This is what you need to know about outdoor kitchens

The trend for extending our homes into our gardens was happening before Covid-19, but being cooped up during the pandemic has certainly given it added impetus. Interest in creating outdoor kitchens is growing and we look at the key points to think about. This article examines:

  • The background to the trend
  • Siting an outdoor kitchen
  • What materials to choose
  • Examples of top-selling outdoor kitchens
  • Practical points to think about
  • Desirable equipment to buy
A bespoke outdoor kitchen

The trend for outdoor kitchens

Building an outdoor kitchen may appear to be a paradoxically British decision: we endure long, wet winters making our desire to maximise the time we do get to spend outdoors understandable – despite the possibility of long, wet summers. But we are British, and we are ever hopeful that the prospect of spending warm days and evenings in our gardens will become a reality.

Outdoor living

Today, our gardens, terraces and balconies are increasingly viewed as areas for entertaining, cooking, relaxing and having fun, as we give indoors and outdoors equal attention. The growing popularity of bifold doors has taken the concept of extending living space a step further by bringing the indoors out and making the garden an extension of the house.

Outdoor cooking tempts us with visions of the Mediterranean lifestyle; it has also long been popular in Australia and the USA, and Scandinavians are also keen advocates, even in the colder months. People are stepping things up from a barbecue on wheels to create more of a built-in statement with dedicated outdoor dining space.

An outdoor kitchen raises the prospect of al fresco dining for more months of the year and of course, they can be totally customisable: options range from a simple barbecue with surrounding units for food preparation, to a state-of-the-art installation with a fridge and professional grill. You can build one yourself, buy an off-the-peg design or pay a specialist company to install a high-end scheme.

Whether an outdoor kitchen adds value to a house is debatable; shiny, new models may well do so, but it may be worth thinking about how long they will retain their pristine looks. Another consideration is how much valuable garden space they will take up, but of course they are moveable, even if they are plumbed and wired in and sit on specially prepared paved areas.

Siting an outdoor kitchen

Aim to zone your garden into areas for outdoor entertaining, eating, resting and playing; decide how best to use the outdoor space to suit your aims.

Think about whether you want to accommodate small numbers of diners, larger gatherings, or family barbecues. This enables you to choose the size of appliances that you need; you can then map out where best to site appliances and tables.

Positioning a dining area to make the most of the evening sun is preferable, avoiding the midday glare and any windy spot if possible. Outdoor kitchens need to be distanced from branches, thatch, and wooden fences; there needs to be space to cook and easy access to the main kitchen is useful.

Materials

Wooden outdoor kitchen
A wooden outdoor kitchen

Natural stone is a good choice for outdoor use as it is low maintenance; it can cope with the worst of the British weather, it is easy to clean, and can cope with the sun’s UV rays along with rain, dampness, stains and scratches.

Other viable options include weatherproof work surfaces, concrete, stainless steel, stone slabs, tiles, or flagstones, all of which are best treated with an acrylic sealer.

Wood surfaces will need to be cleaned and treated annually and if wood is your choice, go for a weatherproof variety such as seasoned oak.

Examples of top sellers

Ross Worrod, business development spokesperson for outdoor cooking specialists Grillo Outdoor Kitchens UK agreed that Covid-19 has boosted demand for outdoor kitchens. He said that people are looking for outdoor kitchen ideas, adding:

“Many people have been spending more time at home and particularly in their gardens. The outdoor living trend has taken off and people have enjoyed turning their gardens into spaces where they can both relax and socialise with family and friends.

Outdoor kitchens are for everyone, there is no one type of buyer. For people that enjoy cooking and eating outdoors, an outdoor kitchen is the next step.

We work with many garden designers and landscapers, who have clients that are transforming their outdoor spaces and have their hearts set on an outdoor kitchen. We are also starting to see people who are looking to upgrade from their stand-alone barbecue; previously, this has been tucked around the corner of the house and cooking the food has been a lonely event.

However, a full outdoor kitchen allows the barbecue to become the focal point of the garden, and a more social and enjoyable occasion.”

A Grillo Vantage outdoor kitchen.

Ross added that many of his customers are looking for a layout that allows everyone to get involved, whether that be a pizza oven for family pizza nights, or a standing bar, where friends can gather.

“Our customers come to us looking for the complete solution. This is an outdoor space they can use all year round for both cooking and socialising.

The main products that appear in most of our layouts include a barbecue, either gas or charcoal and regularly both, along with worktop space, storage and our bar table with bar stools. This combination allows people to sit down and relax, while socialisation takes place around the focal point of the garden.”

Grillo layouts start at £3,070, which includes a barbecue and cabinet with worktop and storage space, and range to upwards of £16,500 for a very large outdoor kitchen, with gas barbecue, outdoor fridge and integrated bin cabinet, outdoor sink, bar and bar seating, alongside shelving, storage and plenty of workspace.

Ross added:

“Our outdoor kitchens are made up of modular units, so as well as pre-designed layouts, we also have our online configurator. This enables our customers to configure their own layouts, so they can include the exact modules they want, in a layout that meet their requirements.

An outdoor kitchen enables you to create a new socialisation space, as an expansion of the home, where you can gather around with friends and family. The market is constantly developing and expanding, and the latest trends have seen outdoor living become more popular with the theme of merging the inside and outdoors into one seamless area.

An outdoor kitchen is the ideal way to do this, which is why we have seen such growth in the market over the last couple of years, and we predict that this will continue.”

Outdoor inspiration from Grillo Vantage outdoor kitchens.

