The outdoor kitchen has grown up from the days of a brick barbecue and ‘kiss the cook’ apron, says interiors writer CAROL BURNS.
Once hidden away in the bowels of the house, the kitchen has long since become the hub of the home, so it was only a matter of time before we decided one was not enough and moved the party outside.
Outdoor kitchens – from a kettle barbecue to a wood-fired pizza oven – the garden kitchen can be as luxurious as the one inside (and sometimes more so – most households would struggle to fit a tandoori oven next to the Aga).
So how do a few mismatched outdoor cooking appliances earn the name ‘kitchen’? The key element is the work surface. There’s no official ruling but for me a prep space turns a cooking station into a proper room. Organise it properly and add a dinner table nearby, and you may never go back indoors (except to get more wine – I don’t advise installing a fridge in your new outdoor kitchen unless you are paying for a professional installation).
Like the best kitchen layout, the outdoor kitchen needs some fairly careful planning.
Hot days are made for barbecuing, tandoori-ing, or pizza oven-ing. But spare a thought for the chef. While the diners bathe in the glories of coastal sunshine, sipping chilled chardonnay and chatting, the cook is likely having a stickier time (and I’m not talking about the marinade).
This is where good placement comes in. Wheel the barbecue out of the way and look at your garden and visualise the best places for your kitchen. This will come down in part to the space you have and the safe flat surfaces on offer. But somewhere that leans towards shade in the afternoons and evenings, would be ideal.
Place your dining space nearby so the chef is part of the party, and supply a chair where they can survey their territory. Think bar stool rather than sun lounger: you don’t want those burgers to burn while chef is relaxing too much!
Before moving up to the outdoor kitchens that cost more than your indoor one, it’s worth spending a summer finding out if you like cooking outside, so start simple. Your prep surface should sit next to the cooking station, if you are right-handed, it will be your left. It might be an old kitchen table, bar or something purpose-built.
Personally, I find the kitchen trolleys on wheels you can get from places like Ikea are perfect – not least because they can be rolled back under the deck to protect them from inclement weather. They are generally at the right height (around 90cm) with adjustable legs and lockable wheels. They also come with shelves for storing a few cooking implements or fuel accoutrements.
If this is your first-time season of outdoor cooking, you might try a fold-down wallpaper pasting table with extendable legs. Another cheap way to create an outdoor kitchen is using bricks and scaffolding boards, but that’s a more complicated DIY job for another season.
Undoubtedly, the barbecue is the main feature of any outdoor kitchen, so it’s worth making the investment. Today’s gas-fired barbecues come with ring burners and separate grills to turn your basic burger selection into a smorgasbord of marinated meats, grilled vegetables and fish and toasted breads. So if you are buying something new, consider upgrading to something with more than your classic kettle (and turn your old kettle base into a patio warming fire pit).
There are many other cooking options on offer for your outdoor space – for me the answer is to add an item each year and develop your collection as you see demand. Next to a barbecue the pizza oven is the next favourite appliance. These can be gas-fired or simply use a wood burner. The former is faster to use, while many purists would agree the latter is the only true pizza oven.
However sumptuous or simple your outdoor kitchen space, it will be added to by a few herb pots. Handy for pulling off to tear into your marinade or straight onto that grilled rainbow trout, a kitchen is not complete without some fresh parsley, rosemary, thyme and chives. Throw in some mint and coriander and you’ve got yourself an outdoor kitchen fit for all menus.
For more tips on how to style your outdoor space, read our article here.