How to Design An Outdoor Kitchen

Editor’s Note: This is an updated and revised edition for 2018.

There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to designing an outdoor kitchen area. Since a lot of people have different needs, budgets, climates, space, etc, I am going to approach this article by offering up some suggestions for outdoor kitchen components that can be bought one at a time to fit into tight budgets and some that can be set up for a season and taken down if needed. At the same time, any of these components could be used in an outdoor kitchen that has some permanent structures like counter tops or rock work.

Sure – there are outdoor kitchen set ups that are all stainless steel, have countertops, fridges, ect all built in and you can sure order one but they will set you back $3,000-$5,000 or more and you have to be able to find a suitable shaped and sized space.

I am glad for the opportunity to write this up because even after cooking outside and in for many years, there is always more to learn and the availability of appliances, tables, ect is better than ever thanks to internet shopping. Let’s start with some basic questions to know before you get to deciding exactly what you need to look for.

How much space do you have?

A mobile outdoor kitchen set up might be the answer if you have little space or live in a climate where you have a shorter season that you can use it or at least need to protect it a lot from the weather.

If you have a patio or other area in mind then get out a tape measure and see what space you have to dedicated to it. Make sure to leave enough room for movement.

Draw it out

You can use graph paper or if you are savvy enough with computers, a design program. If your kitchen needs to all fit together just so then you need to consider all the measurements to make the most of your space. Can you fit that 4 ft long range in there and still have room for a cart? It may take several drafts to get the layout the way you want.

Consider flow carefully

Some of you may have noticed that I have a really small kitchen when I am doing food related articles. My entire kitchen is slightly larger than 7 feet by 10 feet but since the layout is good, it is not hard to cook in because things are easy to reach. I was lucky that Matt really thought out the flow when we were figuring out how to finish the kitchen.

When planning out your outdoor kitchen, think about the food prep process and how you will be able to move from one station to the next. You can get a lot more done and do it more safely if the flow is good. If you have outdoor kitchen components that can be moved around with ease then you can change up the flow if it is not working for you.

Different components to consider

If you put back a lot of your own food then you need an outdoor kitchen that can help you with processing and keep the rest of your house from being taken over with the messes that go along with that.

A gas range or several eyes

This is essential for hot water bath or pressure canning. You need standard eyes not the giant turkey fryer eyes or anything like that. You can even set these up temporarily if you get the right thing. Easily adjustable gas range tops are nice to have.

Actually, when Matt and I lived in the camper while building our house, we had a little gas stove that we eventually pulled out and set outside and I canned on that. It is not pretty but it works. Sometimes you have to get innovative when roughing it and trying to get things done with any efficiency!

This 2 burner station packs a lot of cooking power and the price is right. Each burner has an output of an amazing 30,000 btus. There is an included windscreen and you can get preseasoned cast iron griddles that fit over each eye so you can have a very large cooking surface.

This unit offers 4 propane burners that have an output of 30,000 btus each and comes with a handy rolling cart. This whole thing folds down for easy storage and transport. Like all Camp Chef products there are a lot of accessories that you can add. Even this can be turned into a giant grill or griddle if you get 4 cast iron grill/griddle

Sink

A sink is nice if you can manage water. There is all kinds of reasons to want a sink from washing produce to hands to getting potable water to boil in order to can foods or simply cook with.

BBQ and Smoker

The easiest way to achieve this is to buy a BBQ that is made to be a smoker when needed. The better ones have two sections which is nice if you want to smoke meats and grill up some dinner at the same time. Being able to figure out how to multitask when you are starting out homesteading or farming is a major bonus. These have a built in temperature gauge which is nice to have too.

Char-Griller 3001 Grillin' Pro 40,800-BTU Gas Grill

Counterspace

Movable stainless steel carts or foldable racks offer inexpensive yet quality solutions to counterspace issues. If you are not going with a build in countertop and cabinets then the stainless steel food prep carts offer a lot of space to set things and they are easier to sanitize. Also stainless is going to hold up to outdoor conditions better than just about anything besides stone.

Gridmann Stainless Steel Commercial Kitchen Prep & Work Table with Backsplash, 48 x 24 Inches

Good Set Of Grill Tools

You need a good set of tools if you are going to smoke meats or prepare much in the way of food outside. These should be sturdy. Now is not the time to get the cheapest thing in the store. You might look for the same brands that you trust in knives.

Rada Cutlery

I love this company not only for being made in the USA and affordable but for the excellent quality and utilitarian characteristics that they have. Along with Liberty Tableware, they are one of the few USA manufacturers of small kitchenware out there.

I bought the steak knife set and they are the knives I use the most. You can get quality USA made for as low as budget store cutlery.

