Outdoor Kitchen Dos & Don'ts

Ten common mistakes and how to avoid them
By Russ Faulk
February 16, 2010

With spring just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about outdoor kitchen design. Following are the 10 most common design pitfalls for outdoor kitchens, according to Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet—as well as some suggestions to keep from making them:

1. Lighting. Perhaps the most common outdoor kitchen design pitfall is insufficient task lighting for cooking after dark. Make sure there is enough task and ambient lighting throughout the work and dining areas. It is especially important to properly illuminate the grill, ensuring its hood does not block light from shining on the cooking area. In addition, include safety lighting on paths and steps leading to the kitchen.

2. Working with the architecture. Don’t design the outdoor kitchen to look like an afterthought on the property. If the kitchen is located away from the house, think about the home’s sightlines; design the kitchen as a visible destination. Use materials that complement the architecture of the home. If the kitchen is against the house, create an architectural transition such as a pergola, which adds height to the kitchen.

3. Countertops. Materials are often chosen based on appearance without considering stain resistance and durability. Select materials that are easy to clean, will weather the elements and stay cool to the touch in direct sunlight. A hot counter makes for an unhappy cook. Test material samples by leaving them in direct sunlight for several hours.

4. Room to work. Most outdoor kitchens suffer from insufficient counter space. Even the smallest outdoor kitchen needs at least 3 ft. of open counter space and proper landing zones next to the grill, sink, pizza oven and any other equipment. Avoid placing the grill or sink at the end of a counter run.

5. Managing rainwater. Pooling or misdirected water causes homeowner frustration. Help keep rain from dirtying cabinets or shortening their life by cutting drip edges into the underside of the countertops. If using a backsplash, slope the counter slightly away, preventing water from pooling at the backsplash.

6. Shelter. Protect the kitchen from sun or rain with a sheltering structure; use it to include options that keep the kitchen comfortable, including task and ambient lighting. Add ceiling fans to circulate air and discourage flying insects. Install radiant heating units to extend use of the kitchen into the cooler months. Finally, an appropriate ventilation hood protects any overhead, combustible structure. It also controls soot and grease under noncombustible structures.

7. Environment. Make sure you consider shade, sun and drainage patterns when laying out the kitchen. Prevailing wind conditions are also a factor. Placing a smoky grill upwind of the dining area can ruin parties.

8. Electrical. With undercounter refrigeration a popular item in outdoor kitchens, good electrical planning is essential. A tripped GFI outlet behind a refrigerator is virtually impossible to reset. Install one or more GFI breakers in the home's electrical panel for the entire outdoor kitchen. If a circuit is tripped, the kitchen can be reset from the panel. Another common electrical mistake is neglecting to provide outlets for above-counter electrics, including the grill's rotisserie motor. Check the manufacturer's specification and make sure there is an outlet the motor can plug into without using an extension cord.

9. Gas supply. Insufficient gas pressure limits the cooking power of the kitchen. Make sure the plumber accounts for the total Btu of all equipment and the length of the gas line to determine the diameter of the pipe needed. If the line is too small, the effectiveness of gas appliances is reduced. Gas shut-off valve placement is another common error. It should be easy to access and located at least 3 ft.—but not more than about 12 ft.—from the grill.

10. Entertainment. It is a multimedia world now, but many plans do not include audio and video cabling as part of the design. While not everyone wants an outdoor television, most enjoy temporary use of a flat-panel television outside. By running cables to a shaded spot in the outdoor kitchen, the homeowner can enjoy throwing a Kentucky Derby party or other televised events. 

If the music source for the outdoor speakers is inside the home, install an exterior volume control so the homeowner isn't running in and out of the house to make adjustments.

Russ Faulk, VP of product development for Kalamazoo Outdoor Gourmet, is based in Chicago. He regularly works with designers from across the country, offering guidance and answering questions about outdoor kitchen design.
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