How You can afford an outdoor kitchen.

There is no shortage of options when planning your outdoor kitchen. Avoiding costly trappings is the key.

I love outdoor kitchens. Outdoor kitchens are great. Not only will they add to the value of your home, but they can also transform your backyard into a fun and relaxing place to entertain family and friends. There is no shortage of options to create your outdoor kitchen, but as you will soon find out, the cost can run away quickly and end up breaking your bank. Don’t worry; I am here to guide to the land of outdoor cooking bliss and affordability.

The Dream Outdoor Kitchen

We would all like to meet with our designer and explain what we want, so she could relay that information to the architect and contractor to build our dream outdoor kitchen. But if you are reading this post on saving money, this dream scenario is probably not your reality.

How can you reign in all the costs to make an outdoor kitchen affordable? It’s not easy. All that stainless steel – all those BTU’s- all the stone and granite – you want it all. Be careful. It’s easy to buy what you may like to have, but don’t need. Moreover, your purchases may cause you more headache and maintenance than expected. Not to mention that a low-cost item may come with high installation costs. But there is a simple rule. “GO EASY ON THE SHINY PARTS.” That’s it in a nutshell.
Need some convincing, read on.

The Reality

Truthfully, like all great ideas, an outdoor kitchen is indeed a kind of absurd idea. That is why they are relatively new, few have them, and they cost an arm and a leg. I mean a small fridge to keep your beer cold in the heat of summer— not the ideal situation, but you can achieve this modern feat for just a few grand. But if I can shift your perspective, and get you to focus beyond all the shiny appliance options, you’ll soon see that many of these novelties are luxury items that are not needed – and may cause more grief than provide usefulness.

First, Think about remodeling a kitchen. Sounds expensive, right? Everyone realizes that building an indoor kitchen can easily cost tens upon tens of thousands of dollars. Well, outdoor kitchens with the same amenities will cost about 40% more. Shocking, but true. But you don’t need the entire kitchen. Let me explain. You can over-spend well beyond your budget for the most tricked out stainless marvel in the surrounding seven counties. But, If you leave out just one kitchen feature from your outdoor kitchen, you will be running back into your *real* kitchen to use it. This is true whether it is a sink, a fridge, an oven, blender, storage space, etc. 

On top of all your appliance acquisition costs, you will need plumbers, electricians, masons, installers, patchers, fixers, etc. to plan and run all your gas and electric lines to connect your features and appliances. With all that investment, you can’t have these shiny marvels hanging out in the open sun; you will need them under a roof to protect your investment. Do you see the costs skyrocketing? Remember, the price of the appliance is just the beginning.

Most people who want an “outdoor kitchen” never intend to build an entire kitchen outside. And that is my main point. You don’t need to. So if you aren’t going to put everything, including the kitchen sink outside, what do you need? Where do you stop? That will be a personal decision, but I have been involved with many outdoor living spaces from the most humble to the most extravagant. Cost doesn’t guarantee function. Let me identify the “needs” many people believe are necessary when creating an outdoor kitchen that inevitably become money traps with less benefit than you may think.

Common money traps for outdoor kitchens:

Trap: Outdoor Fridge

Everyone wants a little dorm fridge for outside. It seems to make sense. I often come home and open the refrigerator and peer inside strictly out of habit. Therefore, I NEED a fridge outside, right? The problem is, an outdoor rated fridge is $1200+. It also needs electrical service – so don’t forget that expense and probable hassle. Honestly, these small units don’t give you much capacity. You would need to continually keep your fridge stocked and running outside during the summer to keep your drinks cold and make your investment worth it. But does that make sense? If you were to be honest, they would probably rarely need to be stocked and running at all. Let me explain: 

Most people probably don’t just sit outside alone for hours on end without going indoors. So there is little need for a fridge in this daily “per-use” scenario. But, many people want to have a refrigerator for when they throw a party. So let’s look at this use case. First, you must turn the fridge on and stock it beforehand. (If it isn’t running empty and unused all of the time.) Second, it has a limited capacity and cooling power. It will have a hard time keeping your guests drink cold as everyone is going in and out of the little guy. Finally, built-in coolers also need to be plumbed to meet code. And their function probably isn’t worth all their expense.

$1400 Outdoor Fridge by Bull 

The Fridge solution:

I believe an beverage cart or cooler works better. I’m not suggesting you go low-brow here. You can buy lovely built-in ones. They are much like an insulated sink with a lid. And I firmly recommend one before I advise a fridge. My pick is a rolling beverage cooler. They work better at parties. Ice cools your guests drinks near-instantly, and everyone instinctively knows where to get their drink and store their beer – in the big rolling ice cooler! Did I mention the best part? They require no plumbing!

You can buy a rolling beverage cart for a few hundred bucks. 

Trap: Kitchen Sink

The old kitchen sink. You NEED to have one of those. It’s a sink. There is an entire cabinet in real kitchens devoted to them! Let’s look at the sink from the perspective of being outside. True, they are relatively inexpensive to purchase. Again, don’t forget about running plumbing to the sink and drainage away from it. Not to mention, most of these sinks are tiny and not the most useful.

