How to plan an outdoor kitchen – what you’ll need for the perfect space

Embrace outdoor cooking with this useful guide to planning the perfect al fresco kitchen space, including beautiful outdoor kitchen designs

How to plan an outdoor kitchen in a traditional pale gray home's patio area, with wooden table and chairs and pale stone pavers.
(Image credit: Future / Paul Raeside)

From a simple BBQ area to a full-functional cooking station, outdoor kitchens have long been a feature in residential garden design. Even in areas where the weather can be unreliable and outdoor space comes at a premium, clever new design features mean an alfresco kitchen is not limited to warm summer evenings and vast open spaces. 

Whether you are looking at a small fire pit with a griddle or a built-in BBQ area, outdoor kitchen ideas can be incorporated into just about any garden space. 

Here are the things to consider when you’re starting to plan your optimum cooking station outdoors.

How to plan an outdoor kitchen

1. Where do I start?

How to plan an outdoor kitchen illustrated by a black portable island, table laid with white linen and metal chairs on a stone patio.

(Image credit: Morsø)

Planning an outdoor kitchen from scratch, without locking down your overall garden layout, can feel like a daunting task. 

However, good design always starts with the basics – so think about how you use your garden. Where will the seating area be? Outdoor dining ideas should ideally be near the house and facing towards the sun. 

'How and where you are going to eat outside is the most important thing,' advises Karen Rogers from KR Garden Design. 'For ease keep the cooking area close to the house, but not too close due to the smoke,' she adds. 

2. How do I get the basics right?

An outdoor kitchen and dining area under a modern concrete pergola, lit with ambient lighting at twilight.

(Image credit: Van Atta Associates)

If you are looking to incorporate a more compact cooking area into small garden ideas, focus on the BBQ itself and look for a portable design, perhaps on wheels. For something built-in, it’s worth considering a worktop area for prepping, a sink and perhaps even an area for waste. 

'Most structures in the US are open to the elements, but you can add a roof or a canopy,' says Susan Van Atta from Santa Barbara-based landscape architects, Van Atta Associates. 'The further away from the house it is, the more likely you are to want extra features such as a refrigerator and sink,' she adds.

3. Do I need planning permission for an outdoor kitchen?

How to plan an outdoor kitchen shown in a town garden with built-in L-shaped seating, an olive tree and bar stools.

(Image credit: Harrington Porter)

'Planning permission is not required because an outdoor kitchen will not be considered a permanent structure,' advises Chris Harrington of garden design practice, Harrington Porter

'In urban areas, the most important thing is to consider your neighbors. Tell them about your plans and don’t place your BBQ area too close to the boundary wall if you can help it.'

4. What cooking options do I have?

A green barbecue in a rustic wooden and log-filled outdoor kitchen space.

(Image credit: The Big Green Egg)

Do you like traditional charcoal or a more convenient gas BBQ option? A gas BBQ allows for regulated temperatures, which means you can start cooking immediately. Charcoal BBQs require more time to get going as you have to heat up the embers. 

Whatever your chosen cooking method and whatever kit you like to use – from pizza ovens to outdoor hobs and grills – there are plenty of great options available.

The Big Green Egg is an innovative product that uses traditional charcoal to smoke, grill and even bake food. Using chargrilled wood means you have more control over the flavours and cooking options. 

There are big benefits for foodies too: 'Traditional barbecuing means you can create different flavours in the food by using different woods when cooking,' says Susan Van Atta, from Van Atta Associates. 

5. Where can I buy an outdoor kitchen?

A barbecue on tripod legs illustrates outdoor kitchen designs in a paved patio scheme.

(Image credit: Morsø)

'Manufacturers are getting very serious about the sort of BBQs and equipment they produce,' says Susan Van Atta, whose garden design practice has designed a range of residential and commercial outdoor kitchens. 

Danish brand WWOO have created an all-in-one kitchen that’s easy to design yourself. You can add a sink, bar stools and multiple levels of shelving. 

If you are looking at the ‘of-the-moment’ Big Green Egg BBQ, there are options with a wooden table surround for food preparation. Morsø also does a range of unique circular-style grills and ovens that make outdoor cooking look more stylish than ever.

6. How much does it cost to build an outdoor kitchen?

A midnight blue painted outdoor kitchen unit with pale blue and white tiles.

(Image credit: Harrington Porter)

Outdoor kitchen costs can vary dramatically. A stylish charcoal grill from Morsø starts at £199 ($250), but you’ll need either a table or worktop area to go alongside it. Ikea do a BBQ station with a cupboard and preparation area for a very reasonable £315 ($428). WWOO’s modular versions will set you back around £7,000 ($9,000), with installation included depending on your location. 

If you’d rather use experts to help design and build your outdoor kitchen, along with the garden layout, the fees for a good landscape architect will normally start from around £10,000 ($13,000) depending on the size of your space and the complexity of your chosen garden ideas.

7. What lighting should I use for an outdoor kitchen?

A black barbecue and built-in seating area under a slatted fence illustrating how to plan an outdoor kitchen.

(Image credit: Morsø)

Never forget the importance of good garden lighting ideas when planning an outdoor kitchen. 

Ensure your garden designer has included suitable lights on the outside of your home to illuminate the cooking area. Take inspiration from these outdoor living room ideas and be sure to include low-level lighting around the seating area too, to add ambiance. If you want something more romantic, invest in string lanterns or festoon lighting. 

8. What about incorporating plants into the design?

An example of colorful outdoor kitchen designs with white painted stone seating and kitchen units and bright pink and orange pillows, textiles and crockery.

(Image credit: Future / Polly Wreford)

Planting is key when planning or designing your outdoor kitchen. A jasmine-filled pergola could work well surrounding the cooking station. Not only does it look beautiful, but it is a great place to hang overhead lights from. Bamboo surrounding an outdoor kitchen, like in the colorful scheme above, is great if you are looking for garden privacy ideas.

Planning a herb garden near a cooking area is useful, but be wary of how smoky it gets. Another great option is hanging herbs, located on racks and shelves. They can be placed strategically above your cooking station and relocated as often as you choose.

9. What about all-weather options?

A white outdoor kitchen with yellow textiles and crockery, potted herbs and pink flowers, and a wooden trellis in the background.

(Image credit: Future / Tim Young)

'Clients are increasingly asking me for awnings, so we know they are looking to use their outdoor kitchens beyond the summer months,' says Karen Rogers. 

Heating is another important factor to consider. 'I often use outdoor fireplace ideas, such as fire pits, in garden design. We know a lot of people like to cook outside in the evenings, so it’s a great option to keep people warm. It’s also a fun feature to congregate around,' says Chris Harrington.

10. What decorative and additional features can I add?

How to plan an outdoor kitchen in a gravel patio with natural wooden table, bench seating, wicker chairs and footstools, surrounded by climbing and potted plants and gray textiles.

(Image credit: John Lewis)

Finally, speak to your garden designer about the additional details that will give your outdoor kitchen a more appealing look. Whether it’s colorful tiles behind the cooking area or a statement drinks cooler, there are plenty of fantastic options. 

And since an outdoor kitchen will almost certainly be accompanied by a table and seating area, think about textiles. Upholstery and cushions are important, but so is a range of cosy blankets for guests when the temperature starts to drop.