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10 Outdoor Kitchen Safety Risks You’ve Never Heard Of, & What You Can do About it

By James King

August 29, 2023

What could be so unsafe about an outdoor kitchen?

It’s just like any other backyard upgrade… Isn’t it?

Well… Not exactly.

It may not appear obvious at first… But there are actually several safety risks related to an outdoor kitchen.

Pretty significant ones, too!

These can range from superficial burns at the grill… All the way up to a full-on island explosion. Yikes.

safety risks featured image

Thankfully, these outdoor kitchen safety risks can be easy to avoid… If you know how to prevent them.

In this blog, we will discuss all the safety risks related to an outdoor kitchen… And arm you with the knowledge you need to keep yourself and your loved ones safe.

Let’s begin.

Quicklinks:

Dangerous Outdoor Kitchen Construction Risks

It’s a no-brainer that your outdoor kitchen should be constructed properly… However, the risks are far greater than lost time and money.

An improperly constructed island can pose not only a risk to your property… But to your loved ones as well.

Risks of Island Collapse

island collapse

Just like with any other large structure… If it’s not built properly, your outdoor kitchen could collapse suddenly.

Many builders (especially DIYers) underestimate how much weight your BBQ island needs to support.

Countertops weigh in excess of several hundred pounds on their own… And most built-in appliances weigh over 100 lbs each.

That’s a ton of dead weight!

Your island needs to be strong enough to support this constant downward pressure… Rain or shine.

Of course, the answer is simple. Simply build your island with all the weight requirements in mind!

Thin gauge metal is to be avoided here… As this material can easily buckle under the pressure of your island.

Concrete and other masonry materials (like brick or stone) are an excellent choice here. They’re incredibly sturdy… And are made to last the long haul.

But even if your island structure is strong enough to prevent spontaneous collapse… You can still run into issues later if you choose the wrong materials.

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Your Island Could Deteriorate Over Time

Structural failure is a real risk when it comes to outdoor kitchen construction.

Everyone knows that structures will deteriorate over time… It doesn’t take rocket science to figure that out!

However, some structures last far longer than others.

There are stone-built homes that are thousands of years old… And you simply can’t expect a modern stick-built home to last that long.

Generally speaking, outdoor kitchens run on far shorter lifespans.

So if you want a solution that lasts for decades… You must choose the right materials!

From a structural standpoint… Wood is extremely prone to rot, termite damage, swelling, and warping.

The swelling and warping will cause your island to literally look bent out of shape after a season or two… And between rot and insect damage, your island will deteriorate at a rapid pace.

Of course… This ends up as a quite dangerous scenario.

Whether it’s rot or termites, everything will look perfectly fine from the outside… But one day?

The weight of your countertop and appliances simply become too much… And collapse.

To a slightly lesser extent, this is the same situation with metal frames. They’ll last longer… But are susceptible to rust and corrosion over time.

And when the damage gets extensive enough… Once again, you end up with an expensive (and useless) pile of rubble.

The solution to all this? The short answer is to build your outdoor kitchen with concrete. (Brick and stone can be acceptable, too).

It’s extremely structurally sound… And won’t be subject to the pitfalls of metal and wood.

Your Countertop Could Flip Over

While a bit of an obscure safety risk… It’s still a potential problem to be aware of.

The vast majority of outdoor kitchens will not have the countertop directly adhered to the structure… It’s simply the force of gravity holding the countertop down.

Normally, this isn’t a problem at all!

As we’ve established earlier… Most outdoor kitchen countertops weigh several hundred pounds. So it’s not a surface that will easily be jostled around.

However… It’s possible that a countertop can flip over if the cantilever is too large.

This is particularly the case with a bar island.

Bar islands usually have a large overhang on one side, for comfortably seating guests.

If the overhang is exceedingly long, and someone leans on it too much… It’s possible the entire countertop could flip over.

This situation is particularly dangerous if there happen to be children or small pets around… Who could be severely crushed by the force of a falling countertop.

But again, as long as you design your island properly… This should not be an issue.

The standard overhang for a bar island is about 12” – 18”… So you wouldn’t want to extend beyond this.

This overhang should prevent any issues from guests leaning on the countertop… But still provides enough space for bar stools underneath!

How Your Deck or Patio Could Get Damaged

deck collapsed from outdoor kitchen

Wrapping up this section… An improperly planned outdoor kitchen project can even damage other parts of your property.

