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How to Build an Outdoor Kitchen: A Step-By-Step Guide

Carol J Alexander

Published on December 20, 2022

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How to Build an Outdoor Kitchen: A Step-By-Step Guide

Learn to plan, design, and build an outdoor kitchen that will become the envy of neighbors and friends.

To provide you with the most accurate and up-to-date information, we consult a number of sources when producing each article, including licensed contractors and industry experts.

Read about our editorial process here. Want to use our cost data? Click here.

Do you dream of having space for entertaining family and friends in your backyard? Well, you're not alone. According to Fixr's 2022 Outdoor Living Trends Report, 56 percent of homeowners want to create outdoor spaces that are typically only found indoors, like kitchens. In so doing, they've discovered that adding usable outdoor living space doesn't just increase their home's square footage but its market value. 

If you've wondered what adding an outdoor kitchen to your backyard entails, this article will walk you through it step-by-step.

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Planning your DIY outdoor kitchen

Before building your outdoor kitchen, you probably have questions about cost, time, and skill level.

Allow us to answer them for you.

Can a DIY beginner build an outdoor kitchen?

Absolutely! A patio kitchen can be as basic as a countertop beside the grill. If you have limited experience swinging a hammer, be conservative with your design. Enjoy the space. Then, as your skill level grows, you can always add to it. 

How much does it cost to build an outdoor kitchen?

The cost of building an outdoor kitchen depends on the size and design of the space. For example, a kitchen built on an existing patio with stock cabinets and a freestanding grill could cost as little as $4,500. But, to include a much larger space with a separate dining area, a roof overhead, sinks, and appliances, you could spend as much as $45,000

How long does it take to build an outdoor kitchen?

Depending on your design, you could go from planning and building to hosting an evening soiree with friends in a weekend–or a month.

Basic steps to building an outdoor kitchen

Outdoor kitchens come in various shapes and sizes. But no matter what it looks like or how complex, the basic instructions for building one are the same. So, whether you're a DIY pro building from scratch or someone less skilled in connecting out-of-the-box cabinets, read these steps for a basic plan of action. Then, consult with detailed plans for your particular design before you begin.

Plan and design

Set a budget

Begin the planning process with a budget in mind. Your budget should include the cost to build the kitchen's structure and components, necessary utilities, labor for things you can't do yourself, and permitting fees. Of course, you know what you can afford if you're paying cash for your kitchen. But, if you're planning to finance the venture, have a conversation with your lender regarding finance options before going any further.

To help plan the budget for your outdoor kitchen, refer to our outdoor kitchen cost guide.

Choose a location

Most homeowners opt to place their outdoor kitchen close to the house. The proximity increases the home's usable square footage and is convenient to other amenities, like a bathroom. And, unless you're building a fully stocked kitchen, it makes it much easier to run back to the house kitchen for a burger platter.

Other popular locations for outdoor cooking include poolside, waterfront, or in a gazebo by the garden. Wherever you think you want your kitchen, consider the slope of the ground, current patio space, trees and existing landscaping, and utilities. For example, building a kitchen far from an electrical outlet could require running utilities to your back forty, a costly and time-consuming process.

Pro Tip: Always check with local building officials and your HOA to see if you must adhere to any building codes or regulations and if permits are required. 

Design the space

Now for the fun part. Once you’ve chosen the location, take measurements. When you know how much space you have, you’re better able to decide which essential elements you’d like to include, such as a cooking area, storage space, appliances, and utilities. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

What will the cooking area look like?

You’ll probably choose one of the following typical kitchen configurations: 

  • L-shaped–This shape is perfect for corners.
  • U-shaped–This works well for open, freestanding kitchens.
  • Linear–Ideal for small spaces, a linear kitchen runs alongside the house.
  • Galley–Created by workspaces facing each other in parallel lines.

How much storage space will be included?

