Outdoor Kitchen Cost and Features


Doing It Yourself or Hiring a Pro

Throughout this book you will find projects that are medium to low priced. This section will help you choose some modest-cost approaches to building an outdoor kitchen. The aim is not just to be cheap but also to produce, for a reasonable price, a sound, durable kitchen that is easy to maintain. After all, if a counter has to be rebuilt or a grill replaced after a few years, you will probably lose money in the long run. The options shown in this section, as well as the projects and building methods shown in the rest of the book, have proven track records in a variety of climates.

The approach you choose may depend on local conditions. If you will hire the work out, you may not be able to find a contractor to build the way you want. If you are willing to build yourself, however, nearly all of the materials shown will be available, either at a home center or from online sources.

Getting More with Less

Getting More with Less

If space and budget considerations limit the size of your outdoor kitchen, you can still get a lot of mileage from a counter that contains the basics: a grilling unit, food preparation space, and storage space for tools. As long as you have these basic ingredients, you will have plenty of cooking and entertaining options, and you will be spared some of the hassles of building a larger kitchen, like applying for permits and running utility lines.

If space and money are not that big a problem, on the other hand, you can plan for a larger kitchen and expand the size or add amenities over time as your budget permits. Experts recommend establishing zones. Most smaller outdoor kitchens will have two zones: a hot zone for cooking and a dry zone for food preparation and storage. Bigger outdoor kitchens may also have a cold zone for chilling food and beverages and a wet zone for a sink or beverage well or both.

Once you have determined which zones you would like, think about arranging them in the “work triangle” used in indoor kitchens so that access to your grill, sink, and refrigerator will be easy and unobstructed. Builders say a common mistake is to skimp on counter space. It is important to have space on each side of a grill and sink— at least 16–24 inches, which is enough for a large platter. It can be awkward when you have company and have insufficient space to serve food or put out utensils.

Think about storage and organization for your kitchen. What do you need, and where will you put it? Common items stored in outdoor kitchens include charcoal or a propane tank, cooking utensils, garbage and recycling receptacles, cleaning supplies, napkins, dishes, serving pieces, glasses, and the like. If the kitchen is small, consider hanging tools above the food-preparation area—a simple metal bar with hooks is a good solution. Open shelves or built-in niches that hold baskets make it easy to bring out supplies you need. A drawer under the countertop is always useful. The goal is to plan so as to reduce the number of times you need to walk in and out of the house.

This large U-shape kitchen has lots of amenities, but the stucco and tile counter that hold it all together are not expensive. Because the outdoor kitchen is near the house, running utility lines for water, gas, and electric lights and outlets is easier.

If you would like the option of cooking with both charcoal and gas, you can plan a counter for both and install the second unit as the budget permits. In a kitchen like this, the low shelf for the kamado grill could be used for other purposes (say, a basket of supplies) until you are ready to buy the grill.

This honeymoon kitchen for two fits a lot of utility in a small space. Inexpensive ceramic tiles top the stucco counter, which is painted to match the house exterior, and the two-level countertop compactly provides both food preparation and dining space.

This rambling patio leads to a modest-sized brick structure with upper and lower countertops, housing a grill with integrated storage doors and drawers. For a small price and size, the setup provides plenty of cooking and entertaining possibilities.

Building a Lightweight Counter Inexpensively

Building a Lightweight Counter Inexpensively

When you look at a typical outdoor kitchen counter, you see the facing—stone, tile, stucco, or wood—and the doors and appliances. It is usually not possible to see how it was built. What looks like a solid structure of stone may actually be built with wood, backer board, and thin stone or faux-stone veneer. Many of the materials used for building outdoor kitchens are inexpensive, but not all are inexpensive to install. Concrete blocks, for example, do not cost a lot, but if you build a counter with block, it will be so heavy that you will need to first excavate and pour a thick reinforcedconcrete footing. A handy homeowner may be able to install the block, but the job calls for practiced skill and so is usually left to professional masons. As a result, a concrete-block structure can be quite expensive.

When we talk about a “lightweight” counter, we don’t mean that you can it pick it up and walk off with it; it will be solid and immovable. (The countertop itself will be quite heavy.) But counters built with studs and backer board or with PVC sheets or other lightweight materials have several advantages:

  • They can rest on an existing deck or patio, as long as it is structurally sound. If you want to put one in the lawn, you can install a simple sand-and-gravel patio or small deck to support it.
  • Building is more homeowner friendly. We will show you how to cut and assemble wood and metal studs and attach backer board. This calls for basic skills, not special masonry techniques.
  • Building will be quick. You won’t have to pour a footing and wait a few days for it to cure. You can simply start building.
  • If you make a mistake while working, it will be easy to fix—which often is not the case with concrete block.