You will want some tongs, meat forks, spatulas, pizza cutter, bread knife, etc. Part of it really depends on what you plan on using this outdoor kitchen for.

Propane Canisters

You may want to invest in a few extra propane canisters with an outdoor kitchen. If you are using propane grills then having an extra propane supply is advisable.

They are lightweight, you can exchange them at almost any gas station, grocery, or farm supply store out there.

If you don’t want to fool with propane contracts or larger tanks, you come out better with the 20 lb tanks. Since you can exchange them (it does cost more than having them filled at a dedicated propane dealer),

you can be reassured of always having a tank. If a problem is found with a tank it is not your problem because when you exchange it that type of thing is built into the cost.

Coolers

This is one area where there are a lot of solutions. The fanciest set ups might have a dedicated small fridge or freezer. For those with something more basic in mind, there are small 12 volt chillers or even a mini fridge. Part of this depends on your proximity to and the type of power that you can have where needed. Just some old coolers will do.

When Matt and I were first starting out together we bought a giant blue cooler and we have butchered a lot of livestock for the freezer using that. It is still kicking around after 9 years If you are buying new then go with the coolers that claim to keep your drinks cold or ice in the cooler for 5 days. Insulative capacity is worth the extra dollars since it will serve you better over the years.

Heat handling mitts and pot holders

This is super important to have on hand. It is always tempting to move fast and touch something hot for a brief moment. Having the right thing around to handle hot items will make for a better outdoor cooking experience for everyone and reduce injuries. I have cooked thousands of meals over the years and I can tell you that no matter how careful you are, accidents happen.

I will tell you when they happen: when you are tired and at the end of the day. It is hard to know when to call it when you are trying to get as much done as you can on a homestead or if you only have two people doing it all and not really anyone to tag in when it is the end of the day and you have been cutting up meat and pressure canning all day.

Like I said, some smokers have a thermometer included and that is a great thing. When you are making your own BBQ or using one that doesn’t have this feature built in you still need to make sure that temperatures for smoking are maintained for the safety and quality of your meats!

You may also want to have a meat temperature thermometer to check internal temps of meats you are grilling or smoking.

Hooks and hangers

There is always the argument for having a lot of ways to hang stuff up or organize it. This is one thing that is very much customizable for a space. Just make sure that hooks and hangars are durable enough for the job and can take some outdoor weather and exposure over the years. Some plastics do not hold up so well in the sun. Metal is the norm for outdoor durability.

Stonework considerations

A lot of outdoor kitchens have some stone work housing and masonry. This is something you can do yourself for a lot less money. The main thing with laying block and rock is that you can only do so much height per day and you need to make sure things are level and take your time. A few videos and a book might help but plenty of people do gorgeous rock work.

We did our own smoker oven out of field stone we gathered from around here. It took a bit of time but it was really inexpensive to build. There are a lot of pre cast and all the same size bricks and pavers that you can pick up at home improvement stores. Just be sure that if they are going to be exposed to heat that they are rated to take it. Veneer stones and others are not always made to deal with the rigors that a big old firepit brick can.

Fire Brick

If you have a woodstove then there is a good chance that it is lined with firebrick. These can be bought at any home improvement store. They cost a bit but if you line any firepits or BBQ fireboxes with it you will get better results and heating. Over the years firebrick may occasionally need to be replaced.

Design Inspiration

There is something to be said for getting a book of designs or looking around on Pinterest for design inspiration for your outdoor kitchen. Even though your design may wind up being totally different, sometimes seeing other designs is the spark that leads to a great idea.

Winter and fall purchases can save money

For extra savings if you are not in a hurry to get your kitchen going, you can catch outdoor kitchen supplies in the off season at a major discount. They need to move that smoker and grill out to make room for seasonal products and next years grill. Tables, chairs, and other outdoor patio accessories are sometimes 75% off.

Used purchases

Sometimes buying used is a good thing. A lot of people buy grills and patio stuff and realize they don’t use it, they want something different, or they have to move and don’t want to take it with them. You can take advantage of this, especially in the off season.

Used appliance stores that offer a warranty can be worth looking at. We have a used place nearby that has been around for ages and offers a 90 day warranty. They regularly have beverage chiller style fridges and various other appliances. You can let the used places know what you are looking for and they will call you if something comes in. This is of course if you are not in a hurry to get your kitchen going at once.

A piece at a time

If you just want to work towards a kitchen a piece at a time then prioritize your needs. For most people, I would say start out with some propane burners and a cart for counter space when it comes to larger pieces. The utensils and heat mitts are also a must when first starting out.

