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How to create the perfect outdoor kitchen, according to design experts

Transforming your space doesn't have to blow your budget.
Three people standing in an outdoor backyard kitchen, covered by an overhang, with groceries
aldomurillo / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Anyone who has cooked al fresco knows there’s something magical that happens with an open flame and some fresh air. With the right ingredients and a thoughtful outdoor kitchen space, any monotonous dinner routine evolves into a rejuvenating experience.

Grill corn and shrimp skewers amidst a dusting of fireflies or throw a homemade pizza party when fall welcomes crisp, golden evenings. Whatever the occasion or headcount, creating a special place to cook outside can be a special addition to home life and is a wonderful way to entertain family and friends.

But when it comes to building an outdoor kitchen, where does one start? Shop TODAY spoke to three experts in design, architecture and project management to understand the ins and outs of outdoor kitchens and the products that can make them shine.

Expert tips | Dinnerware and serveware | Dining tables and decor | Pop-up storage and prep spaces | Grills and other cooking tools | Meet the experts

What to consider when building an outdoor kitchen, according to experts

“We should think of the outdoor kitchen as an extension of the home — a livable area for family and guests to gather, much like an indoor kitchen or family room. Because of this, location is very important; the closer to the house, the more you will use it,” Ben Massey, principal architect at The Massey Group, tells us.

Katherine Carter, founder and lead designer of her namesake interior design and architecture studio, suggests finding a flat area to build your outdoor kitchen on.

"If you live in an area where you can’t have your gorgeous kitchen on display year-round, then you need to plan a sort of easy pop-up outdoor kitchen for the warmer months. Think easy to store items, such as extendable foldable dining tables, foldable stackable chairs, a propane wheelbase barbecue," she suggests.

Once your location is chosen, here are a few other things the experts suggest keeping top of mind.

  • Consider the surrounding area. Are there electrical sockets for twinkly lights, a hot plate or small outdoor fridge? Is a kitchen sink important for easy cleanup?
  • Choose cabinets, shelving and drawers that best suit your specific needs. Massey advises shopping for permanent kitchen cabinets that have a variety of layout options. Brands like Pottery Barn, Ikea, Lowes and NewAge Products (many of which are offering end of summer sales right now), are all great places to start the search for quality outdoor kitchens with modular options.
  • Choose sturdy and reliable materials. Cabinetry and furniture made of teak wood are designed to last a long time but, no matter what it's made of, Massey recommends budgeting for covers for any and all outdoor furniture.
  • Make sure you have all of the necessary approvals, if needed. According to Vikram Reddi, owner and project manager at Advisors + Consultants, some municipalities and homeowners’ associations require approval or permits for any new plumbing, gas, electric or particular heat sources. It’s best to check before building.
  • Budget, budget, budget! Massey's biggest tip is to be realistic about how you'll use the space to keep from overspending.

While designing an outdoor kitchen can quickly become an investment project, creating a beautiful space can certainly be done on a budget. Here, we've found affordable products that will take any backyard, rooftop or porch to new heights.

Dinnerware and serveware

Opalhouse x Jungalow Melamine Dinner Plates and Serving Bowl

Made of durable melamine but with an organic, grainy look and texture, these dinner plates will complement a range of outdoor decor and have a nice lip for all those saucy meats coming hot off the grill.

Opalhouse x Jungalow Acrylic Drinkware

These lively acrylic cups give hosts the assurance that broken glass won't ruin a party. Their vibrant colors combination will make any table setting pop.

Hearth & Hand Woven Multipurpose Compartment Caddy

Make life easier with this aesthetically pleasing caddy that blends with tablescape while providing all the right spaces for condiments, napkins, wine and more.

Darby Home Mesh Food Domes

Keep bugs at bay with this set of four food domes to ensure all those gorgeous platters stay fresh and free from pesky insects.

2-Gallon Beverage Dispenser

Reddi suggests having a nice-sized beverage dispenser ready to go in the outdoor kitchen. This airtight container holds two gallons of liquid to keep guests hydrated and satisfied for the whole party. It has a stainless steel spigot, a wide lid for easy mixing and cleaning, as well as a cute chalk board with chalk to label the contents.

Corico Olive Boat and Cherry Bowl

Ditch unsightly pits with this beautiful ceramic bowl with a covered cone to store pits from olives and cherries.

Solino Home Amalfi Stripe Tablecloth

"Rely on folding tables with beautiful table cloths and the like,” Reddi says. The Amalfi collection from Solino pulls together a space elegantly with an coastal look and quality linen material.

