Building an outdoor kitchen, are we? Stressed about it? Need to… vent? Even if you don’t (let us commend your pun tolerance), your kitchen will — because appropriate ventilation solves a lot of its worst problems. For one, wafting smoke isn’t fantastic around the guests (and that’s after already interfering with your own breathing). However, there is a slightly bigger concern outside of comfort. Your house is probably quite flammable, and ventilation prevents your expensive investment from turning into a large explosive planted right next to it.
Don’t fret. While vent hoods might seem complicated, you can get ahead of the curve with a few simple rules of thumb. In our quest for such rules of thumb, we consulted our hardworking service representatives for their most common customer questions. Read on and you, too, can gain peace of mind and confidence in your outdoor kitchen project. Have questions not listed here? Our outdoor ventilation experts are standing by at 1-877-743-2269 to answer all your outdoor living questions.
Common Outdoor Ventilation Questions
This will always depend on your jurisdiction’s local building codes and ordinances. Each one features a different set of ventilation rules, and they must always be followed to the letter. Here’s our golden rule: we recommend a vent hood for any grill that’s underneath a roof with at least 2 adjacent walls (or with poor cross-ventilation). The problems tend to come in when you get walls or a ceiling involved. If your grill stands under direct sunlight with great cross-ventilation, you’re probably in the clear… but check those local codes!
Yes, your vent hood should extend at least 6 inches wider than your grill head (with a 3-inch overhang on either side). If it’s more convenient, larger is perfectly fine — and likely guarantees you aren’t competing with smoke for that valuable oxygen space.
CFM stands for “cubic feet per minute.” In layman’s terms, the amount of air that moves through the vent every minute. More specifically, it’s the amount of airflow through the hood (or that can be moved by the blower motor through the duct system).
A conservative estimate suggests your grill needs 1 CFM for every 100 BTUs (with a minimum of 1,200 CFM for the baseline), but this will vary between manufacturers. Basing your vent hood CFM off of your grill’s maximum BTU count is a rock-solid way to guarantee you can handle grill’s smoke production — even when it decides your lungs are hogging all the oxygen and tries to go full smokestack.
Commonly, 36 inches above the countertop (not the top of the grill, the countertop) is a solid recommendation for vent hood installation. Your owner’s manual will be more specific.
Not necessarily. A single side burner just can’t output the kind of smoke a gas grill can. Standard vent hoods at least 6 inches wider than the grill — and with sufficient CFM, based on the grill’s BTU count — will take care of the side burner as well. That’s for standard use. If you’ve running the grill and side burner at maximum heat and loading them both up practically from edge to edge…? Your vent hood might want to throw in the towel on that one. If that’s the plan, we highly suggest higher CFM for your vent hood.
Some vent hoods can be ducted out through the wall, but most will need to snake through the ceiling of your outdoor kitchen structure. This depends heavily on the manufacturer, with a select few offering wall ducting options.
The mechanics of appropriate ducting are very much a case-by-case basis, but here’s some good news: the duct size will definitely be in the owner’s manual. There’s a gigantic asterisk here — it must be followed exactly in every single case. There’s no such thing as “close enough” here. If the ducting is the wrong size, the blower will either plummet in efficiency or it simply won’t be capable of moving the given CRM. Either end result presents real problems for you.
Speaking generally, if your grill or outdoor kitchen stands under a roofed structure with 2 adjacent walls or poor cross-ventilation, a vent hood is needed (remember that one time we told you our golden rule?). Vent hoods excel at two things you want: saving your outdoor kitchen from a reckoning of black, filmy grease in places you would never think to wipe down, and your safety. We know we put more words for that first one, but seriously — be safe. Buy a vent hood. If you have to ask, you’ll very likely need one.
Ductless vent hoods have their uses… but not outdoors, they don’t. These models tend to move nowhere near enough CFM to properly vent an outdoor kitchen or BBQ grill — and that goes for downdraft vent hoods, too. We seriously cannot be clearer that this is not the place to shave pennies.
Compared to non-adjustable models, a vent hood with an adjustable blower can save money and overhead noise. Tweaking the fan speed means tweaking the airflow, and that means less CFM — or, in this case, much more appropriate CFM. Logic follows that using only what you need costs less overall. An adjustable blower lets you turn down your vent hood to match cooking temperatures with cooking quantity (and there’s your formula for smoke). With non-adjustable blowers, that vent hood blower is either “on” or “off” — even if you’re flipping 2 burgers and the bare minimum of a single kebab.
The vast majority of outdoor vent hoods typically feature lighting. Just enough models skip it, so it’s still wise to double-check.
