How to Build Your Own Outdoor Barbecue Kitchen

Backyard barbecuing is a staple of summer, but toting trays of food, drink and other mealtime necessities back and forth from the house to the patio can put a damper on any outdoor party.

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Building an outdoor barbecue space can done on your own, despite the feeling that it needs to be contracted out.
Jennifer Lukus of Temecula, California, solved the problem by constructing her own outdoor kitchen -- not just for the ease of backyard eating, but as a special surprise for her husband, A. J. , a master sergeant in the Marine Corps who was serving in the military in Afghanistan. "We wanted to do something like this from the moment we bought the house, but we just couldn't get the time or money together to have it built," Lukus said. "When I found out he was leaving for Afghanistan, I thought this would be the perfect time to get it done to surprise him. " Lukus enlisted the help of her entire family, including uncles, cousins, her parents and her in-laws, in order to get the project done on time. And in four weekends, the kitchen was finished -- including a Kegerator with a Marine Corps beer tap. .

[Quote] | Planning ahead, consulting with experts and determining how much work you want to do yourself versus how much you want to contract out will help you design and build the outdoor kitchen that best suits your budget and needs.

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Planning the Project

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[Body] | The first step to the outdoor kitchen of your dreams is a careful consideration of your time, budget, space, wants and needs. Then decide whether you want to hire a contractor for some or all of the work, use frame kits and add your own special materials and touches, or build your own frames.

Fred Cann, owner of Jr's Solutions, a New York construction management and building firm, says the first consideration is how you plan to use your outdoor kitchen.

"More times than not, people are looking to entertain without using their own home and having people traipsing in and out," Cann said.

If you prefer to keep everything, including your guests, outside, then a full kitchen setup -- grill, sink, refrigerator, storage and maybe even a dishwasher -- is the way to go.

For Lukus, the indoor kitchen was close enough that she opted out of a sink and refrigerator and simply went with a gas grill and Kegerator, which is a refrigerated space to house a keg, with a tap coming up through the counter.

Lukus also had certain space constraints, including a retaining wall in her backyard, that dictated some of the project. For example, she chose to go with a propane tank rather than run a gas line from her house.

Budget is an important aspect of any home remodeling project. If you use contractors for some or all of the work, Cann estimates the cost at anywhere from $4,500 for the simplest kitchen to $100,000 for an entertaining mecca. Contractor bids for Lukus' project ran around $13,000, without the components. Building it herself with module kits resulted in a $3,500 price tag that included a $1,500 grill.

Managing Materials

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[Body] | Materials depend on budget and desired appearance. Cann recommends a masonry block substructure with stucco or cultured stone -- a synthetic material that looks like stone -- for the facade and granite for the countertops. For brick lovers, Cann says the cost of using real brick is not worth the return and recommends using a brick veneer. Lukus wanted a rustic finish.

"We are originally from northern Arizona," she said, "and I really wanted to capture that rustic woodsy feeling. I chose tile and stone that complemented the color of my house and surroundings."

Other base materials can include plywood or steel. Lukus used steel module frame kits from BBQCoach.com.

"I sent what I had in mind to Willie 'The BBQ Coach' and asked him to put a kit together for me," she said. "I knew the size and shape I wanted and that I wanted a counter-high bar with backsplash. Willie sent me all the pieces to build exactly what I envisioned."

Choosing Components

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[Body] | Charcoal is out and gas is in for outdoor kitchens, Cann says. Natural gas with a gas line from the house or liquid propane in a tank are popular options for a grill, but unless you're an expert, running a gas line from the house is best left to someone familiar with gas-line intricacies as well as municipal codes.

A wood-burning stove or a fireplace with a built-in stove are other options. Fire comes with a variety of considerations, such as fireproofing surrounding areas and ensuring proper ventilation. Each manufacturer will have specific instructions for various models, and you can consult with dealers for proper installation and maintenance.

Electrical wiring for refrigeration is another area that is usually best left to experts, and in Lukus' case, is the only task that she and her family did not handle themselves.

A less-complicated cooling option is a steel gadget that keeps beverages and other items cold with ice. When the ice melts, simply refill -- no electricity needed. There are various choices available online or in home-improvement stores, crafted to slide into place in the space you create in your kitchen base.

If you choose a sink for your outdoor kitchen, a plumbing expert might be called for, depending on your skill level. To keep things simple and less expensive, consider going with cold water only, for washing hands or rinsing off food.

No matter which components you choose, Cann recommends protecting your whole setup from the elements with canvas, vinyl or plastic tarps or covers. Invest in customized covers to fit your particular kitchen or improvise with car covers or similar protective material.

Enjoying the Outdoors

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[Body] | Planning ahead, consulting with experts and determining how much work you want to do yourself versus how much you want to contract out will help you design and build the outdoor kitchen that best suits your budget and needs. For Lukus, the surprise was well worth the time and effort.

"The night I picked up [my husband] from Camp Pendleton, I had everyone else go to my house before we got there and wait in the backyard," she said. "We had all the lights on out there, candles lit -- it looked beautiful. ... When he walked outside, he stopped dead in his tracks and his mouth dropped open. ... My mother-in-law took pictures every step of the way and made a scrapbook of the whole project start to finish -- mostly to prove we did it ourselves."

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[Barbecuing vs. Grilling -- The Heat Is On] | While barbecuing and grilling have become synonymous in many outdoor circles, there is a difference, insists Ruff, owner of Ruff's Barbeque Shoppe in Golden, Colorado.

"Barbecue is low and slow," said Ruff, who goes by the single moniker professionally. "Slow cooking imparts more flavor."

Slow can mean several hours or, with a smoker, several days. Barbecue enthusiasts use wood-based charcoal or wood pellets, chips, chunks or logs in a barbecue pit or smoker that provides indirect heat to food on a grate inside. Slow cooking is ideal for large or tougher cuts of meat, and the flavor comes from the wood smoke and barbecue sauces, which can be applied over time without danger of burning.

Grilling, Ruff says, involves a short cooking time -- a few minutes, usually -- with direct exposure to high heat. Gas grills, charcoal grills and hibachis are meant for grilling, and sauce is applied at the end of cooking to prevent burning. Because grilling is quick and easy, most backyard cooking involves this method, and gas is the most popular option.

For real barbecue, all you need are tongs and a meat thermometer, Ruff says, but he suggests investing in a chile grill to make jalapeno poppers; a chimney starter, a device that is used for starting charcoal; and a frog mat, a tightly woven, nonstick mat that is placed on the food grate and keeps the food from falling through.

Of course, you'll also want to invest in some quality meats and a variety of barbecue sauces.

Your outdoor kitchen can include a gas grill, a barbecue pit or both. Just make sure that your heat source is away from flammable surfaces and surroundings. And enjoy.

Things You Will Need

  • Outdoor Entertaining in Style

About the Author

Based in Denver, Co., Matt Kailey has been writing professionally since 1996. His work has appeared in various publications and online, including "5280" magazine, "The Advocate" and "Beacon Broadside." He recently retired as the managing editor of "Out Front Colorado," one of the oldest LGBT publications in the country. He holds a Master of Arts in education from the University of Missouri, Kansas City.