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Dining Out In Your Own Backyard -- Layouts and More


You’ve made the decision, settled on the budget and determined the perfect spot. You have a good sense of how you will use the space, but you still have a multitude of details to consider. The designers at Embassy Landscape Group can help you iron out the details and create a remarkable space that perfectly fulfills your dreams.

  • What kitchen layout works best for you?



Just like the traditional indoor kitchen, basic kitchen design principles apply to an outdoor kitchen as well. In the past, kitchens were typically designed for a single cook and organized in what was called the “work triangle.” Today, it is not uncommon to have two or more people involved in meal preparation, so we tend to think in terms of four “zones” instead.

Today’s zones are referred to as “hot,” “cold,” “dry” and “wet” in relation to the tasks performed there. Hot zones include all the areas where cooking takes place.(Real surprise, isn’t it?) Cold zones contain any type of refrigeration appliances or chilling tubs. Dry zones are the preparation and storage areas, while wet areas are sinks and their surrounding counters. The zones should be about 4 feet apart, but kept within approximately 9 feet of each other. This spacing allows for adequate room for each separate task while eliminating unnecessary steps for a single cook.

There are several common layouts that are excellent for efficient and effective use of  kitchen space whether that kitchen is indoors or outdoors. Available space, size and type of appliances and additional features you want as well as personal preferences can help you decide which layout will work best for you.

A single wall design, often called a Pullman kitchen, works well for small spaces or for those people who prefer a very streamlined approach with few frills. In this option, all appliances line up on a single wall. Usually the grill is located in the center with counter space on either side. Adding an island, either fixed or rolling, expands work or serving space.

The single wall design becomes a galley kitchen if a second wall or an island is added directly across. This walk through type uses space efficiently since there are no hidden corners to contend with in cabinet construction. With proper placement, compact galley kitchens can reduce traffic near the cooking zone, which results in a safer situation for children and guests. However galley kitchens with a wide spread between walls can invite people to wander through.

An L-shaped kitchen works well for both small and medium size spaces. Each leg of the L can be built to fit into the existing space since there is no “proper” length. Keeping each leg at 15 feet or less though, does make for a more comfortable work zone for a single cook. L-shaped kitchens can be extremely safe as the positioning of the legs can completely close off through traffic. They also lend well to the addition of an island or a dining space,

A U-shaped kitchen, best for large areas, formerly consisted of three walls of cabinets and appliances. Today, U-shapes can also be configured either using three walls or using an L and adding an island  or a peninsula as the “third wall.” U-shaped kitchens are ideal for multiple cooks and give good traffic flow.


DESIGN TIP: If bar seating for four or more people is incorporated at an island or a peninsula, use a curved shape to make conversation easier. Also, if you can place your seating perpendicular to the cooking area, then the cook can easily be part of the party instead of isolated at the grill.



  • What types of appliances will you install in your hot zone?  



The sizes and types of appliances included in the outdoor kitchen are important factors that control many aspects of its design, including the footprint and the style. The foundation of the outdoor kitchen is the cooking zone. The decisions that you make there will impact the entire layout. Therefore, you need to carefully consider a few things. Do you want a gas grill, a charcoal grill or the ability to cook with both?  Do you want a smoker as a permanent fixture, or will you only use one occasionally, if at all? Pizza ovens, deep fryers and burners are additional options that are available for outdoor kitchens, but each installation means additional counter space added to the design, increasing the size of the kitchen. Grills, smokers and pizza ovens require the most “landing space,” 24 inches on one side and 12 on the other, while burners need 12 inches on each side.


DESIGN TIP: Just like in an indoor kitchen, never place a “hot zone” at the end of a counter as this invites accidents; make sure that there is at least 12 inches of counter space next to the cooking surface.



  • What type of a cold zone will you have?



Including  a refrigerator, freezer, ice maker or wine cooler in the design is certainly not a necessity, but adds convenience and efficiency to the kitchen and increases the overall value. However, because they are constantly subjected to the elements, any cooling appliances need to be manufactured especially for use outdoors. They need extra insulation to combat high temperatures and weatherproofing to protect against moisture. Wet electrical components could result in accidental electrocution. Experts recommend purchasing only Underwriters Laboratories endorsed products because they undergo extensive safety testing.