All in all, building the structure (not including the decorative facing) for an 8-foot outdoor counter will run an estimated $130 for the studs (metal or wood), backer board, and fasteners. If you build with stackable block, prices can vary widely depending on the type of block you buy. In general, you can expect to pay around $5 per block, which means that an 8-foot counter with a number of openings in the front may cost somewhere around $250.

Is It Strong Enough?

If you live in an area where all of the other outdoor counters are made of concrete block, you may hear a contractor tell you that a stud-and-backer-board counter will not be strong enough to support a heavy countertop. Rest assured, however, that many builders around the country build this way, and they do not worry about strength. A wall made using studs and backer board and covered with ½-inch-thick stucco is extremely strong and can easily support even a heavy concrete countertop, as well as the weightiest of outdoor grills, with no problem.

A Couple of Really Inexpensive Counters

Here are two simple 7-foot counters that will look familiar once you have perused the rest of this guide. They were built in order to take many of the how-to photos in sections 4 and 5, and this guide provides full instructions for building them. Someone with basic how-to skills can build either counter for a low price over the course of a couple of weekends. Both use stainless-steel components—grill, door, and sink— that are moderately priced but of good quality.

We built the white stucco counter with the kamado grill and concrete countertop over the course of 5 working days. (The process was slowed substantially because we had to stop and take the photos.) In addition to the working days, the project required 7 days to allow the stucco coats to cure and 7 days to allow the concrete countertop to harden. This counter offers the popular kamado-style grill, plus a side burner and a receptacle for appliances.

MATERIALS COSTS

  • 2x4s and nails for framing: $35
  • Concrete backer board: $40
  • Stucco (base coat and finish coat, plus stucco lath): $50
  • Metal door: $220
  • Cedar for wood doors, shelf, and trim: $35
  • Concrete and colorant for countertop: $35
  • Kamado grill (large unit from the Saffire Company):
  • $1,000 Side burner with piping for gas hookup: $350
  • Electrical receptacle, cable, box, and conduit: $30
  • TOTAL COST: $2,065.

We built the counter shown below right with two helpers. It took us 2½ days to build. Were it not for the time needed for photos, we could have completed it in less than 2 days. We saved a good deal of money by purchasing used granite slabs from craigslist. This unit features a granite slab countertop and slate tile siding, a 36-inch gas grill of good quality, and a bar sink. We framed the counter using steel studs.

MATERIALS COSTS

  • Metal studs and screws: $30
  • Concrete backer board and screws: $40
  • Slate tiles (for $1.20 each at a home center): $60
  • Mortar and grout for slate tiles: $30
  • Granite slab (from craigslist): $150
  • Gas grill: $800
  • Bar sink with faucet and plumbing: $200
  • TOTAL COST: $1,130

A Couple of Really Inexpensive Counters A Couple of Really Inexpensive Counters

Counter Facing

Counter Facing

Some homeowners choose pricy stone facing for their counters, and you may feel it is worth the cost to get exactly the look you want. But you should also consider some less costly (in some cases, dirt cheap) options. (When estimating prices, we consider a typical 8-foot counter to be 3 feet tall and to have gaps for the grill and doors, for an estimated 45 square feet.)

You can apply STUCCO quickly, using either stucco mix or a surfacebonding agent, and color it while mixing or paint it after it has dried. It will cost less than $50 to cover a typical 8-foot-long counter. If you use stucco mix, you will need to apply a scratch coat, wait a couple of days, and then apply the top coat. If you use a surface-bonding agent, it is a one-step process. You will need only a couple of hand tools.

You can buy FLAGSTONES made for paving a patio at a stone yard for a low price; you will probably pay by the pound (or portion of a ton). Cutting and assembling flagstones on the side of a counter will be a bit challenging, but it does not call for special skills. You will set them in mortar, which is also an inexpensive material. A grinder, a couple of cold chisels, and a trowel or two are all of the tools you will need.

SLATE TILE produces an elegant surface with interesting variations in color. Slate prices are all over the place. Some types can be pricy, but good-looking slate often goes on sale at home centers for less than $2 a square foot, meaning that covering an 8-foot counter will cost less than $100. (Inexpensive slate may be too fragile to use on the top of a counter but will do just fine on the sides if you fully embed it in thinset mortar.)

You might want to use CERAMIC TILE for siding. Tiles may be large and earth-toned or small and varied in color. Of course, ceramic tile varies widely in price, but many types cost less than $2 per square foot, for a total cost of a little over $100 once you add the thinset mortar.

BRICK or BRICK VENEER can run from $4 a square foot and up. If you like the look of used common brick, you may be able to scavenge from a demolition site. If you want glazed or another kind of decorative brick, the price can more than double. If you have masonry skills, you may choose to build counter walls using brick instead of a stud-and-backerboard structure.

