Create Your Dream Outdoor Kitchen in Time for Summer

Are you excited to bring your cooking experience outside? After a long, cold, and dark Illinois winter, nothing gives us hope like the warmth and sunshine of summer! We can envision it now…freshly cut grass, the smell of delicious food cooking on the grill, and family laughing together.

As winter in the Midwest (finally) comes to an end, many of us are thrilled about the idea of being outside again! Cooking in the backyard has always been a classic part of the American homeowners dream. But in these modern times, long gone are the days of simply grilling on a basic charcoal grill while running back and forth from the backyard to the kitchen. Imagine having your favorite top of the line outdoor cooking utensils and appliances all in one place!

Now is the perfect time to embark on a new outdoor experience. Level up your property in 2021 with an outdoor kitchen oasis!

Outdoor kitchens give way to the delightful combination of enjoying cooking in a peaceful setting with the opportunity of entertaining and enjoying the fresh air all at once. Not sure where to begin with your kitchen design? Tom Len Custom Homes is here to lead the way!

Starting Your Outdoor Kitchen Design Process…

The first step is choosing the right outdoor space that is large and open enough to accomodate for outdoor cooking safely. Once you have decided where in your backyard you want to place your kitchen, the adventure of designing the perfect outdoor cooking area begins! The next step in designing a luxury outdoor kitchen is understanding the importance of the flow of this space.

Similar to an indoor kitchen, the flow of your outdoor kitchen should be created with well thought out, functional areas. The best cooking spaces indoor or outdoor have clear areas for specific functions. For example:

  • Hot areas are for grills, cooktops and ovens.
  • Cold areas include a space for refrigerators, coolers and wine chillers.
  • Wet areas are for sinks, drying racks and dishwashers.
  • Dry areas are for prep counters, cutting boards and storage.

These designated areas help to organize your cooking zones as well as create a culinary harmony within your kitchen. All four of these areas can work seamlessly together if allotted the right amount of space.

“Remember that indoor and outdoor kitchens are simpatico. The most significant difference between indoor and outdoor kitchen design is often the exposure to the elements (shelter and durability considerations). Other differences include more difficulty in running utilities such as water. And there is usually no outdoor wall, so the outdoor kitchen equipment typically defines the room boundaries.” HGTV


Hot Areas

Built-In Grills: Calling all grill masters! Outdoor kitchens are the perfect way to showcase your grilling skills. Who says your grill can’t be the centerpiece of your outdoor kitchen? There are countless options for grills that can withstand the natural elements as well as cook a wide variety of foods. Some people prefer to cook on charcoal grills while others prefer gas. Let’s take a look at the different types of grills that could work in your luxury outdoor kitchen.

“Gas and charcoal grills have dominated the U.S. market for more than half a century. Gas delivers convenience because it starts instantly and lets you control the heat by turning dials. Charcoal gives you more control because you can build and shape any size fire to direct the heat, and charcoal imparts a smoky flavor.” Consumer Report

Gas Grills: These are considered the easiest to navigate as a griller. These grills come in all shapes and sizes. They are thought to be easier to handle than charcoal grills, due to the fact that gas grill temperatures can be regulated and monitored with controls on the grill. Gas grills are fueled with refillable propane tanks. With propane tanks, you only need to flip a switch to turn your grill on and off. That means they can heat and cook your food quickly. Greatly reducing temperature prepping time.Gas grills can be great cooking companions for people who don’t want to spend a large amount of time setting up their cooking equipment.

Charcoal Grills: Many traditional grillers swear by charcoal grills. Since the dawn of grilling, there is something to be said for the smell of sizzling steak over charcoal. Back in the day, people would have to spend a large amount of time creating a charcoal mound in the center of the grill accompanied with paper and some lighter fuel. Once the charcoal was hot enough they would be spaced to cook the food on the above grill. The latest models of charcoal grills have been modified in the best ways to reduce the time it takes to prep the charcoal. So it really depends on the cook’s preferred style of grilling.

Joint Grills: These are the best of both worlds! Joint grills can be both gas and charcoal. So depending on your taste for the day or the size of your crowd, you get to easily choose your style of grilling!