Andy Poole from outdoor kitchen specialist firm Aqua Warehouse Group said that demand has been increasing steadily for years, but the pandemic led to people spending more time in their gardens and pondering the possibilities for improvements.

“This has led to a much higher demand, particularly for the more permanent kind of kitchen, since an increasing number of people are deciding to stay in the home they are in for a while longer. 

We expect that the past few years of massively increased desire for home improvements, particularly outdoors, is going to continue although, with the passing of the pandemic, we may see it increase at a more measured, slower rate. 

I believe the biggest single thing that buyers are looking for in an outdoor kitchen is quality. The Bull kitchens we work with offer a lifetime warranty, and of all of our outdoor kitchen products, these are of a suitably high standard to meet the most demanding of customer expectations. I would say that the second thing people are looking for is flexibility, followed by price, style and functionality. 

The SIZZLER outdoor kitchen has been a huge success for us though and is a standard fit product. Equally popular is our Remanso Electronic Pergola, which makes an  attractive weatherproofing option suitable for use over our outdoor kitchens.”

The SIZZLER outdoor kitchen

Their SIZZLER model, which retails at £4,995, features a large built-in grill, a fridge, sink and burner in a stainless-steel casing with a black marble counter. It includes four main stainless-steel burners on the grill and an infrared back burner and side burner, an integrated motorised rotisserie for spit roasting, a stainless-steel hood and a thermometer gauge.

The SIZZLER requires a 13-amp electricity supply, a Butane or Propane gas bottle and plumbing for a cold-water feed and comes with a three-year warranty.

American company Bull offers three outdoor kitchens. Purchasers can also design their own layout.

The Menorca is for small spaces, and has a grill, fridge, storage cabinet and countertop. This measures 800 x 1949cm and is priced at £3,769.

Top of their range is The Malta, made in Scandinavia, which features a grill, fridge, storage cabinet and porcelain counter top; it measures 790 x 3005cm, and costs £14,995. 

These kitchens come with a lifetime warranty.

Myoutdoorkitchen.co.uk sells Swedish and American kitchens among its range of traditional, modern and built-in outdoor kitchens. Spokesperson Natalie Andersson agreed that the pandemic has led to more interest in outdoor kitchens. She said:

“The demand has increased as more people have had to stay at home. People have had more time to invest in their home and gardens and we are continuing to see a high demand for outdoor kitchens this summer. Recently, the demand for black or dark coloured outdoor kitchens has increased, also kitchens with a specific design and functions such as teppanyaki flat surfaced grills and pizza ovens.

Natalie said that their most popular designs include the Reykjavik model by Nordic Line, a freestanding modular outdoor kitchen in black which includes a sink, chopping board with storage drawer and a gas grill equipped with two burners. Priced at £2,656, it has a straight-line layout and is ideal if you are limited for outdoor space.”

The Reykjavik outdoor kitchen.

The Nordic Line is a modular, flexible range so that you can add or adapt elements to suit your outdoor space; for example, a gas grill, two gas burners, a chopping board and sink is priced at £2,656.

My Outdoor Kitchen’s own range offers stainless-steel equipment in modular, package combinations priced from £3,760 to £9,219.

Also popular is the Skeldervik range from Scandinavia which is priced from £4,599; the free-standing `L’ shaped Arild design is made from steel with black matt finish and wood detailing and includes a charcoal grill, sink, corner and drawer modules and is priced at £9,499.

Practical points to think about

An overhead cover will allow your event to go ahead even if it’s raining: foldaway covers are available.

  • A gazebo could cover the kitchen area, but bear in mind that a grill will need to be well-ventilated if it’s under cover: a chimney could be fitted to funnel smoke away. An Italian-style loggia with a roof, but open sides, is ideal.
  • A cocktail bar needs less outdoor space than a dining area and could comprise a wine fridge, sink, a bar with a natural stone top and bar stools.
  • If your scheme involves a sink and fridge, you will need a water supply and electricity; siting it close to the house will keep installation costs down.
  • Worktops and surfaces must be able to withstand high temperatures of up to 300 degrees centigrade.
  • Gas barbecues are easier to keep clean than charcoal burners.
  • Adding portable garden heaters and/or an outdoor fire pit will keep you warm later in the evening.
  • Lighting should be bright over the cooking area and mellow over the dining table to create a relaxed atmosphere.
  • Storage may be needed for outdoor dining ware and cushions.

Equipment options

A pizza oven is the perfect addition to an outdoor kitchen

There is a growing array of kit to tempt keen cooks who are eager to entertain, including:

  • A gas or charcoal powered integrated barbecue grill.
  • A rotisserie spit for chicken and large cuts of meat.
  • A smoker for long, slow cooking.
  • A burner for paella dishes.
  • A warming drawer.
  • A pizza oven: in the John Lewis `How we shop 2021’ report, sales of pizza ovens were up 195% and for the first time, the best-selling pizza oven outsold the best-selling barbecue. Both portable and permanent models were popular in lockdown.
  • Argentine Parilla grills, or gaucho grills, which allow the temperature to be controlled by raising or lowering the height of the grill. A sloping `v’ shaped grill allows fat and juice to collect and be used for basting meat.  

Maintenance

  • Treat paving with acrylic sealant to protect from spills, or opt for ceramic, porcelain or concrete tiles.
  • Buy covers to protect equipment from the winter weather.
  • Outdoor sockets should be fitted with RCD (residual current device) circuit breakers.
  • Check that connectors on gas cylinders are the right size and secure.

So, has this blog inspired you to build an outdoor kitchen in time for the summer?

Did I miss any key tips?

Either way, let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.

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