FAUX STONES and NATURAL STONES made for decorative siding also come in a great range of sizes and colors, as well as prices. At the low end, veneer products cost about $5 per square foot, so covering an 8-foot counter may cost about $225. But it can cost a lot more. Veneer stones are generally easier to install than flagstones or brick. If the stones you choose need to have mortared joints, expect to spend an extra day jointing.

This unusual arrangement combines stone facing with a concrete surface that seems to spill over from the (concrete) countertop.

Applying stone facing can be an opportunity to show creative flair. Here, river rocks with rounded edges are arranged in a flowing pattern.

Composite decking can also be used as a siding material.

This counter’s siding is made of natural limestone in a range of hues.

A counter made of dry-stack blocks is finished once the stacking is done. A simple dark-red horizontal band adds just the right decorative touch.

Cabinet Options

Cabinet Options

You can make a counter by joining cabinets together, much as you would in an indoor kitchen. Of course, the materials need to be more durable and weather resistant. Cabinets made of PVC or polymer sheets can run about $800 for an 8-foot counter, including the hinges and knobs. You will end up with a clean look that you can paint or leave alone.

Wooden cabinets vary greatly in materials price, depending on the kind of wood used. If you build with ipé, cumaru, or other Brazilian hardwoods, the cost will be steep; the same cabinets made with cedar will be less than half the cost. Wooden cabinets may employ fine cabinetry, or they can be quickly cobbled together using boards (or even sheets of wood siding) and rough doors.

Another option is to build with composite decking, which is an expensive material (though costs vary widely) but requires no maintenance once built. Making cabinets like these yourself will require basic woodworking skills. PVC and polymer cabinets may cost more than building a basic stud-and-backer-board counter structure, but they save a good deal of money when it comes to doors, and they offer greater storage flexibility.

Made with PVC sheets, this clean-looking cabinet is topped by a variegated stone countertop.

The siding and doors of this counter are made of vertical hardwood strips for a seamless look.

Woodworking cabinets.

PVC cabinetry, shown here with beadboard panels, is attractive enough for an indoor kitchen. You may use colored sheets, or paint them when you are done with construction.

Countertops to Choose

Countertops to Choose

All those gleaming granite countertops that you see in magazine photos (and in this book) may make you think that an outdoor counter is too elite a product for you. Fortunately, there are other attractive options, and even granite may not be as expensive as you think.

Granite Slab. Let’s start with granite, which makes so many homeowners drool. As long as you do not require a fabulous granite slab that makes a one-of-a-kind design statement, there are ways to save money:

  • Shop. Granite fabricating has become common in many areas, which means competition and lower prices: it may be possible to get granite cut and installed for less than $30 a square foot. Also check tile stores and home centers; some sell 8-foot-long slabs for modest prices. This varies from region to region, but it seems to be a growing trend. A retailer may even deliver to your house for a reasonable price.
  • Durability has nothing to do with how much you pay for granite. (Surprise!) In fact, the really high-end material is often significantly more fragile, especially if it features stunning veins, which are actually almost cracks.
  • If you can’t get a good price in your area, check out online sources. A number of companies will sell and ship slabs for far less than it costs to buy locally. Shipment may take a week or more.
  • You can use a series of short pieces in an outdoor counter because the grill interrupts the flow. After designing your counter, you may find you need only 4-foot-long and shorter pieces. (You can also discreetly splice behind the grill.) Often, granite outlets sell inexpensive leftover remnants, which may serve your purposes for far less money.
  • You can sometimes (not always) save significant money by cutting the granite yourself. This may sound improbable, but it is really not that difficult.
  • Consider used slabs. Granite and quartz slabs have been around for a while, so homeowners remodeling their kitchens often will sell their old countertops. Also, check demolition companies, which also may advertise online. We bought the slabs from craigslist for $100. We were able to transport and cut the slab with a couple of helpers and a pickup truck.

Quartz. Because it resists staining so well and never needs sealing, quartz is probably the most practical countertop material for outdoor use. It may be more difficult to find cheaply than granite, though not impossible. Try the suggestions for granite that appear at left. You can cut quartz in the same way as you cut granite.

Concrete. The materials for a concrete countertop are stunningly low in price; an 8-foot top will likely cost less than $100. Making one yourself will be a bit of a challenge. But it’s a satisfying creative project. Otherwise, contact a contractor who specializes in decorative concrete. There are two basic types: (1) An artistic concrete countertop fabricator can come up with interesting ideas and produce a top that is silky smooth, like an indoor top. (2) You may be able to find a local concrete contractor who pours and finishes decorative concrete driveways and patios. He or she may also do countertops on the side. The finished product may be a bit rougher, but it will probably cost a good deal less.

