You've seen them on HGTV. You've read about them in The New York Times and Houston Lifestyles & Homes magazine. You may even know someone who has one—and now you can’t stop daydreaming about having an outdoor kitchen of your own. If not today, someday.
But is it a good investment? The short answer is yes.
Sure, everyone wants the ultimate outdoor kitchen, but it’s not practical for everyone to commit to French doors and windows, to commercial exhaust fans, air conditioning, a pair of sinks, a fish fryer, a smoker and all the other amenities that elevate an outdoor kitchen to ultimate status—at least not all at once.
But that doesn't mean you have to give up on your daydreams. It’s possible to transform your patio into an amazing outdoor living space without breaking the bank. You can start with the essentials, add amenities in the future and do it at an affordable cost.
Five Affordable Outdoor Kitchen Essentials
Space to prepare the food, heat for cooking, lights, coverage and a spot to eat. These are the five essential components of any outdoor kitchen. The good news is that each is relatively affordable. The better news is that an experienced contractor can use them to design and craft an outdoor cooking and dining space that’s as comfortable as it is functional.
You can’t have an outdoor kitchen without a grill. The grill itself doesn't have to be extravagant, but you’d be wise to invest in a high-quality one. After all, the outdoor dining experience is all about enjoying well-prepared meals with family and friends. Eventual upgrades: an oven, a smoker, a fish fryer or a stone-fired pizza oven.
The Counter Space
When it comes to counter space for your outdoor kitchen, it’s good to budget for at least two feet of counter space (12 inches on either side of the cooking surface) for food preparation. Ceramic tile is the most cost-efficient, durable countertop material on the market. Eventual upgrades: a center island, a bar, concrete countertops or natural stone countertops.
Many homeowners overlook the lights in their outdoor kitchens—until they discover that they can’t see what they’re cooking. Overhead lighting is essential—especially above the grill—to ensure the quality of your cooking and the comfort of your guests. Your initial light fixtures don’t need to be expensive or even expansive; they just need to be effective. Eventual upgrades: a pergola roof with lights and ceiling fans, LED lights under the countertops and around the base board or a fireplace.
Shading yourself from the hot, midday Houston sun isn’t just a matter of comfort, it’s also important to your health. Make sure to design an outdoor kitchen that comes with some coverage—whether it’s an oversized umbrella, a simple pergola or another type of roof structure. Doing so will keep you cool, help keep the bugs at bay and also protect you and your family and friends from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Eventual upgrades: a hand-crafted vaulted roof, a wood-post ceiling or a custom-made pergola covered with plants and flowers.
The Dining Area
Once you’ve prepared and cooked your meal, you’re going to want a comfortable, spacious area in which to enjoy it. You can start with a simple patio table surrounded by chairs—and still give it flavor and flair. Spending a little extra for a glass-top table will give your outdoor dining area extra elegant appeal. An affordable, expandable outdoor dining table with a bench will allow you to transform your outdoor kitchen from a romantic, cozy spot into a comfortable place to celebrate with friends and family. Or, you can always use a picnic table—at least for starters. Eventual upgrades: a bar, high-top tables that encourage conversation or a rustic farm table.
These five essential components are all you need to transform your patio into a perfect outdoor living space of your own. It might not be the ultimate outdoor kitchen, or even the one of your dreams, but it will get you started. And you can always expand. You can always add a refrigerator, a sink, or any of the eventual upgrades listed above. The most important thing to remember is that a high-quality outdoor living space is within your reach—today as well as tomorrow.