5 Steps to Designing the Perfect All-Weather Outdoor Kitchen

Outdoor kitchen planning is a regular part of the job for Mandy Cheng, an L.A.-based decorator who designed the home of actors Daveed Diggs and Emmy Raver-Lampman that recently graced the cover of AD. As she explains, everyone in Southern California wants an outdoor cooking and entertaining space—even the people who don’t really like to cook. “When you think of an outdoor space, it’s really for entertaining,” she says. “It’s not very typical that on a random Tuesday night, you just decide, let’s fire up the grill. It becomes an extended gathering place.”

If you’re one of those people who craves a place to congregate with friends and family in your own backyard, or if you really do like to fire up the grill on a random Tuesday night, there are a few important things to keep in mind before setting up your outdoor kitchen space. It may seem as simple as securing a grill and rounding up a table and a few chairs, but Cheng explains that there is a lot more to it than that. If you want to create an area that will actually get used, take note of Cheng’s essential recommendations below.

Remember: Location is everything

Optimizing the location of your outdoor kitchen is Cheng’s number one rule. “If you have the barbecue on the opposite side of your yard, are you really going to walk all the way across the yard every single time to get to your grill?” she asks. “People get these very funny ideas of where they want to stash things.” She points out that proximity to your indoor kitchen helps so you can easily grab plates and utensils from inside, and that having a sink and trash can nearby is key. Seeking out a shady spot in the yard may also make everything more comfortable.

“Be realistic with your space parameters: You need to not only think about what goes into a kitchen, but how you access that kitchen,” Cheng continues. “You need walk-around space, and not be too close to a pool.”

Furthermore, safety should factor in from the get-go. With wildfires so rampant in much of the western U.S., this is more critical than ever. “You should never set up your barbecue grill underneath a tree with a canopy overhang, also because then you’ll get leaves falling into it,” she adds. “Do have some type of overhead covering.”

Be a good neighbor

When thinking through the location of your outdoor kitchen, remember your neighbors, says Cheng. “Things you need to consider are how close are you to the edge of the property—are you going to make your neighbors mad if you’ve got barbecue smoke wafting over the walls?”

For a home that the interior designer recently completed in Santa Monica, California, certain features were added for the benefit of the surrounding residents. “It was excessive for us to have this crazy vent, when in fact you really don’t need a vent,” she says. “Part of it is so that neighbors aren’t pissed off about smoke going over there, embers flying. It really controls it.”

The outdoor kitchen, adjacent to the indoor one, features a barbecue made of concrete block and stucco to match the exterior of the house. The grill is from Lynx.

Photo: Madeline Tolle

Assemble your basic elements

It should go without saying, but make sure you are selecting outdoor-grade materials when buying anything for your backyard. Otherwise, there’s a chance that things may get damaged by the elements over time. For her L.A. project, Cheng selected UV-protected outdoor quartz, an extremely durable material, for the countertops. She also recommends concrete countertops.