Whether you covet a grill and food-prep station on wheels or a built-in BBQ island with fridge and bar seating, don’t hit the home center before reading our expert guide to creating a first-rate backyard cook spot
Zero in On the Type That’s Right
Movable A smart choice for small spaces that multitask—as cookout central one day and a garden hub the next. Start with a portable charcoal or gas grill fitted with heavy cast-iron or stainless-steel grates and an easy-to-clean grease trap. For storage and counter space, add a rolling cart with shelves. To avoid serving burgers tartare, buy a clip-on grill light.
Cost: $300 to $3,000
Prefab An all-in-one option for folks with more square footage and cash to spend. The basic setup (shown) typically includes a stucco-clad 5-foot island with tile counter, drop-in gas grill, and access doors for a propane tank. Extras, including granite counters, a refrigerator, and LED lighting, are ordered a la carte. DIYers can get cooking with a prefab island on delivery day.
Cost: $2,000 to $30,000
Custom A built-in-place kitchen, whether crafted by a pro or a handy homeowner, offers integrated appliances, storage, and counter space, as well as the most flexibility in terms of matching the kitchen’s materials and style to its surroundings. A larger layout, extensive lighting, in-ground utilities, and a pergola-style roof add convenience but also raise the price.
Cost: $3,000 to $50,000 and up
Checklist: What to Do, When
For movable outdoor kitchens, just roll and go. But for built-in ones with plumbing and electric, you’ll likely need some help from the pros. Follow this game plan:
- Hire a contractor (if needed)
- Get permits
- Gather materials
- Run utility lines
- Install hardscaping
- Buy appliances
- Add built-ins
- Hook up lighting
A masonry base in the form of mortared brick and stone is classic. To tie it in with the house, choose a material and design, such as this running-bond brick pattern, that echoes your foundation walls or chimney.
The style is characterized by sleek lines and polished finishes, such as granite and stainless steel. Here, ipe boards running in horizontal bands give dimension to the kitchen while also blending it with the wooded backdrop.
Texture and matte finishes impart a lived-in look. Here, stucco on the built-in base is tinted to mimic terra-cotta and to harmonize with the tones of a rough-stone counter. Earthy colors blend with the surrounding plantings.
Designer’s Cheat Sheet
To create a good-looking and efficient kitchen, follow these rules of thumb:
Configuration: Along One Wall
Good for: Smaller, more budget-friendly spaces; outdoor kitchens for one cook, with a separate dining or seating area
Good for: Two or more cooks; incorporating extras, such as a sink or a refrigerator; providing a buffet, bar or seating area for entertaining
Good for: Freestanding kitchens with multiple appliances, including a grill, a refrigerator, and a sink, and a seating/bar/serving area
Good for: Island Creating a hub for entertaining. Consider dividing with a raised counter so that grilling and preparing is separate from socializing.
3 Reasons to Stay Close to the House
- Convenience: You won’t have to haul food and supplies across the lawn. An ideal location is 15 to 20 feet from your indoor kitchen. Stay cool by placing seating where guests won’t be facing the intense rays of the setting sun.
- Budget: It’s less expensive to run utilities a short distance from the house. You can also save on paving by building on an existing patio or deck by the back door.
- Shelter: The walls of the house can provide structure and protection—at no extra cost. If under an overhang, avoid the smokehouse effect by placing the grill near the roof’s perimeter.
Why: Mortared to a wood, concrete-block, or precast-concrete frame, it looks like and lasts as long as natural stone but is simpler to DIY because it’s lightweight and easy to cut.
Price: $5 to $25 per square foot uninstalled
Why: Affordable and a cinch to maintain. Requires careful prep, and you may have to cut bricks to fit. But if you’ve got basic masonry skills, it’s a good weekend project.
Price: $3 to $6 per square foot uninstalled
Why: Troweled onto a wood, concrete-block, or precast-concrete frame, it’s a hard-wearing and flameproof finish that comes in colors.
