We know the Australians have outdoor cooking down to a ‘T’, and in many parts of the USA garden kitchens are a popular feature, too. In the last few years, however, demand for al fresco kitchens in the UK has increased markedly. Despite our somewhat dodgy weather, it seems we’d all love to spend a little more time cooking, eating and socialising in the fresh air. So what are the key points to consider when planning an outdoor kitchen?
Before you start
You shouldn’t need planning permission for an outdoor kitchen, as it’s not considered a permanent structure, but if you live in a listed building or a conservation area, it is worth checking with your local authority. Another point to bear in mind is that your neighbours may be affected – by smoke, for example, or additional lighting – and it’s never a bad idea to talk your plans through with them and avoid any potential future problems.
Location, location, location
Where do you want to site your outdoor kitchen? You may already have a favourite spot in which to barbecue and eat, but if you’re starting from scratch there are a few major considerations. In a very large outdoor space, for example, you probably won’t want to stray too far from the house but, if you do, there will be a greater need for more facilities, such as a sink and tap, waste bin, storage and cooling. If you are linking your outdoor kitchen to water and power, exactly how will they connect? Bear in mind that the further you go from the source the more expensive it will be to install them. Your kitchen needs to sit on level ground, safely far from flammable materials, and preferably in a spot that’s away from wind and not fully exposed to the sun. Avoid frequently used walkways, steps, trip hazards and slippery ground, too. Finally, allow enough floor area for all the different elements you wish to include, as well as space to walk around them and comfortably open any doors and drawers, plus seating/eating space nearby for the maximum number of guests you plan to entertain.
A choice of features
The simplest outdoor kitchen could just be a barbecue with a fold-out table or wheeled trolley next to it for food preparation – maybe with a rubbish bin beneath, some sturdy lidded boxes and a few hooks on the side for implements. You might add a rotisserie or a pizza oven, and perhaps a storage shelf or cupboard. At the other end of the spectrum the fanciest outdoor kitchens are carefully planned, built-in extravaganzas – not dissimilar from an indoor kitchen – and will include a plumbed-in sink and a fridge, as well as a spacious, durable and easily cleaned countertop – perhaps made of stone for a natural look, or stainless steel for a modern, streamlined effect. Go top-of-the-range and you could even include a dishwasher!
Comfort and weather-proofing
You may want to build your garden kitchen with some form of protection from rain showers – but do bear in mind that a grill needs to be properly ventilated if it’s sited under a permanent, solid cover. Roll-away awnings are a good solution for changeable British weather. Although the cooking will provide an element of warmth in itself, consider adding another form of heating near the dining area, such as a fire pit or an electric heater. It makes a nice focal point for gatherings, too. Lighting is an absolutely essential element, enabling you to safely continue cooking after dusk and adding ambience to the entertaining area. Design bright lighting near the barbecue, grill or oven, and decorative lighting near the dining table – perhaps rows of low-level lights or strings of pretty fairy lights.
An outdoor kitchen can be a plain and simple, functional affair, but to make it more fun and personal, add some carefully designed, individual elements. How about patterned tiles on the wall behind the cooking area? A variety of cushions and throws on the seating? Colourful storage containers or textural floor tiles? Incorporate beautiful planting nearby – a herb garden would be handy – and you have the best of both worlds: a garden in which to relax and your own delightful outdoor eatery.