How to Plan Your Outdoor Kitchen Zones

When it comes to incorporating an outdoor kitchen or backyard BBQ island into your backyard patio the possibilities can tend to get endless, often times leaving you confused with truly not knowing where to start when building an outdoor kitchen. There are many choices that have to be made when you’re designing an outdoor kitchen. What shape will you use for your BBQ island? Would it be best to put it up against the house wall or off to the side and create a freestanding space? Will I truly have the countertop space I need to have in order to properly entertain my guests and family?

Thinking about building your new cooking oasis might be fun for quite some time, envisioning the space and trying to use your imagination the best way possible to create an incredible cooking environment, but sooner or later you’re going to have to set your idea in the foundation…maybe even using actual foundation. When that time comes to fruition, it’ll help to know a little bit about outdoor kitchen layouts and zones. We asked our outdoor kitchen design team to give us some insight on the subject of outdoor kitchen zones and layouts, to better help you create the perfect outdoor kitchen space in your backyard patio.

Planning Outdoor Kitchen Zones

Interior indoor kitchen designers often talk about and refer to the ‘work triangle’. This idea implements that every indoor kitchen has the three(3) main working spaces or zones - the cooktop, sink, and the fridge. The reason for this is to maintain a natural, efficient and unobstructed flow between each point of the station and allow your kitchen to flow more efficient and allow for cooking and serving to be a lot easier.

Outdoor Kitchens are not immune to this same type of design, however, BBQ islands feature four(4) main work zones/spaces instead of 3. We refer to these four outdoor kitchen zones as the cooking, prep, serving and entertaining zones. When it comes to building an outdoor kitchen, the goal is to not incorporate every zone into the design of the BBQ Island, but more meet the needs of what it is that you’re looking for in your outdoor kitchen space. Remember, less is more and never underestimate the power of countertop space. With functionality, convenience, and safety in mind, let’s take a look at the 4 different outdoor kitchen zones.

With functionality, convenience, and safety in mind, let’s take a look at the 4 different outdoor kitchen zones:

Cooking Zone

This is the focal point of any outdoor kitchen. This is where you’ll be spending almost 95% of your time while using the outdoor kitchen, so it’s benefitcal to put a decent portion of your budget into this section of the kitchen. The cooking zone is where you’ll do all of your cooking. This area will house products such as built-in grills, side burners, flat top griddles, and even a pizza oven (never overlook this product line - many memories and incredible dishes could be made with a wood-fired oven).

Per city codes and regulations within gas codes, it is required that any gas grill has an access door underneath the unit for easy access to the gas line and electrical. Propane gas grillers benefit from a propane tank slide-out bin to keep unsightly tank cylinders hidden from plain view, and regardless of gas type, your cooking zone must have proper ventilation to clean your interior cabinet space of harmful and potentially harmful fumes. If a side burner is placed in the cooking zone, we recommend that a storage drawer underneath the unit be added. This additional storage space will be useful for storing accessories, covers, and tool sets.

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Prep Zone

The prep zone of any outdoor kitchen, truthfully, doesn’t have to be much - even a decent countertop space for cutting veggies will suffice. However, if you’re building an outdoor kitchen where the main goal of the structure is to avoid going in and out of the house to grab things and perform tasks that should be done outside, then there are some things that should be considered. A prep zone in any outdoor kitchen is the area in which food, drinks, meat, or side dishes will be prepared, washed, and managed. When it comes to a successful prep zone the number one item that must be thought of is an outdoor sink. Adding a sink to any outdoor kitchen opens up worlds of possibilities that allow you to not run into the house to handle. Wash food, clean meat and veggies before placing on the grill, and best of all, wash serving dishes.

Want to add some extra ZING to your prep zone? Add a portable water heater to your faucet, and a garbage disposal to your BBQ sink. It’ll change the entire feeling of your BBQ island prep zone. The convenience factor of the prep zone only increases with the addition of outdoor kitchen storage such as roll-out trash bins to keep trash out of the way, paper towel holders, trash chutes, and potentially dry pantry storage. No matter how big you decide to go with your prep zone, it should always be adjacent to your cooking zone to improve the overall efficiency.

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Entertainment Zone

This is where the party starts! When it comes to the entertainment zone of the outdoor kitchen, this is what changes simple outdoor kitchens to backyard living oases. The Entertainment Zone of the outdoor kitchen is where the outdoor refrigeration lives, where you’ll find ice cold drinks being served ice from the outdoor ice chest, beverages coming from wine coolers, kegerators, and even pellet shaped ice coming from the outdoor kitchen ice makers.

In short, this is where the guests go to have a good time. This is where the party lives, the place where you want to have the bluetooth speaker on and where everyone is having a great time! Keep in mind, as great as this space is, you must pay it the respect it deserves. When planning an entertainment zone it is wise to have it further away from the cooking and prep zone. This space should be its own oasis. If not adhered to properly, the hot grill will cause the refrigeration units to work harder in warmer environments and let’s be real, do you really need Uncle Chuck telling High-School stories while he’s micro-managing the grill? No. Get him on the other side of the kitchen.

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Plating and Serving Zone

The plating and serving zone is a portion of the outdoor kitchen that is soley responsible for having your guests fill their plates with the food that you’ve provided. Typically, this zone goes directly next to the cooking zone, providing a nice streamlined response from food to plate for your guests. The plating and serving zone of an outdoor kitchen is a stretch of open counter space where you can lay out a serving tray and stack of plates as often as you need, even a place where silverware and napkins can reside.

If you’re looking to get the most out of your plating and serving zone, adding a warming drawer or two in this section will allow you to warm plates and towels before eating, adding a level of high-class steakhouse vibe to your outdoor kitchen project. Moreover, if for some reason after everyone has grabbed a plate and there’s still food left over, simply place the side dishes in the warming drawer to keep them from going cold and to keep them safe from insects and flies. The plating zone of an outdoor kitchen is very simple: its job is to provide a safe and easy access of the outdoor kitchen to feed your guests. It’s simply not a section that has to be overthought.

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There you have it! These are the main components to any amazing outdoor kitchen design. Based on your specific wants and needs your outdoor kitchen will look different and flow differently from others. Space is always important to consider when looking at how large each zone will be and how much equipment can be included. Reach out to us today to talk about how you can get started designing your custom outdoor kitchen, and while you’re at it, start working on your guest list for the big reveal!

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