Fabulous Outdoor Kitchen Styles and Layouts


Open Craftsmanship

Kitchens That Succeed

This section puts stunning outdoor kitchen projects on display. Some are simple and quite inexpensive, while others may stretch your budget or skill set. In any case, there are a plethora of ideas that you can borrow and incorporate into your own design. The projects come from all sorts of climates, and many have survived years of use in severe heat, cold, rain, and snow. The materials and techniques for building them are covered in later sections.

Side by Side

Here is a great layout for people who like to entertain and create impressive food displays. In a relatively small space, there are two generous countertops—plenty of room for laying out a buffet or potluck settings. Of course, this much granite can be costly.

The cooking-and-preparation counter takes a 45-degree turn to make space for a gas grill with modest countertop space on each side. Putting the grill at an angle like this makes it more convenient for reaching the other, long counter space. And the grill is a comfortable 6 feet away from the nearest stool, so diners will not get smoke in their eyes, while the cook need take only a step or two to reach them. The space between the two counters is 4 feet, which is optimal for maneuvering and serving.

The eating counter is one wide cantilevered slab, with ample room behind the dinner plates for arranging serving platters and bowls.

A counter space like this can hold over a dozen serving platters or large bowls. The pergola post helps break up the space visually and hides electrical cable for the receptacles and refrigerator.

The pergola is made of nicely joined cedar 4x6s stained a dark color. Because they are widely spaced, they offer little shade—mostly decoration and a fun place to hang things.

The dining countertop overhangs the counter by about 16 in.—plenty of knee room. Four stools fit comfortably at the counter, with space for more serving bowls at the end.

The counters were made using treated lumber, though they look like solid stone until you open a door. After framing the structures, the builder trimmed the door and drawer openings with white PVC pieces and then butted the faux stone to the trim.

Outdoor kitchen shown designed and built by Justus Lambros, Signature Decks

Handy and Neat

This design offers simplicity, economy, and ease of installation. Its crisp, tidy lines go well with composite decking or vinyl siding. For convenience, openings and recesses take the place of doors and drawers, putting everything in clear sight and within reach.

The contractor made the counter by building a simple wooden frame, then covering it with ½-inch white PVC bead-board sheets, which have a cottage look but are easy to wipe clean. He used PVC trim pieces as well. (You may choose instead to simply build the cabinets out of ¾-inch PVC sheets, as in this project.)

The counter is long, with a 90-degree bump-out at the end. The bump-out is about 6 feet from the dining table, making it an ideal buffet serving area. The 1-inch-thick granite is reasonably priced, and you could easily cut your own pieces if you located some remnants or used slabs. The backsplash is simply a piece of 3-inch-wide granite. Granite professionals attached it using a hidden metal splice, but you could instead attach it using extra-strong epoxy or polyurethane adhesive.

There is only one set of access doors, just below the grill. A simple opening provides a place for garbage and recycling bins—white plastic containers that coordinate with the PVC and really do not need to be hidden.

White bead board on the back of the unit coordinates seamlessly with the deck’s white railing and trim.

What could be simpler? On each side of the grill, a 12-in.-wide recess with three hooks puts tools or towels on display.

Outdoor kitchen shown designed and built by Gus DelaCruz, Barrett Outdoors

Blending In

An outdoor counter can add a dash of unexpected style to a backyard. Or as shown here, it can be carefully crafted to coordinate unobtrusively with the house. The latter approach will give even a small counter the appearance of solidity and permanence. This counter features faux stone siding that matches the pillars against which it nestles. It was built at the same time as the deck, so the decking was installed with picture-frame pieces traveling around the counter. This further enhances the feeling that the counter really belongs rather than being an add-on.

The light, speckled granite slab contains colors that coordinate with the stone facing below.

For even more coherence, the builder mortised the counter into the pillar at the time of construction.

