The winter season is in full swing and you might not be thinking too much about your outdoor entertaining spaces. However, now is the perfect time to start planning your outdoor kitchen so you’re ready for family and guests once spring sets in. Here’s what you need to think about as you plan.

Type of Kitchen
Outdoor kitchens vary as widely as the people who use them and can include everything from a simple grill setup to a full kitchen, complete with a bar. First, consider how much space you have to create your cooking area and what kinds of food you like to prepare. From an outdoor brick pizza oven to an all-day smoker setup, it all starts with what you’re going to cook.

Some common appliance choices include the classic grill, either gas or charcoal, a pizza oven, smokers, and outdoor stoves. If you don’t have a lot of space, consider hybrid appliances such as grills with a side-burner for pots and pans, or a sidecar for smoking. Refrigeration options are also handy so you don’t have to make several trips from the indoor kitchen, especially when serving cold drinks to your guests.

Storage is another important consideration that will depend on what type of kitchen you’re building. Will you need a full complement of dry pantry goods and spices? Air-tight and critter-proof storage will be a must. You’ll also want to have a basic set of cleaning supplies on-hand and somewhere to stash them, too.

Household Layout
What you include in your outdoor food-prep area will depend, at least in part, on what your home’s layout is like. For example, if your deck is just off the indoor kitchen, it may not make sense to build a complete prep area outdoors. On the other hand, if you don’t like the idea of walking back and forth through the home, you may want more space and a second set of utensils and supplies outside.

It’s also important to know what kind of access you’ll have to your utilities. Running lines for water, gas, and electricity can bust any budget. Most outdoor living areas have at least a couple of electrical outlets, but if you plan on using water or need several appliances plugged in, you may have to have a second look at other expenses.

Safety Considerations
Whether you’ll be cooking with coals, smoking fresh meats, or grilling crisp veggies, ventilation is a must. Ideally, your outdoor kitchen should be under cover to prevent weather damage, but you want to be sure it’s not so tightly covered that smoke can build up or consider adding a vent hood. It’s also important that your patio or deck has good traction to avoid slips and falls, and that the entire area has plenty of lighting for safe nighttime gathering.

Anything that gets hot must be kept at least 12 inches from combustible materials (including the side of your house!), and precautions must be taken when placing grills and stoves under a potentially flammable roof. Check with your appliance manufacturer for clearance guidelines.

Make it Your Own
The most important aspect of designing an outdoor kitchen is to create a space that you’ll love to use. It might be fun to think about packing every option that you can think of, but it’s better to focus on getting high-quality appliances that will work well for what you like to cook and last for many summers. Lastly, be sure not to isolate the cooking area from the rest of the entertaining space or to face the main cooktops so your back is to your guests. Nothing is more disappointing than missing out on the fun and feeling “stuck” with cook duty!