Tile. You can tile a countertop yourself or hire a contractor to do it for you. Tile prices vary greatly. The durability of a tiled top also varies greatly: follow our instructions closely to produce one that is durable and cleanable. You may be tempted to create your own artistic tiled top, using a crazy-quilt-like selection of small tiles or tile shards. Such a mosaic can be quite inexpensive, but there are risks: unless you are an accomplished tile artist, the results may look amateurish. In addition, laying many little tiles for a countertop that will be exposed to the outdoors can lead to a surface that cracks and comes apart in a few years.

Beige granite, 3.4 in. thick, can sometimes be found for a low price. The lighter color means that it will not get too hot in the sun.

Limestone, which needs to be sealed to protect against stains, makes a handsome statement for—in many locales—a reasonable price.

Stone-look porcelain tiles are durable and will stay put if correctly installed.

Flagstones are an unusual but appealing choice because they are inexpensive and durable.

Large ceramic or quarry tiles create a classy monolithic look when installed neatly and with matching grout.

Dark Countertops Can Get Hot

Gleaming dark countertops are beautiful to look at but may be too hot in the summer. Plan for shade to avoid wilting lettuce and melting ice in your drinks—or go with a lighter color.

Tumbled or honed granite has a rough texture and needs to be sealed, but its natural color and imperfections have irresistible warmth.

Bluestone slabs have a slightly grainy texture. The chipped edge contributes to the rustic rough-hewn feel that these slabs impart.

Polished granite is perhaps the most popular countertop material. Varieties like this, with a prominent pattern of veins, tend to cost more.

Carefully selected flagstones can form a surface that is heavily ridged but fairly level, so it is not difficult to clean.

Hardwood is an unusual choice for an outdoor countertop, but it can work as long as it is well protected.

This limestone countertop, with its rough-hewn edge, is expertly cut to snake around an under-mounted sink with a meandering design.

Mosaic tiles can add artistic flair; here, natural-stone tiles with solid, rounded edging are a stylish, understated choice.

Doors and Drawers

Doors and Drawers

The basic ingredients for an outdoor kitchen are the grill and a food-preparation surface, but it is always nice to have storage space. One way to create storage is by incorporating ready-made weather-resistant cabinets in your design; another way is to build cavities for storage, to which you can either add doors or use as open shelving. Structures built using masonry often have small storage spaces because the concrete blocks used for building them take up so much space.

Grill manufacturers sell doors and drawers in various sizes. Shop around for the best prices; online sources may be best. If you buy stainless steel (the usual choice), get units with at least 20-gauge steel. (The lower the gauge number, the thicker the steel.) If you expect heavy use, go for 18-gauge or thicker steel. A brushed or matte finish is better than a shiny finish, which will readily show scratches, smudges, and fingerprints. Try to buy all of the components from the same company for a coordinated look.

A door will be a good deal less expensive than a drawer unit, but unless you install a slide-out unit for inside the door (for a garbage can or charcoal bin, for example), you will need to get down on your knees to get at things inside. Door cavities are fine for storing large items like a bag of charcoal, but you may want to splurge a bit for drawers to hold utensils.

You can also make your own doors from exterior-grade wood, which will save a good deal of money. Wooden doors have an appealing handcrafted look and can be quite durable as long as you don’t mind a few inevitable scratches and dings.

Make Sure Your Doors and Drawers Will Fit

Be sure to buy your doors and drawer units ahead of time, and have them on hand while you build the counter to ensure accurate sizing for openings.

Under-sink doors are usually needed so you can repair plumbing when needed.

This simple box-like structure made of cement-based backer board creates shelving and makes it easier to get at items behind the door.

Cabinet-style wood doors add warmth and make the overall design more interesting.

It Will Get Wet Inside

Builders report a nearly universal fact: no matter how well you build a counter, its inside will get at least a little wet during a heavy downpour (unless, of course, the counter is inside a covered porch). So avoid storing things that can easily rust, and provide drainage holes as needed so that the water does not sit for long.

The doors and drawer faces to the right of this grill are made of hardwood plywood protected with several coats of sealer that should be renewed yearly. The countertop’s overhang helps protect them from rain.

Storage Solutions

Storage Solutions

In an indoor kitchen, slide-out accessories, often placed inside base cabinets, make it easy to reach things without having to get on your hands and knees. The same principle applies to outdoor kitchens, where a slide-out garbagecan unit can serve many purposes, from storing a bag of charcoal or birdseed to holding a cooler full of beverages on ice. As outdoor kitchens have grown in popularity, new accessories for cabinets have popped up to make the kitchen more fun to design and use— and these are generally inexpensive upgrades.

Adding open shelves, nooks, and crannies also helps keep clutter off the countertop and makes the overall design more interesting, easier to use, and more inviting.