Once again… Weight is the primary factor here.

Most islands will weigh in excess of 1,000 lbs… That’s a ton of weight to support!

Many homeowners hope to utilize an existing deck or patio for their outdoor kitchen project.

That’s great! However… It must be sturdy enough to withstand the full weight of your island.

And more than likely, your deck or patio wasn’t built with this in mind.

So if you don’t take any precautions… The sheer weight of your BBQ island could easily cause your deck to collapse (and your patio to crack).

For a deck, the solution is simple. Figure out what weight your deck is currently rated for… And add enough supports for your new island.

Unfortunately… Patios aren’t as clear-cut.

You’ll have to add a structural footing to your patio… Which means you’ll likely have to start over.

Depending on what your patio is made from… You can save the materials to re-apply them later. Pavers are a good example of this.

The exception would be a poured concrete patio. If this is where you’re starting, you should be just fine. 

But if not…

You’ll either want to look for a lightweight outdoor kitchen solution (that doesn’t require a structural footing)… Or start from scratch on your patio.

Even if you properly plan ahead for these scenarios… There are still more risks you need to mitigate with your outdoor kitchen design!

Risks Related to Improper Ventilation & Materials

At this stage, we’ve discussed how to avoid some of the more obvious safety risks.

However… The lesser known risks can be far more insidious.

While we won’t discuss outdoor kitchen ventilation in detail here… We will highlight the primary risks involved.

Fires Due to Excessive Heat

head buildup in island

Basic fire safety tells us that we don’t want appliances and electronics to overheat.

Because the hotter something gets… The more likely it will catch fire.

Hence, why ventilation is so essential.

How is the concept any different with your outdoor kitchen?

Tragically, many builders completely forego ventilation in their outdoor kitchen islands.

Which means… When you run your grill, heat is constantly building up in your BBQ island.

There is nowhere for this heat to escape.

And if your island is made from combustible materials… It’s nearly inevitable that a fire will spark.

Now, let’s backtrack for one second.

Combustible material is a pretty straightforward term. These are materials that can combust and become a significant fire hazard.

Got it?

Combustible materials for an outdoor kitchen include wood, plastic, composite decking, and PVC.

So if your island is made from combustible materials and does not include ventilation… That’s a recipe for disaster.

It’s only a matter of time before excessive heat buildup gets the best of your island… So you’d best have a fire extinguisher at the ready.

Here, the solution is two-fold.

For one… Ensure that your island is made from solidly non-combustible materials. Masonry (brick or stone), concrete, granite, and stainless steel are your best options here.

This will prevent your island from turning into a blazing fire… As these materials are all but immune to it.

Secondly, include adequate ventilation! Again, we won’t get into details here… But there are several resources available that describe the requirements. (Be sure to consult with an expert on this.)

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Explosions Due to Gas Buildup

an image of an outdoor kitchen that caught fire due to poor ventilation

On a similar note… Gas buildup is another safety risk with the same root cause.

Yes, improper ventilation and material choices.

When you’re running your grill… It’s not just heat buildup you have to be concerned with.

Your liquid propane or natural gas grill will also cause gas buildup.

Liquid propane will sink to the bottom… And natural gas will rise to the top. (Heat rises, too.)

If you don’t have ventilation that allows propane, natural gas, or heat to flush out… This is an extremely risky endeavor.

Once again, the risk is compounded with the use of combustible materials.

What can happen, exactly?

Well… Your island can actually explode.

It might sound like a grandiose exaggeration… But that’s not the case at all.

There are several instances where an outdoor kitchen has exploded for this exact reason.

Knowing this is a real possibility… It’s obvious how dangerous this situation could be for yourself and your loved ones. Your family could be seriously hurt by ignoring this risk!

A prominent outdoor kitchen manufacturer has even recalled their islands due to an explosion risk, as well.

This just goes to show… The risk of your island exploding is not an obscure one.

Yet again… We’ll beat the drum on the importance of adequate ventilation and the use of non-combustible materials!

Here, you’ll want ventilation at both the top and bottom of your island. This will allow heat, natural gas, and propane to vent out with no issue. 

We also recommend installing ventilation on the left, right, and back sides of your island… The more coverage, the better.

Paired with non-combustible materials… This is an unbeatable combo that will successfully quash the concern of island explosion.

