What Are My Outdoor Kitchen Options Based on My Available Space?

Secret Courtyard with pool and Blaze Outdoor Kitchen

Just like with any building project, you need to size up your space before you break ground (sometimes literally) on a new outdoor kitchen. Your outdoor space will be unique to your wants and needs, but it’s not enough to just take a couple measurements and call it a day — planning an outdoor kitchen requires careful thought and comes with a variety of considerations involving utilities, component and appliance placement, and overall structure.

You’ll need to measure at some point, but first you should take stock of everything your backyard has to offer and seriously consider what you want from your outdoor space. We’ll walk you through each point so you know what questions to ask yourself the next time you start dreaming of a better backyard.

Outdoor Kitchens Require Utilities

Picture your indoor kitchen, and think of all the utilities in that space. There’s certainly water and electricity, and depending on your stovetop, there may even be natural gas. For your outdoor kitchen to be fully functional, you’ll need most or all of those utilities in that space, too. Utilities play a large role in the placement of your outdoor kitchen — it’s cheaper and easier to build one closer to existing lines (and, therefore, closer to the home) than it is to extend them to a detached space in the yard.

Start by identifying where your outdoor utility lines are located (in most jurisdictions, you can call 811 for utility services to mark your lines), then consider building your outdoor kitchen there. Not quite what you imagined? Revisit your budget and see if you have room for the additional cost of extending the gas, water, and electrical lines (and can stomach seeing your yard dug up as part of the work). Regardless of your decision, make sure you contact licensed professionals for any type of work on utility lines. Before you pick up the phone, though, let’s take a quick look at the most important considerations for each utility.

  • Providing Water to Your Outdoor Kitchen

    The simplest outdoor spaces can get by without water lines, but you’ll need to factor them into your outdoor kitchen planning if you want a sink or certain outdoor refrigeration appliances. Many homeowners save on installation costs by arranging their space so the outdoor sink mirrors the indoor sink — that way, they can tie into the existing water line by simply drilling through the wall. If you live in a particularly cold climate, you should plan to winterize your outdoor kitchen after every season to prevent frozen water from causing pipes to burst.

  • You’ll Need to Get Gas to Your Cooking Appliances

    If your home already has natural gas piped in, you’ll probably find it to be the most cost-effective fuel type for your grill. If not, using propane or a non-gas fuel will likely be less expensive than installing entirely new gas lines. Either way, the vast majority of outdoor kitchens include built-in natural gas grills and side burners, meaning many homeowners have to account for multiple gas lines. You can reduce costs and improve safety in that scenario by grouping gas appliances together and tying them into the same line with a single shutoff point.

  • Outdoor Refrigerators Need Electricity

    At minimum, you should plan for your BBQ island to have a few electrical outlets. That shouldn’t come as a shock: you’ll need them to operate appliances, plug in outdoor TVs and speakers, and connect grill lights and rotisseries. Just as important these days, however, is having a place for guests to charge their phones without forcing them indoors and away from the barbecue. Be sure your electrician equips your outdoor kitchen with ground fault circuit interrupter outlets (GFCIs), which greatly reduce the risk of electrocution, especially in wet areas.

Your Outdoor Kitchen’s Location

Unless you’re working with a very limited space, you have at least a couple options for where in your backyard you can actually construct your outdoor kitchen. The 2 main choices are attached to the home, typically on a pre-existing patio, or detached from the home as a stand-alone structure in the backyard. So, why would you pick one over the other? Let’s take a look together.

Outdoor Kitchens Attached to the Home

  • Featured in: Northshore Backyard Living

  • Pros:

    • Generally less expensive than detached outdoor kitchens
    • Proximity to the home means you can get away with purchasing fewer components
    • Less expensive to extend utility lines a shorter distance
    • Can cut costs by building on an existing slab instead of pouring a new one
    • Roof and walls of the home can provide shade for guests and refrigeration appliances
  • Cons:

    • Limited in terms of design choices
    • Guests may be more inclined to go into your home instead of staying outdoors
    • Results in more of an indoor-outdoor space than a true outdoor space
    • Your HOA or local building codes might not allow attached outdoor kitchens
    • Might require you to obtain a building permit

Outdoor Kitchens Detached from the Home

  • Featured in: Outdoor Bonus Room

  • Pros:

    • Starting from scratch gives you more options when designing your space
    • Your only option if your HOA or local building codes don’t allow attached outdoor kitchens
    • Provides a stand-alone outdoor entertainment area instead of an indoor-outdoor space
  • Cons:

    • Generally more expensive than attached outdoor kitchens
    • Extending or installing utility lines into your backyard can become quite costly
    • Distance from the home means you’ll need to purchase more components to make the space functional

Structure & Shelter for Outdoor Kitchens

Whether you want your outdoor kitchen to be covered or uncovered is the final piece of the backyard-evaluation puzzle. Shade for your guests — and for appliances that shouldn’t be exposed to direct sunlight — is highly desirable, but is it right for your outdoor kitchen project? We’ll cover everything you need to know about both options.

Covered Outdoor Kitchens

  • Featured in: Patriotic Kitchen

  • Pros:

    • Shade for guests and refrigeration units that shouldn’t be left in full sunlight
    • Helps protect grills and other components from the elements
    • If the space is attached to the home, it’s easier and cheaper to build a cover from the roof
    • Coverings give you a place to add lighting
  • Cons:

    • Additional costs in the form of materials and labor
    • Smoke and heat tend to stay trapped in covered spaces
    • Most local codes require covered outdoor kitchens to have a vent hood, which also increases costs
    • Some grills can’t be used below coverings

Uncovered Outdoor Kitchens

  • Featured in: Secret Courtyard

  • Pros:

    • No additional costs of materials and labor to build a covering
    • Some grill brands can’t be used below any type of covering
    • Heat and smoke can escape your outdoor kitchen without needing a vent hood
  • Cons:

    • No shade for guests and outdoor refrigeration appliances
    • Grills and outdoor kitchen components are more exposed to the elements and may wear down faster
    • You’ll have to get creative to add lighting to your outdoor space