A customized outdoor kitchen is the ultimate backyard luxury, giving you a space to hang out and entertain almost year-round. Centered around a grill with plenty of work surfaces, storage, lighting, and protection from the elements, your dream outdoor kitchen setup will help you avoid heating up your home in the height of summer and offer a comfortable place to gather on chilly nights. Here are 10 tips that will help you figure out how to design an outdoor kitchen that’s suited to your location, needs, and budget.

Permanent or Portable?

Image via Pottery Barn

If you own your home and you’re ready to invest some cash into an outdoor entertaining area, you have a lot of options for installing permanent features, including a patio or deck surface, overhead protection, counters, and utilities. If you’re renting (or otherwise need your outdoor kitchen setup to be temporary), don’t despair. A gas or charcoal grill, a few weatherproof portable carts, an outdoor dining set, and an umbrella or two can serve you well, and most of the tips on this list will still apply.

Pick the Best Spot

Consider where you’d like people to gather in your yard, perhaps in a spot pointed toward the nicest view. You’ll also want to make sure you’ll have plenty of space for every outdoor kitchen element you desire. Choose a location that’s not too windy or fully exposed to the sun (unless you plan to cover it). It should also be close to the house, both for convenience while carrying food and other items back and forth, and for ease of running utility lines for electricity, water, and gas, if applicable.

Build Your Kitchen Around Your Grill

Image via Aquaterra

The grill is the center of attention, whether you go with a simple and inexpensive charcoal grill or an all-in-one outdoor kitchen setup complete with extra burners, a smoker, and a pizza oven. Just make sure its location is at least ten feet from combustible materials like wood siding, deck rails, and trees.

Set Up Four Main Zones: Cooking, Prep, Serving, and Entertainment

Your cooking zone, of course, is the area around your grill and other cooking appliances. The prep zone should include plenty of counter space for chopping and other tasks. The serving area is the spot where you’ll have plates, serving dishes, and other tableware waiting to be filled. Finally, your entertainment zone is where guests hang out while you cook. You can arrange these zones as an island with a separate dining table, an L-shape with a bar for guest seating, or a U-shape. However it’s laid out, make sure it’s clear where guests should sit or stand and where the cook can have a space free of obstacles to move around and handle hot objects.

Make It Weatherproof

Image via Mom’s Design Build

Choose tough materials that can withstand changes in temperatures and exposure to sun, rain, and wind. If you’re designing a built-in outdoor kitchen, you’ll start with either a metal, wood, or cement block frame, cover it in cement board backing, and add a cladding material like stucco, tile, stone, or brick.

Make Sure It’s Easy to Clean

You want your work surface to be smooth and non-porous so it doesn’t stain easily; experts recommend natural stone, cultured granite with UV stabilizers, or durable composite materials. Tile is cheap, but it can crack in climates with harsh winter weather, and cleaning the grout can get annoying. Quartz looks nice, but can yellow in the sun, and stainless steel gets very hot. If you choose concrete, it should be polished smooth on top and/or sealed.

Light It for Tasks and Ambiance

Image via Artistic Landscapes

Choose bright overhead lighting for work areas like above the grill and countertops, and softer, warmer lighting in gathering spaces. String lights, path lights, and perhaps even a chandelier can add a nice touch.

Design Your Outdoor Kitchen for Comfort

Cover cooking and seating areas to protect them from the rain and sun. A pavilion-style roof or lean-to roof off the side of your house offer the best coverage along with the ability to add gutters so you can enjoy the space in virtually all weather. Awnings and umbrellas are lightweight, affordable, and easy to move out of the way if you prefer to enjoy the sun. A pergola can also be a nice decorative choice, especially if it’s made of wood and serves as a sturdy structure for climbing greenery like grapevines, wisteria, or clematis. And of course, an outdoor fireplace or portable patio heater will give people something to gravitate toward in cooler temperatures.

Make It Fun

Image via Azuro Concepts

Before you finalize your design, think about whether you want to work a television or a sound system into the mix. You may also want to include custom niches or shelving to support them.

Don’t Forget Storage

Cabinets under your work surfaces are a great place to stash items like grilling tools, pots, pans, and outdoor tableware. You can also use storage benches, carts, or other detached, temporary storage furniture. Make sure there’s a pest-proof spot for your trash and recycling, too.