The idea of adding an outdoor kitchen can get your imagination going. You see yourself heating up a wood-fired outdoor pizza oven for family nights. Or solidifying your title as grill master of the neighborhood, with a supersized built-in grill. Or entertaining at an extended bar and dining area under a starry sky.
Whatever your outdoor kitchen fantasy, others are having their own version too. Fixr.com identified outdoor kitchens as the most popular 2023 outdoor trend, based on a survey of home remodeling professionals. The National Kitchen & Bath Association has called outdoor luxury kitchens an expected standard for new luxury home builds. The National Association of REALTORS®’ “2023 Remodeling Impact Report: Outdoor Features” shows outdoor kitchens can be good for resale value, offering an estimated 100% return on investment.
Now for a reality check. Outdoor kitchens have hefty price tags. They average $15,000 for installing one inset grill, stainless steel drawers, an ice chest, and 60 square feet of concrete countertop, according to NAR’s report. Costs can vary, though, from $6,000 for adding a cooking area onto an existing patio to $25,000 for a customized kitchen built from scratch, according to Angi. But despite the price range, which can start even lower for something simple, some holdouts say the cost is just too high. That's especially true, they say, for something that can only be used a couple of seasons out of the year.
Match Outdoor Kitchen Features to Your Family and Budget
You can add an outdoor kitchen that caters to your family’s top preferences and choose features that make the kitchen (almost) seasonless. “By choosing durable materials and implementing budget-friendly tips, you can create an outdoor kitchen that is both functional and envy-worthy. [That allows] you to enjoy it throughout the seasons without breaking your budget,” says interior designer Natasha Frolova at Planner 5D, a home design planning tech tool.
Practical features like the following can protect your outdoor kitchen from the elements so you can keep the joy going for several seasons a year.
Protect Your Investment: Weatherproofing Your Outdoor Kitchen Design
Advances in appliances and materials have raised the bar in outdoor kitchen design, allowing you to use the kitchen practically yearlong. Consider these main elements:
#1 Bring in Cover
“Adding a pergola, awning, or retractable canopy can provide shade and protect the kitchen area from excessive sun, rain, or snow,” says Yama Jason, an interior designer with Parlun Building. Retractable awnings cost $2,000 to $3,500, and a pergola ranges from $2,163 to $6,366, depending on the square footage, according to Angi’s estimates.
If your budget won't stretch to cover those options, you have choices that are more cost effective. Shade sails, pieces of fabric attached to anchor points, come in different shapes to fit your space and offer ample shade. Or if you have the space, you might plant a shade tree. Umbrellas are another option and are available in a range of colors and prices.
#2 Add Temperature Controls
For cooler months, install portable patio heaters ($150 and up) or a firepit ($200 to $3,000, depending on whether it’s portable or built-in). A wood-burning fireplace can pull double-duty. Use it for cooking and as a heating source, Frolova says. Also, make your outdoor kitchen comfortable in the heat by using overhead ceiling fans, building the kitchen in a shady spot with trees, or using portable umbrellas, says Carol J. Alexander, a content specialist on outdoor kitchen spaces for Fixr.com.
#3 Choose Durable Kitchen Materials
An outdoor kitchen needs to be hardy and outfitted with water-resistant and UV protection materials. The most durable choices are natural stone (for example, granite or quartzite), steel, ceramic tiles, and concrete, Frolova says.
Stainless steel is popular for outdoor appliances, cabinets, and countertops. It's highly resistant to corrosion, heat, and moisture, says Zach Barnes-Corby, head of construction at Block Renovation in New York City. Also, teak and cedar wood — for outdoor cabinets or furniture — are naturally resistant to moisture, decay, and insect damage, he adds. Concrete is less expensive and can be customized in different stains. Use it for countertops, flooring, and kitchen islands.
6 Ways to Save on an Outdoor Kitchen
Budget wisely and prioritize, advises Mike Serafino, who owns and is a designer at Heartwood Kitchens in Danvers, Mass. “Are you looking for a brick oven pizza? How about a fully equipped grill setup? A sink with storage? Planning includes give and take in the final fixtures, appliances, and finishes.” Here are a few ideas to curb costs:
#1 Simplify the Kitchen Layout
A basic standalone counter with a grill will be more affordable than a kitchen with appliances, a sink, an extended patio, and more. To keep costs lower, place the outdoor kitchen just outside your indoor kitchen’s window. “You can pass through essentials, like the larger platter or the steak rub and save on building outdoor-grade cabinets,” Alexander suggests. Or, build the outdoor kitchen in phases and keep your patio open with no overhead structure (you can add it later). Use shade sails, umbrellas, or retractable awnings, she says. Plan ahead for utilities, like gas, electricity, and water. They are costly to add later if the work requires ripping out patios, decks, or walls.
#2 Watch Utility Costs
Electrical and plumbing can add to costs. “Position the kitchen in close proximity to existing utility connections and water sources to reduce plumbing costs,” Jason says. For tight budgets, don’t run gas. Instead, use a propane tank for the grill. Bypass plumbing by using a hose to feed the sink from an outdoor spigot, Alexander suggests.
#3 Opt for Modular Kitchen Components
Modular kitchen kits are preassembled or ready to be assembled, and cost less than customized built-ins. Modular components are available for grills, bar centers, counters, and seating areas. Purchase modular kitchen kits that include a grill and ice chest wrapped in tile or stone. Or look for a kit with a gas grill, refrigerator, and sink. You may be able to install these yourself, saving more.
#4 Choose Lower-Cost Kitchen Materials
Natural stone countertops can be expensive. Consider budget-friendly, hardy alternatives like concrete and tile. Outdoor granite can cost up to $200 per square foot. Tile costs $50 to $100 per square foot, and concrete costs $75 to $150 per square foot, according to Angi. Also, Jason suggests using manufactured stone veneers instead of full masonry work to lower costs.
#5 Shop Discounts
Watch for sales and clearance events for appliances, materials, and accessories. Look during cooler off-season months, Barnes-Corby suggests. Consider buying secondhand appliances and patio furniture. “With a little elbow grease and a few coats of paint, you can turn someone else’s castoffs into a custom piece,” says Alexander. Her favorite for recoating top surfaces is KILZ Over Armor.
#6 Know When to Splurge
In the long run, some materials can save money, even if they cost more upfront. For example, stainless steel is your best friend for outdoor kitchens, even though it costs more than concrete, says Michael Taylor, a builder experienced in home renovations. Stainless steel countertops can cost $100 to $200 per square foot, about the same as outdoor granite countertops, according to Angi. But stainless steel may offer maintenance-free upkeep for years.
Jason advises his clients to splurge on items that will last. That means “quality appliances and functional elements while opting for more-affordable decorative elements or accessories.”
These outdoor kitchen ideas on a budget can merge your fantasy of backyard fun with the reality of budget limits. By adding weatherproofing features, you’ll be using your outdoor kitchen well beyond summer to maximize the value from your investment.