Outdoor refrigerators are designed to be either built-in or freestanding. Freestanding models give more placement flexibility but usually require ventilation on all sides. Built-in models are meant to be integrated into the cabinetry so that they almost “disappear” from view. They are front vented so they do not need any additional space surrounding them.

The choice of finishes should also be considered. Rust-resistant materials such as high quality stainless steel is a good choice for outdoor use, but is a more expensive option than one with a white plastic door. Slide out or adjustable shelves also increase the cost but the convenience may be worth it.

People who live in colder climates are advised to shut down outdoor refrigerators and other electrical cooling appliances once the temperatures begin dropping below 40 degrees F. since they are not designed to operate below 40 degrees. Unplug the unit, thoroughly clean it, place a small spacer in between the door and frame and tape the unit shut. If the refrigerator is a free-standing one rather than a built in, manufacturers recommend covering it.


DESIGN TIP:  Never place your cold zone next to your hot zone. The heat generated from cooking appliances will force the cooling unit to work harder, increasing the cost of operating. Try to avoid placing the unit in the direct sun for the same reason.



  • What type of wet zone will you install?



Although it is not an absolute necessity, installing a sink in your outdoor kitchen adds tremendously to its convenience and resale value. Because all sinks and faucets are designed for water use, there is really no difference between those for an indoor kitchen and those for an outdoor kitchen. As with most items, a higher quality, more expensive sink or faucet will tend to hold up to the elements better and will last longer. Your personal taste and the style of your kitchen can be your guide in selecting these items.

There are some technical considerations involved when installing your wet zone. One decision that you need to make is how the water will be directed to the kitchen. Will water lines be run from the house, or will water be sourced from a hose? What type of drainage system will be implemented? Be aware that some communities have regulations concerning the disposal of grey water. Another decision is whether to put in both hot and cold running water. Hot water lines will need to be fully insulated and winterized. Because of the complexity of installation, it is advisable to consult a professional before making final decisions on your wet zone.


DESIGN TIP: For added convenience and efficiency, locate your wet zone next to or near your dry zone. If they share a counter, calculate the space needed by adding another 50% to the suggested counter space.



  • What type and how much prep area and storage do you need in your dry zone?



How much space to allot for the dry zone depends on how much food preparation will be done outdoors. If you are more likely to do the chopping, mixing, seasoning and trimming out of the elements, then a counter of 18 inches to 2 feet and minimal storage should be sufficient. If you foresee consistently doing your food prep outside to be with family or guests, then 3 to 4 feet of countertop and cabinetry should give enough workspace and storage for cooking essentials.

The surface that you choose for your dry zone and the material for your cabinetry is also an important consideration since making the wrong choice could be a costly mistake. Although style and color are significant aesthetic concerns, durability should be the leading factor in your choice of material. What may work well in an indoor kitchen may not be suited to the constant barrage of the elements outdoors.

Although natural stone is an excellent choice, not all stones are recommended. Porous stones, (think marble or limestone) absorb liquids. Your gorgeous new countertops could quickly become stained or discolored because of everyday spills. Granite works well for countertops, but it’s best to look for lightly veined pieces since the materials used to reinforce and protect the veining does not hold up well to UV rays. Soapstone is another option. It is a non porous stone so it doesn’t need sealing, but the color range is limited to shades of grey and black.

Concrete and tile are two other popular options. Concrete gives a contemporary look to the kitchen because of its smooth surface, but can be subject to cracking. Make sure that you use an experienced installer, but realize that the elements can still cause the material to break down over time.

Tile gives the  widest range of colors and styles. Today’s outdoor rated tile stands up well to the elements, but grout can crack in colder climates. Grout can also stain, even if sealed. Darker colored grout can help hide unsightly stains.