Damage to Nearby Combustible Structures

heat transfer to combustible

There’s one more safety risk to be aware of in this category… And it’s a secondary risk resulting from a fire or explosion.

Should your island explode or a fire break out… Any nearby combustible structures are also at risk. (This is also true if your hot grill is just simply too close.)

On the less severe end, vinyl siding or other plastic materials could melt.

But on the extreme end?

Shade structures like gazebos and pergolas could go up in flames. And if it’s not put under control… It could even extend to your home.

That’s not something a simple fire extinguisher can fix.

It’s bad enough if your outdoor kitchen burned down or exploded… But putting your home in range of a fire hazard is on a whole other level.

Again, skimping out on materials and ventilation simply isn’t worth the risk.

Use non-combustible materials for your island… Plan out adequate ventilation according to manufacturer guidelines… And keep your appliances at a proper distance from combustible structures. (Your grill needs a lot of open space!)

Be sure to work with an expert designer and builder to plan this out ahead of time… So you can enjoy years of worry-free grilling with family.

And speaking of grilling…

Risks Directly Related to Grill Usage

Even if you’ve designed and constructed your island properly… You’ll still encounter safety risks when actually using your island!

So let’s look at a couple safety tips to ensure your grilling experience is an enjoyable (and safe!) one.

Burns from Direct Contact

accidental burns

Let’s start with the most obvious one.

Grills are hot! So there’s always a risk of burning yourself when cooking.

We know, it’s not groundbreaking news… But it’s still noteworthy to mention.

Why?

Interestingly… The way your outdoor kitchen is designed can affect your likelihood of getting burned.

If you put your grill right next to a sink, drop-in cooler, or anything else where your hands might go… You would increase the likelihood your hand accidentally bumps a hot part of the grill. (The same goes for your guests).

And of course, you want to avoid this as much as possible! Considering a grill (or side burner) will heat up in excess of several hundred degrees… Yourself or your loved ones could end up with some severe burns.

Thankfully, the fix is simple.

Ever heard of the “kitchen triangle”?

This is a design principle for your interior kitchen. Essentially, the layout of your stove, refrigerator, and sink should form a triangle.

This creates an effortless “flow” as you are working in your kitchen.

But it also makes your oven a separate cooking zone… And the same exact principles should apply to your outdoor kitchen.

Keeping your grill distanced from other appliances will reduce your risk of getting burned… And just don’t forget to stay vigilant!

Grease Fires Sparked by Your Built in Grill

Grease fires are a well-known concern for your indoor kitchen… And it’s a serious one.

Cooking-related fires (particularly grease fires) are the number one cause of home fires… By a long shot.

So naturally, this is a huge risk in your outdoor cooking area as well.

Most often… An indoor grease fire is caused by oil in an unattended pan.

But what causes it in an outdoor grill?

There are a couple scenarios.

On one end… Grease dripping off your food into the grill can cause a flare-up. Most of the time, these are quite minor and require no action on your part.

But if the flames start surrounding your food and show no signs of stopping… You likely have a full-on grease fire.

The other cause?

Whenever you use your grill, grease will get funneled into a drip tray.

If you don’t regularly clean it… The high heat from your grill could certainly ignite the grease inside.

But the issue can go even deeper than that.

Grease can sometimes accumulate in the firebox of your grill… Or any other nook and cranny that’s available.

If you leave your grill unattended… That 1,000°F heat and 30-45 minutes of runtime could easily land you with a roaring grease fire.

And because a built-in grill is designed to dispel heat… The flaming grease particles will fly out of the ventilation, into the interior of your island or other nearby structures. (This can then cause a combustible island to catch fire, too).

The worst part about it?

We’d all like to think we wouldn’t forget about our grill running… But it is deceptively easy to get distracted.

You could fire up your grill for a normal preheat, and then you get a phone call. Next thing you know, a half hour goes by… And you’ve completely forgotten you turned on the grill.

You’re only reminded because you see a flaming fire in your backyard!

So, how do you deal with this?

Preventing (And Dealing With) a Grease Fire

First of all, don’t leave your grill unattended!

It’s always when you’re not looking that something goes wrong… So ensure that someone’s eyes are on the grill at all times.

Also, every time you use your grill… Clean the grates, drip tray, and everything else you can reach thoroughly.

The more squeaky-clean your grill is… The less likely you’ll have to fuss about a grease fire.