Outdoor kitchen shown designed and built by Gus DelaCruz, Barrett Outdoors

Minimalism

If you have modest cooking aspirations and storage needs and are happy with your cart grill, a simple built-in counter can create a pleasant and practical place around which to gather with a few friends as you prepare food. If you have a deck with a railing, simply widening the railing may do the trick. Here, an inexpensive charcoal grill/smoker can be rolled up to the widened railing This railing is made of redwood, which you need to lightly stain and seal unless you want it to turn gray. Apply a high-quality water-based product or mineral oil to keep spills from staining the wood.

The railing was widened using 2x4s installed on edge, with ¼-in. spacers between them.

Outdoor kitchen shown designed and built by Bob Kiefer, Decks by Kiefer

Eating and Serving Counter

Instead of incorporating a grill into a counter, you may choose to build a pair of counters for serving and dining. This project has two long granite counters, each about 16 inches wide. The eating counter is about 42 inches high, and the serving/preparation counter is a standard 36-inch-high working surface.

The structure is simple to frame, but you must anchor it securely to the deck framing.

With this arrangement, the cook can chat up the diners while preparing and serving the comestibles. The dining table in the background is about 10 ft. distant—just a few steps away, but in a clearly defined area.

Support pillars, needed to lend rigidity to this narrow structure, are positioned to accommodate three nicely spaced stools.

Outdoor kitchen shown designed and built by Clemens Jellema, Fine Decks, Inc.

Two Big Curves

OK, the huge granite slabs make this one a stretch for a guide on affordable options, but it definitely has features you can incorporate into a more modest design. The counter is made using stackable block, which, is inexpensive and can easily be formed into a curve shape.

Two semicircular counters make for an intimate setting but also allow plenty of room for the cooks. At its widest, the distance between the two counters is about 7 feet, and on each side there is a 4-foot-wide space between the two. The curves make granite more expensive. (The front counter was cut out of a slab over 5 feet wide.) But you could build a poured-concrete top instead, using a piece of composite decking to form the curved side. Or you could try to find some fairly inexpensive granite and cut it yourself.

Stackable blocks form curves with ease. The blocks that span over the door opening were simply joined together with adhesive; a hidden 2×4 lintel supports the grill.

Outdoor kitchen shown designed and built by Gus DelaCruz, Barrett Outdoors

Kamado-and-Gas-Grill Combo

In a small space, this counter incorporates a gas grill, for quick-and-easy cooking, and a kamado grill, which imparts charcoal flavor and gives the option of smoking or high-temperature pizza and bread cooking.

The cabinets are made of PVC sheeting. This material is stong and non-burnable, and it will remain easy to wipe clean for years. The doors and drawer faces are made of single ¾-inch PVC sheets, for a clean, modern appearance.

The L-shape allows the cook to easily operate one or both grills at once. Smaller counters like this that have appliances can use smaller pieces of granite, so you may be able to find large-enough remnants at a stone yard or from online listings (either new from retailer and manufacturer Web sites or secondhand from other online sources).

Outdoor kitchen shown designed and built by Justus Lambros, Signature Decks

Doors are attached using self-closing Eurostyle hinges. A special fold-down door allows access to the kamado grill’s ash cleanout tray.

If you are confident of your skills, you can make the circular cutout yourself using a grinder with a diamond blade. The inside edge of the cut will not show, so a belt sander can smooth it sufficiently.

An ice cooler is easy to accomplish when building with PVC: just make sure the joints are tight; use waterproof glue; and pour the ice right in.

As the sun goes down, the kamado grill glows and light from a nearby window glints seductively off the stainless-steel grill.

A door at the back of the counter provides storage for towels, used by those soaking in the nearby spa.

Stony Curves

Made of a limestone countertop and stackable concrete blocks, this counter has a consistent silvery gray hue that is subtly enhanced by a few light-rose-colored blocks. The result is a neutral canvas for showing off your fine dinnerware and colorful fruits and vegetables. The contractor made the counter using stackable block, but you could make it using studs, backer board, and faux stone instead.

The counter is an acute L-shape, ending in a rounded dining area. This makes the space where the cook stands feel like a partial enclosure. The area near the grill has a backsplash with an 8-inch-wide ledge on top, just the right size for potted plants or cooking utensils. The eating peninsula has room for four or five diners, depending on how cozy they want to get. Unless there is an unfortunately directed wind, all of the diners will be just out of the range of the cooking smoke.