Frontgate Super Chill Appetizer Tray

Simply freeze the lower half of this beautiful serving tray before plating appetizers to keep food cool longer.

Tables, umbrellas and lighting

50-ft LED Outdoor String Edison Bulbs

“Candles or strings lights are a great way to add some soft ambient lighting to dining and sitting areas. They help create the perfect cozy gathering spot,” says Massey.

Sorfey Portable Folding Table

If you’re expecting to host dinner parties less frequently or don’t want to invest in an outdoor dining table for everyday use, this 6-foot plastic table can easily be stored in a closet or garage when not in use and can be well disguised with a nice tablecloth for special dinner parties.

Nyasia 180-inch Rectangular Umbrella

“Umbrellas are a huge component to being outdoors. Set up pop-up tents or one to two large umbrellas as a standby in case there’s inclement weather and everything’s based on a barbecue,” Reddi suggests.

Novogratz June Dining Table

Fun, functional and the ideal size for a petite space, Novogratz is great at creating staple furniture pieces at appealing price points. The table and chairs are available in yellow, bright pink, persimmon or grey steel.

Novogratz June Stacking Chairs

Grab one, two or three pairs depending on the number of guests you foresee having at the cookout. Plus, they’ll stack away easily for the winter season.

Homhum Wicker Bar Set

Built-in storage makes this high-top seating arrangement a win! Whether you need extra space for glasses and dinnerware or are looking for storage hacks without building a kitchen, this set is a keeper.

Pop-up kitchen storage and prep spaces

W Home Tile-Top Steel Patio Bar Cart

This stylish bar cart is designed to match any outdoor space and is weather-resistant, making it a great place to store not only bar items, but also cookware.

GCI Outdoor Master Cook Station

This cooking station folds up when not in use and has features like an aluminum counter top, a soft-shell sink and places to store cookware and utensils.

RTIC 52-quart cooler

Skip the fridge but keep guests coming back for cold, refreshing drinks from this ultra-lightweight, airtight cooler with multi-day ice retention.

Yeti Tank Ice Bucket

Perfect for serving up beers, sparkling waters or sodas, this giant Yeti ice bucket makes hosting a backyard barbecue simple.

Galanz Retro Compact Fridge

Available in a range of compact sizes and colors, a retro mini fridge can be the perfect addition to your outdoor kitchen area — both pop-up and permanent.

Grills and other cooking tools

O-Yaki Perfectly Portable Grill Set

Tongs, a carving knife, a basting brush and more grilling tools come in this portable set.

SearBQ Griddle and Press

This cast-iron press and griddle cuts down on cook time by more than 50% by perfectly distributing weight onto the meal you're cooking and giving it a perfect sear.

Stanley Hot Crock

Reddi says one of his favorite ways to utilize a burner and grill combo is to have an autumn barbecue with pressed sandwiches and soup. If the kitchen doesn’t have a gas burner, this crock from Stanley keeps things warm for 12 hours. It doubles as a vehicle for chilled dips or drinks and will keep them cold for up to 16 hours.

Weber Connect Smart Grilling Hub

Compatible with any grill, this temperature monitoring device from Weber uses an app to keep backyard chefs up to date on the temperature of their meat.

Ooni Koda Gas-Powered Pizza Oven

Lightweight and portable, this gas-powered pizza oven from Ooni is a great way to make pizzas in only 60 seconds.

Solo Stove Pi Pizza Oven

Bring the wood-fired pizza experience home with Solo Stove's easy to fire up pizza oven. It's the perfect option for al fresco pizza nights.

Monument Clearview Stainless Gas Grill

This stainless steel grill has a built-in window for easy viewing, plus two side burners and a built-in thermometer.

Meet the experts

  • Vikram Reddi is the founder of Advisors + Consultants, a project management and owner’s representation firm based in Far Hills, New Jersey. With 35 years' experience, Reddi navigates complex, high-end residential and retail construction catered to each client's vision and needs.
  • Ben Massey is principal architect at The Massey Group, a real estate development and residential architecture firm. The Massey Group takes each client through the entire process, from concept to key.
  • Katherine Carter is the lead designer at Katherine Carter Design, an interior design and architecture studio in Los Angeles. With a range of high-profile and celebrity projects, Carter has dedicated her career to creating residential sanctuaries that play upon the elements, texture, location and feeling to deliver the ideal space for her clients.