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10 Ideas to Make Your Outdoor Kitchen Sizzle

Article by: Laura Gaskill

Looking to spice up your grilling area this summer? Try adding one (or more) of these fun features, from grill-side seating to a vintage fridge. As long as the weather is fine, you may find yourself cooking outside more than in!

Pull up to the kitchen bar. Keep guests entertained with bar seats pulled up to the grill, where they can taste hot-off-the-fire nibbles. On its own, this is a great small-space solution; in a more expansive yard, supplement the grill-side seats with a larger dining table.

Get the cooking area under cover. A roof over the outdoor cooking area makes it easier for the grill master to keep grilling even when an unexpected rainstorm pops up. The L-shaped counter space with seating and adjacent dining area and fire pit make this a backyard guests will never want to leave.

Add a full-size fridge. If you cook outdoors a lot, a fridge and freezer can be a big help. Keep them stocked with ice, chilled drinks and the food you plan to grill, and that will free up space in your regular fridge. Of course, not just any fridge will do — a retro style in a cheerful color, like the Smeg shown here, will add to the style of your outdoor space.

Coordinate with color. Grills, decks and outdoor seating tend to be neutral and no-frills, so use a few pops of bold color to wake up your outdoor kitchen. Bright poppy red was used here in artwork, dishes, a chair and a sleek trash can.

Pack in useful details. It’s the little things that can make all the difference in your outdoor kitchen experience, so consider what would benefit you the most — better lighting, prep space, music? This Toronto rooftop kitchen includes a mini fridge, dish storage, speakers for an electronic device and night lighting.

Get cooking in the garden. Highlight your love of ultra-local ingredients with an outdoor kitchen located near your veggie garden. A brick surround that matches the low garden wall helps integrate the kitchen into the larger outdoor space.

Go modern. Concrete and rich wood are a modern minimalist pairing perfect for an urban environment. This outdoor kitchen is outfitted with a pizza oven — a worthy splurge if you love doing a weekly pizza night at home!

Double up on grills and storage. If you’re serious about barbecue, it could be worth your while to invest in two grills: one gas (for quick cooking) and one charcoal (for traditional smoky barbecue). A stainless steel gas grill and a “big green egg” perfect for slow cooking are connected by cabinetry in this Red Hook, Brooklyn, backyard. A sink and plenty of counter space make prepping food easy, and hidden storage below means you can keep outdoor cookware and tools close at hand.

Put a pergola over the grill. A garden structure like a pergola adds architectural interest to the outdoor kitchen and provides a place to attach sconce lighting. And while you wouldn’t want climbing plants dangling directly over the grill (hello fire hazard!), if your pergola is a safe distance from the heat, you could grow plants over it, giving the area a lush green touch.

Bring your indoor style out. The small-scale but well-crafted cabinetry in this outdoor kitchen echoes the interior style. Locating the grill within steps of the kitchen door makes it easy to carry ingredients outside and hot plates of food in, and a built-in bench seat provides a spot for guests to sit and chat while the food is being prepared.

Plan Functional Outdoor Kitchens

Careful Selection of Grilling Equipment, Appliances and Cabinets is Critical to Designing a Successful Outdoor Kitchen

The popularity of outdoor kitchens continues to skyrocket, and with it the availability of products and techniques that make them affordable and functional also is increasing. If a client’s desire is to go beyond the standard grill, then an outdoor kitchen can provide all the conveniences to rival any indoor kitchen. Equipment selection remains the primary consideration. The second most critical consideration pertains to cabinetry. 

Equipment

With its various features, the grill entices the novie and expert. Therefore, careful assessment of a client’s grilling style or desire is in order. 

Natural or propane gas and the accompanying storage/gas/electrical line placement is crucial. If built-in (versus freestanding), the 3/4-inch gas line needs to have a shutoff and quick disconnect for an emergency or season change. If using propane, there needs to be room for the tank that is easily accessible for replacement. If using natural gas, room for the line with a pressure  regulator is needed. All grills usually need an insulating surround (some come from the grill maker) to protect any material surrounding it, such as wood, particleboard or combustible materials. 

Attached lighting and electrical lines for igniters are a must with a shutoff if possible. All of these connections need to be sealed against water. A grill design element not usually considered is the placement of wind protection (a 10 – to 12-inch backsplash, if not in the design of the hood). When not considered, the hot air forced down from the back of the grill could melt plastic knobs. 

If you specify an icemaker and refrigerator, UL approved for outdoor use is necessary. A manufacturer’s warranty usually is only for temperatures down to 32 F. This requires more consideration in colder climates for a complete disconnect. Ice machines and sinks require a couple quarts of marine-grade antifreeze be placed in the drains in off months. Water lines need a bleed-port through which water can be depleted so lines don’t freeze. Ice machines should have a gravity drain; pump models are too prone to freezing. 

Cabinetry

With introductions of teak, cypress and other waterproof woods, outdoor-grade laminates and man-made materials, the aesthetics of cabinertry can be enhanced beyond stainless steel. Select cabinets made with marine-grade materials, such as plywood, that have weep holes for water to drain out of in cabinets and drawers. Doors and drawers need rubber gasket seals. The flashing on any grill insulation kit installed around the perimeter of the grill should protect the cabinet on each side, as well as from any heat below. 

Drawer glide systems should be of the highest stainless/nickel content to protect against moisture/dust infiltration. Hinges need to have a tighter tension to prevent wind from opening them; otherwise a lock may be needed. 

Equipment and cabinetry are the most important components of an outdoor kitchen. Once they are designed, selected and installed well, they will provide optimum pleasure. Ensure your design/construction team understands some of these practical but sometimes overlooked aspects of an outdoor kitchen.