Top 5 Tips for Designing an Outdoor Kitchen


By Steve Jacobs,

Nature Designs

In San Diego we are blessed with beautiful weather year-round. Since summer is right around the corner, most of us will be spending more time outdoors entertaining friends, enjoying the sunset, and dining al fresco under the stars. Because outdoor entertaining is such a large part of the southern California culture, it’s only natural that an outdoor kitchen is one of the most requested amenities in residential landscape construction. An outdoor kitchen greatly enhances the outdoor entertaining experience, adds value to the home, and allows the cook to enjoy more time with friends during a party. Even when you’re not entertaining, outdoor kitchens and patios can act as an outdoor room, expanding the existing living space, without the walls.

If you and your home could benefit from adding an outdoor dining and entertainment area, here are some things to consider during the planning process:

  1. Appliances - It is important to consider the relationship between your indoor and outdoor kitchens. Will the outdoor kitchen and indoor kitchen be their own separate entities, or will they be used together during a party? If the indoor kitchen will be used in conjunction with the outdoor kitchen, the design of the outdoor kitchen should be designed with this in mind. The outdoor kitchen’s proximity to the indoor kitchen will determine the number of amenities that will be needed. Outdoor kitchen amenities are available for every style of cooking. Of course, the grill is the heart of the any kitchen. Griddles, warming ovens, searing grills, rotisseries, stovetops, smokers and pizza ovens are all available options. Sinks, refrigerators, freezers, and wine chillers are also upgraded amenities. Prices depend mainly on size, number of amenities, and materials used in construction. Stainless steel appliances are ideal because they are resistant to the elements; however, less expensive appliances that have a powder coated metal finish are also available. There are beautiful, high-end options for sinks, such as those that come in a variety of stone finishes. When choosing a refrigerator, make sure it is one designed specifically for the outdoors. Outdoor refrigerators must work harder than indoor refrigerators to maintain proper temperatures because keeping food cool in the summertime requires increased insulation and more powerful components than indoor refrigerators. Also, outdoor refrigerators are weatherproofed against the elements to avoid electrocution.
  2. Utilities - If a sink is desirable, plumbing will depend on a variety of factors. If the outdoor kitchen is against the exterior façade of the house, it might be possible to connect to the sanitary sewer line inside the house; otherwise a separate sewer line will be needed. Another less expensive option is to drain the sink into a French drain (also known as a percolation pit). This is a large hole filled with rocks or gravel containing the pipe outlet. This option works well for low-usage sinks where biodegradable soaps are used. If hot and cold water lines are needed, a mini electric water heater can be installed under the sink. Lighting is also important - both for functionality and aesthetics. Many code regulations now require high efficacy lighting. These are low energy lights fixtures that use special bulbs (lamps) to produce light. A nighttime lighting demonstration is recommended to determine the proper quantity and type of light fixtures.
  3. Style - An outdoor kitchen should complement the home’s architecture and landscape. This is often achieved by using similar building materials and architectural features. An outdoor kitchen should also flow with the rest of the landscape design. It’s important that an outdoor kitchen, outdoor dining space and pool, functionally coexist and don’t, for example, isolate the cook from the guests or block views of the landscape.
  4. Shelter - Make sure this space is comfortable by providing sun protection for the cook and guests. A shade arbor or solid-roofed structure will provide some nice relief from the heat. Adding heaters for those cooler times and stereo speakers will also round out the ambiance.
  5. Safety – Be sure to research the local building code regulations in your area. Because of the 2003 Cedar fires, many fire codes became stricter with regard to fire features, especially if you’re located near a canyon. Make sure that there are no overhanging combustible materials within 10 feet of any fire feature; this includes tree canopies and roof eaves. A hood vent or fire sprinkler system may be required. Take your design information to the local fire department planning office to discuss details before finalizing your plan. The fire department will provide information on what will be allowed and required.

Nature Designs can help with all the details of your outdoor kitchen project – or any type of landscape improvement. We’ll design and build an outdoor kitchen and dining area that complements your existing landscape, personal entertainment needs, and budget. For more information about our company and services, visit our website at

or give us a call at (760) 945-4321.