DESIGN TIP: If you choose granite as your countertop material, choose a lighter or midrange color. Darker colors absorb and hold heat and can burn skin when touched.


When selecting cabinetry, water resistance is the primary characteristic to evaluate. Look for fully enclosed cabinets which will help keep out both moisture and dust particles. Make sure that all of the hardware is high quality as cheaper options may not stand up to harsh summer and winter weather.

Stainless steel cabinetry gives a sleek, contemporary look and can blend well with grills and other appliances. It is easy to clean and durable. On the other hand, high quality stainless steel can be expensive and can become extremely hot to the touch in direct sun. If it doesn’t have a special finish, it can show fingerprints and other types of residues. Stainless steel cabinets should feel solid; doors should remain stiff and not flex when opened or closed. Most experts recommend a grade of 304 for durability.

For those people who prefer environmentally friendly choices, wood cabinets can be an alternative. Those made from teak, cypress or bamboo are especially outdoor friendly. Wood cabinets give an instant elegance and warmth not found in other materials and can be easily coordinated to existing structures. They are however, expensive and need regular maintenance  to maintain their beauty.

Marine grade polymer cabinets are a less expensive, durable option, especially for those who are concerned about damage from the elements. They are waterproof and will not rust. They are easy to clean and do not rot. On the downside, unless they are “eco-friendly” they may contain environmentally harmful petrochemicals. Over time, they have a tendency to warp and may not have the upscale look that many people are looking for in an outdoor kitchen.


DESIGN TIP:  Outdoor critters are determined animals. Even with sturdy, well-fitted doors, pests can find their way inside your cabinets. Invest in some plastic containers to store your kitchen ware and spices.



  • What kind of lighting will you need?



Lighting is an often neglected but still an essential feature of an outdoor kitchen! It not only is a safety feature, but also enhances the mood and ambiance of the space. The thought of lighting an outdoor space can be overwhelming, but there are a few suggestions that can make the process just a little easier.

Task lighting, especially above the grill and prep areas, is essential. Having adequate light by cooking features can prevent unexpected burns and allows the cook to easily monitor the progress of the food. Some newer grills are equipped with LED lighting that automatically turns on when the lid is lifted.  Prep is also easier and safer in a well lit space, reducing the possibility of accidents.

Low voltage lighting marking pathways can help make negotiating outdoor kitchens and dining areas easier and safer. Soft, subtle lighting also invites people to sit, relax and enjoy one another during mild summer evenings.

If possible, install ceiling fans above the dining area and other seating areas. Ceiling fans help create comfortable breezes, and the movement of the air will also deter mosquitoes. Selecting a ceiling fan with a remote control for speed and a dimming feature for those times when you want to soften your light adds to the convenience.

Any outdoor light fixtures that you select for your kitchen must be rated for use in wet or damp locations. If the fixture is under a slotted roof, choose wet. If the roof is solid, it is still liable to be affected by the weather so it is advisable that you select a fixture rated for damp locations. A UL endorsement is another check for safety.

Finally, have an electrician run more than one circuit for your kitchen. Two to three 20 amp circuits allow electrical loads to be distributed, minimizing overload problems. If there are multiple circuits, then appliances can be turned off at different times, extending the usable time for the kitchen.


DESIGN TIP: Undercounter rope lighting can be used to highlight cabinets and bar seating for a dramatic effect.


  • What entertainment features do you want available?



Outdoor kitchens and dining rooms are fast becoming thought of and used as extensions of the home. They are spaces to gather together to enjoy food and to connect with family and friends while enjoying the backdrop of nature. Adding a few additional features can make the space even more inviting.

The sound of a small fountain or water feature adds a sense of calm and tranquility to the space, while fragrant flowers or shrubs invite people to sit and savor the scent. With the addition of outdoor speakers, music can softly fill the air. For those who prefer a bit more technology in their lives, flat screen televisions, video games and even projectors can be designed into the space. A hearth or a firepit can help extend gatherings into the fall.  

DESIGN TIP: Plan your outdoor kitchen space for your enjoyment today and for your life tomorrow. You won’t regret it.