How to Build a Grill Island
Adding an outdoor kitchen to your backyard is a surefire way to create the ultimate backyard barbecue experience. Whether you’re renovating an existing area or building from scratch to your exact specifications, there’s a lot you’ll need to consider when planning your space. This guide has been designed with help from our grill experts and will give you a great place to start your planning process.
When planning for an outdoor kitchen, you should consider these two things:
- What grill(s) & component(s) to include in your outdoor kitchen
- How to design and build your outdoor kitchen
What to Include in Your Outdoor Kitchen
The best products for your outdoor kitchen will be determined by your space requirements, budgetary restrictions, and cooking style. This means there’s not really a “one size fits all” solution for your outdoor kitchen. While some pre-configured designs exist, we’re going to assume you’re looking to design a completely custom kitchen, so the general recommendations below are widely applicable regardless of your individual situation.
Below is a list of the main outdoor kitchen components to consider - while there are others, the below list covers the most common items necessary to create the ultimate backyard BBQ oasis.
- Grills & Appliances
- Outdoor Kitchen Components
Grills & Other Appliances to Put in Your Outdoor Kitchen
Above all else, your grill will be the most important part of your outdoor kitchen. Selecting the wrong built-in grill for your situation can leave you feeling unsatisfied with your space no matter how perfectly you select the rest of your components. Here are some general guidelines to follow.
Choosing the Grill for Your Outdoor Kitchen
Charcoal or gas? Propane or natural gas? What features will you need? Below we'll cover some high-level considerations when it comes to the grill for your outdoor kitchen, but be sure to check out both our gas grill buying guide and charcoal grill buying guide for more depth & detail about the ins and outs of premium grills.
Grill Sizing and Installation
If you’ll be cooking for family get-togethers or parties, you’ll obviously want a larger grill. On the other hand, buying a grill that’s too large can result in less room in your budget for other parts of your build. How can you tell how much space you really need, though? As a general rule, you’ll want 100 square inches of cooking space for each person you’ll be cooking for on a regular basis.
Alternative Cooking Appliances
In addition to your main grill head, you may want to consider adding a side burner or range to your grill island. Single side burners exist, but most people choose to install either a double side burner or a power burner for more efficient wok cooking, water boiling or side dish preparation. These useful components can expedite your cooking process and in some cases, can save you from needing to use your indoor kitchen while grilling.
Keep in mind some grill heads may also include integrated secondary cooking areas, so whether or not you’ll need additional burners will depend on your cooking style.
Gas Griddles & Flat-Tops
Traditional grills don't have to be the only star in your outdoor kitchen - griddles & flat-tops offer additional versatility & cooking options. Whether diner-style smash-burgers, an All-American breakfast, or an Asian-inspired hibachi, cooking on a flat-top offers plenty of delicious options and you shouldn't sleep on adding a griddle to your outdoor kitchen.
Alternative Grills for Your Outdoor Kitchen
In addition to gas grills & griddles, you can also consider adding a charcoal grill, smoker, kamado grill, or pellet grill to your outdoor kitchen lineup. While it will cost more initially, having the versatility & flexibility of both a gas and charcoal grill option in your backyard will offer plenty of grilling options. If you're thinking about which type of wood-fueled grill to pick, check out our guide on the best charcoal grills.
Grill Island Essentials
After you’ve selected the grill and side burner configuration you’ll be buying, it’s time to start thinking about the additional grill island components you’ll need for your space. These pieces are where you’ll really need to think about how you’ll be using your outdoor kitchen. You’ll also want to review the “How to Set Up Your Outdoor Kitchen” section below to make sure all of your pieces integrate well into your intended design.
Doors, Drawers, & Storage
Storage doors and drawers can be as numerous or as minimal as you need them to be. While many people like to keep all of their grill tools and accessories right at the grill, others may choose to store these items in their homes, which reduces some of the need for extensive storage within the grill island.
Most buyers select doors and drawers designed to match the brand of BBQ grill they’re buying. Manufacturers take care in creating a uniform design across their entire product line to create an impressive appearance when all pieces are paired together. That said, this is not a requirement. In fact, customers will sometimes choose more economical storage options such as those from Blaze Grills. These components feature no branding and a neutral appearance but retain high quality. The result is cost savings that can be spent elsewhere in the kitchen design.
