Eating al fresco is not just about summer barbecues. A fully equipped outdoor kitchen allows you to maximise your backyard all year round
How to create your own outdoor kitchen
Outdoor kitchens are definitely on the hot list for gardens right now. Whether you’re a pizza oven aficionado, barbecue nut or simply don’t have a big enough cooking space inside your house, most of us would agree that cooking outside is much more pleasant than being stuck inside four walls with food smells wafting around.
So why not make the process more efficient and enjoyable with the right equipment? Maybe it’s that caveman instinct coming to the fore, but men seem to particularly enjoy demonstrating their culinary skills outdoors, even more so when there’s a flash barbecue, oven, fridge and bench to work with.
What will your outdoor kitchen be used for?
Like any big undertaking around the home (and some outdoor kitchens are very big indeed), it’s essential to have a think about the fundamentals before you invest in any appliances or fixtures. The first thing to clarify is your overall aim.
Is it simply to cook meals outside without continual trips inside for drinks, cutlery and plates? Or are you a passionate foodie and want to produce gourmet dishes for your friends al fresco while you all enjoy the garden?
Will you be cooking mainly for the family, small groups of friends or large gatherings? This will not only help determine the size of your barbecue or outdoor oven, but also the degree of prepping space, storage and seating you require. Do you need an outdoor fridge for beer and wine? Even if you’re mainly catering to little people or teenagers, cold drinks are always in demand.
What do you enjoy cooking?
The next question is, what do you like to cook? One advantage of having an outdoor kitchen is that you can supplement the existing cooking appliances you have inside. Barbecues are the obvious choice, but you can also opt for outdoor ovens for pizza, bread, meat – even cakes – as well as rotisseries, smokers, wok burners and teppanyaki plates.
Plan for the future
Some outdoor kitchen systems are modular, meaning you can start with a basic barbecue and sink bench and add extra bench-extension modules further down the track.
Location is key
Deciding where to put the outdoor kitchen is obvious if you have an existing outdoor entertaining area. If not, then easy access to it from your indoor kitchen is key. Not only will this minimise running in and out between the two, it will also cost less to connect to existing utilities such as power, gas and water.
However, this may not be possible with steep sites or where the view, sun or amenities (such as a swimming pool) are not close to the house. In this case, rather than being used as a supplementary cooking space, the outdoor kitchen will need to be equipped as a stand-alone entity with plenty of storage and prepping space.
Get year round use
To get the best use out of your outdoor kitchen, try to make it usable all year round. This means creating shelter from wind, sun and rain with screens and overhead canopies, especially for the cook (avoid combustible materials over the barbecue or outdoor oven, though!).
Having a barbecue on castors so it can be moved to a more sheltered spot in winter is also a good idea. Patio heaters or an outdoor fireplace will help to extend your use of the area into the cooler months.
Make it bright
Good light is essential when cooking outside. Go for some form of directional task lighting over the cooking and prep areas, but make sure it won’t shine too brightly onto the outdoor dining area.
Make a plan
Once you’ve got the basic structure and size of your kitchen mapped out, you can start looking at its functional layout. Generally the same principles apply for kitchens outdoors as they do indoors, with the size, position and proximity of cold areas (refrigeration), hot areas (barbecues, ovens, cooktops), wet areas (sinks) and dry areas (prep benches and storage) all designed for maximum efficiency.
One simple approach is to divide the outdoor kitchen into three main zones: preparation, cooking and serving. If you’re still unsure, talk to a kitchen designer. The relationship between the indoor and outdoor kitchens should also be considered. Will you use them together or separately when cooking or entertaining? Will the traffic flow between them work efficiently?
Create seamless indoor outdoor flow
If indoor and outdoor kitchens are going to be close to each other, think about a design that allows the two to merge seamlessly to create one large, fabulous entertaining area when you open the doors – a great option if your inside kitchen is quite small.
For a really stunning effect, try to use materials and detailing that complement or repeat those inside the house, matching benchtops, door hardware and cabinetry, for instance.
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Maree Homer and Scott Hawkins/bauersyndication.com.au.