“Gas grills are great for quick, even cooking any time of the week, but sometimes you want the authentic BBQ taste that a charcoal grill produces. A gas and charcoal combo grill is perfect for those who want a dual fuel solution in one combined unit. You can even cook low and slow on the charcoal side, while grilling up other meats on the gas side, at the same time.Gas grills are great for quick, even cooking any time of the week, but sometimes you want the authentic BBQ taste that a charcoal grill produces.” BBQ Guys

Pellet Grills: This type of grill is a hot new trend for grillers everywhere! These trendy grills look like charcoal and gas grills while smelling like wood burning smokers. The difference between the pellet grill and other grills is the tiny special wood pellets that are burned as fuel. Wood pellets give off a fragrant smoky taste to your food. There are a variety of wood pellets with different flavors based on the kind of wood in the pellets like: cherry, pecan, oak and hickory.

Smokers: Speaking of good ole fashion BBQ…Genuine BBQ enthusiasts love the slow process of cooking their meat for 12-24 hours in these metal barrels that are normally fueled with charcoal, wood or both. Some smokers rotate on the inside allowing the meat to be evenly cooked. Unlike other grills where the meat is cooked directly over the heat in metal grates. Smokers do just what their name suggests, slowly cooking a variety of meat with smoke from the burning wood or charcoal. If you have time for this long and delicious process, then this is a must for your outdoor cooking oasis!

Cooking Tops: Who said outdoor cooking was strictly for grilling? When you have stove tops and flat grills to cook on outside, you can expand your kitchen to new culinary heights. Stove tops allow sautéed meals,  and the ability to boil and fry different styles of cooking.

Flat tops: Sometimes referred to as “gas griddles” are a great alternative to cooking everything on a standard grill. Flat top grills can get very hot and even distribute heat. These types of cooking equipment are perfect for making pancakes, eggs and even frying a nice shirt steak all at the same time. Did someone mention hibachi? The possibilities are endless!

Image Source: Wayfair
Image Source: Wayfair

Lighting for Cooking Outdoors

As stated before, the outdoor grill can be the main attraction for your outdoor kitchen. Properly lighting this area is essential – not just to showcase your amazing culinary skills, but also to prevent accidents from happening. A well lit kitchen helps to keep all sharp objects, flammable material and utensils visible. Choose a lighting that is right for your style and purpose.

Low Hanging Lights: These stylish lights can be easily hung around the cooking area of your kitchen as well as centered in the island of your prep section. Perfect for prep areas!

Floor Lights: Installing these motion lights can be a nice touch in your outdoor kitchen. These motion sensing lights will keep the party going well after the sun goes down. They also add an extra layer of preventative measure by helping you to see where you’re walking, preventing falls, and if anything falls it can easily be found.

Mounted Lights: These types of lights can add a nice ambiance to your home. They are weather resistant as well a beautiful addition to the style of kitchen you are trying to create. Mounted lights can come in natural materials like metals and stone. Strategically place these around your kitchen to give the illusion of a five star restaurant kitchen in the great outdoors!

Image Source: Clearwater Landscape and Nursery

Cold Areas

Once you’ve settled on a hot appliance, you’ll need to consider outdoor refrigeration systems for your cold area. Having the ability to safely store food and beverages at cool temperatures outside is a wonderful way to expand on your kitchen – and very convenient!

Refrigerator: No need to keep running in and out of the house to grab a cold one! Add a fridge of any size to your outdoor kitchen. This fridge can hold more than a few brews, it can also be utilized for storing fresh ingredients for cooking and meats you’ve prepped for grilling.

Wine Chiller: Who needs to take a long trip down to the basement wine cellar when you have a beautiful outdoor wine chiller? Store the summer sparkling wines for your event within these modern chillers.

Kegerators: Take your spectatorship to the next level! Have your own favorite tapped beer at your disposal at home to enjoy while watching your favorite team play! Kegerators give sports fans the feel of an outdoor bar & grill from the comfort of their home. Fun fact: These awesome tapped coolers can even be used to store cold brew coffee.

Safety Tip: When storing anything outside, it’s always wise to have a lock on refrigerators,  stoves and trash cans to prevent wildlife from having access to all your edible goods that may be extremely harmful to them or children.