Waste disposal is easy to overlook when preparing your grill island. While your system doesn’t need to be complicated, it’s good to have an accessible location for you and your guests to dispose of trash.
Double trash units are a great way to separate waste from recyclable materials. Additionally, many installations include a trash chute for easy waste disposal.
If you want to keep drinks, food prep ingredients and other cold items close by, you’ll want to include a refrigerator in your outdoor kitchen space. Be sure to keep in mind the difference between outdoor rated and unrated refrigerators. Outdoor rated appliances feature front vents, better warranties and are designed to be left outside. Alternatively, unrated refrigerators are a more economical option, but are not designed for direct exposure to the elements.
An outdoor sink is by no means a requirement for an outdoor kitchen. However, the added convenience is often worth the money for most buyers. An outdoor sink is a great way to reduce traffic (and messes) in your house when grilling.
There are several factors to consider when choosing a sink. Do you want a gravity drain or not? Are faucets included or do they need to be purchased separately? What components are required for plumbing? These details will vary across models, so be sure to consult the owner’s manual.
Paper Towel Holders
We mentioned storage drawers earlier, and many of those units feature built-in paper towel holders. However, in the absence of an integrated paper towel holder, you may want to consider special paper towel storage to make clean-ups quicker and easier. It may not seem imperative to an outdoor kitchen, but we’re here to tell you - having paper towels handy near your grill is extremely helpful.
The following products are more often considered “nice to have” rather than “necessary.” If you’re looking to create a dream kitchen, though, be sure to consider each, as some may be more relevant to your situation than others.
Want to make drinks after dinner? A cocktail station or outdoor bar caddy can keep the party going long into the night. With one of these, you’ll be able to separate dinner fixings from the cocktail garnishes to keep your space neat and organized.
Drop-In Ice Cooler
If a refrigerator is too big an expense or won’t work with your space, consider a drop-in ice cooler as a substitute. While you’ll lose some of the convenience of a standalone refrigeration unit, you’ll instead have lower energy bills and less chance of untimely breakdowns.
Need to keep your food from getting cold as quickly? Consider adding a warming drawer to your setup. These units are a great way to keep food warm while the rest of the meal finishes cooking or keeping food appetizing when you or your guests go back for seconds.
Not every grill island will be in a homeowner’s backyard. We often work with buyers who are installing products in residential locations with a shared community space or a similar situation. For these installations, additional considerations may need to be made.
Timer or Emergency Stop
Timers and emergency stops are two of the most common components found on commercial properties versus residential properties. Timers allow for gas flow to be set for a specific amount of time with an automatic shutoff function for added safety. Additionally, emergency stop buttons perform a similar function, albeit in a much more immediate manner. These switches kill gas flow immediately should a situation require it.
How to Design Your Outdoor Kitchen
Once you’ve selected the parts you’d like to include in your outdoor kitchen, you’ll need to go about installing them. This will require a proper layout, quality construction and essential fuel and electricity connections. There’s a lot to consider, so we’ve broken down these details into several categories to make the process easier for you.
Design Considerations for Outdoor Kitchens:
- Grouping Outdoor Kitchen Components
- Grill Island Construction
Outdoor kitchens should be laid out to facilitate ease of use. While these rules aren’t necessarily requirements, consider them strong suggestions to help you create a much more enjoyable outdoor grilling experience.
Hot/Cold Zone Groupings
When designing your kitchen layout, try to group similar items together. In other words, you’ll want to have hot zones for your grill head, burners and other cooking components and cold zones for refrigeration. Additionally, you’ll want dry zones for food preparation and storage and wet zones for components like sinks.
Item groupings shouldn’t be your only zone considerations, however. You’ll also want to leave plenty of open countertop space for prep zones, serving & drinks, as well as clearances for your grill & the heat it will produce. Here are some general guidelines:
- ~36 Inches adjacent to the grill / cooking appliance
- This may sound like a lot, but think about how big cutting boards, sheet trays full of meet, or large serving platters can be - you'll thank yourself for all of the added space.
