Expert advice on how to build a custom outdoor kitchen or barbecue or buy a prefabricated modular outdoor kitchen, with information on planning, locating, construction, connecting water and power, and local codes.

Ah, the aroma of a sizzling London broil wafting from your neighbor’s barbecue. You sneak a peek over the fence, expecting to see Herb huddled over his old charcoal kettle.

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But then you see it and, once you do, your life can never be the same again. Herb has a new outdoor kitchen.

This isn’t just a barbecue. It’s a cooking center, tweaked out with a gleaming grill, refrigerator, and stainless-steel cabinets to die for. It’s solid and proud: a tribute to masonry construction. And you’ve got to have one just like it.

Jealousy will get you nowhere. But a plan, a masonry contractor, and a few thousand dollars might.

Be aware that an outdoor kitchen with a built-in barbecue is a serious endeavor. Hopefully, it’s going to be part of your yard for a long, long time.

Pros & Cons of Outdoor Kitchens

An outdoor kitchen can be a very cost-effective way to expand a home’s usable space. Building one is far less expensive than remodeling an indoor kitchen. As a result, building an outdoor kitchen can be a great way to add entertaining and food preparation space. Whereas homeowners might spend from $30,000 to $100,000 or more on a major kitchen remodel, they can build an outdoor kitchen for from $2000 to $10,000—or a lot more if they pull out all the stops.

An outdoor kitchen can also be a real plus for a small home. It will draw guests out to the yard, patio or deck. By opening up interior space, it takes some of the heat off of—and out of—the home’s kitchen.

Though an outdoor kitchen can add tremendously to your enjoyment and to memories of time with family and friends, if you build one, you probably won’t get 100% of your investment back upon selling your home. According to Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value study, backyard patio improvements recoup about 55% of their cost upon selling a home. So the idea is to create this kind of amenity for your own family’s enjoyment. No guarantees, but your outdoor kitchen may be just the feature that a future buyer loves about your home.

Planning a Custom Outdoor Kitchen

It’s important to plan and build it with quality to ensure that it will last and serve you well. Here are a few key tips:

Location, Location, Location

Place your barbecue and entertaining area near the house–particularly the kitchen. Ideally, an outdoor kitchen should be sited where it has a minimum exposure to the elements and protection from the wind.

Because it is designed for entertaining, an existing patio is often an ideal site, but beware of flammable materials overhead, including trees, trellises, and patio roofs.

Allow for Utilities

A sink will require a water supply and a drain. Electricity is needed for an outdoor refrigerator, a rotisserie, and lighting. Consider how and where these utilities will be routed from the house to the outdoor kitchen.

Design for comfort. An outdoor kitchen is like an indoor kitchen and should be designed with many of the same considerations. The countertop should be from 32 to 36 inches high and at least 24 inches deep.

Use Sound Construction

A large, heavy masonry barbecue will require a concrete pad–typically a steel-reinforced, 4-inch-thick slab poured over a 4- to 6-inch-deep bed of gravel.

Many have a perimeter footing that’s twice as wide as the barbecue’s walls and 16 to 18 inches deep (6 inches below frost line). Be sure you install any rough plumbing or wiring conduit before you pour the slab.

Build According to Code

Before finalizing your design, check zoning requirements to make sure your outdoor kitchen will be a legal distance from property lines.

Though you may not need a building permit for the outdoor kitchen’s construction, you probably will need permits for any electrical or plumbing work. And, in most cases, a drop-in gas grill must be framed by non-flammable material.

Buying a Prefabricated Modular Outdoor Kitchen

One way to get around building a permanent brick or stone edifice is to buy a prefabricated modular outdoor kitchen.  Priced from about $500 to more than $8000, you can buy a prefabricated outdoor kitchens online or through specialty manufacturers and major home improvement centers. A plethora of styles and configurations is available.

Low-end models are about 6-feet long and include a grill, countertop and one or two outdoor kitchen cabinets. As you might imagine, high-end models are complete cooking centers that include appliances and more.

Most prefabricated outdoor kitchens are designed for quick-and-easy do-it-yourself assembly with basic tools. In most cases, assembly takes only a few hours.

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About Don Vandervort
Don Vandervort has developed his expertise for more than 30 years as a remodeler and builder, Building Editor for Sunset Books, Senior Editor at Home Magazine, author of more than 30 home improvement books, and writer of countless magazine articles. He appeared for 3 seasons on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert for several years. Don founded HomeTips in 1996. Read more about Don Vandervort