Recommendation:What I would get if I was putting together a quick outdoor kitchen that is mobile and around $1K or less

Here is a quick list and budget of what I would get if I was putting together an outdoor kitchen that could do a little of everything and didn’t want to get into building any structures.

  • 4 gas burner cart $290.00
  • BBQ Smoker $200.00
  • Stainless Steel Cart $128
  • Mitts $20
  • Utensils $50
  • Filled New 20 lb propane tank: $60
  • Outdoor Oven $160-$200
  • Camp Chef Outdoor Oven & Stove

Around $800-$1000 allowing for some variance. You may already have propane tanks to use or you may not care about an outdoor oven.

This is not much more than what a lot of people pay for just a grill. Doing it this way means that you can have an outdoor kitchen set up within hours if you have everything on hand. There is very little assembly required for any of this.

You can also use this set up for big family events or even fundraisers if you are involved with any charitable groups. Plenty of catering operations started out with just a little set up too!

If you have a family vacation, you also have the versatility of being able to take one or more of your set up with you.

What would you include in your outdoor kitchen? In this article, I concentrated on function and not as much the beautiful side of outdoor kitchens. As a prepper it is easy to think about function first and add the pretty in later! Rock work and block work seem to be the way to go when it comes to making some things more permanent.

About the Author: Samantha Biggers lives on a mountain in North Carolina with her husband and pack of loyal hounds in a house her husband and she built themselves. When not writing she is working in their vineyard, raising Shetland sheep, or helping her husband with whatever the farm and vineyard can throw at them. 


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10 Responses to “How to Design An Outdoor Kitchen”

  1. I would include a butcher block. Or at least allow space for one that can be moved in bad weather.

    Reply
  2. This in I’m saving! It will come in handy as we are designing our new house as a result of hurricane Harvey.

    One thing I didn’t see mentioned was cooking with wood. Should not you base design be built around wood? Propane is $3.50 to $4.00/gal right now and in a SHTF situation, would most likely be scarce and expensive. Yes, I have a 400 gallon tank, but even that will eventually run out.

    Tex

    Reply
    • Yep Tscout… I’ll use modern while STILL available. But at 54yo, anything and i mean anything i do/build now will solely be on the “primitive” plain… just recd my MANUAL grain mill last wknd. Wifey found us an AA/PC 15qt. old #7 for $10, updated safety stuff for 60!!! (I’m stoked, i can pressure can now!!)

      Either way, very good article with lots of good advice for everyone! Thank you Mrs. Biggers

    • Yes, wood is always about . My outdoor kitchen has a pizza oven, smoke house, wood BBQ, gas BBQ, sink, and laundry tubs as cold storage. It cost very little as most items were second hand including the bricks, The kids helped me build it as a family project, took ages to build but 15 years later it is still as wonky as the day it was built.

  3. I HAD A FLORIDA KITCHEN BACK IN 2001 WHEN I LIVED IN FLORIDA. MY NEIGHBOR THREW OUT A PERFECTLY ALMOST NEW ELECTRIC STOVE .SO I ASKED TO HAVE IT .AND THEY SAID YES. I TOOK IT AND PUT IT IN MY UTILITY SHED NEXT TO MY WASHER DRYER.AND I ALREADY HAD A COUNTER IN THERE SO I ADDED MY BBQ GILL AS WELL IT WORKED GREAT AS IN THE SUMMER IN FLORIDA THE KITCHEN CAN RAISE THE TEMP 20 DIGRESS .AND I COULD BBQ AS WELL AS TEND THE STOVE/OVEN. IF YOUR IN A CLIMATE SUCH AS THE FLORIDA SO CAL ETC ,IT MAKES SENSE TO HAVE ONE .I DIDNT PAY ANYTHING.

    Reply
  4. Seriously, Rada cutlery. Cutlery is one thing where you get what you pay for. I purchased my kitchen knives 34 years ago, yes in 1984. I paid the princely sum of $500 for 8 blades, a sharpening steel, and a pair if shears. They look almost as good today as they did when I bought them. Several of the blades get almost daily use. My knives are also made in the USA.

    Reply
  5. This will work great, as soon as i move 1000 miles south

    Reply
  6. Nice project but the fire ants would take it over in 24 hrs where I live.

    Reply
  7. samantha, just wanted to compliment you on another fine, well thought out article. I always enjoy reading whatever you write. I like your style and competence! Great job! ellen

    Reply
  8. Great article. We are in the process of discussing an outdoor kitchen for canning. I hate heating up the house when canning and my kitchen is small with a serious lack of counter space. I have a good cast iron two burner gas unit. We are thinking an 8 foot counter with a sink on one end with a pot faucet on it.

    Reply

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