- ~18 Inches on both sides of the sink.
- Space for clean or dirty dishes alike is always helpful.
- ~15 Inches of counter space above or near a refrigerator.
- Accommodating room for beverages - crucial to a great outdoor kitchen.
Grill Island Construction
The grill island is the skeleton that holds all of your outdoor kitchen equipment. Designs can be utilitarian, ornate or anything in between. No matter what your grill island ultimately looks like when finished, here’s what you should know during the building process.
Grill Island Shape
The shape of the outdoor kitchen can take any form to fit your space. Most commonly, a linear or L-shape are used to provide the most usable space for your patio, but design the shape of the grill island with your own space in mind. Also, keep in mind how you'll use it & entertain with it, do you need to accommodate seating? bar height stools? These are just a couple of the things to consider when designing the shape of the grill island.
Grill Island Materials
Grill islands are typically made from pressure-treated wood with a brick facade, full masonry or steel studded with concrete backer board. In addition, treated wood and steel structures typically have additional stonework or stucco to finish the design. If you’re installing into a combustible structure, you will also need an insulating jacket to ensure a safe installation.
For the countertop, most buyers will use poured concrete or granite, but other options are also available.
Grill Island Dimensions
Grill islands come in all shapes and sizes, but there are several standards you’ll want to keep in mind with your design. First and foremost, be sure to review the manufacturer manuals for your grill and components. These will include cut sheets and clearance requirements you’ll need to accommodate for proper installation.
Other dimensions you may want to keep in mind are counter height (36 inches is standard), depth ranges (typically between 25 and 30 inches) and bar height (usually 42 inches with 24 to 30 inches per person for seating).
Locating Your Grill Island
Your grill will likely be located in one of two locations: either near the house or under a special structure. If installing your grill near the house, take extra care to ensure proper installation. All grills will always have clearance requirements for houses. Failure to follow these instructions can result in your dream kitchen becoming a nightmare.
If you’re installing your grill under an overhead structure like a lanai or pergola, you’ll have additional precautions you’ll need to follow. These structures will often have issues with grease or dirt buildup, which can present a fire hazard if not regularly addressed. Many of these problems can also be mitigated with proper ventilation. Again, be sure to follow all manufacturer specifications.
Grill Island Connections
Most grill islands will not be completely independent units. You’ll need to make additional connections to ensure everything is operating properly. Here are some examples of what you’ll need to consider.
Does your grill have an electronic ignition? An electric rotisserie kit? Integrated lighting? Chances are, you’re going to need an external power source. When designing your grill island, be sure all proper electrical connections are available and have been installed by a licensed electrician.
Unless you’ll be purchasing a charcoal grill, you’ll need to run gas lines to your grill island to fuel your new appliances. Before buying, make sure you’ve considered whether you’ll need propane or natural gas. While it may seem obvious, we’ve seen instances of customers buying the wrong grill type for their home. Don’t be that person.
Always work with an NFI-certified gas plumber when working with gas lines. Gas can be a tricky fluid to work with, so you’ll want an expert involved to ensure your setup is safe and operating properly.
If you plan on installing an outdoor sink, ice maker, beverage center, or any other appliance that will need a hookup to a water line, be sure to account for it.
Be sure your grill island is properly vented to ensure safety. Venting is required and is typically placed on either end of the island. For more information, be sure to check your owner’s manual.
Drainage is another important factor to consider when building your grill island. Often, a drain is placed in the island to evacuate water after rain. Additionally, the drain can be used for any sinks or refrigerators in the outdoor kitchen setup.
Get More Assistance from Our Experts
We hope you’ve found this guide helpful. However, we completely understand if you’re currently suffering from information overload—there’s a lot to take in here. Fortunately, our product specialists are available to assist you further.
If you have any questions about anything you’ve read here or you’d just like to have an expert in your corner, our team can guide you through the entire process from initial design to making your purchase to troubleshooting your installation. You can contact us by phone Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central Time or anytime via email.
We’re looking forward to working with you!