Design specifications usually call for an eating counter to be positioned 42 inches high, but this one stays at the same 36-inch height as the rest of the counter, so the diners and cook are all on the same plane. The arrangement requires tall chairs rather than conventional bar stools. The countertop is made of Indiana limestone with a “rock” faced edge and sandblasted top. In most areas of the country, this option is considerably less expensive than polished granite. It commonly comes factory-sealed, but you may want to apply more sealer at least every year to keep it stain resistant.

Cutting Limestone

You can cut this kind of limestone using the granitecutting techniques shown on pages 162–66. Cutting a curve like this and roughing it up can easily be done using a grinder. In fact—believe it or not—limestone can be cut using a reciprocating saw with a masonry blade. There is no need to keep the blade wet as you cut, though you may need to buy several blades. Just take your time, and continually check that you are cutting straight up and down.

Outdoor kitchen shown designed and built by Eric Weishaar, Breckenridge Landscape

Rough-edged limestone makes a handsome and solidfeeling outdoor counter.

The stackable-block construction features a row of blocks that are of slightly different color and protrude an inch or so for a roughly sculpted effect.

A More Expansive Approach

Here the same materials are used but on a more monumental scale. The taller eatingtable height carries through to become a ledge atop a backsplash behind the cooking area. On the other side (right) a limestone bench angles slightly away from the counter.

A More Expansive Approach A More Expansive Approach

A Happy, Speckled Place

This L-shape counter features eating space for five and ample food-preparation room around the grill. A unique pergola decorates the area with dappled sunlight. This kitchen is on the large side, but the design is kept simple and the appliances and doors are fairly minimal. The counter is made of wood studs, backer board, and faux stone. One wood and two pairs of stainless-steel doors offer access to the inside. The gas grill is modestly sized, which makes it suitable for casual dining rather than elaborate cookery.

The overhead structure, or pergola, is a head-turner. It starts with cylindrical columns, which can be purchased pre-made from online sources. Atop the columns sit massive 4×12 cedar beams, which give the appearance of having fancy joinery but actually just butt together. On top of the beams are 2×12 rafters. Topping the whole thing off are sheets of rusty metal artfully cut by a craftsman in a sort of wild, leafy, oblong-polka-dot pattern. (Cutting holes like this can actually be done without too much trouble using a rented plasma cutter.)

Outdoor kitchen shown designed and built by Justus Lambros, Signature Decks

During the summer, diners are often clad in swimming gear, fresh from a dip in the nearby pool.

The overhead structure manages to be massive and playful at the same time, combining giant lumber pieces with an artfully perforated metal awning.

Rustic metal brackets provide a bit of support for the counter’s knee-space overhang but are mostly there for casual charm.

In an unusual arrangement, the countertop was raised to 38 in. to satisfy a tall husband, and the grill was lowered to 34 in. to make it easier for a short wife.

Black hardware and the diamond pattern in the center dress up this simple wooden door. The patio floor is plain concrete, but the counter is so stunning as to make it seem charming.

This stone frog seems at home on the semi-rough cultured-stone countertop. A surface like this may be called “honed” or “Venetian.” Though not shiny, it is easy to wipe clean.

Classic Entertaining Centers

If you like to throw parties for a half-dozen or more couples from time to time, consider installing two widely spaced counters. A layout like this will make you more popular than ever. At the end of the patio, just off the kitchen door, the L-shape cooking counter boasts a large grill, five access doors for storing a full set of kitchenware and implements, and counter space large enough that several people can work side by side. Two planters, a curved bench, and a straight bench create the rounded-L-shape conviviality area, which accommodates about 12 people.

The eating bar sits about 20 feet from the cooking counter. It faces the house wall, which holds a flat-screen TV and sound system. On game days, this can be a raucous sports bar; at other times, it can be an intimate place to watch movies or soaps with a few close friends and some delicious drinks. All of the counters are made with wood cabinetry. For a more cost-conscious approach, you might consider building with cedar rather than the Brazilian hardwood shown. But either way, you will have a stunning party venue.

