If you’re a keen cook who loves to entertain, an outdoor kitchen will transform both your garden and your summer gatherings.
They’ve long been popular in the warm climate of Australia, and the trend of al fresco cooking is becoming increasingly popular in the cooler climates of Europe. Scandinavians embrace cooking alfresco even in the coldest months, and the trend is slowly making its way to the UK.
There are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to outdoor kitchens – not only are barbecues available everywhere you look, so are pizza ovens, cabinets, worktops, and sinks.
And you can go as elaborate or modest as you fancy. From building one yourself, to buying an off-the-peg design or paying a professional company to install high-end appliances, an outdoor kitchen can vary wildly in price and finish.
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Outdoor kitchen ideas
1.Get creative with old kitchen tiles
If you only have a small garden, you can easily zone out a small garden kitchen with the aid of a few tiles. Whether you have some leftover from your own kitchen or picked some up on offer, attach them to a wall or wooden board attached to a fence to create a striking backdrop for your barbecue.
2. Consider low maintenance materials
‘Opt for a material that is easy to clean and is maintenance-free’ advises Hege Lundh, Marketing Director, Lundhs. ‘The key to this is choosing a material that is 100 per cent natural. A completely natural stone will be used to the elements and notoriously only require very little maintenance – a simple wipe with a damp cloth will suffice!
3. Position in the perfect spot
Find the perfect spot in your outdoor space to place the kitchen area, ensuring you have enough space for all your cooking needs. Hege Lundh offers his expert advice on determining what the perfect spot is, ‘The outdoor kitchen should not be fully exposed to sunlight, and if possible find the least windy area.’ A secluded spot within the garden, preferably closer to the house should cater well for most garden layouts.
4. Take the indoors out
Take inspiration for the the layout of your existing kitchen. Set the kitchen and cooking elements of the design to one side and keep it contained, only a short distance away from a dining area. this hub of social interaction will feel familiar to the kitchen you know and love indoors. Placing your outdoor kitchen directly outside on the patio is a mirror reflection of the interior.
5. Consider an overhead covering
‘While barbecuing has been popular for a long time, we’ve seen demand for covered outdoor kitchens soar in recent years,’ says Declan Kingsley-Walsh, MD at Morsø UK. The beauty of a solid structure overhead is that you can plan garden parties without consulting the weather forecast.
‘The best outdoor kitchens provide ample food preparation space and worksurface for pots, crockery and utensils, as well as seating,’ adds Declan. A long chimney will funnel smoke away from both the structure and your eyes.
6. Entertain at an outdoor cocktail bar
Give your entertaining a cocktail-bar buzz, without leaving home. ‘I would recommend a garden bar to make greater use of outside space,’ says Rhiannon Williams, landscape architect and project manager at Landform Consultants. ‘A bar takes up a lot less space than a dining area.’
Select key fittings, such as an outdoor wine fridge or sink, then build the bar around these. ‘Choose materials that can withstand year-round exposure. I would recommend a well-sealed natural stone top and treated wood cladding,’ Rhiannon adds.
7. Build a budget outdoor kitchen
Once you’ve worked out your budget, shop around to find a range that’s right for you. Ikea has a fantastic range of affordable outdoor kitchen products, including this charcoal barbecue with a detachable trolley and storage cabinet. They also, of course, have matching garden furniture to complete the look.
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8. Narrow down your cooking style
Are you more of a barbecue buff or a grilling guru? Whatever your preferred cooking method, there’s something for you. Choose from an outdoor kitchen BBQ, pizza oven, hob, grill or a combination of them all.
9. Dedicate a place for food prep
Make sure that you have ample space for food preparation. You won’t want to have to walk back and forth to the kitchen or garden table with all your food in tow. Be sure to keep cooked and uncooked food separate so as not to contaminate one another.
10. Choose a weatherproof countertop
Your outdoor kitchen is going to be exposed to all weather conditions, so it’s important to choose a suitable material for your work surface. Avoid wood, and go for concrete or stainless steel instead.
You could use stone tiles, slabs or flagstones, too, but they should be treated with an acrylic sealer. This will make them more weather resistant and easier to clean.
11. Include storage for essentials
As with any kitchen space, it’s important to ensure you have enough storage. This doesn’t need to be complicated. Simple shelves fixed to a fence can work as a place to stack herbs, spices and marinades, and you can hang tools from dowling rods. A fold-out table provides extra workspace when it’s needed, but can live in the shed in the winter months.
Make sure you’re able to close and lock things away so that they are safe from the outdoor elements.
12. Install an outdoor sink
For the full al fresco experience, include a sink in your outdoor kitchen so you can do your washing up in the open air, too. However, installing the plumbing required can be costly. You could look to positioning your sink on an external wall of the house, below an existing outdoor tap to minimise the cost, but you’ll still need to consider a hot water supply.
Make sure you have a way of covering your sink in winter to protect it from bad weather, and remember it will require more cleaning that a regular indoor sink! Make sure you plan accordingly for any water or electricity access, as this will play a big part in planning.