While decreasingly so, there still remain plenty of loud outdoor vent hoods apparently interviewing to become jet engines. This ranges from model to model — Vent-A-Hood, for instance, builds ones clearly set on a career change into “stealth jet engine” instead. Many of their models operate extremely quietly thanks to proprietary blower technology. Speaking more generally, some vent hoods overall are marketed specifically as quiet alternatives to their bigger, louder counterparts. They aren’t shy about it, either.
Sones are a measure of volume similar to decibels, but specific to exhaust fans (from small bathroom fans to large ventilation equipment). Any given vent hood’s sone rating will offer a ballpark for how loudly or quietly they’ll run. To contextualize this: quiet refrigerators settle around 1 sone, light rain would fall around 3-4 sones, and regular conversation with background noise tends to begin around 6-7 sones.
|Sone Level||Decibels (Rounded)||Equivalent Volume (Within 5 Feet)|
|0.5||24||Faint rustling leaves|
|2||38||A calm library|
|3||43||Babbling brook or light rain|
|5||51||Music played softly|
|7||56||Normal conversation volume|
|8||58||Standard clothes dryer|
A gas grill’s love for cookouts comes second only to running rampant with smoke. For suitable airflow (and, therefore, breathing room), cooking under any roofed structure with at least 2 adjacent walls likely offers nowhere near enough space to go vent-free. This doesn’t even scratch the surface of what’s in that smoke. We’re talking dirt particles, carbon, grease, a whole lot of nasty hydrocarbons that consider your lungs free real estate — and they’ve brought in the extended family. But let’s forget you for a second. What about your kitchen? Smoke stains are effectively grease and gunk that will wedge themselves into all sorts of crevices you’d never even conceive of. Keep your investment beautiful. Buy the vent hood. It’s cheaper and faster than professional cleanings (or a hospital trip).
While no gas grill is truly complete without a vent hood (unless you’re cooking in a completely open location with proper ventilation), electric grills and pellet grills are a little more situational. These depend on the manufacturer, grill size, and local building codes. Any single source that isn’t the appropriate department for your local jurisdiction is out to sabotage you. Do you really want to be stuck with an unusable outdoor kitchen because Uncle Google said it was fine and you made eye contact with a code inspector?
If it makes a lot of smoke — spoiler alert: electric smokers are very good at this — then it probably requires a vent hood. If you’re cooking in an enclosed structure at all, your electric smoker is a near-inevitability for the “yes” column. This is specific mostly to electric smokers but, again, check those local codes as well as the owner’s manual of your smoker.
We can tell you right now where “how often” you grill falls on the vent hood scale: it doesn’t. How many times a week or a month you rev up the grill changes nothing about its smoke production (unless you’re not cleaning it — if so, congrats, you’ve made it worse). Every time it roars to life, it generates smoke. If a code inspector swings by and throws the book at your outdoor kitchen, we can tell you about “how often” a week you’ll be legally allowed to use that grill: you won’t.
Charcoal grills and vent hoods go together about as well as skyrocketing heat and, well… forget the metaphor because, no, you should absolutely not do that. With charcoal grills, you have no real control over the BTUs being produced during the cooking process; as far as you’re concerned, they have no maximum temperature. The kinds of scorching heat it takes to damage (or destroy) a vent hood can be child’s play to a charcoal grill.
Best practices are to always vent your outdoor kitchen island with vent panels, no matter the fuel type of your cooking appliances. For gas grills, vent panels are an absolutely necessity — gas, you might recall, has a nasty habit of becoming trapped in the island if accidentally left on. Any island without ventilation is a very expensive, very dangerous combustible balloon filled with explosive fuel. Just to underline the earlier point: trapped heat doesn’t care which fuel type you used. Install vent panels every time, and give it somewhere to go.
Place at least 2 vent panels on every BBQ island — and note that placement is fuel-type dependent. As propane gas is heavier than air, install those vent panels low on the island walls. Natural gas is lighter than air, so the opposite is true; place the vents above the fuel. Non-gaseous options follow this “higher” rule, as their smoke wafts upward. Venture into further detail by reading our short article explaining grill vents and outdoor kitchen ventilation.
Blasphemy! Dedicate at least 2 vent panels for a moderate BBQ island, or one every 4 feet for those larger outdoor kitchen islands. There’s really no such thing as “too much” ventilation.
Outdoor bar islands absolutely require vent panels as well. Here’s why: those outdoor cooling appliances lean on proper ventilation to evaporate condensed water and operate properly. Any such kitchen islands featuring outdoor refrigerators, ice machines, or kegerators need to be properly vented to last their lifetimes (or any remotely reasonable number of years — and if you didn’t follow the owner’s manual, we bid you good luck with the warranty.)