Cleanliness is key.

But if you do still end up with a severe flare up… Don’t panic!

First, you can smother the fire with either baking soda or sand (if it’s really bad). Then, turn off all the burners on your grill to remove the heat source.

Finally, close the lid to starve the fire of oxygen. After your grill has fully cooled off… It should be safe to use again.

But if you have any doubts of the fire resolving… Keep your phone on hand to call the fire department if needed.

And for one last tip?

Never put water on a grease fire! The water will immediately turn to steam, making the burning oil splash everywhere… Creating an explosive-like effect.

This is extremely dangerous… And can cause the fire to spread to nearby structures.

Which brings us to our final safety concern.

Grill Fires Spreading to Island & Nearby Structures

fire catches on pergola

We’ve already alluded to this risk a couple times… But it merits a more in-depth explanation.

Grease fires are not known to stay in one place and burn out on their own.

If you don’t choke off the source quickly… These flames can rapidly spiral out of control.

As we’ve already mentioned, your built-in grill is designed to dispel heat.

So the ventilation is going to be shooting flames into your island. And if it’s made from combustible materials… Your entire island could be going down in flames.

Especially if you threw caution to the wind and built a wood outdoor kitchen. The heat from your grill will cause the wood to become brittle over time… Which makes it ever-more like kindling.

It’s the perfect setting for an unintended backyard bonfire.

Once again, the superiority of non-combustible materials reveal themselves! (Remember to stick with concrete, brick, stone, granite, or stainless steel).

However, it’s not just your BBQ island that’s at risk.

If allowed to spiral out of control… The grease fire can also spread to nearby structures and even your home.

Pergolas, gazebos, arbors… None of these structures are impervious to the risk.

And even if a full-fledged fire doesn’t break out… The heat from your grill is still plenty powerful enough to melt nearby vinyl siding or other combustibles.

The solution to all this?

As usual… There’s more than one angle to consider.

First of all, look into the setback guidelines from your grill manufacturer. This will tell you exactly how far away your grill should be from all other structures.

This creates distance from your grill… And reduces the risk that other features will catch fire if a grease fire were to occur.

Following these guidelines will also prevent you from putting the grill too close to the wall… Creating a scenario where a fire could break out from excessive heat. (It’s always recommended to install a backsplash here).

If you have an overhead structure like a gazebo… You’ll also want to invest in an outdoor vent hood.

This will pull hot air and grease out of the area while you grill… And significantly reduce the risk of a fire breaking out.

And there you have it… That’s all the safety risks involved with an outdoor kitchen project.

However, this knowledge-dump might have you feeling a bit apprehensive about moving forward.

There’s no need to be.

An Outdoor Kitchen Designed With Safety In Mind, From The Get-Go

l shaped outdoor kitchen with pizza oven and dual burner

The safety of your loved ones is the number one priority… But it shouldn’t be a stressful endeavor to ensure!

With all of the outdoor kitchen safety risks fresh in your mind… It may feel like an overwhelming prospect.

The dangers can be serious if a safety measure is forgotten or overlooked! So it’s only natural that you may be questioning your ability to keep all the facts straight.

Thankfully, there’s an outdoor kitchen solution that already accounts for all the safety precautions we discussed.

Which means… Being concerned for your family’s safety won’t be a thought in your mind. (We’ve got that covered!)

All you need to do is enjoy the process of building an outdoor kitchen… With complete peace of mind.

So, what’s the solution?

It’s an RTA outdoor kitchen… And we’ve designed these islands to be safe, from the ground up.

Your RTA outdoor kitchen will:

  • Be constructed from non-combustible concrete that’s rated for 100 years
  • Have ventilation in 7 unique locations that exceed manufacturer guidelines
  • Have vents that are located on the top and bottom of your island… Allowing heat, natural gas, and propane to flush out uninhibited.
  • Be designed by an expert who understands your unique needs for safety

Rather than having to interrogate your builder to ensure your outdoor kitchen will be safe… You’ll be reassured of your safety at every step of the process.

That means your worry can disappear completely… And you can focus on creating the outdoor living space of your dreams!

If you’re curious to learn more about our DIY grill islands… The RTA Learning Hub is an absolute wealth of information on the topic.

Or if you’re really looking to drill down on the topic of safety… We have an entire webpage dedicated to the subject.

Any questions?

Just let us know… We’d be more than happy to help out!

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