Having a place to stash dedicated utensils, grill tools, and paper products is handy for any outdoor kitchen. Now’s the time to think about where you’ll store your:

  • Charcoal and lighter fluid
  • Firewood
  • Meat thermometer
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Trash bags
  • Meat rubs and other seasonings
  • Any other tools used only outside

What appliances do I need?

Don’t limit your scope to a gas grill or charcoal bbq. There’re a plethora of options when it comes to outdoor appliances. Here are a few to add to your wish list:

  • Built-in grill
  • Refrigerator
  • Drink cooler
  • Outdoor sink
  • Ice maker 
  • Wood-fired pizza oven
  • Warming drawers

What utilities will my options require?

Suppose your outdoor kitchen plans include more than a propane grill. Then, you'll need to install utilities like natural gas, electric, water, and drain lines.

Pro Tip: If you're running electrical, gas, or plumbing lines, always consult a licensed contractor. Even if you don't need a permit, their expertise keeps you safe and your property secure.

Do I have the skills to build my design?

That depends on your plan. Typically, outdoor kitchen ideas follow one of three building models:

  • From scratch–Requiring the most skill, this option builds the space from the ground up using pressure-treated lumber, concrete block, or metal. If you’re accustomed to performing complex home improvement projects, what are you waiting for?
  • From a kit–Mid-level DIYers can order a modular kitchen or use stock cabinets to create components like a kitchen island, outdoor bar, or grill station. Covering the cabinets with cement board and natural stone makes this option weatherproof and attractive.
  • Pre-built–If you’re a beginning DIYer, order a pre-built outdoor kitchen and install it yourself.

Ready to get started? Using your measurements, draw your design to scale on graph paper or use free design software. Software that creates a 3-D rendering helps you visualize what your kitchen will look like. And remember to include seating or dining areas and other elements like a fountain, fire pit, electronics, and lighting. Make sure everything fits in the planned location and can be reached by utility lines.

Hire a pro to build your outdoor kitchen
 

Prep the location

If you're building on the ground, now's the time to prepare it for your patio pavers or concrete base. First, ensure it's level and compact enough so the heavy components don't sag or list over time. The cost to build the patio for an outdoor kitchen averages about $6,000, but could be more or less depending on the size and materials used.

However, you may want your outdoor kitchen above grade, like on an existing deck or in a gazebo. In that case, calculate the load it will add to the structure. Kitchen components add considerable weight to a deck. And when you add the weight of the entire team on game day, you have the makings for one colossal disaster. To be safe, hire an engineer to approve your plans before building on elevated construction.

Finally, it's time to run utility lines for water, gas, or electricity if needed. And, if your kitchen is large, you should have an electrician add a dedicated electrical circuit with ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets. 

Pro Tip: Before digging anywhere on your property, call 811 to ensure you don't damage any underground utility lines.

Gather the tools

Whether you build your kitchen from scratch or order a kit, you’ll need a few tools. Here is a list of the tools you'll probably use when building an outdoor kitchen.

  • Basic carpentry tools
  • Essential masonry tools for cladding with tile or stone
  • Saw horses
  • Circular saw
  • Construction adhesive and caulking gun
  • 4-6’ Level
  • Drill/driver

Build the structure first

If you want an enclosure around your kitchen, you'll build it first. Popular types of backyard enclosures include:

  • Gazebo–This freestanding, octagonal structure with a roof adds an architectural element to any backyard. A gazebo can be open-air or enclosed. And, because it’s typically built off the ground, it's easy to hide utility lines from view.
  • Pergola–Large or small, a pergola consists of four pillars supporting a roof of equally spaced beams. A pergola provides partial shade from the sun and a structure to grow vining plants. They can be freestanding or built over an existing patio attached to the home.
  • Pavilion–Whether freestanding or attached to the home as a "lean-to," a pavilion is a complete roof supported by pillars.

Pro Tip: All materials for an outdoor kitchen must be weather-resistant. That includes cabinets, countertops, and appliances. 

Frame or install the cabinetry

If you're building your kitchen from scratch, this step will look more complex than if you ordered a pre-made kitchen. Let's examine the three options already discussed to see how involved each is.

