Outdoor Kitchens 101

How to Build an Outdoor Kitchen from Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet

Interest in outdoor living continues to grow, with more people transforming their backyard into elaborate extensions of their home each year. Turning your space into a fully functional, luxurious outdoor kitchen you can enjoy takes serious planning and design knowledge. These must-know tips will help guide you through the process.

Can the potential outdoor kitchen location be:

  •  Easily connected to home utilities?
  • Conveniently located to the indoor kitchen?
  • Sheltered from sun, wind and rain?
  • Leveled out if necessary?

The relationship between the indoor and outdoor kitchen is an important design decision. If they are closely tied together, the outdoor kitchen can rely on the indoor kitchen’s capabilities more heavily. It can use a smaller sink and has less demands for prep space and refrigeration.

Always check to see if a permit is necessary before starting your outdoor kitchen project, and be sure to understand local codes, including easement, permeable surface requirements, water restrictions and height restrictions.

Utilities Planning

The location of your outdoor kitchen and equipment can affect the installation of your gas, water and electricity supply — and the overall budget for your project.

  • Plan for ample electric supply and outlets. Consider using dedicated circuits for the outdoor kitchen with GFI breakers in the electrical panel rather than at each outlet.
  • Hot and cold water? Or just cold… you can save on the cost of utilities by running a single, cold water line to the outdoor kitchen. Consider adding filtration and an on-demand water heater below the sink.
  • Make sure you have enough gas. Add up the total BTUs of the grill, cooktops, fire feature, pool heater and anything else that will be connected to the gas line. The total BTUs, together with the length of the pipe, will determine the diameter of pipe that is needed. It is not uncommon for outdoor kitchens to require a 1-inch or greater gas pipe diameter.

Functional Zones of the Outdoor Kitchen


Landing Areas

Each station in the outdoor kitchen needs clear countertop space to support it. We call this space a landing area. This concept works hand-in-hand with the concept of functional zones, and it is a key part of planning your outdoor kitchen. Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet has developed specific landing area recommendations for different parts of the kitchen.

Landing Areas

Equipment Selection

What kinds of outdoor cooking do you currently enjoy? What do you aspire to enjoy cooking in your new outdoor kitchen? Today’s outdoor kitchens can include every feature, convenience and appliance you could imagine. The following are some highlights of the options that are available:

  • Grills: Gas grills offer convenience. Charcoal grills offer more flavor and an engaging live-fire cooking experience. Hybrid Fire Grills offer the best of both worlds, combining gas, wood and charcoal cooking, all on the same grill. Argentinian-style grills feature grill grates that raise and lower above the fire to control the intensity of the heat.
  • Pizza Ovens: Wood-fired pizza ovens embrace tradition, and gas-fired ovens offer modern convenience. Choose between built-in ovens surrounded by masonry, countertop ovens, or pizza ovens on rolling carts.
  • Refrigeration: Choose from refrigerators and refrigerated drawers, freezers and freezer drawers, wine reserves, keg tappers, beverage centers and ice machines. Tip: You can tell a lot about the quality of an outdoor refrigeration unit by looking at the manufacturer’s recommendations for summer heat and winter storage. If it is suggested the unit should be turned off when temperatures exceed 90°F, it might not be the best choice for your kitchen. Some units are designed to withstand extreme summer heat and still perform at a high level. Similarly, if the unit is designed to be left outside all winter long and simply switched off for the colder months, it is likely built better than a unit that needs to be brought indoors for the winter.
  • Smokers: For the barbecue enthusiast — the pitmaster who takes pride in “low and slow” traditional American barbecue — a dedicated smoker is a must. Smokers come in many shapes and sizes, and use different technologies, including: offset “stick burners,” vertical “water smokers”, kamado-style vertical smokers, gravity-fed charcoal smokers, electric pellet smokers and more.
  • Cooktops: Outdoor cooktops have come a long way from the old notion of a “side burner” attached to a grill. Single, double and quadruple cooktops are available to rival the best indoor ranges. Powerful wok burners and lobster boilers are also available.
  • Specialty Equipment: Truly specialized equipment can be enjoyed in the outdoor kitchen too. Tandoors, wet bar inserts, recessed blender stations, teppanyaki and a host of other options are available for use outdoors.


Photography by Chris Mayer

Photography by Chris Mayer

Kitchen Seating

It is important to account for more than just the width of each seat. Knee space requirements vary with the height of the seat, and the proper amount of clearance behind each seat should also be considered.

Seating Widths:

  • Normal seating width is 24″ wide per person.
  • Accessible seating width is 36″ wide per person.

Knee Space:

  • Bar height seating (counters set at 42″ high) needs a 12″ counter overhang for comfortable knee space.
  • Counter height seating (counters set at 36″ high) should have a 15″ overhang.
  • Table height seating (counters or table 30″ high) should have at least an 18″ overhang for knee space.
  • Accessible seating (counters or table 30″ high) requires a 19″ minimum overhang.

Traffic clearance:

  • If there is no traffic that needs to pass, leave at least 32″ between the counter/table/bar edge and the nearest obstruction to make room for comfortable seating.
  • To allow people to edge past behind seats, leave at least 36″.
    For unobstructed traffic, leave at least 48″.

Outdoor Kitchen Safety

Safety is an important part of outdoor kitchen design. Keep the following factors in mind:

  • Ensure the patio material offers good traction. Slip resistance in an outdoor kitchen is as important as it is around a pool.
  • Keep a buffer zone between hot grills, ovens or cooktops and any people. A minimum of 9″ of countertop extension is recommended behind and to the sides of all hot appliances.
  • Never install a grill below an overhead combustible surface. Follow all manufacturer guidelines for safe clearances for combustible surfaces to the sides and back of appliances.
  • Make sure the gas shutoff valve is in an easily accessible location at least a few feet from any gas-burning appliance.
  • Store a fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Clip or round all outside corners of the countertop.
  • Provide ample lighting throughout the kitchen and on all walkways and steps leading to the kitchen.

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