How to design the ultimate outdoor kitchen and BBQ area

Man cooking at outdoor barbecue while children sit at table

Tianna Nadalin

Posted October 03, 2022

Get your backyard ready for a hot-grill summer with our guide to designing your own ultimate outdoor kitchen.

If the kitchen is the heart of the home, when it comes to summer entertaining, an epic outdoor cookhouse or barbecue area is it’s beating pulse. With backyard barbecue season upon us, it’s time to dust off the barbie and get ready for a hot-grill summer.  

But building a flawless alfresco entertainer is no easy feat. Choosing the best layout for the space, including the right appliances and ensuring everything is weatherproof and watertight are just some of the things you need consider when it comes to designing a dreamy outdoor entertaining space.

To get your backyard culinary hub cooking on all burners, RACV's Head of Home Trades, Kieran Davies, says the design principles that apply to your indoor kitchen should be considered for your outdoor one, too. Whether you’ve got a rambling backyard, a compact courtyard or an upstairs terrace, here’s what you need to know about designing the ultimate outdoor kitchen or barbecue area. 

How to transform your outdoor areas | RACV

Where is the best location for an outdoor kitchen?

An aesthetic kitchen is one thing but a functional one is quite another and, when it comes to cooking outdoors, location can greatly influence how seamlessly your alfresco cooking area functions. 

So, where is the best location to build an outdoor cooking or barbecue area? “This is really up to you and how you want to use your kitchen,” Kieran says. “Usually, outdoor kitchens are built adjacent to the living areas of a house and, if it’s close to your existing kitchen, might make it easier to share appliances and fridge space.”

If you’re planning to have a true, open-air kitchen, this will be simpler and easier to facilitate than if you’re planning to transform an undercover alfresco area into an entertainer’s delight, which may then be subject to building code requirements.

Depending on the layout of our home, Kieran says it’s also important to factor in bedrooms and overhead balconies, as you don’t want them inundated with smoke or smells every time you crank up the outdoor BBQ. 

“Remember to be aware of noise and smells coming from the kitchen area and avoid having them too close to bedrooms or beneath balconies.” 

Kieran also advises to consider the aspect of your home and when you will be using the kitchen. 

“Sunsets are a beautiful time to be outside but the western sun on summer afternoons can be stifling and might make it hard to use your kitchen comfortably.”


An L-shaped outdoor kitchen offers form and function. Photo: Getty.

How important is ventilation for an outdoor kitchen?

Once you’ve decided where you’re going to build your outdoor kitchen, Kieran says the next key consideration is ventilation. 

“To be considered an outdoor kitchen and to allow the use of outdoor gas appliances there must be appropriate airflow,” Kieran says. “This can be achieved by either having no roof, at least two open walls or having at least 25 per cent of the perimeter completely open and significant openings on the remaining walls.” 

He says an area will also be considered enclosed if it is fitted with plastic blinds or moveable walls.

If your alfresco area is deemed to be more than 50 per cent enclosed, then it is considered by Energy Safe Victoria to be ‘indoors’. This means it will have be subject to a number of building requirements  (Standard AS/NZS 5601), including:

  • The BBQ will need to be re-certified for use in an enclosed alfresco. This means it will need to have robust manufacture, a flame failure system, must be plumbed in (rather than using a bottle), have a readily accessible isolation valve and be installed on a non-combustible surface (such as stainless steel, tiles, brick or concrete)

  • It will require installation of a range hood or extraction fan

  • The cooktop will have to have an interlock mechanism that ensures the extraction fan automatically turns on when the BBQ is being used.  

“If your area is considered enclosed then a suitable exhaust canopy will need to be installed with a number of requirements that you should check with your trade professional, such as ensuring the range hood or exhaust fan is installed at the correct height above the cooktop and making sure burners have enough clearance from surrounding walls and surfaces.”

Installing a range hood or extraction fan will also help to keep excess cooking gases and fumes from being blown back into your house as soon as there’s a light breeze. 