This sink unit comes with built-in shelves and rails for hanging utensils, as well as a removable shelf in front for bar supplies.

A slide-out drawer is a versatile add-on; it can be used for garbage can but can also house a cooler.

This open shelf makes it easy to get at condiments or cleaning products.

In this kitchen with a roof overhead, open wall shelves free up counter space and provide an opportunity to add personal touches.

This beverage center makes it easy to mix and garnish drinks. It has an insulated ice drawer, condiment holders, and a covered, heavy-duty blender.

Getting a Good Grill Value

Getting a Good Grill Value

The grill is often the most expensive item in an outdoor kitchen. Grills designed to drop into a counter can be especially costly. But you don’t have to break the bank to get good cooking equipment. Here are some tips:

  • You don’t always get what you pay for, so shop carefully. There is a wide range of quality among grills of the same price range. Consult with several salespeople and with grill owners before you make your decision.
  • As long as you buy from a reputable company, you can be pretty sure that an inexpensive ($400–$800) grill will last about 5 seasons, while most grills that cost more than $1,000 can last 20 seasons. (Of course, this is only a general estimate.) If you have the occasional grease fire, expect the cheap grill to die sooner.
  • At the very lowest end, you can build a counter around a cart (standalone) grill bought at a home center or other inexpensive outlet—or use the cart grill you already own, if it is in good shape. These pages show several examples of cart grills used in this way.
  • An inexpensive grill might suit your needs. Once it stops functioning well, you will probably be able to buy replacement parts. (You may notice the fire burning with diminishing intensity, for example, or the grill may be hard to start.) Parts are available from the manufacturer or from appliance-parts sources, which have begun to cater more to outdoorkitchen equipment in recent years. If the shell of the grill is sound and you replace the burners and grate (and maybe the starter as well), you will essentially have a new grill. The bottom line: buying an inexpensive grill may not be a bad deal over the long haul. Be aware, however, that many off-brand grills may not have parts available in the future.
  • If you cook a lot, it may be best to run a natural-gas line from the house to the counter (if possible and if you use natural gas in your house). Depending on the distance, a gas line does not have to cost a lot. If you will grill occasionally—say, once or twice a week for less than half the year—or do not have natural gas at your location, you can put a propane tank inside the cabinet. Be sure to install large doors so that you can easily replace the tank.

Building around a Cart Grill

Here is one way to build around a cart grill. In this case, the cabinet is made of PVC sheeting, which is fireproof, though it could melt. Attach heat-protective material to the areas where the hot part of the grill will be near the cabinet. In this case, the builder used a layer of cement-based backer board; you may choose to use another masonry material. You may leave the doors on the cart grill or remove them so that you can install your own doors. Remove the grill’s wheels, and slide it into place; then build a simple frame around it

Building around a Cart Grill Building around a Cart Grill Building around a Cart Grill

A gas-and-kamado-grill combo lets you cook a fast meal on weeknights and slow smoked ribs on the weekend.

A cart grill with integrated side tables slides up to a counter when needed.

A counter made of stackable blocks with a stone-tile countertop attractively houses this high-end grill.

More Cooking Options

More Cooking Options

In addition to the main grill, consider some other appliances that will make it fun to cook outdoors. Some gas grills feature an infrared burner. Within a few minutes, it produces a cooking temperature in the 900 degree F and higher range, which can be good if you like your steak charred on the outside but rare in the middle. A gas burner tuned to produce heat in the far infrared range focuses the heat onto a ceramic tile riddled with thousands of tiny holes, which radiates the high-temperature heat to cook food without flames or flare-ups. Fans say that the infrared heat locks juices and flavors in food. They recommend searing a thick steak for 2 or 3 minutes per side, then transferring the meat to a standard burner. Critics say that the heat is so hot, it can be tricky to get good results; some even say it is too hot for proper searing.

Small infrared grills, which resemble a toaster oven in size, are sold as portable units, but you can also build them into a counter. Some models cook with a gas infrared burner mounted over the cooking grid, others with the burner underneath. The burners generate high heat: manufacturers claim that they heat up to 1,700 degrees F and can cook pizza, fish, chicken, and steak in 4 to 8 minutes.

A deep fryer heats oil or water and can be used for steaming, boiling, or frying. It consists of a cooking insert that drops into a special gas grill in place of a grilling grate and a lift-out frying basket. Seafood lovers use the boiling feature for lobster, but it is also ideal for pasta. Adding less water, the unit is great for steaming veggies. Adding oil instead lets you deep-fry French fries, clams, or shrimp to perk up the summer menu, keeping all of the heat and mess outside.

