Everything You Need for the Ultimate DIY Outdoor Kitchen

No space is too small for an outdoor cookout. Whether you have a small patio or apartment balcony, build the perfect DIY outdoor kitchen with our guide.

diy outdoor kitchen

Nothing beats the aroma of barbecue in a breeze of fresh air. It’s no wonder, then, that outdoor kitchens have become a recent home-building trend. 

Do you have a small backyard or apartment balcony? If so, you’ve probably discovered that it takes creativity to live a big yard lifestyle. Would you like an outdoor cooking space of your own? Rest assured that no outdoor space is too small for a cookout experience.

In this article, I’ll explain how to set up an outdoor cooking space in six steps.

outdoor garden bbq

How To Create An Outdoor Cooking Space

Step 1: Consider Some Possibilities

The first thing you should do is take a look at your outdoor space and imagine what you could do with it.

For yards:

Look around your yard for features to take advantage of. If you already have a flat surface such as a patio or deck, what could be more convenient? Alternatively, you may like the shade under a tree or pergola. 

Don’t forget that no cooking space is complete without a dining space. Look for a spot with enough room for both.

Also, consider alternatives to a grilling station. Two popular options are a firepit and a brick oven. 

Whatever cooking method(s) you choose will affect the setup of your space. For example, A grilling station usually goes next to a dining area whereas a fire pit is usually surrounded by seats.

For balconies:

For the sake of safety, legality, and being a good neighbor, you’ll have to do some extra research for this step. 

The vast majority of apartment complexes don’t allow open-flame cooking on balconies. If you’re lucky, you might be able to use a charcoal or propane grill. If not, you can probably have an outdoor electric grill. 

Your other challenge is to make the best use of your balcony’s space. Like a yard-owner, you also have features to take advantage of, such as guard rails and corners. If you need inspiration, consider some space-saving furniture options:

At this stage, don’t choose your furniture yet. Just imagine ways to make a cooking and dining area fit comfortably on your balcony.

grill on home balcony

How to plan

For this step, don’t concern yourself with specific appliance models or the final layout for your cooking space. You just need a basic idea of what you want to accomplish.

For yards:

Decide what type of cooking space you want. Will it have a grill, a firepit, an oven, or a combination of these? Also, choose a location.

Decide what types of appliances you will shop for (i.e. an outdoor fridge, a propane grill, and so on). If you plan to put your appliances in a kitchen island, it’s especially important to first decide what they’ll be.

For balconies: 

If you are allowed to have different types of grills on your balcony (i.e. charcoal, propane, or electric), choose a type. 

Best appliances 

What is an outdoor cooking space without the right appliances? Now’s the time to choose the right one(s) for your project. 

If you have a balcony OR want a simple yard cooking space:

Your idea of an outdoor cooking space might simply be a cooking method and some dining furniture. If so, now’s the time to look for a specific grill, fire pit, or oven.

Whether you have a small yard or an apartment balcony, any of the best small grills can help you make the best use of space. If you’d rather put your grill away when you’re not using it, try getting a portable charcoal grill.

If you want a full-blown outdoor kitchen:

If you want an actual kitchen, you can choose from three basic setup options: 

  • Kits — There are premade outdoor kitchen islands with spaces for appliances and storage. Though you have to connect these to your utilities, they’re otherwise pretty easy to install.

These kits generally come with appliances and fixtures such as grills, outdoor refrigerators, and sinks. You can simply choose one with the features you want. 

  • Modulars — These are essentially kits with more customization options. You can choose anything from their countertop materials to their layouts. 
  • Built-ins — These are completely customized outdoor kitchens. In general, you need a contractor to install one. For a built-in kitchen, you should choose specific appliances first and then design your DIY BBQ island to fit around them.  

If you want to completely customize your outdoor kitchen, this extremely helpful video by BBQGuys covers everything you should know to get started.

Best furniture

Get some dining furniture that looks nice and doesn’t take up too much space.

In Step 1, I mentioned some good furniture options for apartment-dwellers. These will work just as well if you have a very tiny yard. 

If your yard or balcony is big enough, simply choose whatever furniture appeals to you. 

Something important to consider is that your trash can might be close to the future dining area. If this is the case, you might want to get a garbage bin storage shed or a similar container. Not only will it shield guests from nasty odors, but it will make the area look nicer. Additionally, if you get one with a flat surface, you can use it as a counter.   

For options suitable for somewhat small or very tiny spaces, check out this article by ANestWithAYard.com.

Layout design

With your appliances and furniture chosen, you can now decide how to arrange them. This step can be very simple or very elaborate, depending on your plans.

For simple yard projects OR balconies:

If you just want to put some things on an already-flat surface, this step is as easy as pie. Just decide how you’ll arrange your appliance(s) and furniture.

For more complicated yard projects: 

If your project requires hardscaping, now’s the time to decide on materials and design. Again, don’t forget to plan for the dining area.

If you’ve decided to go with an outdoor kitchen kit or modular, you don’t have to worry about making your appliances fit into your kitchen island. However, you can decide which way the island will face and where to put furniture.

If you’ve decided to build an outdoor kitchen from scratch, you will probably need help with this step.

You will have to choose materials that can handle the elements. For your countertop, good options include concrete, stone, and stainless steel. 

There are many small, but important details that make an outdoor kitchen safe and functional. Because of this, you should look for a licensed contractor to help you from this time forward.

The finishing touches

Now you can do whatever it takes to finish your project. 

For simple yard projects OR balconies:

If you’re not going to build or install anything, simply arrange your furniture and appliances as you planned. 

For more complicated yard projects:

If your project requires hardscaping, do it.

If you bought an outdoor kitchen kit or modular, have professionals connect it to the necessary utilities.

If you’re building your kitchen from scratch, make sure you get the results you want by communicating with your contractor.

The final word

With an outdoor cooking space, you’ll be able to enjoy a big-yard lifestyle for years to come. 

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