Outdoor kitchen shown designed and built by Bob Kiefer, Decks by Kiefer

Natural woodwork with a dark stain contrasts handsomely with the natural stone patio pavers. Some of the pavers have ruddy tones that nearly match lighter colors in the wood.

This granite is a popular pattern that is reasonably priced. Its multicolored speckles create a soothing backdrop for almost any other color. The large wood doors offer plenty of storage.

This is a happy place both for imbibers and the bartender. The bar hides a refrigerator and a cooler, as well as enough shelving to satisfy the most ambitious of mixologists.

Thick uprights made of laminated 2×4s support the benches, and 2×4s and 2×2s with ¼-in. spacers between the pieces make up the seats.

Cozy but Open

This U-shape double counter—one level for eating and one for cooking—is surrounded by an airy wooden structure made of latticework walls and a soaring overhead pergola. The space forms a clearly defined room yet remains open to the world. The wooden surround—both a lattice wall and an overhead shade structure—is made of cedar posts, beams, rafters, and top pieces. The builder cut the lattice from vinyl sheets, which are available in an attractive cedar tone. The lattice could have been wood, but staining (and re-staining every year or so) would have been a painstaking task; the vinyl looks great after a quick hosing.

This U-shape double counter—one level for eating and one for cooking—is surrounded by an airy wooden structure made of latticework walls and a soaring overhead pergola. The space forms a clearly defined room yet remains open to the world. The wooden surround—both a lattice wall and an overhead shade structure—is made of cedar posts, beams, rafters, and top pieces. The builder cut the lattice from vinyl sheets, which are available in an attractive cedar tone. The lattice could have been wood, but staining (and re-staining every year or so) would have been a painstaking task; the vinyl looks great after a quick hosing.

Outdoor kitchen shown designed and built by Dino Mazzone, D & M Outdoor Living

The countertop’s textured and honed surface produces a stony look and emphasizes the grains and striations of the natural granite.

The countertop’s upper level overhangs enough so that diners can cozy up and lean on it without bumping their knees. The angled shape makes for a more convivial setting than a straight counter would.

The wood-fired pizza oven is an oldfashioned metal model that you can simply buy and put in place; there is no need to build a surround for it. It easily achieves temperatures of over 600 deg. F for crunchy breads and pizza crusts.

The counter’s easy-to-clean composite decking face blends well with the natural cedar decking below.

Overhead rafters with decorative end cuts, topped by 2×2 lattice, deliver partial shade from the afternoon sun.

Open Craftsmanship

If you like the look of turned posts and don’t mind having open spaces for most of your storage space, here is another minimalist approach that may suit your tastes perfectly.

The kitchen fits nicely into a 9-foot-long bump-out in the deck. The railing is 36 inches tall, so the counter is flush with the railing’s top cap. The big expense here is a massive 48-inch-wide gas grill, positioned so that there is about 2 feet of counter space on one side and 3 feet on the other. Below the grill is a short wooden counter. Of course, a simpler cabinet type would work as well. The granite shows both speckles and veins, in tan and beige hues. The woodwork is all redwood, carefully stained and finished to closely match the ipé decking.

Outdoor kitchen shown designed and built by Bob Kiefer, Decks by Kiefer

The granite top is at the same level as the railing’s top cap, which helps integrate the counter with the deck.

The builder made these turned legs on his own lathe out of 6×6 redwood, but you can order legs from a home center or from online sources.

Even Simpler

This approach not only saves money and effort but enables an outdoor kitchen to blend effortlessly with a deck and railing that has simple, modern lines. Here we see a substantial grill with integrated drawers that was made to be built into a counter. But you could also use a cart grill: remove its wheels, and build a simple frame around it.

The 4×4 posts and 2×4 horizontal countertop supports are the same materials as those used for the deck’s railing. The countertop is about 2 inches lower than the railing’s top cap, which creates what amounts to a low backsplash.

Designed and built by Joel Boyer, Unique Deck Builders