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3 Outdoor Kitchen Features You Must Seriously Think About

April 17, 2023

Designing an outdoor kitchen means much more than just shopping for a grill and redecorating your backyard.


#1. The Partitions: What Core Areas Do You Want to Include in Your Outdoor Kitchen?

The kitchen work triangle is a time-tested design idea created for efficiency. It divides the kitchen into three core areas: cold, hot and wet. 

The cold zone is where you refrigerate food and drinks. The hot zone is the cooking area. The wet zone is the sink area, where you wash raw ingredients and cooking tools.

These sections must be arranged in a carefully-measured triangle without any intervening space or structure. 

An example of a kitchen triangle showing the hot, wet and cold zones.

The kitchen triangle worked for old homes when people’s lifestyles were simpler. Modern kitchens have more complicated designs and may have an extensive dry zone and a serving area.

The dry zone is for storing dry goods and prepping food for cooking, so it includes countertop spaces, drawers and cabinets. The serving area may be an extension or dedicated portion of the countertops.

A complete kitchen has at least the original triangle components. However, not all homeowners want a complete outdoor kitchen. Some only have an appliance like a gas grill or pizza oven installed and then build the rest of their outdoor kitchen space around it. Their indoor kitchen will supply their other cooking needs.

#2. The Outdoor Kitchen Appliances: Which Ones Are Essential and Optional to You?

After planning the work areas, you may look into appliances and other fixtures next. Prioritize the must-have items in your budget. Do it zone by zone to help you get organized.


This simple outdoor kitchen has only a grill in the hot zone. Design and construction by Straight Line Landscape.

Among all outdoor kitchen features, the hot zone appliances are the most important. They form the focal point of your design. 

Let’s start with the grill. Smoky food has a unique effect on the senses. But grilling is less of a hassle outdoors than indoors. That’s why the grill is the most popular and basic outdoor cooking appliance. 

Grills come in many varieties, but their fuel requirements are particularly important to Arizona residents. Grills may be powered by gas, electricity, wood pellets and charcoal. Arizona cities restrict using wood pellets and charcoal grills on no-burn days.

Stylish outdoor pizza ovens are also popular. These cooking devices are versatile, as they let you grill, bake, roast or whip up a delicious meal any way you like. You may consider getting one to further expand your cooking options.

A pizza oven can be incorporated into an outdoor fireplace or stand on its own. For fuel choices, you have gas, electricity, and wood, with the latter also subject to Arizona’s burning restrictions. 

Other outdoor cooking devices to consider are the following:

  • Side burners—convenient for cooking sides and heating sauces if your outdoor kitchen is far from your indoor one
  • Power burner—good for boiling crustaceans and cooking large food batches 
  • Flat-top griddle—best for hibachi-style cooking, but it’s also an alternative for frying eggs, burgers and pancakes
  • Smoker cabinet—if you like low-and-slow barbecue cooking
  • Warming drawer—helps bread dough rise and keeps food, plates and cups warm

Outdoor cooking appliances are usually made of stainless steel, which is tough, lightweight, requires little maintenance and has great cooking performance. Manufacturers offer them in various designs and sizes.


 Outdoor refrigerators are the most popular outdoor kitchen cold zone appliances.

If you have a huge backyard space or expect to entertain friends all year round, you wouldn’t go wrong with including a cold zone in your outdoor kitchen. It will help you stay efficient, prevent messy spills and serve big groups conveniently.

The outdoor refrigerator is the most popular cold zone appliance because it can keep any food or beverage cold. It is usually made of weatherproof stainless steel and has the same parts as an indoor refrigerator. Make sure to get an energy-efficient unit.

If alcoholic drinks are staples at your parties, consider getting a wine cooler, a kegerator or an ice maker.

A wine cooler will have the right temperature and amount of space for canned and bottled beverages. A kegerator is a beer keg refrigerator and dispenser in one. An ice maker makes buckets of ice for faster cooling.

