Cooking is just better outside — especially if you follow our handy guide to outdoor kitchens.
BY NESSA PULLMAN
For nearly 800,000 years, human beings caught, prepared and cooked their meals outdoors. Then about 30,000 years ago, the first oven was created (by all accounts, a roasting pit inside a Central European yurt), and so began the progression toward today’s sleek, high-tech, indoor kitchens. These days, the only time most of us cook outdoors is on a camping trip or at a neighbourhood barbecue — unless we join the growing number of people taking the kitchen back outside.
“There’s been an increasing trend towards outdoor spaces,” says Jonathan Craggs, founder of Jonathan Craggs Garden Design. “People are looking to cultivate more outdoor living.”
Having an outdoor kitchen is the best way to get the most out of the warm summer months. But it has uses beyond summer enjoyment, whether it’s hosting friends and family in a larger space or cooking elaborate meals with rich aromas and not worrying about lingering smells. Not only is getting outside beneficial to your health, it allows more room for people to gather, talk and play — and it creates an optimal setting for skipping the expensive vacation and entertaining at home.
“People always tend to gather around the kitchen,” says Mike De Palma, founder and CEO of Flintstones Construction. “You might as well be outside breathing in fresh air and enjoying the view.”
No matter the reason — or the season — outdoor kitchens provide a space that is functional and enjoyable. Here’s what you need to know to design your own.
Build the Basics
When it comes to building an outdoor kitchen, the first thing to consider is the location. Whether it is attached to the main house or in a pavilion nearby, having it in close proximity to your indoor kitchen is key. “You don’t want to be hauling your food supplies across the entire house to get there,” says De Palma.
The second is to determine how you want to use the space. “Building an outdoor kitchen is very à la carte,” says De Palma. “There are the basics, and then you build up from there to suit your needs.”
The fundamentals of an outdoor kitchen comprise three things, he says: a barbecue; a sink with counter space; and facilities for garbage and recycling. These items will give you the necessary base to begin cooking your meals outdoors.
However, if you want to use the space as a lively entertainment area or perhaps a luxurious staycation spot, you’ll want to consider adding a few other features.
For instance, in addition to a standard barbecue, there are several other cooking methods that have become popular for outdoor settings. The most familiar is perhaps the pizza oven, which turns homemade pizza night into a fun event for all. There are different types available depending on your needs, including clay-dome structures that are favoured for both their efficiency and rustic esthetic. But, Craggs cautions, “People underestimate how big they are. I like to incorporate them into a wall to break down the scale and create a feature.”
If smoking fish or meat is your hobby, then you may want to add a charcoal or electric smoker to your cooking area. Or consider a Big Green Egg, a stylish and popular all-in-one stand-alone ceramic cooker that can be used to grill, smoke and bake.
If you’d rather keep your space simple, an added countertop power burner is useful for boiling large pots of water for BBQ favourites like corn on the cob or freshly caught crab. Consider mounting a pot filler above to help with filling large pots of water, and install a warming drawer close by to keep food hot until it’s served.
Adding a refrigerator is useful for keeping both food and beverages chilled and safe from contamination.
And, of course, nothing makes a space more hospitable than a wet bar, perhaps with a keg tap to keep those cold beers flowing all summer long. This outdoor bar feature will surely recreate the feeling of being at a resort in a tropical destination, only in the comfort of your own home.
“No matter what you’re doing, being outside encourages a more relaxed and informal atmosphere,” says De Palma.
Fine-tune the Details
Once you’ve decided on the basics, consider the details.
Building an outdoor kitchen requires specific materials to withstand the harsher conditions of wind, rain and sunshine. “You’ll want to choose strong, durable materials,” says Craggs. “A honed granite or marble countertop will hold up best against the weather.” Concrete, brick and some woods can also provide durability while adding a refined and elegant look.
For the appliances themselves, use high-grade austenitic stainless steel, which has a high resistance to corrosion.
“I always suggest putting a type of shelter over the kitchen for protection,” adds De Palma. “That’s also what allows the space to go from a summer-only event to a six- or nine-month usage.” There are numerous options that vary in coverage; however, having a semi-enclosed glass-and-beam structure will provide the best weather-proofing. If you go this route, make sure that you add a hood fan above the barbecue as it is now a combustible space.
To get the most out of your outdoor kitchen, De Palma suggests incorporating additional features nearby to encourage a more unified living space. “Having somewhere to sit and eat the food afterwards is ideal,” he says. “This could be a formal dining table or even casual bar seating off the kitchen.”
Outdoor light fixtures, including a mix of task and mood lighting, as well as gas heaters, add a warm ambience and comfort to the space when the sun goes down. To take it a step further, create a lounging area with couches and pillows, a firepit and/or an outdoor-rated TV. Craggs suggests incorporating a pool or hot tub nearby to maximize the luxurious outdoor-living atmosphere.
It is said that the kitchen is the heart of any house, so why not apply this to the outdoors as well? “There is something primal about cooking outdoors,” says De Palma. “It makes you feel more connected to nature and, more importantly, to each other.”