A rotisserie rotates meat on a spit above or in front of a heat source, which may be infrared, gas flame, or charcoal. Many gas grill manufacturers offer rotisseries powered by a hidden built-in motor that rotates the spit above or in front of an infrared burner. But you can add a rotisserie unit to almost any grill. Often the grill manufacturer sells a unit to fit; it plugs into a standard receptacle. These units may require a little more attention—the main challenges being to find the right height over the heat source and to balance the weight of the meat on the spit so that the mechanism spins smoothly.

A large motorized rotisserie slowly cooks roasts and chickens to perfection.

A deep fryer can also be filled with water to boil lobster, crabs, or other shellfish.

Infrared burners quickly reach temperatures high enough for searing meat to seal in juices.

This pizza-oven insert has a gas infrared burner that can attain 1,700 deg. F in less than two minutes. The enclosure kit includes a chimney and masonry surfaces.

Side Burners and Warmers

Side Burners and Warmers

If you would like to do all of your cooking outside, a side burner will give you increased menu flexibility. While the main course cooks on the grill, you can boil pasta or potatoes, steam a few vegetables, and cook a tasty sauce to pull the meal together. Side burners that come attached to grills are often too weak to boil water quickly, so it is usually better to have a separate side burner rated at 12,000 Btu or more. Look for a burner with a heavy stainless-steel grate and cover and a design that will be easy to clean. Many models have front and rear burners.

A griddle is a nice accessory to have for your grill or side burner, letting you cook bacon, eggs, and pancakes for a weekend brunch.

If you love to cook Asian food on a wok, you could simply place your wok on a side burner. However, you’ll get better results if you swap out the burner grate for a special grate or burner cover with a built-in ring to stabilize a wok. That way, heat will be perfectly centered under the wok so that food in the bottom sizzles while food higher up stays warm.

Often placed at a lower level in the counter, a pot burner can handle a large stock pot, big enough to fry a turkey. These burners have a high Btu level but can also be dialed down for a small saucepan as needed. Most models feature two rings of fire on the burner—an inner ring for smaller pans and a larger outer ring for full power that operates together with the smaller ring.

Many grill manufacturers offer food warmers to match the style of the grill. Better models generate steam via a heated water bath to keep food from drying out. Warming units sometimes rest on the counter and have two or more compartments with lids, similar to restaurant buffets. Or they may be found in drawers under or next to the grill.

This food warmer/steamer with three removable pans uses gel-type fuel canisters in the slide-out drawer below.

With a removable ring that rests on the burner grate, this side burner will safely hold a round-bottom wok.

A griddle is a popular accessory that makes alfresco brunch a festive occasion.

This gas grill with a built-in warming drawer eases the challenge of serving all of the food piping hot.

To steam veggies and boil pasta while grilling, get a double side burner like this with a high Btu rating and plenty of room for two large pots.

Sinks and Plumbing

Sinks and Plumbing

Under-mounted sinks are practically de rigueur these days, especially in granite countertops in both indoor and outdoor kitchens. If you think it might be too much of a luxury outdoors, consider a self-rimming sink (with a rim that sits on top of the countertop). It requires a bit more attention during cleanup, but you can install one yourself more easily—and at a lot less cost—than an undermounted sink. Twenty-gauge steel works fine because the stamping increases the strength of the sink. A standard inexpensive bar sink will perform nearly as well as an expensive model made for outdoor use.

Plumbing can be expensive, though. Consider running only cold water, which is all you need for rinsing vegetables. And instead of running the drain line into the house’s main line, you may be allowed by code to run the drainpipe into a dry well (basically a hole in the ground filled with rocks). A standard stainless-steel faucet works well; there is no need to buy a special outdoor model. You can use a T-fitting to run the water to both sides of the faucet, so both handles (or both sides of a one-handle faucet) will turn on cold water.

If you want hot water, it may be easiest to run cold water into the counter and then install a point-of-use tankless water heater inside the counter. You can plug it into a standard 120-volt electrical receptacle. Another option: install an “instant hot” faucet, which also plugs into a receptacle. It produces water that is about 180 degrees F, so you can quickly brew tea and cook items like thin asparagus.

As you can see here, a farmhouse, or apron, sink is surrounded by the countertop on only three sides.

This self-rimming sink drops into place atop a bluestone countertop.

To install a sink under a granite top, the hole must be expertly cut and polished as shown.

Here, an apron sink is installed self-rimming style, so its lip covers the cut stone edges.

A small sink may be all you need. For this installation, two single holes were bored for the faucet and soap dispenser.

Amenities

Amenities

Here are a few of the extras that can turn a plain space into a main destination for friends and family. You can add these extras a little at a time if you are on a tight budget. After a few seasons, you will have an UPSCALE OUTDOOR KITCHEN that will be the envy of any neighborhood.

