Outdoor weather is rolling around quickly and the allure of the patio is growing. And one of our favorite activities is always enjoying eating – and cooking – on the patio. Maybe you want to hold onto the old portable grill just for tradition – wheel it out and scrub it down, drag out a card table and try to make do. It does have its own charm. But you can do even better by building your own outdoor kitchen that adds an element of charm while also helping you to keep everything handy!
Build for Your Needs – or for Your Dreams
The great thing about installing your outdoor kitchen is the wide range of options it provides. There are limits, of course – the space you have to work with and your budget always come into play. You’ll also want to think about the climate where you live and how well your kitchen is going to stand up to the elements.
But at the same time, you have a huge opportunity to design the set up you want! You can have a grill or a stovetop too. You can add counter space, a sink, a refrigerator – anything your heart desires!
Heating it Up
The keystone of your kitchen is almost certainly going to be your cooking surface. Are you looking to have just a grill? You can, of course, go for either charcoal or propane. Charcoal is going to give you that special barbecue taste all the time, but propane is easier and cleaner.
You can also opt to have stove burners as well – which of course means you’re probably going to want propane. While a grill is great for the burgers, hot dogs, steaks, corn on the cob and potatoes, there are definitely going to be items easier to prepare on burners.
What about a pizza oven? That’s another great option. A traditional brick oven both looks and works great. And if you’re adventurous and want to toss the pizza as you prepare it, you don’t have to worry about hitting the ceiling with it!
To combat the heat and accompany your meal, you’re going to want cool drinks and even ice handy. And there may also be parts of your meal that you’d rather keep cool – for taste or safety. You don’t want to leave that chicken sitting out waiting until you’re ready to grill it! And that cucumber salad will definitely taste better cold.
Avoid the trouble of having to run back to the house by having a refrigerator added to your outdoor kitchen!
Unless you make extensive use of the space, you can probably get by with a mini fridge. You might even consider having two of them – one for beverages (including adult beverages) and another for food supplies. Incorporating them under counters helps keep a clean, sharp look.
Work and Storage Space
Another key element to your outdoor kitchen area is having enough space for working and for storage.
One big problem with a portable grill – even a nicer one – is the lack of workspace. A folding table alongside may help, but they’re usually designed for sitting, not for preparing food while standing. So, having ample counter space is a great asset for your outdoor kitchen.
Obviously, your particular layout and space are going to be factors, but an L-shaped counter can keep things closer than a single, long side. You’ll also want to be sure to have space for whatever preparation you need – cutting and chopping, serving and organizing.
Take maximum advantage of all the space underneath as well. We’ve already mentioned refrigeration, but storage is important too. Drawers and cabinets can hold your cooking utensils and cleaning supplies. If you have plates and flatware specifically for your outdoor space, you’ll need an area for those as well.
And while we’re under the counter – that’s the perfect spot for your waste disposal too! Having a trash can built in will help with the overall look of your space.
When you’re planning your space, don’t forget that you’re going to want both electricity and water connections. These get tougher to add the farther away from the house you are, so be sure to plan ahead.
An electrical connection is necessary if you’re going to have a refrigerator, of course. But you’re also going to want to have lights for entertaining in the evenings.
And don’t forget to have at least one or two electrical outlets. There’s always something you’re going to want to plug in. At some point, you know you’re going to at least need a blender to make frozen drinks, and surely a million other ideas will come up! Plus, you can always charge your smartphone there as well. Be sure to plan well to have an outlet convenient for the fridge and at least one other above the counter.
Having a sink incorporated into your space is another key. Easy access to running water is something we take for granted until we don’t have it. It will come in handy when you need to rinse off vegetables, add water to a pot to boil, clean up afterward – and put out those small fires.
Try to decide where your water and electric lines will go before putting down your patio. It’s most convenient to bury them, although that might not be a good idea in the coldest climates. But if you have to run the pipe and wire above ground, shield them appropriately to protect them, and your family and friends, from tripping.
Made in the Shade
Being out in the beautiful summer weather is one thing. But you want a little shade too, especially since you’ll also be combatting the heat of the grill.
What kind of coverage do you want? Are you satisfied with something small that will just cover the cooking and food prep area? Or do you want a larger pergola that will also cover the entire patio, including the dining space?
Climbing plants aren’t a great idea right over the heat of the stove or grill but can be a beautiful addition to other areas. You’re also going to want to be sure they don’t attract unwanted bugs.
Bug control is a key issue, too. Zappers are just, well, disgusting. But a few well-placed citronella torches at the edges of the area can work wonders. If you’re really creative – and don’t mind the extra effort of lighting them – you could even have a citronella candle chandelier or hanging lamps!
Materials to Look For
Since we’re talking about the outdoors, we have to be especially careful to choose products that are going to stand up to the elements. And your needs are going to vary a lot based on where you live. The harsh cold of Minnesota presents far different challenges than the intense heat of Arizona. If you’re near the ocean, you have to worry about salt in the air as well.
The best surface for components like your grill, refrigerator, and sink is stainless steel. Look for a high-quality model that has few if any spot welds or other points where moisture can enter. Thicker steel is going to hold up better than thinner pieces. You’re also going to have to deal with the light reflecting off it, but this shouldn’t be a major issue if you orient everything correctly.
No matter what the surface, it’s still important to clean it and shield it from chemicals like fertilizers or de-icers. These can be highly corrosive and wear out your appliances, counters and just about everything prematurely.
For your counters, granite is a great choice outdoors just as it is indoors. It holds up well against the elements. Well-treated granite isn’t going to fade quickly. Of course, remember that darker colors hold more heat so you might want to choose something in a lighter shade.
There’s a lot of options for the walking surface and sides of the counter as well. You may want to create your own look, or it might work better to complement the style of your house. Brick is a popular option as is finished stone. Of course, I recommend stamped concrete, although I do have a bias toward it. But it allows a lot of versatility regarding the appearance you want – it can be designed to look like brick or pavers, logs or panel. It’ll stand up to the elements and just needs to be resealed every couple years if you care for it properly the rest of the time. But that’s true for any surface.
An outdoor kitchen is a great addition to any home and offers so much more than just dragging the grill out! Take advantage of your outdoor space and remember that it can be nearly as complete as your “regular” kitchen. Soon you may find yourself using it even more than its indoor counterpart!
About the Author
Bill Michaels works for Patterned Concrete as a media outreach specialist. The company is an expert and pioneer in stamped concrete since 1972. It has grown from its Toronto-area roots to have franchises across North America.