Cooking up a storm: how to plan your outdoor kitchen

Apr 2022

Canadian winters make us love Canadian summers even more, and an outdoor kitchen can take backyard life to a whole new level. Space, budget and personal taste will influence your outdoor cooking area, but here’s some of what you need to know before starting on your new chef’s delight.

Design & layout

Do you want your kitchen on a deck, a patio or maybe surrounded by greenery? Are you putting it close to your house — a necessity in a smaller backyard and if you want immediate access to the indoors for bathroom and other needs — or do you want to tuck it away in a corner of a larger property? Will the kitchen be part of an expansive outdoor living space with couches and maybe a fireplace?

Questions like these may prompt you to hire a landscape designer or a barbecue and patio retailer with design experience. Find more ideas on layout and design in this post by home improvement guru Mike Holmes and this inspirational article with an international touch.

Cost of an outdoor kitchen

There’s no way to know how much your outdoor kitchen will cost until you’ve figured out design, equipment and other needs. For example, a basic steel kitchen from Ikea with a built-in sink and charcoal barbecue, food preparation surface, and storage areas is under $1,100.

Bring in a professional team to design and build a custom set-up with seating areas and lighting, and you could be looking at $25,000 or more.

As with any home improvement project, establish a budget and stick with it, allowing five or 10 per cent for cost overruns like jumps in material prices.

The heart of the matter

The heart of an outdoor kitchen is the barbecue. Prices start at under $200 at big box stores to more than $3,000 at specialty shops, but be careful: a cheap one often means uneven heat, corroding parts and a short lifespan. Choose one that’s too big, and you’ll overspend (a 450-square-inch, or 2900-square-cm, cooking surface works for most situations). Once you’ve decided how much barbeque you need, check online reviews and sources like Consumer Reports to track down the best bang for your buck.

Other equipment

You’ll want a good table and comfortable chairs for outdoor dining, possibly a roofed structure in case of rain or to protect you from the sun if you’re doing outdoor lunches, permanent or temporary lighting, and possibly extras like a small hotel-style fridge and couches for relaxing after dinner.

Portable outdoor heaters, available at big box and specialty barbeque and patio stores, are a plus on cool evenings, especially in the spring and fall. Heaters start at under $200, but again, quality and effectiveness can be an issue at lower price points.

An outdoor fireplace or, less expensively, a fire pit is a nice addition to a relaxing backyard evening.

Other considerations

Depending on how elaborate your set-up is, you may need to hire an electrician, a gas fitter and a plumber to run electricity, fuel and water to your outdoor kitchen. You should also check your municipality’s permit requirements. For example, the City of Ottawa doesn’t specify that an outdoor kitchen requires a permit, but if you install the kitchen on a deck more than 24 inches above grade, you’ll need a permit for the deck. As always, it’s also a good idea to check with your insurance company about coverage of the equipment and furnishings, especially if you spend a lot of money on them.

More ideas on outdoor kitchens.