Television

Most FLAT-SCREEN TVs (right center) are easy to attach to the wall; the setup looks clean if the electrical receptacle is behind the unit. Of course, be sure to put yours in a well protected area so it will not get wet. The electronics store where you buy the TV and speakers can advise you, or you can have them install it.

Kegerator

If you are having a big party, you may want to buy a keg of beer. But after a while the beer will not be cold unless you put it in a big, ugly tub of ice. A KEGERATOR (right bottom) improves on the experience because it actually is a refrigerator with a keg inside, connected to a tap. It also contains a carbon dioxide tank to supply pressure. Beer kept at the right temperature and pressure stays fresh for several weeks and will taste just right when dispensed. Kegerators usually have different options for tank size, so you can fill the space with one large keg, typically one-half barrel, or two or three smaller tall kegs. Fill the kegs with beer from a local pub or brewer; buy a keg of your favorite brand at the beer or liquor store; or brew your own. Because the pressure and the temperature are adjustable, home brewers can get better results. Although a keg containing beer requires constant refrigeration, the unit should use less power than a similar-size refrigerator because you open the door only when replacing the keg or cleaning the lines. Some manufacturers specify “for indoor use only,” so check that the unit you like will work for your outdoor climate.

Mosquito Abatement

According to the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA), bug zappers and other anti-insect machines and sprays have limited effectiveness. Nipping the problem in the bud, when mosquitoes are breeding in watery places in or near your yard, is the best defense because it eliminates the bugs before they sprout wings. Once mosquitoes have reached adult stage, screens, nets, and topical lotions with DEET are what the AMCA recommends. Consider a screened-in porch or lanai or, on a smaller scale, a pop-up screened-in canopy, though you will need to keep it well away from grill flames and from pets because netting is easily damaged. New MOSQUITO SPRAYERS are environmentallyfriendly products, and they may provide some relief. But to be really effective, your whole neighborhood would have to spray, too.

Heaters

Fire pits and fireplaces are one way to warm up your outdoor space, but patio heaters may be a more affordable and effective alternative. Available in propane or electricpowered form, heaters can take the edge off the chill within a certain range of distance. The most popular PROPANE HEATERS look like torchiere floor lamps that stand 7 or 8 feet tall with a 20-pound propane tank at the base. Look for a pilotless model (so you do not have to light it every time you want to use it); you can install one in a permanent location or choose one with wheels, which make it easy to move around. Tabletop heaters are also available; they tend to look like small torchiere lamps. Propane heaters radiate heat in a circle around the heat source and warm up an area ranging from 10 feet in diameter for tabletop heaters to 20 feet in diameter for floor models. A 20-pound propane tank will provide about 10 hours of heat. Propane heaters should not be used in an enclosed space.

A variety of electric heaters, which plug into regular house outlets, is available. WALL-MOUNTED HEATERS glow orange and throw heat in one direction. Tabletop and ceiling heaters, which may use halogen bulbs or infrared technology, generate heat in a more circular pattern. Check reviews before you buy. Generally, heat output from electric heaters cannot match that of propane rivals, but electric heat is good for an enclosed space.

Refrigerators and Coolers

Refrigerators and Coolers

Most outdoor chefs bring food to the grill as they are getting ready to cook and do not use their outdoor refrigerators (if they have them) to store food directly from the store. When cooks use outdoor fridges for food, they tend to use them for meat that is marinating and waiting to be cooked or side dishes prepared earlier in the indoor kitchen. Outdoor fridges are actually used most often for keeping beverages cold. Many builders recommend an ice-based beverage cooler as an attractive and energyefficient alternative. There are a number of products that use ice and insulation to keep beverages cold. They range from a simple beverage well that rests in a table or counter cutout to a pullout ice bin or stand-alone beverage center complete with a cocktail blender. All of these options combine ice and insulation to keep beverages cold for an entire day—just fill them with ice and drinks.

If you would still like a refrigerator, however, do some research. Specialty stores sell expensive outdoor refrigerators, some specifically designed for beverages and some for wine, for $1,000 and more. But builders from around the country report that inexpensive models (around $125) last for five years or more, so you may be better off purchasing a cheaper model and replacing it a few years down the road if necessary.

An icemaker like this may seem an extravagance, but it can be cost effective if you entertain often or tend to throw large parties.

This refrigerator, with its glass door, keeps guests and household members from unnecessarily opening and closing it to see what is inside.

Most people use their outdoor refrigerator to keep drinks cold. The built-in dishwasher to the left makes cleanup easy.

The family bartender will appreciate separate cooler bins for limes, cherries, and other ingredients; of course, these bins can also hold burger condiments.

This removable, enclosed front shelf holds bartending supplies in easy reach.

This margarita station puts the requisite heavy-duty blender at a convenient height.

With its adjustable temperature control, this refrigerator drawer will keep desserts frozen or just chilled.