For those going down the DIY route, Kieran says appliance installation is best left to the professionals, particularly when there are multiple trades involved – such as plumbers (or licensed gas fitters) and electricians. Whether you're looking for a quote or help installing your kitchen, you can find qualified trades through RACV Home Trades.

What materials should you consider for an outdoor kitchen?

Being outdoors, your kitchen will not only be more exposed to changes in temperature, rain, moisture and even damage from the sun, but also to slips and spills from all the rad garden parties you’ll be hosting once it’s built. 

“All of these factors should be considered when selecting surfaces and materials to ensure they do not deteriorate or discolour with time,” Kieran says. 

You’ll also need to ensure any cooking surfaces comply with building standards. 

“For example, you wouldn’t put a gas barbecue on a timber bench.”

What is the best layout for an outdoor kitchen?

Much like when planning an indoor one, choosing the best layout for an outdoor kitchen or barbecue area will laregly be determined by your space and how all-out you want to go with appliances.

If you're building your kitchen in a spacious al-fresco area, an L-shape can work nicely - you can put the barbecue or grill plate on one side and then have your fridge and any additional storage, as well as a sink or preparation area on the other side. You can even add some bench stools along the free side to keep your cooking social. If you've got the space, go one further and make it a U-shape. 

If your space doesn't allow for an L-shape, the single-wall design is a classic for a reason. It's simple, requires less room and can be applied to most settings. A single-wall kitchen can take up as much or as little room as you need and works well in more compact areas, such as a balcony or apartment settings. 

Depending on your set-up, a galley-style kitchen can also function beautifully outdoors. You can have all your cooking appliances on one side, then a separate island bench for cabinetry, a sink, fridges, or anything else you might dream of including (hello, pizza oven). It also means you've got plenty of bench space to prep or serve food. 


Outdoor kitchen on decked area

If you've got a barbecue, you've got an outdoor kitchen. Photo: Getty.

What are the must-have appliances in an outdoor kitchen?

When it comes to choosing what you want to include in your outdoor kitchen, this will come down to how much space you have and what you can afford to spend. 

“If you’ve got a small space, such as courtyard or balcony, the key must-haves are something to cook with and, ideally, an area to do some food preparation,” Kieran says.  “From there it’s up to you how far you go.”

Adding a sink and tap can keep most of the mess outside, and built-in cabinetry makes storing all the outdoor accessories easy. 

If you want to go all-out, a woodfire oven will have your friends begging for a Friday night pizza and wine invite, an outdoor bar fridge will minimise trips back inside – while also ensuring easy beer access for when you’re the designated tong master, while regular ovens will allow you to get your summer roast on without heating up the whole house. Bonus. 

How important is lighting for outdoor kitchens?

Dancing in the dark might be ok, but grilling? Not so much. Adequate lighting is critical in every room of the house but particularly when it comes to outdoor cooking. 

“Sufficient lighting is very important if you are cutting or preparing food but also so you can tell when your steaks or veggies are perfectly cooked,” Kieran says. 

If you’ve got a covered alfresco area, downlights with a dimmer switch will allow you to get lit up when you need it, but to keep the mood ambient when you don’t, while adjustable ceiling or wall-mounted light fittings allow you to keep the light evenly spread. For a more whimsical look, try hanging festoon or fairy lights for a more chilled vibe. 

As always, Kieran says, make sure your lighting is suitable for outdoor use and, where appropriate, always consult a licensed electrician. 

Do you need to get a council permit to build an outdoor kitchen?

You should always check with your local council about the requirements in your area, Kieran says. New constructions like a deck or pergola that might accompany your kitchen will likely need a permit.

Do you need a qualified electrician or plumber to install an outdoor kitchen?

All electrical, gas and water fittings must be installed by a licensed electrician or plumber. 

“Once the gas fittings and power points are in place you may be able to install appliances yourself but you should carefully consult the manufacturer's installation instructions to see if you have the necessary skills and qualifications,” Kieran says. 

Planning an outdoor kitchen? RACV Trades can help get your home in order.
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