Expert Tips for Perfect Outdoor Kitchen Lighting: Enhance Your Dining Experience

by Chris Commins

We’ve been helping Austin and San Antonio residents add custom outdoor kitchens to their properties. 

And while people spend the most time and effort researching grills, prep stations, fridges, and other equipment, they completely neglect lighting. 

At the same time, your outdoor kitchen lighting can make or break your BBQ experience.

When considering how to best light your outdoor kitchen, there are several essential principles that you should bear in mind.

These principles will ensure that your outdoor cooking and dining experiences remain enjoyable and safe, even after the sun has set.

First, make sure to understand the main outdoor kitchen lighting types by purpose.

Task Lighting

Task lighting is crucial in any kitchen, and even a small outdoor BBQ island is no different. You'll need sufficient light to cook and prepare food safely.

Task lighting means light sources that help perform specific tasks, be it grilling, prepping, or cleaning up.

Install bright lights over your grill, countertops, your sink, and anywhere else where you do the most work to ensure clear vision. 

Grills with lights

Some of the high-end grills we sell have lighting installed in them, for instance these 4- and 5-burner Blaze models with bright helpful lighting elements inside.

American Outdoor and Coyote grills do not fall behind and offer grills with built-in lighting elements as well.

LED lights on grills are also energy-efficient and have a long lifespan, which makes them a better choice than any extra lights installed. In essence, they combine practicality with convenience, as you can keep the BBQ going late into the night without using flashlights or worrying to undercook your meat.

Shelves and counters with built-in lighting

We’ve got a lot of high-end outdoor kitchen equipment with built-in lights. Each item is carefully designed with ergonomics in mind.

If you’re planning to attenuate the drink mixing station in your kitchen, this Alfresco Versa sink serving shelf has built-in lighting.

Other Alfresco shelves to place over your sink have LED light elements as well - which is extremely handy for late-night cleanups.

These Blaze double drawers have super-handy internal LED light elements so you can easily go through your pantry at night.

Unique task lighting options

There are a lot of truly creative task lighting solutions out there, for instance this flexible neck Big Green Egg grill light

The light can be easily mounted anywhere around your grill or the kitchen island, and the magnetic base works well anywhere on stainless steel countertops. 

With several lights like this one (they have a high-intensity LED light and are powered by simple AAA batteries) you can set up a cooking show-worthy light spot for any of your outdoor kitchen tasks.

Ambient Lighting

This principle refers to the overall lighting in your outdoor space - ambient lighting provides general space visibility and sets the mood.

Pendant lights are great if you have a solid roof and wind protection in your outdoor kitchen, otherwise floor lamps, bases, and shades will work well in corners or on the edges of your kitchen space.

Lighting temperature recommendations for outdoor kitchens

The choice of color and brightness has a substantial impact on the overall ambiance and functionality of your outdoor kitchen. While brightness offers the practicality needed for cooking, the color of the light can set the mood you're aiming for.

Brightness is traditionally measured in lumens. Normally, any work requires lighting with a higher lumen output. However, for ambient or mood lighting, a lower lumen output is usually more suitable. A good rule of thumb while setting up your outdoor kitchen's lighting is to opt for adjustable luminosity. This enables you to fine-tune your light's brightness based on the task at hand or the atmosphere you want to create. 

When it comes to color, the light's temperature plays a crucial role. Commonly measured in Kelvins (K), higher temperatures (5000K or more) produce a cooler, bluish light that is ideal for task lighting. On the other hand, lower temperatures (3000K or less) produce a warmer, yellowish light, perfect for setting a relaxing and inviting atmosphere. 

Ideally you need to have bright white/bluish task lighting for work areas and dimmer/yellowish lights in your dining and drinking area. This helps you stay alert while cooking and unqind and relax while eating.

Safety Lighting

Your outdoor kitchen should also be equipped with safety lighting. Paths, stairs, rails, and the edges of dining areas should be well lit to prevent accidents. 

This could be achieved through the use of strategically placed spotlights or deck lights. 

Controlled Lighting

Being able to control the strength and direction of your lighting is crucial. Consider getting lights with dimmer options, or ones that can be adjusted to illuminate specific areas as your needs change.

The tricky part about outdoor kitchen lighting is keeping it simple enough to not have to worry about it too much, and at the same time sophisticated enough to enjoy your time cooking outdoors. Your outdoor kitchen lights need to be able to withstand the elements and be easy to clean, since there are grease particles and dust that sticks to them.

Considering all that, always work with someone experienced to plan and set up lights in your outdoor kitchen. Ideally your lighting needs to work together with your grills, cabinets, and the general workflows you expect to have while cooking.

We’ve been helping Texas residents equip and build custom outdoor kitchens for decades, so get in touch with us if you want to use our expertise!