Image Source: Wayfair
Image Source: Wayfair

Coverings and Structures

Having a covered structure over your cooking area is a great way to protect your kitchen, the food and guests from the unexpected elements of Illinois. If you have a sudden storm roll in during your family BBQ, the last thing you need to worry about is the dinner being ruined. If you have a covering or a strong structure to protect everything, the festivities don’t have to end! Here are some examples of covers and structures that can protect your kitchen from a wide range of unpredictable situations.

Extension of the Home: Renovating your home to have an extended roof over your outdoor cooking not only adds a layer of protection but also extends how often you use your outdoor space. Imagine being able to cook during the summer and winter months? BBQing all year round now that is a dream made possible.

Pergolas & Patio Covers: These shade like structures can be made with water resistant materials or insulated sides of wood. They allow your outdoor space to be covered while not completing cutting off the elements from above so you can still enjoy the sunshine!

“Covered structures are a great way to complete an outdoor kitchen design. They shelter you from the elements, increase the amount of usable space around your home and lengthen the life of your outdoor kitchen equipment. As you plan your new landscape design, look for a covered structure that offers both form and function.” Jamie Gold

Quick Tip: Get additional coverings and structures design ideas from our Houzz Backyard ideabook!

Image Source: Torrey Pines Landscape Co.

Dry Areas

The dry areas of your outdoor kitchen need to be designed with heavy traffic in mind! These durable counter spaces should be utilized for cutting and prepping meals. Plus having a clean area with delegated space for pots, cutting boards, and utensils keeps your kitchen from getting cluttered.

Counters: Choosing the best counters for your outdoor kitchen space is important when considering what kind of kitchen you’ll be creating. Countertops need to be multi-functional and yet still aesthetically pleasing !These slabs of material need to be able to withstand a wide range of temperatures, possibly for placing hot meat racks or for cold coolers on top. Counters made of sturdy materials like marble, granite, and wood are great options!

Islands: Similar to countertops, these separate pieces of outdoor furniture can be used to prepare food on, serve and be a place to causally entertain while you cook. Consider it a spot for your audience to observe all the culinary excitement while safely not getting in the way of the cooking process.

Storage and Cabinets: An organized storage setup is a must with any kitchen! Having drawers, cabinets and even a pantry for plates, utensils and cooking tools is a great way to stay organized and keep certain things out of sight. These detailed storage spaces can be hidden beneath the counters and islands.

Entertainment: Dry areas are also a great location to place a flat screen TV or mount electronics (such as laptops) for following along with your favorite cooks or even keeping up with the football game while cooking! Do you like listening to music while sauteing veggies? Install a surround sound system!

Tom Len Custom Homes - Outdoor Kitchens


The materials you use in and surround your outdoor kitchen should not only be visually pleasing, but can protect and be a benefit to your property. The type of materials you choose for your kitchen is vital for long term use, so consider this an important investment! Some appliances need to be protected from the natural elements of the great outdoors. Therefore, selecting appliances right for your property is an important part of this creation process.

Having a knowledgeable builder who has a great understanding of products best for the outdoors is very helpful when renovating a space for an outdoor kitchen. When it comes to choosing the right materials for your outdoor kitchen, there are a few key points to keep in mind.

Choosing Equipment for the Outdoors: When selecting materials and equipment for your outdoor kitchen, you should remember that they need to be designed to withstand varying weather conditions. Strong, durable materials doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be beautiful! Natural materials are all the rage in the design world – especially when blending your kitchen into its beautiful exterior surroundings.

Brick and Stone: These classic materials are not only flame resistant, but are also beautiful when used properly. Bricks, bluestone and granite are the top natural materials trending in 2021. These favorites add a luxurious glow to your outdoor setting while creating an environmentally durable space.

Wood: You can’t go wrong with the different kinds of woods that can be used outdoors. Even if you choose not to use the natural exposed color of the wood, that’s perfectly fine! Having the option to change the paint color of your wood is wonderful if you like the opportunity to redecorate easily in the future. There are also methods to permaseal and treat the wood chemically to prevent the elements from defeating the material.

Steel: Stainless steel is a popular outdoor kitchen material because it’s durable, easy to clean, and gives off a luxury feel. These sparkling metals are also a lovely way to bounce light off of during the day as well as the evening. Candles on steel in the evening light can cast warm welcoming hues that are sure to make your guest feel right at home!

