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Outdoor Kitchens: Satellite or Perimeter?

You can picture it now. The sun is shining, the entire family is over. You gather in your backyard over Memorial Day weekend, sharing stories and summer plans while you receive accolades for the burgers you’ve just finished grilling in your brand new outdoor kitchen. It’s a nice dream. But making it a reality can take a little leg work.

Deciding you’d like to install an outdoor kitchen on your property is the easy part. Next comes the far more difficult process of deciding how, what, and where you’d like this dream kitchen to take shape. When installing an outdoor kitchen, you will likely find yourself choosing between two different designs: a perimeter kitchen, or a satellite kitchen.

Each of these designs come with their own sets of challenges and benefits, and each take a different kind of work and vision to complete. Understanding what both styles entail can help you to make the choice that is most in line with your lifestyle.

What is a perimeter outdoor kitchen?

A perimeter kitchen is a common term referring to a kitchen that is built close to, or in line with the “perimeter” of your existing home. They often share walls, patio, or deck space with your home, and are never more than a few steps away from your home.

Because of this, a perimeter kitchen often shares many of the same electric, water, and gas hookups used by your own indoor living space. Additionally, such close proximity means perimeter kitchens often exclude some appliances commonly found in satellite set ups. So, while you may have a grill, and possibly even a refrigerator in a perimeter kitchen, you may not find yourself in need of a sink, or too much counter space for prep work.

Choosing to install this kind of kitchen on your property is incredibly functional depending on your budget, and the type of outdoor dining/cooking experience you’re looking for. While a perimeter kitchen may tick all the boxes for one family, it may leave something to be desired for others who are envisioning a more complete outdoor entertaining set up.

Pros Of A Perimeter Kitchen

In the eyes of many looking to install an outdoor kitchen, going with a perimeter design is the perfect answer. And a perimeter kitchen does indeed come with a long list of benefits. For homeowners with limited space, proximity kitchens allow you to use the outdoor living area you already have without cutting into square footage in your yard. And due to the proximity to the house, these types of outdoor kitchens are typically less expensive than their satellite counterparts.

Oftentimes flooring or hardscaping will already be installed in the location of the kitchen, meaning lower material cost, with hookups to electric, gas, or plumbing readily available. Due to the increased simplicity of the installation of a perimeter kitchen, contractors are often able to complete this living space quickly depending on the complexity of the layout or designs.

Money saved on the construction of your kitchen can be allocated to other aspects such as furniture, additional lighting, and other accoutrements that enhance the overall atmosphere of your space.

Many choose perimeter kitchens because of budget constraints, a desire for close proximity to their home, and because the installation is overall less complex. Less ground needs to be broken, fewer appliances need to be purchased and installed, and you can see your final product begin to come together within a few days to a week.

This doesn’t mean, however, that a proximity kitchen is the perfect solution for everyone, and there are some drawbacks and limitations to this style.

Cons Of A Perimeter Kitchen

While perimeter kitchens are convenient, they are admittedly more limiting than choosing a satellite design. Perimeter kitchens often don’t accommodate appliances such as sinks, meaning you must go between your house and your outdoor kitchen for water access. For kitchens lacking refrigeration, food and beverages must be stored inside. This can create disruptions during cooking, and your guests may feel they are cramped against your house, making the flow of socialization awkward.

Another potential downside to choosing a perimeter kitchen is that there is often a need to simplify the design. Because you are working around existing plumbing and gas lines, the flexibility in the layout of your appliances and hard surfaces may be limited. While this may not be an issue for some, those spending large sums of money on an outdoor space may feel driven to have higher levels of customization for the price they are paying. Placement of items such as cabinet framing and grill could be limited for those intending to save money by using existing infrastructure on their property.

Overall, perimeter kitchens can be designed to be beautiful, functional spaces available at a lower price margin. However what you save in materials, labor, and time, may come at the compromise of customization, layout, or fully independent functionality.

What is a satellite outdoor kitchen?

Appropriately named, a satellite kitchen is an outdoor kitchen that is designed to stand alone on your property at a “satellite” location away from the perimeter of your house. Unlike a perimeter design, satellite kitchens do not share walls, flooring or decking, or electric and gas with your home, and function as fully independent kitchen units. 

Satellite kitchens are designed to be fully functional, and usually include appliances such as sinks and refrigeration that may be missing from perimeter designs. They are created to offer a designated entertainment space that functions separately from your house, allowing you to draw guests away from your home and into an independent area.

Great for those who desire an entertainment space that feels insular and unique, satellite kitchens come with their own list of pros and cons for those interested in constructing them.

Pros of a Satellite Kitchen

For those looking for an outdoor space that holds its own, a satellite kitchen can be a highly attractive choice. Not only do you have the benefit of a fully functioning second kitchen, but you are able to create your new space from the ground up. Unlike perimeter designs, there isn’t necessarily pressure to choose layouts that rely on existing frameworks, meaning cabinets, counters, and appliances can vary in location.

Because these kitchens are fully equipped, there is no need to run back to your home in emergencies for more water, or to grab something out of the fridge. You can store food, drink, and leftovers in your outdoor space, keep drinks cold, and avoid the need to leave your guests while you grab something from inside.

This being said, while satellite kitchens are beautiful and customizable, there are a few notable reasons that most people choose to construct perimeter designs.

Cons of a Satellite Kitchen

When it comes to drawbacks of creating a satellite kitchen on your property, most issues can be linked back to two factors: time, and money.

While the idea of a completely customizable, stand alone outdoor space is certainly appealing, the price tag it begets can be off putting to budget conscious customers. Satellite kitchens cost notably more per square foot, and require work that is not usually needed in perimeter designs.

Because there is not shared gas, electric, etc., utilities for a satellite kitchen must be separately installed. This means additional work from a construction standpoint, but also a monthly impact on your billing for as long as you maintain the kitchen. Installing all of these features requires more time, and those constructing satellite kitchens can expect to wait longer to see their finished result.

Additionally, due to the installation of new gas and electric, it’s important to ensure that you have obtained proper permits for your area. Depending on the speed at which your city government moves, construction may be delayed while you wait for approval.

Overall, if you are concerned with budget and don’t like the idea of spending a week ripping up a new section of your yard, it may be advisable to stay away from a satellite kitchen design. However, if you have the budget, flexibility, and a real desire to see your dream outdoor kitchen come to life, it may just be worth the wait.

Other Outdoor Kitchen Considerations

Deciding between a perimeter design and a satellite kitchen is just the tip of the iceberg. Once you know what kind of kitchen you’d like, you can start to tackle questions of material, appliances, and so on. As is the case in similar projects, higher end material and higher degrees of customization will result in a higher final price tag.

In general, outdoor kitchens can range vastly in price depending on the desired product, and it is important for homeowners to be confident in their choice of style before work begins.That being said, before you start dreaming of constructing a stand alone eating oasis in the far corner of your backyard, ask yourself, “does this design make sense for my family?”.

If you rarely find yourself entertaining before the installation of your outdoor kitchen, it may not be smart to imagine that everything will change with a pricey new addition. Furthermore, looking into zoning laws for your area may reveal limitations you didn’t know previously existed that restrict what you are able to build or install on your property.

Doing research on what is available to you, as well as getting to know your contracting, constructing, and design options can help you feel confident that you’re making an informed choice. Be it satellite or perimeter, it is always most important to ensure that you’re investing in an outdoor kitchen that will serve you and your family well for years to come.

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