13. Take shelter
Given the endearing unreliability of the British weather, it’s a good idea to think about building a cover for your outdoor kitchen. Go for a fold-away option to take advantage of the glorious sunshine (when it comes!). Be safe though – for example, a grill will need to be properly ventilated if it’s to be sited under a covered area.
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14. Put safety first
When choosing the design and layout of an outdoor kitchen, put safety first. ‘Take safety into consideration when planning your kitchen’ says Lundhs’ Hege Lundh. ‘If you are planning on installing a grill for example, make sure you avoid flammable materials and choose a worktop and surfaces that can withstand high temperatures of up to 300C.’
Take safety into consideration when planning the layout, make sure there’s a safe flow from cooking area to dining space.
15. Grow your own herbs nearby
Wherever you site your outdoor kitchen, plan in a planting space for herbs not too far away. A joy of cooking in your garden is that you can pick rosemary for your lamb, or basil to top a pizza, fresh and instantly. Rosemary is relatively easy to grow, as are mint, sage and chives.
16. Keep it cool
Image credit: Bradshaw Luxury
When you’ve got guests round on a summer’s evening, you’ve got to keep the drinks flowing. Install an outdoor fridge or wine cooler to keep bottles within arm’s reach.
Just remember, you can’t install any fridge in your garden – look for a models designed for outdoor use and consider that you’ll need an electrical supply to power it.
17. Stay warm with an outdoor fire
When dinner is finished and you’re relaxing with full tummies, what better way to keep the evening going strong than by cosying up under blankets and lighting the fire?
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Things to consider before buying an outdoor kitchen
Whatever your space, start with a barbecue with a work surface/countertop beside it. Choose between a gas or charcoal barbecue, bearing in mind that gas will be easier to keep clean and gives you the option of using it year round. If your budget allows, look for a design that features a rotisserie for slow-roasting meats – great for summer barbecues or Sunday lunches. Storage cabinets are always a handy extra for stashing utensils and cookware, while other optional add-ons can include pizza ovens, outdoor sinks with taps and even fridges.
Where’s the best place to install an outdoor kitchen?
As a rule, outdoor kitchens are best situated fairly close to the house and always on level decking or a patio. Look to position yours against a brick wall (not wooden fencing for obvious reasons) and try to keep it away from walkways.
How much does it cost to put in an outdoor kitchen?
How much it costs to put in an outdoor kitchen depend on your budget and how ambitious your plans are. If you’re a keen DIYer, here’s nothing stopping you from building your own cooking area, incorporating a new barbecue (or your existing one) into the design, with cabinets, worktops and shelving made from weatherproof materials such as wood, stainless steel and brick. Heatproof tiles are a good addition if you want to add a decorating edge.
To keep costs down, consider purchasing a pre-made island or bar-style structure, as this will save you buying what could be expensive custom additions, such as concrete worktops and stone bases. Or why not try building your own as part of an upcycling project, using reclaimed wood and bricks?
Outdoor fridges tend to be quite pricey as they need to be watertight and weatherproof, so they aren’t really an option for those on a budget – plus you’ll need an electrical supply. However, if you have space, a sink or a cooler filled with ice is just as effective for parties.
If money is no object, there are now quite a few companies that will design and install a whole outdoor kitchen for you, as well as looking after any necessary wiring and plumbing. According to Bradshaw Luxury, you should expect to pay around £9,600 for an outdoor kitchen complete with gas grill, fridge and sink.
What is the best surface for an outdoor kitchen?
The best surface for an outdoor kitchen, if you have the budget is a durable stone – that withstands the elements all year round. Stone is 100 per cent natural and is one of the most durable and resilient materials in the world.
‘When it comes to material and in particular worktop surface choice for an outdoor kitchen, the most important consideration is the weather and the climate’ advises Hege Lundh, Marketing Director, Lundhs. ‘Make sure you choose materials that will withstand changes in temperatures, exposure to the sun’s UV rays and also to the moisture of rain and dampness. The key to a long-lasting outdoor surface is something that will stand the test of time against these elements. The features you should look for are a material that has low porosity, low absorption and a resistance to UV.’
It is thanks to its exceptional durability and resilience to the elements that stone makes the ideal outdoor kitchen worktop surface. ‘Resistant to water, heat, UV rays, stains and scratches, real stone can be used outdoors without worry and is guaranteed to be every bit as beautiful as it is practical.’
How do you weatherproof an outdoor kitchen?
Look at investing in good-quality covers to protect your kit from the elements. Wooden surfaces need to be cleaned and treated once a year and, if you have the space (and money), consider a well-ventilated gazebo to shelter your kitchen year round.
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Like loft conversions and kitchen extensions, we see outdoor kitchens becoming increasingly popular, as we all try to get the most from of the space available to us. So why not build one of these outdoor kitchens, and turn your backyard into the hottest eatery in town…