As in outdoor cooking appliances, not all cooling devices will always be useful. And again, a cold zone will only serve you well if you have ample outdoor space or plan to hold backyard parties frequently. Otherwise, it will be unnecessarily expensive to keep. So decide if an outdoor refrigerator or a similar appliance is something you can’t do without.


A grill chef may find an outdoor sink handy. This is a Straight Line Landscape creation.

An outdoor sink helps you wash your kitchen tools and raw ingredients where you’re cooking. But you may also include a small garbage disposal unit underneath to help you keep the food prep area clean. Many homeowners find an outdoor kitchen sink convenient, but others regard it as optional.

The sink is typically made of stainless steel. You can mount it on stone, wood or metal.


This outdoor kitchen has spacious dry and serving zones. Design and construction by Straight Line Landscape.

These zones span the countertop, drawer and cabinet areas. Food prep and storage spaces are a must in every outdoor kitchen, even more so if you want to ease outdoor cooking and dining into your routine. Make sure you have enough room in these work areas.

Outdoor cabinets must be weatherproof, so they’re best made of stainless steel. Countertops can be made of stone, wood or metal. 

To learn more about outdoor kitchen appliance materials, you may read our blog post on outdoor kitchen ideas.

#3. The Outdoor Living Space Design: How Do You Build Within and Around Your Kitchen Core?

The outdoor kitchen design must integrate well into its environment. Otherwise, the area won’t make a pleasant sight or may become costly to maintain. Consider the factors below.


Determine your outdoor kitchen’s size based on the number of people you expect to entertain. Your kitchen equipment must cook food quickly enough for everyone. The outdoor seating areas and walkways must have ample room.

The layout is the arrangement of various kitchen components. There are options suitable for every budget and outdoor space size. The most common are the following:

  • Standard—all outdoor appliances are on one panel. It is best for small backyards.
  • Angular—the appliances are mounted on panels arranged at a sharp angle. 
  • L-shaped—the panels supporting the kitchen equipment are perpendicular to each other.
  • U-shaped—has three perpendicular panels and ample space for kitchen devices, storage and countertops. 
Straight-layout-01.jpg Angular-Layout-01.jpg L-Shaped-Layout-01.jpg U-Shaped-Layout-01.jpg
The most common outdoor kitchen layouts. Design and construction by Straight Line Landscape.

You may consider building an outdoor kitchen island or peninsula, but these structures may hamper your efficiency and add to your maintenance problems.

Whatever layout you pick, never forget the grill master’s location and orientation. If they are part of the family, your outdoor kitchen design should allow them to join the fun while they accomplish the most important task in this area of your home.


A perimeter kitchen is built close to the house, so it must match the house architecture closely. It generally shares the house’s utilities. 

By comparison, a satellite kitchen is constructed further away. Its design doesn’t always have to match the house’s, though it must blend well with the backyard landscaping. It typically has its own utilities.

Many outdoor kitchens are mere extensions of indoor kitchens. They need only a few cooking appliances and have limited storage and counter space. Such a setup is more common among perimeter kitchens.

Other outdoor kitchens function independently. They have more outdoor appliances and spacious counters and storage space. This setup is more common among satellite kitchens.


Decks give a great vantage point outdoors, enhance curb appeal and boost resale value. However, consider the following before building a kitchen on a deck:

  • Decks made of wood are costly to maintain and can easily catch fire.
  • Decks have a limited load capacity, regardless of their material.
  • When improperly installed, a grill or other heavy outdoor kitchen appliance can slip and fall from higher ground.

By comparison, a patio kitchen does not have these problems. So if you have plenty of room in your backyard, you may be better off building your outdoor kitchen on a patio.

But whatever you choose, it’s always best to get help from a reputable outdoor kitchen contractor or landscaping team.


A fire pit-warmed seating area can extend your outdoor dining space. Design and construction by Straight Line Landscape.