Grilling Accessories

Personalize your grill with equipment tailored to your menu preferences. There are many specialized products that make it easier than ever to get professional results in your outdoor kitchen. These two pages feature a few popular options.

Cooking fish, especially delicate fish like tilapia, sole, and flounder, on the grill can be challenging. A metal rack like this helps keep the fish intact; to minimize sticking, grease the metal before adding the fish.

Take your burgers up a notch by stuffing them with cheese, onions, olives, mushrooms, or whatever you like. This burger basket holds it all together for you and makes flipping easy.

Create your own stuffed jalapeno appetizers with this unique metal grill accessory. Stuff peppers with cheese or other ingredients; arrange them standing up in the roaster; set the roaster on the grill; and close the lid. This model comes with a corer, making it easy to remove seeds.

Available at kitchen stores, these 1-in.-thick hand-cut slabs of salt mined in Pakistan near the Himalayas lend a hint of salty flavor to food. You can use them for cooking delicate items like thin fish and shrimp or as serving plates (popular for sushi). To clean, scrub the surface and pat it dry.

Mesh grilling baskets give you more grilling flexibility, letting you cook small items without fear that they will fall through the grates. Throw the basket in the dishwasher afterward for easy cleanup.

Wooden planks, popular for cooking salmon, impart a smoky flavor and help food retain moisture for more tender results. Fish slides off easily after cooking. Soak the plank for an hour before using it; then it place on the grill. This metal holder makes it easy to remove the plank from the grill. (Wear gloves!)

Desserts are not commonly prepared on the grill, but campfire favorite s’mores have nostalgic appeal for adults and are always popular with kids. This ingenious device cooks marshmallows on a spit, which you rotate by (gloved) hand while melting chocolate atop crackers on a rack.

Grilling Accessories Grilling Accessories

Doing It Yourself or Hiring a Pro

As this section has shown, it is possible to build an attractive and durable outdoor kitchen for a modest materials cost. But the major expense with most outdoor kitchens is labor, not materials. So perhaps the most important economic decision you will make concerns how much of the work you will hire out and how much you will do yourself.

Fortunately, an outdoor project does not disrupt your life in the way that an indoor kitchen remodel would. Your family will function just fine for a month or more while an outdoor counter sits in the backyard in various stages of construction. There is a downside to the inessential nature of the project, of course: it allows you to succumb to procrastination.

Before you decide to jump in and build the whole thing on your own, interview yourself carefully.

  • What is your skill set? Many of the tasks shown later in the guide can be learned, and we will teach you how. But it is best if you have a résumé that includes at least a few modest home-improvement projects. If you have no experience with plumbing and wiring, review guides like Ultimate Guide: Plumbing and Ultimate Guide: Wiring from Creative Homeowner. You may decide to consult a professional and perhaps hire one for these jobs.
  • Do you have the time? A modest counter might be buildable in a couple of weekends. But a number of projects, like running utility lines, making your own countertop, or constructing the housing for a pizza oven, will combine to take much more time than that. If working on them might seriously compromise your quality of life, it may be best to hire them out.

All of the techniques for building the counter shown here are covered in this book. Taken step by step, none are beyond the reach of a handy homeowner.

A project with plumbing, electrical lines, and granite tops may be beyond your skill set; check the relevant sections of this guide to be sure.

Dealing with Inspectors and the Building Department

It may be fine for you to build a counter and perhaps an overhead structure without benefit of a permit, as long as it is not attached to the house and does not have utility lines. If you will run electrical cable, plumbing pipes, or gas pipe, however, most building departments will want to know about it and watch over the process in a systematic way.

You might be able to get away with building an outdoor kitchen without first contacting the local building department if it will not be visible from the street. Doing so, however, involves some significant risks. If you are caught building something that should be inspected, you can get into legal trouble. When you sell your house, it may become apparent that you built the structure without a permit, and you may get into trouble at that point.

But most importantly, the building department and its inspectors are there to make sure that procedures are performed correctly and that no dangerous installations occur. Though they may seem picky and Dealing with Inspectors and the Building Department perhaps even obnoxious, inspectors are there for your safety and the safety of your neighbors, and it is a good idea to follow their requirements.

If you plan to work with a contractor, have him or her deal with the building department. Otherwise, go to your building department for an initial meeting, bringing along a drawing of your project and a list of the materials to be used. They may have a printed brochure that answers most of your questions; if so, read it thoroughly and try not to bother the inspector with unnecessary questions. Learn about the sort of final drawings they need.

Depending on the department and local ordinances, you may be required to hire a licensed professional to run the wiring or the plumbing or both. There will likely be separate inspections for wiring, plumbing, gas, and even the structure. Be careful about scheduling the inspections. Make sure that you do not cover up anything that the inspector needs to see until he or she signs off on the work.