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If you’re a keen cook who loves to entertain (and you have space), 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.
Love your garden? Visit our garden ideas section and check out our curated collection of planning and design advice
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?
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1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Find 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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4. 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.
5. Position 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.
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6. 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.
7. Have some herbs growing 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.
8. Include storage for essentials
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.
9. 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!
10. 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.
More inspiration: 5 great ways to create shade in your garden
11. Keep it cool
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.
12. 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
What are the essentials?
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 well 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 one?
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.
Can I do it on a budget?
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.
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, what are my options?
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 about weatherproofing?
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.
Love these outdoor kitchen ideas? READ: 6 ways to master the barbecue and boost your skill at the grill
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…