The concept of an outdoor kitchen means different things to different people, but at Secret Gardens we prefer to put the emphasis on the word ‘outdoor’. An outdoor kitchen or barbecue area should be open to the stars and give you a distinctly different experience from what you can get inside. While the concept has been expanded to include mammoth roofed structures with all the bells and whistles (dishwasher, wine fridge and more), most homes work better with something more simple.
Outdoor kitchen versus outdoor cooking
When it comes to cooking outdoors, you don’t need much more than a good barbecue and a bit of bench space to rest your tray of meat – or your drink. Cabinetry should be kept to a minimum or skipped entirely, as it’s almost impossible to make this completely watertight without a roof over it, and arguably once you add a roof, you’re no longer really cooking outside.
Our bias is obviously against the idea of a pavilion-style full outdoor kitchen, as they’re very expensive to build and ultimately missing the primal joy of cooking outside. But having said that, they do have their place. If the outdoor cooking zone is very disconnected from the interior kitchen – very far away, or on a different level – a full kitchen set up can be easily justified, if only to avoid lugging dirty dishes for miles!
Outdoor kitchen must-haves
A built-in barbecue – or a mobile barbecue with the appearance of being built in – is the only real must-have for an outdoor cooking zone, but a generous length of benchtop is not only useful, but will make this a space you can use every day. Make it longer than you think it needs to be so it becomes a sculptural form in the garden and a place where you can sit to have coffee in the mornings, work with your laptop, or use as a social space when you’re entertaining.
Cabinetry is really not necessary in most cases and that space underneath the bench is much better left empty, providing a view to greenery beyond and really helping to connect the space to the garden. If you lash out on any extra additions to your cooking space, the one thing we recommend is a fridge. Having cold drinks within easy reach is lovely on a hot day, but when you’re entertaining and the main fridge is packed with food and drink, that extra chill space next to the barbecue is priceless.
Making it next level
Positioning is one of the easiest and most effective ways to step up an outdoor cooking area. Most of the time, barbecues tend to be positioned against the wall with the chef facing the boundary – hardly the most social set up! By stepping the bench back from the boundary, you can bring the chef back into the action and turn the barbecue into a social hub.
Good lighting is another often-overlooked essential. A light on the wall over the barbecue – a common choice – is just going to be blocked by the hood. A far better solution is to hang a pendant from a tree or a spotlight mounted higher up on the house and trained on the barbecue plate. The best tip here is to put it on a different switch to your other outdoor lights, so you can switch it off and get your dim ambient lighting back when the cooking is done.
These simple tricks are all you need to create a fantastic outdoor cooking zone – no fancy gadgets required!