural kitchen triangle without trying too hard."

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Keep the triangle in mind as you're finalizing the layout. If you're going with a large, fully equipped outdoor kitchen, you may need to adjust the placement of an island to ensure unimpeded access to the cooking, food storage and cleanup zones at the points of the triangle.

Layout Lessons

Outdoor kitchen configurations are generally similar to indoor kitchen layouts. Your site, the amount of space you have to work with, your cooking style, and your budget will determine which you choose.

Outdoor Great Room Sonoma Outdoor Kitchen

Outdoor Great Room Sonoma Outdoor Kitchen

Photo courtesy of Sonoma Outdoor Kitchen

Photo courtesy of Sonoma Outdoor Kitchen

Straight Line Kitchens

Similar to an indoor "kitchenette", this kitchen is installed against a wall. It’s ideal for smaller, more budget-friendly spaces where only one cook will work at a time. Keep in mind that if the kitchen will be against the wall of the house, you'll have to choose non-combustible materials to protect the siding. It's best to consult a professional in this case.

U-shape Kitchens

If you're planning a larger, freestanding kitchen with a grill, refrigerator, dishwasher, a sink and a bar area, this shape may be for you. This design mimics most indoor kitchens, becoming the utlimate backyard focal point.

Kitchen Islands

Probably the most common of all built-in outdoor kitchen designs, an island layout, which clusters the grill and all appliances in one central unit. It is cost-effective and great for creating an entertaining hub. Consider raising one side of the countertop to separate the cooking and socializing areas.

Measurements to Keep in Mind as You Plan

  • Landing area on left and right of grill or pizza oven: 12" on one side and 24" on the other
  • Landing area on left and right side of cooktop/burner: 12" on each side
  • Landing area on left and right sides of sink: 18"
  • Landing area above undercounter refrigerator: 15" of clear space and can be shared with the sink or cooking area
  • Minimum work space: 36" w x 24" d
  • Storage: minimum of 21" linear storage (for 10’ kitchen)
  • Always forgotten: landing space on each side of major appliance or element, like sink

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