“High-quality stainless steel provides a sanitary surface that’s easily cleaned and corrosion-resistant. Counters and patio or decking material should be highly resistant to grease stains and able to withstand high temperatures.” HGTV

Outdoor Flooring: While choosing materials for the kitchen and dry areas, don’t forget about proper flooring! This area will have heavy foot traffic therefore it needs to be just as durable as the materials you choose for countertops. This area may also sustain food, drinks and grease spills. You want to pick flooring that can look beautiful but not be a headache to keep clean as well as flame resistant. That’s why some of the materials we shared for counters and storage are also functional for flooring, especially stone and brick.

Tom Len Custom Homes - Outdoor Kitchens

Outdoor Kitchen Aesthetic

Your luxurious outdoor kitchen should serve as a lovely extension of your home! The possibilities of designing this space to fit your personality and style preferences are endless. Here are a few types of outdoor designs to spark your outdoor kitchen design inspiration!

Staycation Kitchen: Has it been a while since you traveled overseas? Do you find yourself daydreaming about the beautiful Greek isle…especially the white clay and wood burning ovens that produce the most delicious pizzas! Make this memory a reality once again in your own backyard. Use these memories to inspire a creative themed outdoor experience based on a location you love. Before you know it, you will be under a beautiful sunset in your backyard enjoying a staycation.

Minimalist: Outdoor kitchen tends to have a strong modern flare to its design. This means a very structured design with only a few colors and materials. This type of design wants to highlight the food as the art of the space. Stainless steel cooking equipment that will reflect the natural light of the environment the kitchen is in.

The Great Outdoors: This type of design is all about bringing the natural elements of the great outdoors into all facets of your outdoor kitchen. Including a lot of stone and wood to make the kitchen blend in with the exterior of the home. Countertops made of beautiful material like deep oak woods. Fridge and sinks functionally hidden behind well placed cabinets that blend with the natural flow of the kitchen.

“If you’re working with an existing space, be sure to embrace the style and play up the features, such as dark wood, stone and classic columns. If you’re starting from scratch, take a look at your indoor design and see what features you like. Then consider incorporating those color schemes, design styles or even furniture shapes into your outdoor kitchen.” Zillow

Quick Tip: Looking for more outdoor living space inspiration? Follow our Pinterest Outdoor Kitchen Board for design ideas!

Image Source: Sterling Brook

Beautiful luxury outdoor kitchen design starts with the excitement of the seasons changing, giving us the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors once again! Have you been craving fresh air and sunshine? Interested in bringing your love for cooking into your backyard? Want to provide a safe space for family to gather?

This is all possible when you create a backyard kitchen oasis with Tom Len Custom Homes! Tom and his team are experts in creating a safe, beautifully designed space for families to entertain all while in the comfort of your own property. Share your culinary visions with our talented design team and we’ll create the outdoor kitchen of your dreams!

Summer is on it’s way, let’s make sure your outdoor cooking environment is ready to enjoy the season! We will assess your home’s current exterior to determine the best placement for your custom outdoor kitchen. After discussing your personal style and desires, Tom Len will bring your outdoor space to the next level!

Tom Len and his team would love to take a look at your backyard and design your dream outdoor kitchen!

Image Source: Brantley Photography
Chicago’s prestigious North Shore aligns itself with the luxurious custom homes designed and built by Tom Len. For over 20 years, Tom has built a solid reputation for excellence in the custom home building business. His name and character are endorsed by so many growing families.
When partnering with Tom Len Custom Homes, you are investing in personal involvement, an eye for the exquisite whether it is on the exterior or interior, and quality beyond comparison. We pride ourselves in being extremely professional, respectful of our clients’ homes, and transparent with you every step of the way.
Whether planning a complete custom build or a home remodel, the final project always exceeds our clients’ expectations! Need proof? Read these featured client testimonials to see for yourself…
Tom Len Custom Homes proudly serves the following areas in Chicago’s North Shore: Northfield, Glenview, Glencoe, Deerfield, Wilmette, Winnetka, Highland Park, and Riverwoods.
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