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How To Build An Outdoor Kitchen, Part One

Updated on December 13, 2009

These articles will discuss how to build an Outdoor Kitchen. I do not mean “how” in a do-it-yourself kind of way because if you are a secretary or a doctor I believe you should do what you are good at doing. When I need medical attention I call the doctor and if you need an outdoor kitchen you should engage a professional. Also although deciding who is going to build your Outdoor Kitchen is an important decision, that is secondary to what is going to be built. Many clients come to me and want an outdoor kitchen but have no idea how to make the necessary decisions that allow their desire to become a reality. Once you know exactly what you want and why those choices are important, the ability to decide on a builder based on their strengths and weaknesses becomes easy.

built in bbq grill-head

built in 42" grill infrared
built in 42" grill infrared
built in 30" infrared bbq
built in 30" infrared bbq

Many clients come to us for an outdoor kitchen, grill island, summer kitchen, built in BBQ grill, etc without a specific idea of exactly what they want.  Often the homeowner has a space they would like to use and an idea about turning that empty zone into a fun social space for the family.  Put a flat screen television on the wall, a little coverage and a functional kitchen including a grill, refrigerator, ice, sink and storage and you have beach resort quality comfort in your own backyard. 

When asked what type of built in grill they want most homeowners’ just mumble something non-committal.  They don’t care a lot about the grill because they are focused on the design and the taste of red meat and beer during a televised football game.   However, the built in bbq grill and appliances are an integral part of the design.  The grill is the primary focal point of the party.  The size and placement of the built in grill will determine the placement of counterpaces and serving space.  Serving space will determine where to put seating and seating will determine where to place other accessories like a built in ice bin, sink and refrigerator.  Not all outdoor kitchens and bars will have a lot of built in accessories but they get a grill at least ninety percent of the time.

Built in gas grills are expensive.  If the built in grill is too expensive but the outdoor kitchen project must be built, build the outdoor kitchen without a grill at all.  Rather than place a product in the counter top that will not withstand the weather and lower the quality, value and functionality of the whole build useable counterspace.  Include whatever built in accessories you will use during cooking, socializing and mixing drinks.  Make the island comfortable to serve and to sit and be served.  Leave your barbeque on wheels and use it in conjunction with the seating, additional space and accessories.

built in gas grill

dcs built in 36" gas grill-head
dcs built in 36" gas grill-head

If I were only able to give one piece of advice regarding the selection of a built in grill it would be: do not go cheap.  Because the grill is a necessity that is not the primary focus of the homeowners desire to have an outdoor kitchen, the option to purchase an imported grill-head from inferior manufacturers often arises.  The problem is that the custom grill island will be built to hold that specific grill-head and if the grill needs to be replaced in a year or two but the structure is still as solid as a house, what will fit into the built in gap where the old grill sat?  Many imported grill manufacturers do not make replacement grill parts available and I have had clients who spent more on OEM grill parts than the original barbeque price.   I’ve also had customers who had to tear down a structure just to be able to change their grill-head.

built in gas grill

built in infrared gas grill
built in infrared gas grill

The first question I usually ask a customer is “what do you cook?”.  Almost everybody replies “everything” because in their mind they cook everything they eat and do not want to spend a bunch of money on a product with built-in limitations..  A few questions can usually determine the essentials.  Does the homeowner cook?  Do you cook fast and hot or slow with low temperatures?  When I cook a Thanksgiving Turkey I’ll smoke the bird for nine hours at 185 degrees but day to day cooking and social functions I tend to grill mostly hamburgers, steaks and fish on the highest heat setting and fast.  Most customers will discover they are cooking the same style of barbequing the majority of the time with slight variations on special occasions.

Once the type of heat used is learned, the size of the built in grill can be determined.  For instance an infrared grill that heats to 1400 degrees will cook a lot faster than a barbeque that must close the hood and wait for the temperature to rise to 400 degrees.  Therefore a small infrared grill can be done grilling four steaks in the same period of time a typical BBQ takes to reach cooking temperature – and taste better doing it!  There are many hybrid grills available that use both infrared and convectional blue flame heat.  There are built in charcoal barbecues and smokers and individual sear zones that can be built in to accentuate grilling when combined with a standard built in barbeque.  If you are going to custom build an outdoor kitchen, do it right and get the grill that will satisfy your needs and is built to last outdoors by a reputable manufacturer.

built in grill accessories

built in combination access door with drawers
built in combination access door with drawers
double drawer for grill island installation
double drawer for grill island installation

Finally look at the options and features available with the built in grills you consider.  Most well made built in BBQs will have options to add an infrared rotisserie, smoker box, steamer/fryer, griddle, wok ring, lights and even digital thermometer.  Consider a grill with a lifetime warranty and then choose the most versatile product within the price range you have set.  This should be the last BBQ grill you buy so make sure it will grow with your needs.

After choosing the right grill we have a starting point to design the rest of the outdoor kitchen by deciding what type of accessories to build in.  Built in accessories include pull-out tank drawers, pull-out cutting board drawers, cubby holes, pantries, ice bins, refrigerators, ice machines, keg-erators and literally hundreds of additional choices. I have designed and built several hundred outdoor kitchens and the best advice I can give you is build good quality products into your outdoor kitchen and bar.  Replacing an item by searching specification measurements is not fun.  Often once the right sized accessory is located, it may not have the same polished grain in the stainless, the same handles and hinges as the original products.

Now sketch out the dimensions of the space you are using in the backyard design.  Based on the choice of built in grill and a wish list of built in accessories, what is the space allowed?  Now we can determine how to lay out the seating and the food preparation and the social spaces.  Lets dedicate another article to that.


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    • sbyholm profile image


      8 years ago from Finland

      I get hungry by reading that.

      Our barbecue setup is a small, round, yellow, 30 year old coal grill on the lawn. It was apparently built to last as it's still going strong :)


    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks for the information. I feel like I will be able to move forward with budgeting my outdoor kitchen next year.

    • grillrepair profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from florida

      thanks. i hope this helps -- there are more to come.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Answered so many questions i had about what i would want in my outdoor kitchen > I will return again .

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      good article about grill islands and keeping good products that weather well over time. thanks.


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