One of the fastest, simplest, and most cost-effective ways to get your outdoor kitchen island or grill set up and running is with a prefab outdoor kitchen kit.
It can also be a very expensive mistake if you make the investment too hastily.
There are 3 major categories of outdoor kitchen kits (depending on how much you'd like to customize your kitchen) many of which can be assembled with the simplest of tools, such a screwdriver and wrench.
This ease of construction can lead people to take shortcuts in their preparations, or skip the important preliminary considerations altogether.
In this article, I'll talk about some of those major considerations in four categories:
Location, Location, Location…
A number of factors come into play when selecting the ideal location for your outdoor kitchen.
Starting with the most basic need: a level surface is the main requirement for installation.
Outdoor kitchens can be easily installed on concrete, brick, or pave-stones. If you're pouring concrete, be sure you install any necessary plumbing or wiring conduits before you pour the slab. (See UTILITIES, below.)
An existing patio can often be an ideal site, but beware of flammable materials overhead, including patio roofs, trees, latticework, and so forth.
The ideal site for your outdoor kitchen will also be where it has minimum exposure to the elements, and protection from the wind.
If one side is for cooking and the other is for entertaining, you may need to plan for shade on at least one side. That way, neither the cook nor the guests are staring into the glare of the sun.
Will the site of your outdoor kitchen expose it to the extreme heat of the sun, or excessive moisture from the ocean, a pool, or rain? Be sure the materials can handle it. (See weather-safe, below.)
Often, the ideal location will then determine the needs of your kitchen.
Is it close to your indoor kitchen? You might not need an outdoor fridge. Is it farther away? Maybe you'll need that fridge, or even a sink, and other amenities.
If you have a large area to work with, you can include extra counter space, or add a bar area with extra seating for family and friends. You can even go all-out and add accessories like a kegerator or wine cooler, or a pizza oven.
Keep in mind that those extra accessories might require extra utilities…
UTILITIES: Electricity, Gas, & Water Lines…?
Depending on your budget, the space, and the accessories, your kitchen may require plumbing, electricity, or natural gas.
A sink will require a water supply and a drainiage system. Don't expect to get away with feeding your sink with a garden hose, and have no place for the runoff water and waste to go.
However, you might not necessarily need to dig-up your yard just to get water to, and away from, your outdoor kitchen island. Manufacturers mention a number of ways to do this in their instruction manuals.
A garden hose is probably the easiest way of getting water to your barbecue island. There are two ways to do this:
- You can attach the hose to the sink whenever you need it simply by bringing through the access door under your sink. Or,
- You can bury the length of the hose and bring it up beneath the barbecue island. (The same way you might with natural gas or electrical stub-ups.) Once it's connected to your sink, you won’t need to remove it.
In a more permanent installation, you might plumb a single 1⁄2-inch cold water pipe from your house plumbing to a stub-up beneath the sink.
What about hot water? You might install a tankless point-of-use water heater beneath your sink (minimal space and work, but requires electricity). Or, your could tap your house’s hot water tank. Some people have even installed a solar water heater to save on power.
Where will the water go once it goes down the drain? You don't want to create a mess.
The simplest solution is to place a five gallon bucket beneath the sink drain. No only is this extremely inexpensive, but it's probably the least trouble to maintain for winterizing your barbecue island. Just be sure to check it every couple hours.
If your yard is on a slope, you can take advantage of this by draining sink water to your garden, where you can re-use the water.
The most complicated (and more permanent) solution is to install a gray water drain — a line to your house’s gray water drainage. This will likely incur some cost and labor, but probably your best solution if you plan to locate your barbecue island in its place permanently.
Electricity is needed for an outdoor refrigerator and lighting, or for accessories such as a rotisserie, local water heater, or media center.
While you might run an extension cord from your house out to your outdoor kitchen island, for temporary or ad hoc use, it's not the safest way to get power out there. (Especially not for a permanent installation.)
Depending on the electrical requirements of your outdoor kitchen island appliances, it might be best to have it running off its own grounded circuit. Always check the installation manual for electrical details and requirements. And, if none of this makes sense to you, you should consult a contractor.
