8 Outdoor Kitchen Mistakes That Are Sure To Leave a Bad Taste

hikesterson/Getty Images/realtor.com

Many of us are hanging out at home more than ever, and all that extra time in your backyard may set you daydreaming about having your very own outdoor kitchen.

If so, you aren’t alone. According to a recent survey by Fixr, 41% of construction industry experts expect clients to invest in outdoor kitchens this year.

“With COVID, people are cooking at home more,” says Jennifer Robbins, owner/operator of Backyard Specialist in Wilmington, NC.

“The rise in sales for outdoor kitchens has just gone through the roof.”

And the good news is that you don’t need a sprawling estate to accommodate one. You just have to think creatively about your space—and know your priorities.

“An outdoor kitchen can seem like an intimidating project, but you get started just like you would with any other space,” says Erin Hopson, outdoor kitchen design team manager at BBQGuys in Baton Rouge, LA.

But just as with any other kind of home improvement project, things can easily go wrong. So if you’re thinking about investing in an al fresco cooking space, do your homework to avoid the following headaches—and ensure delicious results.

1. Not planning for the weather

If you’re a homeowner in a cooler climate, you won’t be able to use your outdoor kitchen all year long. If you live in an area with frigid, snowy winters, you need to plan the space carefully.

“Depending on how cold your area gets, electrical components like refrigeration units may need to be winterized and stored in a garage or other enclosed structure,” Hopson says.

2. Positioning your kitchen in direct sunlight

Photo by Outdoorliving By Kenneth Reilly

Direct sunlight is a no-go for outdoor kitchens.

“It’s extremely important, because outdoor refrigeration appliances shouldn’t be fully exposed to sunlight,” Hopson says.

On a practical level, direct sunlight can also be annoying. Nobody wants to squint into the sun while trying to enjoy an outdoor happy hour.

“Some people can’t even enjoy their kitchen at 6 p.m., because it’s 100 degrees out here,” Robbins says.

If you don’t have natural shade, you can create a pergola or roof structure to help protect your outdoor kitchen from the sun.

3. Building with flammable materials

Thinking of building a wooden island for your outdoor kitchen? Think again.

“We strongly advise against building a grill island with wood or other combustible materials,” Hopson says.

Instead, opt for a material like metal, brick, or stone.

“The whole point of the framing is to hold your grill. Why would you put something that creates combustion into something that can easily catch fire?”

If you absolutely must use wood for your BBQ island, be sure to install an insulated jacket around the wood to prevent fires—and don’t put your kitchen right up against vinyl siding, another serious fire hazard.

“You would be surprised at how many times we’ve gone into kitchens people have built, and they framed it in wood and clad it in stone, and the wood has caught on fire because they didn’t put an insulated jacket in it,” Robbins says.

4. Cramming too much into a small space

Photo by DeGoey Designs

“The whole point of an outdoor kitchen is to bring the comforts of home outside,” Hopson says. “So having a cramped space will limit the feelings of coziness you’re striving for.”

But you don’t need to live on a sprawling estate to create the outdoor dining space of your dreams. If you’re short on space (or money), consider what you really need in your outdoor kitchen, then tailor the space to your priorities and your budget.

“Maybe you want an outdoor space, but you don’t want to cook,” Robbins says. “I love my countertop and love my refrigerator outside; maybe that’s what you want. You want more of an outdoor entertaining area that doesn’t require a cooking appliance.”

5. Planning your outdoor kitchen like an indoor kitchen

Outdoor kitchens have certain quirks that distinguish them from indoor kitchens. For starters, you probably won’t want to use the kind of cabinetry you have inside the house.

Vent hoods for outdoor kitchens need to be more powerful than indoor models, Hopson says.

She adds that outdoor kitchen cabinets are generally deeper than indoor models, typically from 30 to 36 inches deep. Indoors, they are usually around 24 to 27 inches deep.

“Most people don’t need quite as much storage in their outdoor kitchen,” she says.

6. Choosing a grill that’s the wrong size


If you’re putting the energy and investment into an outdoor kitchen, don’t skimp on your most important appliance: the grill.

To figure out the right size, Hopson says to ask yourself three questions:

  1. How many people will you normally grill for?
  2. What’s the maximum number of people you will be grilling for?
  3. How often do you expect to grill for the maximum number of people?

7. Forgetting to set up the space for entertaining

Chances are, you want an outdoor kitchen for relaxing—not just for cooking. Don’t forget to think about how the space will function for entertaining.

“Think about seating: Do you want a dining table a few feet away from the grill, or would you rather have bar stools lining your outdoor kitchen island?” Hopson says.

You may also want to incorporate TVs, sound systems, heating and cooling appliances, and decor, depending on your priorities and budget.

“Most of us won’t be planning vacations any time soon, so you might as well start planning your own backyard getaway spot instead,” Hopson says.

8. Dropping the ball on maintenance

A new outdoor kitchen comes with a new list of things to keep spotless. It’s important to understand what chores you’re getting into.

If you have stainless-steel appliances, for example, coat them with a protectant to prevent rust. If you aren’t up to the task of regular maintenance, consider hiring a cleaning service.

“Outdoor kitchens are an investment,” Robbins says. “Even though you spent $5,000 on that grill, it does not clean itself. They can last forever, but you need to do a little bit of upkeep.”

Article by Lauren Sieben