Price: $4 to $9 per square foot uninstalled
No-Fuss Materials: Cabinetry
Why: It’s durable and weatherproof and matches the grill.
Price: About $200 for doors hinged to a face frame (shown) or $500 for a full 18-inch base unit with drawer and door
Why: Has the charm of painted wood, but won’t rot and is maintenance-free—just hose it down to clean it.
Price: Starts at $600 for a semi-custom 18-inch base unit with a door
Why: Offers a warm, classic look. Must be finished annually with a clear sealer.
Price: About $75 per door, not including hinges or a face frame, or $750 for a full 18-inch base unit with a door
No-Fuss Materials: Countertop
Why: Stands up to the elements, won’t stain as easily as marble, soapstone, or slate, and shouldn’t fade in the sun.
Price: $50 to $100 per square foot for slabs installed
Why: Lends a clean, contemporary look but can be prone to cracking if not properly installed. Not DIY-friendly. Must be sealed and resealed annually.
Price: About $50 to $100 per square foot for a custom-poured slab
Outdoor-rated ceramic tile
Why: Thrifty, good for DIYers, and offers a range of styles and colors. Best in regions where freezing and thawing won’t damage grout lines.
Price: $3 to $10 per square foot uninstalled
Worth the Splurge
They’re not necessities, but they make cookouts more enjoyable
Sink: The ease and sanitary benefit of washing hands and veggies without schlepping inside makes it worth the investment for not just the sink but also for plumbing and waste lines; about $1,800 total.
Dedicated gas line: If you have natural gas, run a line from the house so as not to struggle with a propane tank or run out of fuel during a BBQ; $300 to $900, depending on the distance to the grill.
Also Worth the Splurge
Extra burner: Ideal for side dishes. Some grills come with one, but be sure there’s enough space to fit your pots. A separate burner is about $500, plus installation. Plug-in induction ones that stow away when not in use start at $200.
Refrigerator: A stainless-steel undercounter unit keeps cold drinks and ingredients within reach of the grill. Tack on $600 to the cost of a $300 fridge for a new in-ground electrical line to power it.
How to Avoid Pulling a Permit
Some towns don’t require one for prefab grill islands. But to eliminate any guesswork—and ensure that your project won’t trigger a tax hike—opt for a movable kitchen with a rolling grill, a cart, and an outdoor extension cord for electricity.
How to ensure your new cook center won’t endanger you—or your home:
Grill: Position it at least 10 feet from combustible materials, such as wood siding, deck rails, and tree branches, and build in storage for a fire extinguisher.
Gas: Check the line for leaks. Mix 1 part dish soap to 2 parts water. Brush the solution on the hose and connector fittings. Turn on the gas, but don’t light the grill. If new bubbles form, you have a leak. Tighten the fittings; if that fails, replace the hose and fittings.
Electric: GFCI outlets are required; it’s also good to put the kitchen on its own circuit, one that’s easily accessible via the control panel in your house. Use only extension cords, fans, and lights that have Underwriters Laboratories (UL) outdoor ratings, because they stand up to UV exposure and extreme temperatures.
For a kitchen off the house, a simple-to-retrofit option is an awning, from about $500 for an 8-foot-wide manually operated model.
Make a Three-Prong Lighting Plan
Provide task lighting, such as a clip-on grill light or a standing lamp, for cooking and work areas. Ambient illumination at seating areas, in the form of all-weather string lights or rechargeable LED tea lights, will set the mood. And, for safety, consider spots or solar-powered stakes along paths leading to your open-air kitchen, riser lights for deck stairs, and an overhead lantern where you enter the house.
Add-Ons: Portable Heater
Stay warm and extend the BBQ season with this 46,000-Btu propane unit; no electricity required. Wheels make it easy to move
Here’s how to prepare your outdoor kitchen for winter:
- Clean and cover the grill.
- Turn off and unplug all other appliances, such as a fridge.
- Shut off the water supply, and flush any remaining water from the pipes. (This is easiest if your plumber installs a gravity-based winterization system; otherwise, you’ll have to pump the water out.)