When building from scratch, you'll probably follow engineer-approved plans to construct the framework for the cabinets and countertop using wood, metal, or concrete. Then, you'll finish the cabinets using their suggested materials. 

Mid-level DIYers can order a modular kitchen or use stock cabinets to create components like a kitchen island, outdoor bar, or grill station. After unpacking all the sections, set them out in the desired configuration, connect them as needed, and finish. Beginning with pre-made components saves you from having to build the framework.

When you order a pre-built kitchen from a manufacturer, you only need to secure the pieces together and to the ground.

Cover cabinet framework

Once you’ve constructed the framework, you’ll apply a concrete board sheathing by cutting it to the correct size and attaching it to the framework using exterior screws. Concrete board is preferred over plywood because it's moisture-resistant. Over this, you’ll next apply a scratch coat of mortar to provide the surface for tiling or adding a stone veneer, called cladding.

Pro Tip: Enclosed appliances require ventilation, particularly gas ones. Always follow the ventilation requirements for your appliances and create the openings at this point in the construction process. Improper venting of a gas appliance, whether a propane tank or a natural gas line, could result in a dangerous buildup of fumes.

Install countertop and cladding material

As with all the materials you use, the countertop needs to be weather-resistant. So, wood is discouraged. If your heart is set on wood, choose a weather-resistant species like cedar or redwood and seal it well. Other options include:

  • Stainless steel
  • Natural stone
  • Quartz
  • Concrete
  • Solid surface

Next, working from the bottom to the top, attach the cladding material. Ideal options include ceramic tile, stone, stucco, or exterior faux stone products. Whether you install the cladding material before or after installing the countertops is a personal preference.

Install the appliances

The next step is to install the appliances. Items like the side burners, gas grill, and sink drop into their respective openings in the countertop, resting on a flange. Refrigerators or ice makers will slide in from the front.

Connect the utilities

Now, you’re ready to connect the electricity, gas, and water. With that done, it’s time to flip some burgers.

How to make your outdoor kitchen feel like home

 Once you’ve completed the building phase, it’s time to make your outdoor kitchen feel like home. Whether your style is boho, rustic, formal, or contemporary, you can achieve the vibe you want with durable, weatherproof furnishings. 

Do you have a dining or sitting area? First, choose patio furniture that’s inviting and comfortable for the number of people you typically host. Then, define the space with an area rug.

Finally, extend the season with a heat source like a patio heater or fire pit. Remember lighting for evening use and entertainment features like an outdoor television and Bluetooth speakers.

How to save money when building an outdoor kitchen

If you’re on a strict budget, you may wonder if there are any ways to save money on an outdoor kitchen. You can save thousands of dollars by building an open patio with no overhead structure. 

There are plenty of other ways to protect you and your guests from the elements. For temporary covers, consider the following:

  • Shade sails–Canvas sheets that connect to either pillars or the home at the corners are a budget-friendly option. They give your patio a relaxed atmosphere.
  • Umbrellas–To shade multiple areas, consider freestanding umbrellas. They’re affordable, attractive, and casual.
  • Retractable awnings–For the kitchen that runs along the side of the home, consider a retractable awning. They come in various sizes and styles for any design. Whether hand-cranked, electric, or solar-powered, they’re ready to protect you and your guests from the elements at a moment’s notice. 

Other ways to save money on your outdoor kitchen include:

  • Use grills and burners with propane tanks to avoid the expense of running gas lines.
  • Locate your outdoor kitchen opposite your kitchen window. Then, you can pass items through and use the indoor sink when needed.
  • Choose quality materials over a larger space. You can always add on later.

When to call in the pros

Whether large or small, basic or with all the bells and whistles, your outdoor kitchen will bring you many years of joy while gathering with family and friends. And now you know everything building one entails. So, whether you DIY the entire project, hire professionals to do it for you, or do something in between, you have what it takes to get started.

Get an outdoor kitchen build quote from a local pro