Other sections you can add to your outdoor living space are:

  • Play area
  • Outdoor bar
  • Swimming pool
  • Entertainment space
  • Fire pit-warmed seating areas
  • Putting green 
  • Garden

Which activities are important to you and your loved ones besides cooking and dining together? Decide the location and size for each space and whether or not you want an open floor plan.


Stainless steel appliances are low-maintenance, but electronic equipment and some types of furniture are not. Protecting them from the elements is essential.

Start with a patio cover like a ramada or pergola. This protects against UV rays and rainwater. 

Insulation prevents extreme heat in the summer and water pipe freezing in the winter. A vent hood on your grill or pizza oven can direct smoke and heat away from people.

Strong winds can spread fire easily. You can prevent such accidents by using windbreakers, which you can make from patio walls, fences, trees planted at a safe distance and others.

Choose weatherproof materials whenever possible. Wood and other porous surfaces must be sealed. Use UV-protective finishes on all appliances and furniture. 


Ensure everyone’s safety in your outdoor living area by putting the following in place:

  • Fire protection measures, such as ample distancing from the grill and other hot equipment, securing electrical connections and keeping a fire extinguisher nearby
  • Protection from sharps
  • Using slip-proof furniture, flooring and equipment
  • Ensuring adequate outdoor lighting

Other activity spaces like the swimming pool, play area and garden must likewise have their own safety features.


Add elements of nature to your landscape to get a relaxing view from your outdoor kitchen. This is one of our lovely designs.

Your outdoor kitchen doesn’t have to sit beside a dirt yard. Turn the surrounding area into a desert oasis by adding a touch of nature.

Consider a fire feature such as a fire pit or outdoor fireplace. Fire features cozy up the outdoor space on cold Arizona nights and spark lively conversations.

Water features like swimming pools or ponds are as good for outdoor entertaining as they are for invigorating landscapes.

Gardens and lawns add style and elegance.


Unique artistic elements distinguish a custom outdoor kitchen from a prefabricated one. 

The theme may reflect a historical period, a place, a culture or pretty much anything you can express through art. It is a permanent design element unless you decide to remodel your kitchen or landscape later. 

The color can help set the mood in your outdoor living space. You may color the surroundings with dyed furniture, plants, colored stone finishes and accents, paint, colored glass and many others.

Other art elements you can discuss with your landscaping consultant are line patterns, symmetry, shapes and texture.

Your style options are virtually limitless. But again, the patterns you choose should be in harmony with the rest of the landscape.


As in any other construction project, your backyard remodel must comply with local building codes and HOA rules. These are implemented with everyone’s safety in mind. It’s easy to miss the details if you pursue this complex endeavor on your own. But if you work with a highly experienced landscaping team, you can rest assured that your design is not only compliant but also enviably tasteful.

Your outdoor kitchen can be in the middle of a well-designed landscape like this one. This is a Straight Line Landscape creation.

Get a Good Start at Planning Your Dream Landscape

Outdoor kitchens have become the most sought-after home improvement. They—

  • Expand your living and entertainment space
  • Provide more cooking options
  • Make outdoor dining convenient and mess-free
  • Give you a different but enjoyable dining experience

And best of all, they increase your home value significantly. 

Every household has different needs, so the perfect outdoor kitchen design differs for everyone. Decide which features are your must-haves. Drop the non-essentials or save them for later. Then build your outdoor living space design around your kitchen core. These steps will not only give you a stylish backyard landscape but also more value for every dollar spent. 


Author: Holly Banghart

Holly, our senior designer and sales manager since 2010, brings expertise in design, industry certifications, and Master Gardener qualification. She crafts functional outdoor spaces tailored to clients' needs with manageable maintenance. Holly excels in conquering design challenges, turning yards into captivating landscapes. If you seek to enhance your outdoor space, Holly stands ready to transform your vision into reality.

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