Of course, the grill will need fuel to cook with. Propane and Natural Gas are the two main choices.*
The advantage of propane is that you can put a propane grill anywhere, because Propane is portable and come in tanks.
Natural Gas, however, has to be pumped in through piping, so the position of your natural gas grill will essentially be permanent, once you've installed the pipeline.
*NOTE: Many grills will have the option to use either propane or natural gas. Some will require a conversion kit. Be sure to check the options when you purchase your grill.
For smaller spaces like a patio or deck close to the house, you might choose an outdoor kitchen island with nothing more than a propane grill and compact refrigerator.
The propane tank will remove the need to install a natural gas line, and proximity to the house will make electricity more accessible for the fridge.
For a larger outdoor kitchen and entertainment space, with multiple accessories and a more permanent installation, putting in a natural gas line might be more cost effective in the long term.
Contractor or Permits for Utilities…
Plumbing, Electricity, or Natural Gas—if you need them, you'll need to consider how and where these utilities will be routed from the house or other sources to your outdoor kitchen.
You may want to speak with a contractor about the cost, location, and logistics of installing any of these before you order your prefab outdoor kitchen kit.
A contractor can help you get the most out of your budget by locating your outdoor kitchen for easy access to utilities.
Though you may not need a building permit for your outdoor kitchen’s construction, you will probably need permits for any electrical or plumbing work, and to check zoning requirements to make sure any permanent structures will be a legal distance from property lines.
Weather-Safe Appliances and Other Materials
The climate in which you live is an important factor to consider when purchasing outdoor kitchen kits.
Does your climate make sense for a permanent outdoor kitchen installation?
In warmer climates, you might be more concerned with exposure to heat, sun, and moisture.
In these you want to make sure your kitchen components and appliances can withstand those temperatures, and resist rusting.
Be sure the metal appliances are made of higher grade stainless steel. Wooden surfaces or cabinet doors should be coated in weather-proofing. Countertops and finishing should be able to dry on their own.
You might also consider buying a cover to shield smaller kitchen islands and appliances from the elements.
If your area goes through more drastic seasonal climate changes—specifically, if you experience cold winters—you have more to think about.
Big swings in temperature, that go from below freezing to hot, means that the materials of your outdoor kitchen are going to expand and contract.
If the materials are not right for your climate, you can have structural problems. Tile tops can potentially crack. Spaces can develop between the finishing components, allowing moisture in.
WEIGHT! These things are HEAVY…
One of the last things people tend to think about when buying these kits is how heavy they can be.
Between the grill, countertop, siding, storage cabinets, refrigerator and other appliances, the pounds can add up.
Just as one example, this basic prefab outdoor kitchen island kit from CalFlame has nothing more than a 4-burner grill, a 4.6 cu. ft. compact outdoor fridge, porcelain tile counter, and two storage cabinets.
It weighs 1,600 pounds.*
This has several implications for your construction plans, but specifically for the location and the delivery/shipping of your outdoor kitchen and its components.
First, consider the shipping weight.* Are you ordering several components that ship separately, or does it come in one hulking box that will be dropped off in your driveway?
*Shipping weight will usually be more than the final weight of the built island.
Smaller deliveries can easily be transported to your yard or planned kitchen area, but larger, bulky packages will either have to be broken down first, or transported to your yard via vehicle.
Second, where will your kitchen be? A concrete or even earthen patio can support the weight. However, if you were considering putting this on a wooden deck or other structure, be sure it can withstand the extra weight.
**NOTE: Some manufacturers provide a “Pre-Delivery Guide” to help you prepare to receive your outdoor kitchen island kit. Check for links to such a guide on the product page of the manufacturer's site or the retailer site through which you purchase.
A prefab outdoor kitchen kit can be an extremely rewarding and long-lasting investment. But, it can also be an expensive hassle if you don't take its installation and safety into consideration.
I hope that this article has given you a good headstart in your preparations for building an outdoor kitchen, and that you now have some more confidence toward making that outdoor kitchen of your dreams a reality.
Thank you for reading. If you have any questions about this article, or anything to add for other readers, please add them in the comments below.