Moreover, have you seen what collects in an outdoor sink over a week? It’s not pretty. Once you know what accumulates weekly (even when covered) in an outdoor sink, you definitely will prepare all your food for grilling inside. Think everything from leaf mold and insects to frogs and critters – and their excrement. The only thing an outdoor sink is good for is rinsing your hands, and cleaning out the nature that settles and nests inside of it. Remarkably, you mainly create a need for an outdoor sink by installing one. It is a sad irony.

Kitchen Sink Solution:

My advice – skip the installation costs and maintenance hassles. Prepare all your ingredients in your kitchen with a real full-size sink free from squirrel squirt. Then, simply carry everything to your cooking area on a plate or tray. (Feel free to bring spices and rubs). It’s much easier and more sanitary. If you try to do it all outside, you’ll be running back into the kitchen for every spice or ingredient you forgot, anyway. See a trend? Well, I’ll just keep everything in my shiny stainless cabinets…

The only thing an outdoor sink is good for is rinsing your hands, and cleaning out the nature that settles and nests inside of it. So you only create a need for an outdoor sink by installing it. My advice – skip the installation costs and maintenance hassles. Prepare all your ingredients in your kitchen with a real full-size sink free from squirrel squirt. Then, carry everything to your cooking area on a plate or tray. (Feel free to bring spices and rubs). It’s much simpler and sanitary. If you try to do it all outside, you’ll be running back into the kitchen for every spice or ingredient you forgot, anyway. See a trend? Well, I’ll just keep everything in my shiny stainless cabinets…

Trap: Shiny Stainless Cabinets

Oh, what’s inside this outdoor cabinet that I can use to cook? Caked together spices – check. This box of treats that the mice haven’t gnawed through – sure. Maybe this old box of cereal... Wait. What are boxes of cereal doing in an outdoor cabinet? Exactly, there isn’t much need for a whole ton of storage space. The raccoons may disagree with me on this point. You get the idea.

As you can see, unless you build a covered full-service outdoor kitchen, you will be heavily reliant on the main kitchen. So embrace it. Utilize your indoor kitchen. It’s much easier that way. So what is recommended?

Shiny Cabinet Solution:

I recommend spending good money on a high-quality griller/smoker/ kamado, etc. Let’s be honest here. This is what it is all about. Those shiny things are just used to hide the fact that we are cavemen. We just want to cook our bountiful harvest and share it with our tribe. We also want to impress them with our fire mastery skills. That is what it is all about. It’s about the grilling, smoking, BBQing, cooking food and communing with loved ones. This is where you should focus your money and energy. Sure, I would like to sell you a 5000 grill. But your guest would rather have a comfy chair in a great outdoor space while you grill on your dad’s old Weber. Sure, you want a beautiful grill station. I think you deserve one. You should have one. Just remember to use your budget for centerpieces and high-value items. It’s easy to blow it by adding stainless steel bragging rights and expansive granite slabs. And those expensive granite slabs have to get bigger and be cut more times for every new appliance you add. If that is in your budget. Go for it. I admit I’m jealous. I would love to have that option. But I may decide to pay a strangers college loans off instead and flip burgers on a more tasteful patio build.

The "Kitchen" Solution

My Willard grill stations embody the ethos of this post and my philosophy on outdoor kitchens. As you can see, many times you don't need to buy and build an entire outdoor kitchen. In reality, a quality grill station will fill the bill nicely. As you have learned, many of the "traps" of outdoor kitchens have installation and maintenance costs that go beyond their high price. In the end, you only need what is going to provide you with the most bang for your buck while keeping external costs low. This is where I believe my grill stations excel.

 I have made my Willard kits super low-maintenance. There is almost nothing on them to break or wear out.  The all high-quality stainless construction withstands the abuse of living outdoors.  There are no added bells and whistles, yet nothing you need is left out. You get everything you need for a killer outdoor kitchen and nothing you don't. It is easy to install, easy to clean, offers usable options, and lasts a lifetime. Grill with Will and save enough money to throw many summers' worth of parties - including the steaks!

Final Thoughts

I really don’t want you to think I am trying to keep you from nice things. I want you to have quality items that allow for memorable experiences and not frustrations. Money and materials can allow that to happen. Go as big or small as your budget/aesthetic/space/time dictates. I believe these are the core ideas to consider when creating a space that allows for great experiences (you don't need them all):

  •  Install pavers around your high traffic areas for social gatherings and cleanliness. 
  • Create high-value spaces that encourage social interaction to strengthen relationships. 
  • Build a grill station that an outdoor party can center around and feast.
  • Build a fireplace or fire pit for your family to gather around and tell stories. 
  • Build seat walls so your guests can sit together for intimate conversations. 
  • Make sure you have a large table to commune around for fellowship.
  • Create an area for an outdoor excersize such as badminton, bocci, or washers. 
  • Build beds for food gardens and flowers for positivity and beauty
  • Consider a birdhouse, birdbath, or water feature for calming effects.

You don't have to spend a fortune on everything including the kitchen sink to have an amazingly effective outdoor living area. Yes, it will take an investment of time and money. But don’t think about it as buying things. Think about it in terms of building spaces. Try to cut through the shiny entrapments and focus on what is really needed to make a truly inviting space. Re-evaluate what is superfluous and easy to buy but hard to enjoy. If you stay true to the core idea of the space and not dwell on things to put in it, you will be able to afford a personal and communal space that will rejuvenate, invigorate, the friends and family that will congregate there. Isn't that what you really want to have in your outdoor space?


Patrick Vu

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